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Developers FAQs - private sewer transfer

Implications for building over or near public sewers.

The following questions are generally typical for small domestic extension works, which are more frequently affected as a result of the change in legislation on 1 October 2011.

This transfers a multitude of mainly small diameter, currently private foul, and many storm water sewers and lateral drains, often in private garden locations to the local public sewerage company. The guidance notes provided with our existing application forms for approval of building over or near public sewers remain suitable for larger diameter pipework, most commercial projects and new build housing. Such guidance is available on our website and in Part H of the current Building Regulations.

General | Planning applications | Building regulations applications | Pre-planning application investigations | Building over applications and agreements | Site inspections | Design / Construction / Maintenance


Is it reasonable to apply this criteria to simple drainage serving, for example, only a pair of semi-detached houses or detached houses with pipework crossing? 

We must maintain sewers and public lateral drains to public standards to ensure uninterrupted customer usage and prevention of any risk of pollution or failure. We already allow many overbuilding requests on small diameter sewers with low flows and where the consequences of failure are very small, thus the new arrangements present a need for little change for sewers in gardens.

Is it reasonable to require one of a pair of semi-detached houses to meet the water company requirements and fees, but not the other if carried out previously?

Historic sites aside, adjoining customers will be both treated and protected equally. The intention is to ensure suitable protective standards are put in place and enforced.

If ownership of a small drain is unclear or works take place near a drain without knowledge at the time, what penalties will the house owner expect?

If the works were carried out after the transfer the householder would be expected to rectify any damage caused and legitimise the arrangement for works done. However, this would not be retrospective if the works were carried out before the sewer transfer.We must answer conveyance questions fully so non compliance would be flagged if known, but this would not be a retrospective requirement for works at this time.

Should an applicant stop ongoing work happening on a sewer to be transferred?

No. It is recommended that the applicant should seek to complete (at least to a position of completed foundations) all building regulation approved ongoing work before the transfer on 1 October 2011. After the transfer the applicant will not be able to commence any new work affecting a public sewer or public lateral drain, which is then the responsibility of Wessex Water without prior permission. 

Is it reasonable to expect home owners or small business owners to speculate high survey and building over application fees before the planning application?

Our application fees are currently £225 for the small pipelines in question; refusal to grant permission will result in a full refund of fees paid. Should sewer relay works be needed we also refund the fees paid to recognise some betterment of the system. These arrangements will remain under review as we must ensure our overall costs are met.

Can this be applied to surface water drains?

This will be applied to those sewers connected to our public network. However, any that drain directly into a watercourse or soakage remain covered by part H of building regulations.

Can I build over a manhole or other sewer access point?  

Access points must be maintained as fully accessible and available for use at all times. These must not be removed, built over or have access restricted in any way. It may sometimes be possible to provide an alternative point or points of access.

Planning applications:

Will Wessex Water become a statutory consultee or a formal requirement of any design statement consultation?

This has not been stated as part of these proposals, although in due course when the upper tier local authorities become SUDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) approval bodies (SABs) we will be a formal consultee. We may also in future be formal consultees when further planning elements of the Floods and Water Management Act come into force.

How will amendments to design as a result of unforeseen drains be dealt with at planning?

If the design is unworkable the house layout or location will need amendment, sewer diversion or even both. Local authority planners appear to rarely take drainage services into consideration and assume the developer will be able to resolve any issues with the sewerage undertaker.

Will Wessex Water be an enforced non-public body consultee?

We are not an enforced consultee and do not currently charge for simple consultations. Appropriate fees for large developments are agreed by individual companies and moderated by the regulators.

Can applicants approach any other body for the same information?

There are many companies who can provide a drain and sewer location service. However, we do offer this service online.

For permitted devlopments that could previously start on site immediately, what delay is to be expected if they have to apply to Wessex Water?

Properly directed contact by phone or email will normally receive a same day response but will otherwise receive a response in line with our published target standards.

Can Wessex Water give representations at planning appeals?

We can provide information if requested, as we do now when necessary.

Building regulations applications:

Will Wessex Water requirements form part of building control’s consideration of any full plans application?

We will keep building control advised either directly or through the applicant and our requirements should be taken into account.

Can building control officers continue to inspect and test drainage?

Building control will continue to inspect private drainage and we will inspect existing and newly transferred drainage both on and off plot.

Can building inspectors agree alterations on site due to unforeseen drainage or circumstances?

Building inspectors will be able to agree alterations on private drainage and, with our agreement, on public sewerage or public lateral drains.

For exempt structures, that could previously start on site immediately, what delay is to be expected if they have to apply to Wessex Water?

We will process any applications in line with our published target standards of service.

Will this render building notices defunct?

