Michaelmas Term [2009] UKSC 13 On appeal from: [2008] EWCA 1552

 

JUDGMENT
Barratt Homes Limited (Respondents) v Dwr
Cymru Cyfyngedig (Welsh Water) (Appellants)
before
Lord Phillips, President
Lord Saville
Lord Walker
Lady Hale
Lord Clarke
JUDGMENT GIVEN ON
9 December 2009
Heard on 27 and 28 July 2009
Appellant Respondent
Lord Pannick QC Anthony Porten QC
David Holgate QC
Maurice Sheridan
Jessica Simor
Steven Gasztowicz QC
Clare Perry
(Instructed by Geldards
LLP)
(Instructed by Darwin
Gray)
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LORD PHILLIPS (with whom Lord Saville, Lord Walker and Lord Clarke
agree)
Introduction
1. This appeal is about the right conferred by the Water Industry Act 1991
(“the Act”) on a property owner to connect his private drain or sewer to a public
sewer for the purpose of discharging his sewage into the public sewer. The
principal issue raised is whether it is the property owner or the sewerage
undertaker who is entitled to determine the point at which the property owner’s
drain or sewer is to connect to the public sewer. This narrow issue of statutory
construction conceals, however, wider and more fundamental issues that are less
easily resolved. I propose first to resolve the narrow issue, before commenting on
these wider issues.
2. Llanfoist is a village near Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. Its surface
water and foul water drainage requirements are met by a public sewerage system
that terminates in a waste water treatment works (“the Treament Works”) about
1/3 mile to the East of the village and below it. This system is about 60 years old.
3. Approximately mid-way between the village and the Treatment Works, at
manhole SO29125900 (“the CSO”), the sewage pipe that links the two reduces
from a diameter of 225 mm to a diameter of 150 mm and continues for a distance
of 282m before it increases, at manhole SO29127901 to a diameter of 300mm for
the final stretch to the Treatment Works. The narrow section, described as a “pipe
bridge” determines the capacity of the system, or at least all that part of it that lies
upstream of manhole SO29127901.
4. The Respondents, “Barratts”, are in the process of building a substantial
development of 98 houses and a primary school on a greenfield site contiguous to
the East side of Llanfoist. They constructed a private sewer to receive the sewage
from this development. They claimed a statutory right to connect their private
sewer to the public sewer at a point of their own choosing, which was in the close
vicinity of their development. This point of connection was not satisfactory to
Welsh Water, as it would overload the system upstream of manhole SO29127901.
They claimed a statutory right to refuse connection at this point, offering instead
connection at manhole SO29127901, an option that would saddle Barratts with the
cost of the link from their development to manhole SO29127901. Thus arose the
narrow issue of the interpretation of the relevant provisions of the 1991 Act.
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5. At first instance, in a judgment delivered on 1 August 2008, Wyn Williams
J found in favour of Welsh Water [2008] EWHC 1936 (QB). His decision was
reversed by the Court of Appeal on 28 November 2008 [2008] EWCA Civ 1552.
Barratts then proceeded to connect the development’s sewer to the public sewer at
the place of their choice. Welsh Water do not seek, by this appeal, to effect a
physical reversal of what has taken place. They accept that what has taken place in
this case is now water under the bridge. They are anxious to establish, however,
that a sewerage undertaker has a right to refuse to permit connection to be made to
one of their sewers when they consider that the proposed point of connection is not
suitable. Should they establish this right of refusal a further issue arises as to the
effect of a statutory time limit for giving notice of refusal.
