Transfer of private sewers scheduled for 1 October 2011

On 1 October 2011 private sewers and lateral drains will be transferred automatically to water companies. According to DEFRA this will bring about the biggest change in responsibility for sewerage services since 1937. A “private sewer” is a pipe serving more than one property which connects to a public sewer, (i.e. not a pipe leading to a cesspit) and a “lateral drain” is a pipe serving only one property but which runs beyond that property’s boundary.

Currently whoever owns, or jointly owns, a drain or sewer has the responsibility for its repair and maintenance. Many owners are not aware of this responsibility and shared repair obligations can lead to disputes over access and high maintenance costs. Under the new regime a drain or sewer within a property and serving only that property will be the responsibility of the property owner. A sewer or drain running from the property boundary to the public sewer will be the responsibility of the relevant water company. Drains or sewers connected to a public sewer and serving more than one property will also be transferred to the relevant water company, which will have statutory rights of access to private property to carry out maintenance and repair works.

It is unclear whether sites owned by one company, e.g. an industrial park or shopping centre, will be classed as one property under the regulations and we are waiting for clarification from DEFRA.

The water companies are obliged to give notice of the transfer to relevant owners during July. Owners will then have two months in which to appeal to OFWAT if they do not wish the transfer to go ahead. The ground for appeal is that the owner believes the transfer will be “seriously detrimental” to their interests.

For further information please get in touch with your usual contact in the Real Estate team at Stevens & Bolton LLP.
 

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