The majority of properties are connected to the mains system for drainage of foul waste. There are, however, a number of properties where mains drainage is not possible and which remain connected to private drainage systems.
You might expect this is only in rural areas. Whilst they are most common in those locations there are a number of properties within urban areas which remain connected to these systems. Perhaps because the properties were built with the system many years ago and this has not been changed.
Some new developments which are in the process of being built will still be connected to a private drainage system as the public system does not have capacity.
It is important to be aware of the regulations in respect of the different systems that are available. In addition, as the systems are not public specific rights are required in order to be able to use these.
What systems exist?
There are two widely used systems:-
- A cesspool or cesspit. This is essentially a hole in the ground where the waste goes into and is emptied from as and when necessary. It is a closed system in that there should not be any discharge from the system into the ground or nearby water courses.
- A treatment plant. This may either be a septic tank, Klargester or other such system. These use a simple treatment process which allows the treated wastewater to drain away to a soakaway or stream. A soakaway is a hole dug in the ground and filled with rubble and coarse stones, designed to disperse water back into the surrounding ground without flooding.
Rules relating to these systems differ.
There are no specific requirements in respect of a cesspool or cesspit. Other than to ensure the tank does not leak and it is emptied regularly. As the system is closed and there is no discharge there is no risk of contamination to the environment. It is possible to install a new cesspool or cesspit. If you do so you must ensure that you obtain planning permission and building regulation approval.
The rules in relation to other private drainage systems have changed. Since 2015 it has been a requirement that any system be brought in line with what is known as the General Binding Rules whenever a property is sold. From 1 January 2020, however, this now applies across the board. Properties which use a private drainage system are now required to bring these in line with the General Binding Rules.
If you cannot bring the system within the General Binding Rules then you are required to apply to the Environment Agency for a discharge permit.
There are a number of requirements to comply with the General Binding Rules. We will not cover all of these in this article as they differ from property to property. Please visit https://www.gov.uk/permits-you-need-for-septic-tanks for a guide.
The main points to be aware of are as follows:-
- If your system was installed from 1 January 2015 you require planning permission and building regulation approval for the installation.
- Your system must not discharge more than 2 cubic meters per day if discharging into the ground. And 5 cubic meters per day if discharging into a water course. Your discharge will depend on the number of properties which are connected to the system. The government website provides a calculator to estimate the expected level of daily discharge.
- You must not discharge to a groundwater source protection zone, well, borehole or other deep structure.
WARNING – If your system does not meet these criteria then you will require a discharge permit from the Environment Agency.
What rights do you need?
You will require sufficient rights in order to operate your system. In contrast to the public system, where you often connect straight into the main sewer from your house, a private system must be wholly contained on your own land or else your title must contain suitable rights to use another’s land either for the system to be placed in or upon or for the discharge.
Typically, a cesspool or cesspit can be housed in a relatively small area of land as it is simply a hole in the ground. It can be dug deep and then covered to give sufficient volume. In these cases, these can often be placed in garden land.
In contrast, treatment plants often have lengthy pipework connected to them. To allow for the clean effluence to be discharged into a drainage field. Both the pipework and the drainage field can take up a substantial area of land. Unless you have a farm or extremely large garden these systems often spill out onto neighbouring land, for which you may need an easement.
In some cases, the system is shared between a number of houses and therefore the tanks may be within the boundaries of one property with the pipes and drainage field within the boundaries of others.
If you have a property which is connected to a private drainage system you need to ensure that the system complies with the General Binding Rules. If it does not you must apply for a discharge permit from the Environment Agency. There is a cost to applying for a permit and in some cases, there is an annual fee to be paid.
In addition to complying with the General Binding Rules you need to ensure that you have sufficient legal rights to utilise the full system. It is therefore important that you are aware not only the location of the tank but also the pipes and run off areas.
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