If your residential property is served by a septic tank, you need to be aware that the environmental regulations permitting discharges from such tanks are changing.
The general binding rules, which have governed such discharges since 2015, contained a deadline for the tightening of those regulations as of 1st January 2020.
If you have a septic tank which discharges to surface waters, such as a water course or ditch, these discharges are no longer permitted as of 1st January due to new septic tank regulations.
In such circumstances, your alternatives are to:
1/ install a modern, more efficient sewage treatment plant which complies with British Standard EN12566-3; and/or
2/ replace the surface water discharge with a drainage field system
Please be aware that there are additional restrictions on the positioning of new drainage field systems too. For example, you are not allowed to position one within 50 metres of a well or stream used as a domestic water source. This restriction is not to be confused with the tighter prohibition on discharging directly to surface water, referred to above.
The Environment Agency has the power to prosecute and, potentially, levy fines for breaches of this legislation. However, as late as October 2019, the 1st January deadline was relaxed in most cases. The Environment Agency is now stating that most septic tanks that discharge to surface water must now be ‘brought up to code’ within a ‘reasonable period’.
The latest Environment Agency guidance suggests that a ‘reasonable period’ means no longer than 12 months from 1 January 2020. However, the Environment Agency will judge each case on a case-by-case basis. Be warned though, as this means the Environment Agency can require action to be taken, in some circumstances, sooner than their stated 12 month deadline.
It is recommended that in order to avoid possible prosecution and fines by the Environment Agency over septic tank regulations, you should make plans now. In all cases where your septic tank drains to surface water, such as a watercourse or ditch, you need to upgrade that discharge as soon as possible, or by the end of 2020 at the absolute latest.
There are also specific restrictions for drainage systems in or near to designated sensitive areas such as sites of special scientific interest. Although those restrictions are beyond the scope of this article, we would be happy to assist with any specific enquiries that you may have.
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James is a Solicitor, specialising in commercial and agricultural property law, undertaking a wide range of work, including sales and purchases of commercial and agricultural properties as well as Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, Agricultural Holdings Act and farm business tenancies. James has experience of negotiating complex land transaction documents including option and promotion agreements, easements, and overage / uplift deeds.
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