The Water Industry Act 1991
6. The law in relation to sewers has its origin in the reign of Henry VIII, but
the modern law begins with the Public Health Act 1848. There followed a series of
Acts which consolidated and amended the law, of which the 1991 Act is one. The
provisions of that Act which are directly relevant to this appeal can be traced back
to the Victorian legislation. They provide as follows:
“94 General duty to provide sewerage system
(1) It shall be the duty of every sewerage undertaker–
(a) to provide, improve and extend such a system of public
sewers (whether inside its area or elsewhere) and so to
cleanse and maintain those sewers and any lateral drains
which belong to or vest in the undertaker as to ensure that
that area is and continues to be effectually drained; and
(b) to make provision for the emptying of those sewers and
such further provision (whether inside its area or elsewhere)
as is necessary from time to time for effectually dealing, by
means of sewage disposal works or otherwise, with the
contents of those sewers.
. . .
106 Right to communicate with public sewers
(1) Subject to the provisions of this section–
(a) the owner or occupier of any premises, or
(b) the owner of any private sewer which drains premises,
shall be entitled to have his drains or sewer communicate with the
public sewer of any sewerage undertaker and thereby to discharge
foul water and surface water from those premises or that private
sewer.
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. . .
(2) Subject to the provisions of Chapter III of this Part, nothing in
subsection (1) above shall entitle any person–
(a) to discharge directly or indirectly into any public sewer–
(i) any liquid from a factory, other than domestic
sewage or surface or storm water, or any liquid from a
manufacturing process; or
(ii) any liquid or other matter the discharge of which
into public sewers is prohibited by or under any
enactment; or
(b) where separate public sewers are provided for foul water
and for surface water, to discharge directly or indirectly–
(i) foul water into a sewer provided for surface water;
or
(ii) except with the approval of the undertaker, surface
water into a sewer provided for foul water; or
(c) to have his drains or sewer made to communicate directly
with a storm-water overflow sewer.
(3) A person desirous of availing himself of his entitlement under
this section shall give notice of his proposals to the sewerage
undertaker in question.
(4) At any time within twenty-one days after a sewerage
undertaker receives a notice under subsection (3) above, the
undertaker may by notice to the person who gave the notice refuse to
permit the communication to be made, if it appears to the undertaker
that the mode of construction or condition of the drain or sewer–
(a) does not satisfy the standards reasonably required by the
undertaker; or
(b) is such that the making of the communication would be
prejudicial to the undertaker’s sewerage system.
(5) For the purpose of examining the mode of construction and
condition of a drain or sewer to which a notice under subsection (3)
above relates a sewerage undertaker may, if necessary, require it to
be laid open for inspection.”
In this judgment I shall, where appropriate, refer to “the developer” as shorthand
for the “owner or occupier” of premises who enjoys rights under section 106.
7. Section 106(6) provides that any question as to the reasonableness of an
undertaker’s refusal to permit a communication to be made or of a requirement
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under subsection (5) may be referred for determination by the Director of the
Office of Water Services (“OFWAT”).
8. Section 107 entitles the sewerage undertaker to give notice within 14 days
of receipt of a notice under section 106(3) that the undertaker intends to make the
communication himself. In that event the developer has to pay the reasonable cost
of the work.
The point of connection
Submissions
9. Mr Porten QC for Barratts submitted that the provisions of section 106 of
the 1991 Act were clear. Subsection (1) gave a property owner the right to connect
to a public sewer, subject only to such limitations as were imposed by other
provisions of the section itself. That right was a right to connect at whatever point
the property owner chose to do so. The only restrictions on that right were those
set out in subsection (4). Those restrictions were very limited. They gave the
undertaker the right to refuse to permit the connection only on grounds of the
inadequacy of the mode of construction or condition of the private drain or sewer
that was to be joined to the public sewer. No objection could be made to the point
of connection, however inconvenient that might be for the undertaker.
10. Lord Pannick QC for Welsh Water submitted that the Court should not
accept this interpretation, for its consequences ran counter to the object of the
legislation. That object was the protection of health and of the environment.
Parliament cannot have intended that a property owner should be entitled to insist
on a specific point of connection however great the harm that this would cause to
the environment or to public health and however reasonable it might be to require
the property owner to connect elsewhere.
