Section 101a or First Time Sewerage
Section 101a is a mechanism for the public to obtain a public sewerage system. The informal name used by Engineers in the UK for such applications is first time sewerage. Therefore this is settlements which are requesting public sewerage, as they do not current have any public provision.
Many rural developments have drainage which evolved over hundreds of years. Most systems are based on septic tanks, or mini package treatment works discharging to groundwater. Ground permeability can vary considerably even within the same village. The discharge consent requirements have changed considerably in the last 100 years and standards continue to change. In the UK the Environment Agency is the responsible body for considering groundwater and watercourse pollution. Effluent discharges are often controlled by use of consents. There is however a difference between consent breaches and a pollution incident.
Section 101a removes the responsibility for consents, liability and maintenance from the public to the more experienced hands of the Sewerage Authority. Stricter controls can then be placed on effluent discharge and a considerable net improvement in groundwater or surface water can be achieved. Once connected to a public sewer, a sewerage charge then becomes applicable, but this can often be less than the maintenance and consent charges applicable with a private system.
A public sewer connection is more desirable and can directly increase land value and house prices. It is essentially free to apply for a public sewer assessment. As it is a complex field it is strongly recommended that the services of a professional civil engineering consultant with specialist experience in Section 101a applications is obtained. Many of even the largest UK consultants will not have such experience, indeed as a specialist field it is more likely to reside in smaller consultants.
Section 101a of the Act says the following:
Without prejudice to section 98 above, it shall be the duty of a sewerage undertaker to provide a public sewer to be used for the drainage for domestic sewerage purposes of premises in a particular locality in its area if the conditions specified in subsection (2) below are satisfied.
(2)The conditions mentioned in subsection (1) above are—
(a)that the premises in question, or any of those premises, are premises on which there are buildings;
(b)that the drains or sewers used for the drainage for domestic sewerage purposes of the premises in question do not, either directly or through an intermediate drain or sewer, connect with a public sewer; and
(c)that the drainage of any of the premises in question is giving, or is likely to give, rise to such adverse effects to the environment or amenity that it is appropriate, having regard to any guidance issued under this section by the Secretary of State and all other relevant considerations, to provide a public sewer for the drainage for domestic sewerage purposes of the premises in question.
Section 101a Application Process
Section 101a applications are often raised by Local Authorities, Parish Councils or by Consultants such as Wilsham Consulting on behalf of groups of offices, or residential dwelling occupiers.
An applications success becomes stronger where there is greater environmental benefit and low costs for installation. For example at a location where the groundwater can rise preventing the operation of discharge to groundwater and causing sewerage pollution.
Sewerage Authorities are required to make a formal assessment of the environmental, financial and engineering logistics of Section 101a applications. If a proposal is accepted, it is generally the case that the Sewerage Authority will obtain its capital spending back from water bill payers and can undertake the works using its own team essentially making a profit. However, connection of a village (for example) to an existing public sewerage network via Section 101a can put far greater pressure on that network and the ultimate treatment works treating the flows. As sewerage companies do not directly receive funding for such general network pressure, most UK Sewerage Authorities will try to build a case for rejection of a Section 101a application, as this essentially maximises their profits.
Sewerage Authorities Engineers can sometimes support a proposal in practical engineering terms. However, pressure can be put upon them to find reason to reject applications to increase shareholder returns. The Section 101a application is a public process and will usually supported by the Environment Agency and requires the written consent of all the applicants involved.
Section 101a determinations
If a Section 101a application is refused it can be taken to appeal. The UK however does not have an independent appeal body for such applications. The Environment Agency, essentially attempts to review the application independently on behalf of the Secretary of State, similar to a planning inspector. There is however considerable concern that the EA is not sufficiently independent, given that it may have supported in writing the application in the first place. It would be a similar situation to a planning application being put forward by a Planning Inspector for another Inspectors “independent” review.
Where the EA has reached a determination against the Sewerage Authority, the Authority has sometime taken the matter to Judicial Review at the Supreme Court. Central to the theme is often that the EA general aim to reduce pollution may have interfered with the independent review.
General views on Section 101a
There is some concern in the industry that the EA, not wishing to expose the Secretary of State to the potential of such determination, may reject proposals which should have been approved.
OFWAT the Office of Water Regulation only has limited knowledge of such applications and has not audited the actual costs of any scheme since the formation of the Act in 1991. It does not maintain any records of complaints against sewerage companies in respect of applications under the Act. There is concern that OFWAT is failing to regulate the standards of work undertaken by Sewerage Companies and provide adequate checks and controls as the public would reasonably expect.
The central failure in the UK, relates back to the privatisation of the Water Industry in 1991. Previously government funding was specifically provided to Water Boards or Corporations for the environment and political aim of getting more communities onto mains drainage. They failed to understand that with the new system privately run water companies they were going to avoid, so far as reasonably possible, connecting existing communities, as it would reduce their operating profits.
Many in the industry and in Parliament have therefore called for reform to the complete system, to ensure fairness and efficiency in a process which current can take years. This includes fully independent appeal reviews, changes in ministerial guidance and greater responsibility for OFWAT to actively audit expenditure and monitor and action complains about Sewerage Authorities including awarding of compensation for breaches of standards.
I want professional advice on Section 101a and first time sewerage – how do I move it forward?
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