Private sewer transfer prompts work fears

The Society of British Water and Wastewater Industries (SBWWI) has warned that domestic drainage contractors could lose half their business when private drains and sewers transfer from private to water company ownership.

Martyn Hopkinson, SBWWI vice chairman, said: "This is a major issue and small contractors are concerned as to when transfer takes place. They are looking for visibility; whether that is going to happen in 2011 as suggested."

The transfer is expected in 2011 but is subject to secondary legislation contained in the Flood and Water Management Bill. The society is concerned that the short parliamentary session and the imminent general election may prevent the bill being enacted.

The society has set up a Private Sewers Forum to help meet the challenge that the transfer poses which it says is the greatest the water industry has faced since privatisation in 1989. "We are trying to get some joined up thinking among the supply chain and other major stakeholders," said Hopkinson who is also chairman of the Private Sewer Forum.

Small contractors fear that private drain work, "their bread and butter" will be lost to them once taken over by the water companies, said Hopkinson. The uncertainty over the transfer date and the many unknowns the proposed transfer involves is stifling decisions on investment in personnel, training and new machinery, he said.

Hopkinson said that the transfer will happen but not necessarily in 2001. "In some ways the more time we get as a supply chain to look at issues, and look at the effect this is going to have on industry, is probably a good thing," he said.

Defra estimates that well over half of all houses in England have a private sewer or lateral drain with some 200,000 kilometres of pipe work connected to the public system. Water company sewer networks will in some cases double in size following the transfer.

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