11. The potential harm identified by Lord Pannick was damage to the
environment or to health as a result of the escape of foul water from the sewage
system. The overload on the system consequent upon the point of connection
chosen by Barratts had increased the risk of escape of foul water at the CSO. The
CSO was intended to act as an escape point for sewage to a limited extent deemed
acceptable in conditions of overload caused by exceptional rainfall in storm
conditions. The additional loading on the system as a result of connecting Barratts’
sewer upstream rather than downstream of the pipe bridge was calculated to lead
to escape of foul water beyond the limit that was acceptable. Such escape would
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result in Welsh Water committing criminal offences of strict liability under section
85 of the Water Resources Act 1991 and would infringe provisions of Directive
91/271/EEC concerning the collection, treatment and discharge of urban waste
water (“the Directive”) and the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and
Wales) Regulations 1994 (SI 1994/2841) (“the 1994 Regulations”) passed to give
effect to the Directive.
12. Lord Pannick treated the facts of the present case as illustrative of the
general effect of an interpretation of section 106 of the 1991 Act that permits a
developer to select the point of connection between his sewer and a public sewer.
That is the only relevance of the facts of this case to the issue of interpretation that
is raised and I shall defer a more detailed consideration of those facts to later in
this judgment.
13. Lord Pannick further submitted that the escape of waste water consequent
upon a property owner connecting to a public sewer at an inappropriate point could
include pollution and risk to health, thereby infringing Articles 2, 3 or 8 of The
European Convention on Human Rights. The Court was bound, if possible, so to
interpret section 106 of the 1991 Act as to avoid these consequences – see
Marsleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Alimentacion SA (Case C106/89) [1990] ECR 1-4135 and section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Lord
Pannick submitted that such interpretation could be achieved by reading the
provisions of section 106 in a manner that implicitly incorporated express
provisions in earlier legislation that the 1991 Act had replaced.
14. Lord Pannick advanced two alternative ways of interpreting section 106 that
produced the result for which he contended. The first involved reading “the mode
of construction … of the drain or sewer” in subsection (4) as embracing the point
of connection. This interpretation was, he submitted, supported by the legislative
history.
15. Section 21 of the Public Health Act 1875 (‘the 1875 Act’) provided:
“The owner or occupier of any premises within the district of a local
authority shall be entitled to cause his drains to empty into the
sewers of that authority on condition of his giving such notice as
may be required by that authority of his intention so to do, and of
complying with the regulations of that authority in respect of the
mode in which the communications between such drains and sewers
are to be made, and subject to the control of any person who may be
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appointed by that authority to superintend the making of such
communications.”
16. The Public Health Act 1936 (“the 1936 Act”) replaced the provisions of the
1875 Act with provisions that more closely resemble those of the 1991 Act.
Section 34 provided:
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the owner or occupier
of any premises, or the owner of any private sewer, within the
district of a local authority shall be entitled to have his drains or
sewer made to communicate with the public sewers of that authority,
and thereby to discharge foul water and surface water from those
premises or that private sewer:
. . .
(3) A person desirous of availing himself of the foregoing provisions
of this section shall give to the local authority notice of his
proposals, and at any time within twenty-one days after receipt
thereof, the authority may by notice to him refuse to permit the
communication to be made, if it appears to them that the mode of
construction or condition of the drain or sewer is such that the
making of the communication would be prejudicial to their sewerage
system, and for the purpose of examining the mode of construction
and condition of the drain or sewer they may, if necessary, require it
to be laid open for inspection:
Provided that any question arising under this subsection between a
local authority and a person proposing to make a communication as
to the reasonableness of any such requirement of the local authority,
or of their refusal to permit a communication to be made, may on the
application of that person be determined by a court of summary
jurisdiction.”
17. Lord Pannick submitted that the legislature can have had no intention of
restricting the rights of the local authority and that “mode of construction” in the
1936 Act should be given the same meaning as “mode in which the
communications…are to be made” in the 1875 Act. The latter phrase was wide
enough to embrace the point at which the communication should be made. The
same interpretation should be given to “mode of construction” in section 106 of
the 1991 Act.
