Thursday, July 28, 2011

Water pipe ownership

By now property owners should have received a letter from their local water company informing them of the change of ownership in water pipes. A frequently asked questions page for Severn Trent Water has been set up here

In essence what they're saying is that a property owner is currently liable for the entire pipe that connects them to the main sewer pipe regardless of whether it is within their property boundary or not. After October 1st everything outside the property boundary becomes the property of the water company.

On the surface this seems fair enough, however there are some niggles. Take this statement for instance with my emphasis:

you will no longer have to worry about paying to resolve problems yourself on any shared pipes or sewers outside your property boundary. However, drainage pipes within your property boundary which serve just your property will remain your responsibility
So who owns drainage pipes within your property boundary that are shared? At the moment it's the property owner after 1st October it'll be the water company.

Just to make this clear - the water company are taking ownership of pipework within the boundaries of private property and just to add the cherry they'll be charging us for the privilege.

But hey so what it just means less cost for the property owner should anything go wrong. True, except as the water companies now own that pipework they gain the same rights of access to it as they do with the main sewer pipeline. If they decide they want to replace the pipework they can and there's nothing you can do to stop them. They can dig up your garden, your driveway when they please although they will "try to reinstate as it previously was" afterwards, how reassuring.

Said property owner also faces one other small detail - as they're no longer the owners of the pipework they can't build over it without permission.

Now I'm in favour of this transfer, but looking at closely it just seems a wholesale transfer without any examination of the current legislation covering 'public' pipeways. Extra protections for the property owners have to be put in place.

To counter any possible charges of  whining without doing anything I've emailed my MP Mark Garnier with these queries; let's see how he responds.

[Update - a response time of 5 hours from Julian, not bad, not bad at all. Just a request for more information though; I'll give them time to look things up]

[Update 29/7 - an impressive return from Julian this morning. He's checking on the exact wording what with the holiday and all, but the basic word is that the water company just keeps the same rights they already possess in that they can gain access to fix things that affected the main pipeline. As they do need to give the owner sufficient notice in that instance that will continue once they own the pipework as well.]

[Update 5/8 - Julian posted the full wording, but that's made things worse. It appears that as it stands the local authorities have the right of access to private land and private sewers, but the water companies only have the right of access on private land to public sewers. Therefore, again, it seems they are gaining rights of access they didn't possess before.

Another point - when the companies were privatised did the ownership of the pipelines pass to them? If that's the case by what jurisdiction can the government transfer ownership of private pipes to private hands?]