Water Industry Act 1991 – Obtaining a public sewer

There are a number of ways of obtaining public sewerage in the UK. The methods are set out in the Water Industry Act 1991. The processes can be complex and confusing. We are here to help guide you through the options and potential benefits so you can make the most appropriate decision.

The sewerage company or undertaker has the following responsibility set out in Section 94:

It shall be the duty of every sewerage undertaker—

(a)to provide, improve and extend such a system of public sewers (whether inside its area or elsewhere) and so to cleanse and maintain those sewers [and any lateral drains which belong to or vest in the undertaker] as to ensure that that area is and continues to be effectually drained; and

(b)to make provision for the emptying of those sewers and such further provision (whether inside its area or elsewhere) as is necessary from time to time for effectually dealing, by means of sewage disposal works or otherwise, with the contents of those sewers.

One mechanism for obtaining a public sewer is Section 98. This is where one requisitions a sewer, or put more simply, pays for the sewerage company to provide a sewer. This has the advantage that the sewer is automatically of an acceptable standard. It is not commonly undertaken because it has many disadvantages. The undertaker will most likely have framework contractors, which charge in excess of 10 times the actual cost for undertaking the construction work. The design can be exceedingly slow and lack any innovation or concern as to the cost efficiency of the proposal. Undertakers in the UK are private companies and many see such proposals as ways of generating additional profits from their monopoly position. Such work is essentially unregulated.

Another mechanism for obtaining a public sewer is Section 104. This is where a client employs a professional civil engineering consultant who designs and project manages the private construction of a public sewer to an adoptable standard. Public sewers are generally designed in accordance with WRc production – Sewers for Adoption. Design standards frequently change and there is a lot of detail which needs to be specific to the site.

As professional consulting civil engineers fees are likely to be minimal against the construction budget, a quality designer is a wise investment in relation to total project cost and risk of project programme delays.

Section 104 therefore allows sewer construction work to be competitively tendered and constructed. Therefore the client gains control over the programme and costs. It is not unusual for 6 month programmes suggested by Sewerage companies under Section 98, to be reduced to 2 months under Section 104.

Section 104 can work well with single developers requiring all new work, such as to support a new housing development. However, it can be practically impossible for existing commercial, office, residential sites (or a mixture of all three) to come together to pay for such work. Section 104 of the Act says:

Agreements to adopt sewer, drain or sewage disposal works, at future date

(1)Subject to subsection (7) and section 146(3) below, a sewerage undertaker may agree with—

(a)any person constructing or proposing to construct—

(i) any sewer;

(ii) any drain which is intended to communicate with a public sewer vested in that undertaker; or

(iii) any sewage disposal works; or

(b) any person at whose expense the undertaker is, by virtue of an agreement under section 160 below, to carry out work in connection with the construction of such a drain or sewer, that, if the sewer, drain or sewage disposal works is or are constructed in accordance with the terms of the agreement, the undertaker will, upon completion of the work, at some specified date or on the happening of some future event, declare the sewer or such part of the drain as constitutes the lateral drain or the works (as the case may be) to be vested in that undertaker.

Another method is Section 101a, often called First Time Sewerage. It is a complex system where there is the right to obtain public sewerage without the potentially large construction costs. Applicants could potentially only pay minimal connection costs and on-going sewerage charges. It is not however beneficial for the Sewerage Company to agree to such proposals and you should expect them to take all reasonable steps to avoid such action. It is advisable for members of the public and local authorities to obtain the professional services of a professional civil engineering consultant specialised in such applications