18. Alternatively, Lord Pannick submitted that section 106(1) did not confer
any entitlement on a property owner to connect at any point of his choosing
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and that it was open to an undertaker to respond to a proposal under section 106(3)
by identifying a location at which connection might be made, such a response
being subject to dispute resolution under section 106(6).
19. Lord Pannick relied in support of these submissions on observations by
Walton J in Beech Properties v GE Wallis & Sons Ltd [1977] EG 735, to which I
shall return.
The Judgments below
20. Wyn Williams J accepted the first of Lord Pannick’s approaches to the
construction of section 106, then advanced on behalf of Welsh Water by Mr
Maurice Sheridan. In doing so he relied upon the judgment of Walton J in Beech
Properties. He added that he considered it would be objectionable to construe the
statute in such a way as to preclude an undertaker from refusing a connection that
would have potentially deleterious environmental consequences.
21. In the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal, reversing the decision of
the trial judge, Carnwath LJ held that section 34 of the 1936 Act, which was
essentially reproduced in section 106 of the 1991 Act, provided only narrow
grounds on which an undertaker could refuse connection. These related solely to
the mode of construction or condition of the connecting drain. This formulation
was even narrower than under the 1875 Act, which permitted the authority to
regulate the “mode of communication”. Furthermore, the reason why Welsh Water
objected to the point of connection was that connection would overload the public
sewer and there was clear authority that an undertaker could not resist connection
on this ground.
22. Lawrence Collins LJ agreed with the judgment of Carnwath LJ. Pill LJ also
agreed. He held at paragraph 54:
“I am unable to conclude that the expression ‘mode of construction
and condition of the drain or sewer’ in section 106(4), repeated in
section 106(5) of the 1991 Act, has any bearing upon the location of
the communication with the public sewer contemplated in section
106(1)(b) and section 106(4). Mode of construction has nothing to
do with location”.
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He added in the following paragraph that he would not accept the submission of
Mr Porten that the owner or occupier could dictate the precise location of the
connection.
“Circumstances may be such as to allow a modest discretion to the
sewerage undertaker where good reason is shown, for example, that
the precise location chosen by the applicant is not a feasible or
sensible location at which to connect.”
That was not this case. Welsh Water were seeking to dictate a communication
situated about 300 metres from that requested and across land in third party
ownership and control.
The Statutory scheme
23. The right to connect to a public sewer afforded by section 106 of the 1991
Act and its predecessors has been described as an “absolute right”. The sewerage
undertaker cannot refuse to permit the connection on the ground that the additional
discharge into the system will overload it. The burden of dealing with the
consequences of this additional discharge falls directly upon the undertaker and the
consequent expense is shared by all who pay sewerage charges to the undertaker.
Thus in Ainley v Kirkheaton Local Board (1891) 60 LJ (Ch) 734 Stirling J held
that the exercise of the right of an owner of property to discharge into a public
sewer conferred by section 21 of the 1875 Act could not be prevented by the local
authority on the ground that the discharge was creating a nuisance. It was for the
local authority to ensure that what was discharged into their sewer was freed from
all foul matter before it flowed out into any natural watercourse.
24. In Brown v Dunstable Corporation [1899] Ch 378 at p. 390 Cozens-Hardy J
described the right under section 21 as an “absolute right”, adding that:
“This absolute right is no doubt subject to any regulations in respect
of the mode of making connections and subject to the control of any
person appointed to superintend the making of the connections; but
no regulations can justify an absolute refusal to allow a connection to
be made on any terms”.
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25. In Smeaton v Ilford Corporation [1954] Ch 450 the Corporation was the
authority responsible for sewerage in Ilford. They were sued by the plaintiff in
nuisance caused by the escape of sewage from a sewer. Upjohn J held that they
were not liable. The nuisance was not caused by the Corporation but arose because
the Corporation were bound by section 34 of the 1936 Act to permit occupiers or
premises to make connections with the sewer and to discharge their sewage into it.
