Why Wealden is Wrong to Impose a Sewage Embago on New Housing


Wealden DC has said it will defer the majority of planning applications it has received until after “full and satisfactory” reports are received from Southern Water.

The council’s planning committee unanimously voted to defer applications for 205 new homes in East Hoathly, around 28 homes in Horsebridge, and up to 24 homes in Horam.

Last month, the council called on Southern Water to share further information about the impact of new housing on its sewage network.

This was part of a raft of measures passed by the council at a meeting on 20 July relating to the impact of sewage overflows on the local environment.

According to the Rivers Trust, Southern Water was responsible for raw sewage being spilled into Wealden’s waterways for over 17,000 hours. This spanned four river catchments which all serve areas of outstanding natural beauty and ecological significance.

Last month, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said that water companies would have a legal duty to reduce nutrient pollution, a measure set to be introduced by a government amendment to the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill.

Susan Steadman (Con), the chair of Wealden’s planning committee said: “Southern Water has not addressed our concerns nor fully answered our questions in relation to these three, major applications.”

Councillors have been advised that a meeting is set to take place between Southern Water and the council in late September. In the meantime, the council is looking to arrange further dialogue with the water authority.

Ann Newton (Con), the chair of the council said she was “appalled” and “dismayed” by Southern Water’s lack of a meaningful response in respect of the planning applications.

“Southern Water has clearly not taken on board the feeling of the council, representing residents in Wealden,” Cllr Newton said.

“Our cross-party proposal made it quite clear, and I call upon the water authority to act with alacrity. We will not simply gloss over vital issues such as sewage flooding,” she added.

A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “We are aware of this motion, and are reviewing its requirements in line with our statutory duties. We continue to work closely with all stakeholders regarding this issue.”

The ability for planning to consider potable and foul water connections has been severely curtailed ever since the Water Act of 1989.  Under what is known as the ‘non duplication principle’ (most clearly set out in NPS – planning should assume other regulatory regimes operate efficiently) planning cannot duplicate regulatory regimes (e.g. building control) and one such is water connections and capacity.

The current applicable regime is the Water Act of 1991 which gives a statutory duty to water companies to make connections to potable and foul networks and to make a charge for that connection to developers.   As such it is not normally possible to collect planning obligations for water supply or refuse applications on water supply/sewerage reasons.

There are a couple of exceptions.  It is legitimate to consider infrastructure when it is of such a scale as to require new facilities and the impact of these facilities (such as on European protected sites) such as in the local plan and for very large scale applications. 

Also, local plans subject to testing can impose consumption targets in water scarce areas then LPAs can impose conditions and the government have proposed in a recent consultation that this then triggers higher standards in the Building Regs. (part G) Although resilience of local water supply and concerns over overloading of STPs and seawater outlets are critically important local issues they are controlled by OFWAT the water regulator in their oversight of Southern Water.   Therefore, it would be beyond the powers of a council to impose a planning moratorium on these grounds. –  Also the planning committee cannot determine planning policy.  Every five years OFFWAT must approve their capital expenditure programme and charges.  As well as consumer issues OFWAT must also consider sustainability issues in exercising these duties.

 Water companies plan for new development and population growth in accordance with water industry regulations and standards. They assess future demand through our analysis of Local Plan growth projections and population forecasts which are used to inform their long term Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP). Each WRMP sets out how they will maintain secure water supplies to our customers in the face of future growth and other pressures such as climate change. They are updated every 5 years to ensure any revisions to predicted growth for that plan period are captured.

Are these regulations working well no – the WRMPs are offered under assessed on population because local plans are dragging and hence not providing clear enough proposals well enough in advance to bring STPS and WTP up to speed with growth. The regulatory regime based on reducing prices is also enaminic to long term planning compared with similar regulations on the continent. There are also similar problems with electricity – witness the data centre issues along the A4/M4. The amendment to the the LURP bill is welcome as it places a long term duty on water companies that will help with nutrient neutrality.

Having said that is it unlawful to impose an STP housing moratorium when there are no AA issues on habitat – absolutely not.