On 1 July 2011, regulations came into force that will transfer ownership of all existing private sewers and lateral drains in England and Wales to the regulated sewerage companies.  The transfer of ownership will take place on 1 October 2011 and will be of those private sewers and drains which connected into the public sewer system on 1 July 2011.  The transfer will ensure that the sewers are kept up to a minimum standard of repair. 

The regulated sewerage companies must serve notice on owners and publish notice of their proposal by 1 August 2011. Owners of private/lateral drains can appeal either against the proposed transfer or if no notice of transfer has been served.  Draft guidance on appeals has been issued by OFWAT (the Water Services Regulatory Authority) and the final guidance is to be published by 1 August.

Appeals against proposed transfers must be made within two months of receipt of the notice. This is an absolute time limit and, if missed, no appeal will be allowed. Where the appeal is made because no notice of transfer has been served, there is no time limit. If you are not aware of having received a notice then you should check with the relevant sewerage company.

An appeal can be made where the appellant considers that the proposed transfer would cause serious detriment to the appellant.  To prove this an owner has to show that he would be significantly worse off (financially or otherwise) as a result of the transfer.  Past expenditure is unlikely to be considered (eg where money has already been spent on a sewer either to construct it or repair it) and nor will outstanding disputes about costs of maintenance be taken into account.

OFWAT believes that, in general, serious detriment will not be caused if the redevelopment potential of land may be affected by the transfer nor by the additional access rights of the sewerage companies.

Whether the Guidance will provide any greater clarity as to the circumstances in which an appeal will be allowed remains to be seen but the current version gives little reassurance to developers and landowners who will need to factor in negotiations with the statutory sewerage companies if a strategic private drain becomes a public drain overnight.

For further details visit www.ofwat.gov.uk