26. Smeaton was cited with approval by the House of Lords in Marcic v
Thames Water Utilities Ltd [2003] UKHL 66; [2004] 2 AC 42. Lord Nicholls of
Birkenhead remarked at paragraph 34 that Thames Water had no control over the
volume of water entering their sewers. A sewerage undertaker was unable to
prevent connections being made to the existing system, and the ingress of water
through those connections, even if this risked overloading the existing sewers.
27. It follows that the duty imposed on Welsh Water by section 94 of the 1991
Act requires them to deal with any discharge that is made into their sewers
pursuant to section 106. It does not follow, however, that where a new
development is constructed, Welsh Water are obliged, at their own expense, to
construct a sewer to accept the sewage from the development if one does not
already exist. Section 98 entitles a developer, among others, to requisition a public
sewer, or a lateral drain linking with a public sewer, in order to service the
buildings being constructed, but on terms that he meets the costs of so doing.
Section 101 provides that the place or places where the public sewer and drain are
to be located are to be agreed between the requisitioner and the undertaker or, in
default of agreement, to be determined by OFWAT.
28. Sections 102 and 103 of the 1991 Act make provision for a sewerage
undertaker to adopt private sewers, lateral drains and disposal works. Section 104
makes provision for a person who is constructing or who proposes to construct a
sewer, lateral drain or disposal works to enter into an agreement with a sewerage
undertaker under which the undertaker will adopt the works at or after their
completion.
29. Section 112 of the 1991 Act provides:
“Requirement that proposed drain or sewer be constructed so as to
form part of general system
(1) Where—
(a) a person proposes to construct a drain or sewer; and
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(b) a sewerage undertaker considers that the proposed drain or
sewer is, or is likely to be, needed to form part of a general
sewerage system which that undertaker provides or
proposes to provide, the undertaker may require that
person to construct the drain or sewer in a manner
differing, as regards material or size of pipes, depth, fall,
direction or outfall or otherwise, from the manner in which
that person proposes, or could otherwise be required by
the undertaker, to construct it.
(2) If any person on whom requirements are imposed under this
section by a sewerage undertaker is aggrieved by the
requirements, he may within twenty-eight days appeal to
[OFWAT].”
Any additional cost that this involves has to be paid by the undertaker.
30. Section 113 of the 1991 Act provides:
“Power to alter drainage system of premises in area
(1) Where any premises have a drain or sewer communicating with a
public sewer or a cesspool, but that system of drainage, though
sufficient for the effectual drainage of the premises–
(a) is not adapted to the general sewerage system of the area;
or
(b) is, in the opinion of the sewerage undertaker for the area,
otherwise objectionable, the undertaker may, at its own
expense, close the existing drain or sewer and fill up the
cesspool, if any, and do any work necessary for that
purpose.
(2) The power conferred on a sewerage undertaker by subsection (1)
above shall be exercisable on condition only that the undertaker
first provides, in a position equally convenient to the owner of
the premises in question, a drain or sewer which–
(a) is equally effectual for the drainage of the premises; and
(b) communicates with the public sewer.”
31. The scheme of the legislation, as reflected in the above provisions and as
affecting a developer, can be summarised as follows:
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i) Where connection of a development to a public sewer requires
consequential works to accommodate the increased load on
the public sewer, the cost of these works falls exclusively
upon the undertaker.
ii) Where works are done, whether by or on the requisition of the
developer, that will be used exclusively by the development,
the costs of such works fall exclusively on the developer.
iii) In specified circumstances the undertaker is entitled to require
the developer to carry out the works in a manner other than
that proposed by the developer, or to alter the works carried
out by the developer. In either case the undertaker has to bear
the costs involved.
iv) Costs that are borne by the undertaker are passed on to all
who pay sewerage charges. These include those who occupy
the houses in the development.
