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Lord Whitty: The amendment relates to the part of the Bill which deals with sewers and drains. Therefore, the regulation structure is somewhat different from that for rivers and waterways.

The regulators who can grant trade effluent consents are, in this instance, the water and sewerage undertakers, rather than the Environment Agency. As a matter of course, undertakers monitor incoming effluent at treatment plants. They may also require effluent to be monitored by those who make the discharge.

As part of the consent application process, reference must already be made to the Environment Agency by the sewerage undertaker before entering into any agreement relating to the reception or disposal of

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special category effluent. Special category effluent is effluent containing various prescribed hazardous substances.

Where special category effluent is involved, the Environment Agency can prohibit the proposed operation or impose conditions. In other cases where the effluent is of a more general nature, the sewerage undertakers have the responsibility; they may consult the Environment Agency, but are not required to do so.

In all cases, the sewerage undertakers will wish to ensure that the trade effluent discharges they accept do not compromise their own ability to meet the conditions on discharges to controlled waters from the sewage treatment works. These conditions are set out by the Environment Agency under the Water Resources Act 1991.

I hope that noble Lords will therefore recognise that the 1991 Act already contains sufficient powers for the water undertakers to regulate efficiently and effectively the discharge of trade effluent in this context. Likewise, the Environment Agency has its own appropriate controls at the stage that most concerns it. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, recognises that the powers are already there.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the Minister for that reply. I realised at the time I drafted the amendment that it referred to sewerage, but I am afraid that a little time has gone by since then. The powers in the Water Resources Act are effective although I could name once or two incidents where, although sewage appears to be treated effectively, and discharges are going on, there has been a deterioration. However, some undertakers have done immense work in this respect and have greatly improved the situation.

I merely put the amendment down to ensure that vigilance would continue and that matters would continue to improve as these tasks are carried out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 82 agreed to.

Clauses 83 to 85 agreed to.

Clause 86 [Requisition and adoption of sewers]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 185:

    Page 105, line 33, at end insert—

"(8) The Agency shall ensure that private and public housing developers and building contractors be subject to planning consent conditions specific to the water and sewerage undertaker adopting a new sewage scheme.
(9) The Agency shall prepare plans for all non-adopted sewage schemes to be adopted by water and sewerage undertakers by the end of the year 2015."

The noble Lord said: This amendment is best described as the cowboy builders' amendment. In carrying out various work in the past, I have had a lot of adverse experiences of the consequences of this. In particular, residents can become stranded as a result of builders carrying out inadequate work in connecting to a sewage infrastructure and leaving the job half finished.

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In the first part of the amendment, we hope that,

    "private and public housing developers and building contractors be subject to planning consent conditions specific to the water and sewerage undertaker adopting a new sewage scheme".

This is highly desirable, but it has not always been the case. I can point to a number of instances of dissatisfaction. What amazes me is that the planning authority has very often laid down what needs to be done to complete a scheme but supervising carrying out the edict of the planning authority in having a proper scheme at the start does not always come about. I would have thought it obvious that new schemes in particular ought to be in place in a building housing development in a state that can be adopted immediately, and not left incomplete. I am looking for planning compliance by the developers on site so that they leave the site in a state which is workable and up to speed.

The second part of the amendment requires that the agency,

    "shall prepare plans for all non-adopted sewage schemes to be adopted by water and sewerage undertakers".

I have suggested 2015 as a fair length of time for compliance. I believe from my experience that there are a lot of non-adopted sewage schemes around the country and it will take a very long time for them to get up to speed.

I can quote several examples of what tends to happen. In a town on the England-Wales border, the sewerage undertaker refused point-blank to adopt the scheme because the developers kept on building half a dozen houses and extending the estate to the point where the sewage facilities could not cope with the extension of the building work. Very often it is the fault of the planning authority but there is a stalemate. Three or four bodies are involved, none of which will take responsibility.

The other thing that happens, particularly with cowboy builder outfits, is that they start to build an estate and then go bankrupt. I have seen this happen several times. In fact, I can think of one instance in which the same company went bankrupt twice. The system is never adopted properly. The estate is sometimes left in a chaotic state as far as the sewage system is concerned. Even after 15 years, residents are still having most unpleasant experiences—I will not go into detail—because of inadequate sewage provision, and they suddenly ask for vast sums of money to put the matter right.

It seems to me that in that type of situation there should be some process whereby sewage schemes can be adopted and brought fully up to standard without the residents in some estates having to take matters in hand, as has been the case in some instances. I believe that the amendment presents a real opportunity to sort out this matter and to stop the nonsense that occurs. It causes many grievous problems and creates expense for innocent people who perhaps do not realise, when purchasing their houses, that they have entered a den of iniquity so far as concerns the sewage. I beg to move.

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6.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I believe we all recognise the type of situation to which the noble Lord refers in relation to cowboy builders and existing unadopted sewers. Indeed, the Government are seized of this matter and we have taken some action on both aspects of his amendment.

With regard to the first aspect, we looked at the issue of new sewers in order to try to stop the perpetuation of problems relating to private sewers. As a result of consultation in 2000, we established a protocol which sets out the key elements of design and construction of sewers for all new developments. That should enable wider adoption of those provisions. I believe that some of the wider elements relating to cowboy builders may not be dealt with entirely but largely the new developments are now dealt with under that system.

Obviously the situation is far more complicated with regard to existing private sewers. We shall shortly issue a consultation paper seeking views on possible solutions to deal with the problems. Until the outcome of that consultation is known, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for me to adopt the second part of the noble Lord's amendment. That would insert into the Bill a subsection which effectively would lead to the partial transfer of ownership of unadopted sewers to the relevant local sewerage undertaker without a clear indication of how that would impose costs and responsibilities on the undertaker which would then no doubt have to be levied on the rest of the customers.

Therefore, as the noble Lord will see, we have already taken some action on the first part of his amendment, resulting in the protocol, and we are beginning to take action on the second. It is hoped that we can achieve an acceptable solution to the second issue of unadopted private sewers. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendment but will recognise that the Government are fully appraised of and concerned about the problem.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question, based on my experience as a district councillor, with regard to the second part of the amendment. Huge amounts of time and effort, staff time and resources are put in by district councils, particularly into first-time sewerage schemes but also into trying to solve the problems of non-adopted sewers for the good of the environment of their districts. I believe that this is another example of a great deal of work which is entirely unrecognised in the Audit Commission's measurement of local authority work.

Again, I ask the Minister to return to this matter because it is part of a local authority's work which is simply not recognised. If it is to progress in the way that it should, it needs better recognition. I believe that current environmental measures are limited to the problems of litter. That is obviously important because litter is very visible, but this type of work is

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equally important and incredibly unsupported by government through the Audit Commission mechanism.

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