Water Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Norman Baker (Lewes): I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Is he suggesting a duplicate system for surface water, in parallel with the one for foul water?

Mr. Wiggin: No, I am not suggesting duplicate systems. I am attempting to ensure that when the calculation is made for foul water, it takes proper consideration of the surface water, particularly when a new sewer is installed and taps into an old sewer. If more houses are built, there will be less land to absorb water; areas such as roofs and concrete drives will contribute to a large amount of surface water suddenly running into the foul water drainage system. At present, that is not being calculated properly, and it is not included in the Bill in the way that I would like. I am therefore grateful to the hon. Gentleman for demonstrating that we should think separately about those two types of water, although they will still run

Column Number: 351

into the same holes and the same sewerage system. However, we must ensure that the calculation is done differently.

Mr. Morley: The Bill already allows undertakers to refuse connections to the sewerage system if they think that that will cause flooding. They have that power now. If they think that there is a problem they can refuse to allow the connection, and the developers can appeal to Ofwat if they feel that the decision is unfair.

The crux of the problem was touched upon by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). If the drains are not connected to the sewers where do they go? What does one do? A range of alternatives can be looked at. The Department takes this seriously. It is an important issue, particularly when one is dealing with surface run-off in times of exceptional rainfall. The Environment Agency is currently chairing a working group looking at the range of available options. It produced a consultation paper in May 2003 on design standards entitled ''Framework for Sustainable Drainage Systems in England and Wales''.

The working group recently discussed the responses and is considering how to take the issues forward. One of the key issues raised by respondents was the need to clarify responsibility for ownership and ongoing maintenance of sustainable drainage systems. My Department is currently undertaking work to address those issues and to prepare specific policy proposals for a further consultation document to be published by spring 2004.

All surface water disposal arrangements will have to be examined, including the issue of enforceable ownership and maintenance responsibilities. I am referring more to sustainable urban drainage systems than the drains themselves. The various options such as balancing ponds, wetlands and reed beds will be considered. I have seen one or two innovative examples of sustainable urban drainage systems. However, there are arguments about who takes over the maintenance, the management and the responsibility. That has not been resolved yet.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): If one has a right of access in the deeds of one's house which is legally binding and allows one to get to the drains, would that be affected if the sewers were adopted?

Mr. Morley: We are going back in time—that question relates to an earlier clause, but I think that I can answer it. If a person has a right of access to drains, it will not be changed because it is a right of access within the deeds of the property. Such a right generally relates to the curtilage. If the responsibility of maintenance outside the curtilage goes to the undertakers, it should not be a problem for the owner-occupier. But there will be no change in relation to the right of access to manholes and for rodding and so on.

We are looking at the wider issues of sustainable urban drainage and sewer flooding. The undertakers now have the power to refuse connection if they think that there is a problem. There are some quite complex issues, but they can be resolved. That is what we are in the process of doing. The hon. Member for Leominster

Column Number: 352

(Mr. Wiggin) raised some important points, which we accept and are trying to address.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will see that that is largely what we attempt to do in amendment No. 137. The wording in the Bill was not as clear as it might have been. The Minister addressed much of that. A problem that will have to be dealt with at some stage is whether undertakers have the right to refuse the connection on the basis that the standards are below their acceptable standards or because it would be prejudicial to their sewerage system.

It will be difficult for the Minister to deal with everything that we discussed in the previous debate. There is a problem with substandard and home-made lateral drains and sewerage connections. We have tried to ensure that the industry is not burdened with costs that it cannot expect reasonably to offset.

Mr. Morley: The problem again relates to the retrospective situation. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that the building regulations have been changed under H5, which now has a requirement for separate systems of drainage for new build. That means that a separate system has to be put in place to ensure that rain water is diverted from the sewer systems. In some ways, the problem has been resolved for the future; the inheritance is the difficulty.

Mr. Wiggin: I recognise that and I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention.

2.45 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): As I understand it—I am stretching to recall the circumstances—even on some recent occasions since the introduction of the building regulations to which the Minister refers, the issue has been enforcement. Some small developments, even individual properties, have made unauthorised connections into the sewer system, rather than go to the expense of putting in separate drainage for surface water. That can contribute to some sewer flooding where there is exceptional run-off.

Mr. Wiggin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; our amendment would prevent all water going down the same hole and would ensure that the hole was of an adequate size. He put that point well, and I am grateful to him. Will the Minister also confirm that, in amendment No. 139, the definitions of ''factory'', ''inland waters'',

    ''sewer provided for surface water''


    ''sewer provided for foul water''

are as the amendment would suggest? I am sure that they are, but can he confirm that? We have a problem with cowboy builders—for want of a better expression—and that is particularly worrying, considering that consultation is taking place about adopting some of the more historical privately owned sewerage systems. There is a danger that new build will take advantage of the Government's good intentions and builders will construct it to a substandard level, on the basis that they know that they will soon hand it over to a water company. I urge the Government to be

Column Number: 353

mindful of that and to be extremely alert to what may take place in future.

Mr. Morley: On amendment No. 139, I was not clear whether the hon. Gentleman was asking whether the definitions in his amendments were consistent. Is he asking that?

Mr. Wiggin: The amendment would confirm the definitions. That may not be necessary, and I am hoping that the Minister will confirm that.

Mr. Morley: It is difficult to speak on the hon. Gentleman's amendments. On the definition of ''inland waters'', I assume that he is referring to the Water Resources Act 1991. I have a feeling that the definition was slightly different as applied to the Bill. The term ''factory'' in his amendment is the same as in the Factories Act 1961; ''inland waters'' has the same meaning as in the Water Resources Act 1991; the other points concerning sewers for surface water are not required in those definitions.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for replying to amendment No. 139. I have no problem with withdrawing all my amendments, but I am grateful to the Minister for those clarifications and the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) and for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). We have touched a nerve, and the Government will have to take that into consideration if they are to do what the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) wanted, when they take all the previously privately owned sewers into the ownership of the water companies. There will clearly be another water Bill when that happens. We shall revisit this issue, perhaps on Report, but certainly under that Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 138, in

    clause 100, page 124, leave out lines 39 to 43 and insert—

    '(5) Substitute for subsection (6)—

    ''(6) Any question arising under subsections (3) to (5A) above between a sewerage undertaker and a person proposing to make a communication as to—

    (a) the reasonableness of the undertaker's refusal to permit a connection to be made, or the reasonableness of the conditions on which the undertaker is prepared to permit a communication to be made; or

    (b) as to the reasonableness of any requirement under subsections (5) or (5A) above,

    may, on the application of that person, be determined by the Authority under section 30A above (and accordingly section 105 above shall not apply to any requirement under subsection (5A) above).

    (6A) In making a determination under subsection (6)(a) above, the Director shall consult and take into account the views of the Environment Agency and any affected riparian owners.''.'.

The amendment is similar to the previous amendments and we are seeking again to ensure that the definitions are consistent, concise and fair. Judging from the way in which the debate has flowed today, that question is still up in the air. I hope that the Government will include this type of issue in their consultation, certainly that with the professionals who

Column Number: 354

they hope will take over the privately owned sewers. There is an implicit compliment in that people feel that they are the best equipped to run sewers. I agree with that, but we must be mindful of how we work out how it is paid for. I would prefer stamp duty, as I said earlier, but that is because there will be area charges which will be difficult unless we find a way of smoothing things out.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 21 October 2003