UK: Connecting Private Sewers And Lateral Drains To The Public Network

Last Updated: 20 December 2012
Article by Jo Rees

What do changes in the law mean for you? The law has recently changed so that property owners whose drains connect to the public network (i.e. not a cess pit, waterway or sewerage tanker) will now only be responsible for the section of drain within their property's boundary.

What is changing and why?

Prior to October 2011, each property owner was responsible for:

  • the section of drain serving their own property; and
  • (jointly with the owners of the other properties it serves), the section of private sewer to which each drain connects until it reaches the public sewer (usually under the adopted highway).

Existing drains

The law has recently changed so that property owners whose drains connect to the public network (i.e. not a cess pit, waterway or sewerage tanker) will now only be responsible for the section of drain within their property's boundary.

From the point where the drain leaves the property's boundary, ownership of the drain passes to the statutory undertaker (the water and sewerage company, e.g. Dwr Cymru), along with the responsibility for maintenance of that drain. Those sections not within the property's boundary (and therefore owned by the statutory undertaker) are termed private sewers and lateral drains ("SLDs").

The purpose of the change in the law is to:

  • address a lack of integrated management of the public sewerage network as a whole;
  • remove the burden of maintenance from householders; and
  • ensure greater clarity over ownership.

Some SLDs already connected to the public network will have transferred to the statutory undertaker on 1 October 2011, whilst others will transfer on 1 April 2013, depending on when they were connected.

Newly constructed drains

To prevent the creation of a new stock of private SLDs and to maintain the integrated management of the public sewerage network, the law also provides that any person constructing or proposing to construct an SLD not connected by 1 October 2012 will only be able to communicate with a public sewerage system where:

  • there is an adoption agreement in place between the developer and the sewerage undertaker; and
  • that adoption agreement requires:
    • The developer to comply with the standards of construction set out in Welsh Government's Standards for new gravity foul sewers and lateral drains or such other standards as agreed between the parties; and
    • The statutory undertaker to adopt the SLD.

These changes will be welcomed by residential property owners; however, it could be a cause for concern for developers and owners of large multi-let estates for the reasons set out below.

Implications for developers

  • Developers should note the impact of these proposals on developments. Where SLDs are not connected to the public network by 1 October 2012 an adoption agreement will need to be in place.
  • Where there is an existing adoption agreement in place, that agreement will need to be reviewed to ensure that it is compliant with the new legislation.
  • Where there is not an existing adoption agreement in place, developers will need to liaise with statutory undertakers at an early stage to agree the terms of such agreement so as to avoid delay in developing the site. In the event that the terms of the agreement cannot be agreed or are considered unreasonable, an appeal may be made to OFWAT.
  • Importantly, there may be an opportunity to avoid having to comply with Welsh Government's Standards in certain circumstances.
  • Where developers are obliged to comply with Welsh Government's Standards, developers should consider their ease of application and whether it would be preferable to consider other innovative techniques to construct SLDs and reach an agreement with the statutory undertaker to construct the SLDs on that basis instead.
  • Finally, where a developer owns land adjacent to a site developed by it, it will often have an easement ("lift and shift rights") to be able to relocate a sewer under the adjacent land should it subsequently want to develop the land. These rights will be extinguished if the sewer is transferred to a statutory undertaker. Developers therefore need to be looking at their land portfolios and deciding whether they need to make any objections.

Where there are financial implications of this lost right, the developer may appeal to OFWAT for compensation.

Implications for landowners (including Housing Associations)

  • A landowner (or person affected) has the right to object to the transfer of an SLD to a statutory undertaker by appeal to OFWAT within 2 months of receiving a notice of transfer or a publication being made. Appeals are likely to be made by those landowners with complex infrastructure arrangements in place or who may be at risk of losing a right to compensated sewer removal.
  • Certain drains may not be adopted. In the case of large multi-let estates, the question of whether or not the SLDs will transfer will depend on whether the estate is classed as a "single curtilage". Where an estate is classed as a "single curtilage", a landlord will want to ensure that the responsibility and cost of maintaining the SLDs is dealt with in its leases.
  • A commercial landowner may have in place contracts for the maintenance of its drains. Should these contracts be terminated as a result of a transfer? Landowners will still be responsible for those drains within its boundaries; therefore contracts may still be necessary, although their scope could be reduced.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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