On 1 October this year there will be a fundamental change to the ownership of drains and sewers across England. This may result in resolving disputes between property owners over who is required to contribute (and how much) when sewerage problems occur. This may also mean that your liability for maintaining drains and sewers on your property is reduced or in some cases will fall away altogether.
Currently there is a system of main sewers which are the responsibility of local drainage authorities. The connections to and from the mains however, is not quite so straightforward. There may be drains which are solely used by your property or sewers which are used by your property and a number of others, and each of these may or may not be located under your land. Under the current system, any of these connections are your responsibility for maintenance and upkeep and may require you to contribute towards maintenance during your ownership.
Once the new legislation is in place however this will all change. Any sewers used by more than one property will become the responsibility of the sewerage authority. In addition, a drain which is only used by your property but which is not under your land will also become adopted by the sewerage authority. The only requirement for maintenance will therefore come where a property has a drain which is solely used by that property and which is under the land for that property.
The increased burden on the sewerage companies will, however, come at a price, as it is likely that there is going to be a substantial increase in maintenance requirements and we suspect that this additional cost will result in an increase in everyone's water bills. Time will tell.
Main sewers are currently shown on plans kept by the drainage authority. Copies of these are made available to solicitors as part of their drainage searches when acting for clients buying any kind of property. However, the private drains running from individual properties or groups of properties into the main are not mapped. Under the new scheme, many of those private drains, or at least parts of them will become public. Due to the sheer enormity of the task of trying to map all of the private drains across the length and breadth of the country, the maps will only be up-dated to show the new public drains under private land gradually, probably as when it becomes necessary to deal with maintenance of a drain from time to time.
What this means for property owners and prospective purchasers is that a property may well have a length of public sewer running under it but, as from 1st October, a drainage search carried out by their solicitor will not necessarily tell them it is there.
Why does this matter? Building over or within three metres either side of a public sewer is not permitted without the consent of the drainage authority under what is known as a "Build Over Agreement". You are much more likely to need a Build Over Agreement when extending residential property or carrying out development after 1st October 2011. The drainage search alone, however, cannot be relied upon to tell you if this is the case. The result of this is that it will become much more important to have a site survey carried out to show the position of any drains on a property, what other properties are served, and where those drains connect into the main sewer. With the benefit of that survey, your solicitor can then advise you further as to your rights and responsibilities.
If you would like advice on any of the
above, or similar issues, please contact
Anne Elliss or a member of the Property
Department at Wortley Byers on 01277
268304 or email@example.com.
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