This is not our decision, but it does seem likely and these are clearly not the recommended way to proceed. There are ongoing talks at a national level between building control and sewerage undertakers from which it is hoped a code of practice will result, if possible by 1 October 2011.

Pre-planning application investigations:

Will the applicant be required to carry out their own CCTV or surveys?

The applicant will be required to complete any survey but can request for us to undertake the work on a rechargeable basis. However, contractors that have demonstrated adequate health and safety provision for access to public systems may be allowed on permission. 

Can applicants prepare their own surveys?

Applicants are expected to prepare their own surveys; these clearly will need to be accurate and checked when works start.

Can applicants request a plan of where the public sewer pipes are located?

We will carry out work to establish the location of the pipes being transferred. Unfortunately, due to the thousands of kilometres of sewers involved in the transfer, this work will take some time and means that we cannot provide customers with an accurate plan at this time of pipes passed to us by the transfer. A plan of the known system can be provided on request at a standard cost of £15.00 + VAT (2011/12 rate). 

Is this not simply Wessex Water using private house owners to provide a free mapping service?

As there are no records in most cases and the householder is proposing works, it’s in their interest to provide the information necessary to allow a correct determination of the application to be made. This position is a result of government legislation and is not due to changes made by the sewerage undertakers.

How can Wessex Water require the applicant to consult with them or set criteria to be adhered to where sewers are not shown on the current record map of public sewers? 

A change in legislation has overnight altered the status of many previously private pipes into public sewers, without changes being made yet to other legislation which would resolve this issue. At the present time we will rely on common law rights of protection to our apparatus, which are fully applicable whether or not they are recorded on the map of sewers. 

Building over applications and agreements:

Why are fees payable for building over applications when some utilities make no charges?

Our fees reflect the cost of the work entailed and is comparably lower than many other water companies for similar work. Most other utilities are unaffected by domestic housing extensions and where affected, works can be considerably more expensive and not under the householder’s control.

If the design changes as a result of the planning process, does the applicant need to reapply?

Only a design change altering the effect on public sewerage will need advising and will generally be met within the original fee paid.

Are there any circumstances where works will be prevented which would have been previously allowed under building regulations?

Most applications will receive similar treatment as long as the pipes are, or are returned to good condition and access is maintained and not sited within the new build.

Are there any other fees associated with access agreements?

This has not been stated as part of these proposals. 

Are there any other fees associated with connection to an adopted 100mm pipe?

Standard sewer connection fees will apply to cover processing the request and inspection of the works. Drains may also in future become public sewers and need vesting when connections are agreed between householders altering the status of the pipework. 

Will the construction of surface water soakaways within 3m require a building over agreement?

This is not required as soakaways will not be one of our assets. 

What legal access rights are granted as a result of the building over agreement?

No additional rights are granted to those which exist anyway for public sewers, unless a site specific case requires exceptional arrangements covered in a site specific agreement.

Site inspections:

If Wessex Water is responsible for site inspections can developers use alternative inspectors?

Only for their own control of works, approval of works will be carried out by one of our inspectors. 

How flexible will Wessex Water inspectors be on site with regards to design changes due to unforeseen circumstances?

We will try to be flexible within the bounds of good engineering practice and adequate protection to the sewer and building. Full details of any changes will need to be provided to and recorded by the sewerage undertakers.

Design / Construction / Maintenance:

Can self-build clients complete their own drainage works?

We would expect the works to be carried out competently meeting suitable health and safety standards for work on public sewerage. For small diameter shallow pipes taking little flow in private gardens, we will exercise good judgement and where suitable competence is proven, allow such a customer to complete the works themselves.

Why does new drainage have to be in jointed clay beneath extensions and not plastic?

The most suitable pipe can be used, in some cases this will also be sewerage standard lined and protected ductile iron. 

Why are internal manholes unacceptable if they still allow full access?

Internal manholes have been non-preferred for many years under building regulations and our own guidance. Blockage and back surcharge can cause flooding whether only one property is upstream or not. We will always seek to avoid the potential for internal property flooding to occur.Internal manholes can cause a problem if access is needed and the householder is not home. 

Who is responsible for maintenance of drains?

The customer will retain responsibility for maintenance of their drains to the point of connection to a demarcation chamber, boundary of the property or entry to the public system. Read more about sewer responsibility.  

Can private drainage companies or individuals clear and maintain adopted drains?

We will have partner companies accepted to undertake works on the public system but other private drainage companies should not access or work in our systems.

All our literature promotes us as the first port of call and we will provide a flexible service in advising and dealing with issues on a customer’s private drain. 

For combined systems (surface water and foul) will it still be possible to make connections?

Connections can be made to combined systems for domestic drainage purposes, but not the disposal of land drainage flows. Should a separate system be available then this must be used in preference.

Issue 1 – 5 October 2011 


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