The transfer of all privately owned sewers to water companies creates a minefield for developers, writes James Menzies
The transfer of ownership of private sewers and drains to local sewerage undertakers (the water company responsible for the service) on 1 October will have implications for development.
The redevelopment of land with these ‘adopted’ sewers crossing it has always tended to cause difficulties, because of the need to obtain the consent of the sewerage undertaker to carry out any diversions.
This is likely to be a bigger issue if more of the sewers/drains crossing a site are owned and maintained by the sewerage undertaker.
Obtaining consent to divert adopted pipework can be a lengthy process, with the sewerage company requiring the developer to enter into a sewer diversion agreement. Previously, a landowner affected by private pipework crossing their land may have been able to rely on rights contained within a deed of easement. Such ‘private rights to divert’ will be lost once the sewers have transferred to the sewerage company.
Where a new building is to be erected close to or over a sewer/ drain that has transferred to the sewerage company, then the sewerage company will need to agree to this. It may also require a ‘build over/close to sewer agreement’ to be entered into. This may contain challenging terms, giving the sewerage undertaker rights to enter the site to carry out any works - including demolition. Costs incurred by the sewerage company may often be recouped from the land owner.
The draconian nature of these terms may lead developers to reconsider the viability of proceeding with a proposed development, unless, for example, a revised planning layout can be agreed. Developing housing providers should therefore proceed with caution.
James Menzies is a partner at Stones Solicitors