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DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly government have launched a consultation ...
DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly government have launched a consultation

paper on reviewing existing private sewers and drains in England and


Many householders are unaware that their property is connected to a

private sewer or that they are responsible for its maintenance and

repair, sometimes jointly with others. This tends to come to light

only when problems occur and can lead to difficulties in rectifying

them for those responsible. It is estimated that about 50% of

domestic properties are connected to private sewers in one form or


The department appointed consultants to carry out research to

identify and examine the problems arising from the current

arrangements and to formulate workable and sustainable solutions to

address these problems. It is probably the first real in depth look

at the problem of private sewers.

The consultation paper summarises the outcome of the research and

seeks views on five strategic options:

- Transfer of ownership of private sewers and lateral drains from

private owners to either local authorities or sewerage undertakers;

- Transfer of management responsibilities for private sewers and

lateral drains from private owners to either local authorities or

sewerage undertakers;

- Transfer ownership of lateral drains to sewerage undertakers;

- Improved guidance, and legislation to clarify responsibilities and

provide for easier adoption of private sewers and lateral drains;

- Improved guidance and legislation to deal with a number of

individual sub-options that are discussed in the paper with the aim

of dealing with specific problems, such as inspection of work to

private sewers, extensions to private sewers, regulation of the

public sewer map, disputes procedures, and adoption procedures.

Welcoming the publication of the consultation paper Minister for

environment and agri-environment, Elliot Morley said:

'The vario us solutions set out in the consultation paper will enable

everyone associated with problems of existing private sewers to help

find a satisfactory way forward. I hope they will respond and send us

their views.'

Views are sought by 26 September 2003.


The problems associated with private sewers include:

- difficulties of establishing the ownership of, and responsibilities

for, maintaining shared private sewers;

- the unwillingness of some owners or occupiers to accept their

responsibilities, and the difficulty of requiring them to

contribute towards the cost of repair to shared private sewers;

- the difficulties of some owners and occupiers who are unable to

afford the high cost of repair to private sewers;

- the difficulty of getting private sewers adopted by the sewerage


- sewage flooding from private sewers;

The Water Bill includes provisions to ensure that new lateral drains

(from the curtilage of the property to the sewer) are built to

adoptable standards. Steps are also being taken to clarify the

provisions in the Water IndustryAct 1991 relating to private sewers

and to improve public awareness of responsibilities for maintaining

drains and sewers.

The department has already acted to stop the perpetuation of problems

related to private sewers. This followed a consultation exercise in

2000 on the construction of new sewers. Together with the Office of

the Deputy Prime Minister, Welsh Assembly government, Water UK and

the House Builders Federation, a protocol was issued in April 2002

which set common and agreed standards for new sewers. The protocol

should ensure that sewers are built to a standard that would not

preclude them from being adopted. The department will be monitoring

its success.

The consultation document can be found on the DEFRA website

A final report summar ising the findings of the consultation will be

produced in the winter.

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