The natural meaning of section 106
32. It is plain from section 106(5) that the “drain or sewer” referred to in
section 106(4) is the private drain or sewer that the developer proposes to connect
to the public sewer, and Lord Pannick accepted that this was so. I agree with the
Court of Appeal that it is impossible to extend the natural meaning of the “mode of
construction” of the existing drain or sewer so as to include the point at which it is
proposed to connect that drain or sewer to the public sewer. Lord Pannick argued
that one reason why this extension of “mode of construction” should be made was
that it was unlikely that the “mode of construction” of the private sewer or drain
would be of concern to the undertaker if that phrase were given its natural
meaning. As to this, we received no evidence as to why the condition or mode of
construction of the private drain or sewer should be of concern to the undertaker,
but I note that section 114 gives the undertaker a right to open a private drain or
sewer for inspection if, inter alia, there are reasonable grounds for believing that
“any such drain or private sewer is so defective as to admit subsoil water”. I see no
justification for approaching section 106(4) on the premise that the condition or
mode of construction of the private drain or sewer is unlikely to be of concern to
the undertaker.
33. The provisions of section 106(4) of the 1991 Act contrast with the
equivalent provisions in relation to sewerage in Scotland set out in section 12 of
the Sewerage (Scotland) Act 1968:
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“(3) The owner of any premises who proposes to connect his drains
or sewers with the sewers or works of a local authority, or to alter a
drain or sewer connected with such sewer or works in such a manner
as may interfere with them, shall give to the authority notice of his
proposals, and within 28 days of the receipt by them of the notice the
authority may refuse permission for the connection or alteration, or
grant permission for the connection or alteration, subject to such
conditions as they think fit, and any such permission may in
particular specify the mode and point of connection and, where there
are separate public sewers for foul water and surface water, prohibit
the discharge of foul water into the sewer reserved for surface water,
and prohibit the discharge of surface water into the sewer reserved
for foul water.
(4) A local authority shall forthwith intimate to the owner their
decision on any proposals made by him under subsection (3) above,
and, where permission is refused, or granted subject to conditions,
shall inform him of the reasons for their decision and of his right of
appeal under subsection (5) below.
(5) If a person to whom a decision has been given under subsection
(4) above is aggrieved by the decision or any conditions attached
thereto, he may appeal to the Secretary of State who may confirm the
decision and any such conditions either with or without modification
or refuse to confirm it.”

This merely underlines the fact that “mode of construction” does not naturally
embrace the “point of connection”. No explanation was offered to us as to why
those who drafted the Scottish Act chose different language from that of the 1991
Act.
34. So far as Lord Pannick’s alternative approach to construction is concerned,
I can see no basis, if the wording of section 106 is given its natural meaning, for
inferring that it confers a right on the part of the undertaker to refuse permission to
communicate with a public sewer on the ground that the intended point of
connection is not satisfactory.
Beech Properties v Wallis
35. The issue in this case was whether a vendor of property had satisfied an
obligation to provide the purchaser with the right to run foul and surface water
from the land sold to a public sewer. The vendor contended that this obligation
was satisfied by the right of the purchaser to connect a 12 inch diameter pipe to a 9
Page 14
inch diameter public sewer at a particular location, pursuant to section 34 of the
1936 Act. Walton J held, essentially because of uncertainty as to this right, that the
condition was not satisfied. His judgment contained the following observations at
pp. 748-9:
“However, it does appear to me that, wide as the words of subsection
(1) may be, and for the moment ignoring the opening qualification,
they do not confer upon an individual the right to connect his sewer
to the water authority’s sewer at any point which he may choose. In
most cases, of course, the matter will be quite academic. There will
be the water authority’s sewer, going along the road; a new house is
built in the road; and quite obviously and clearly the owner will
expect to have a right to drain into that sewer, and it would be very
difficult, assuming that there are no problems under the proviso to
subsection (1), to imagine a set of circumstances where the water
authority would be entitled to say that he must not connect to that
sewer but to some other sewer. Even so, if the new house was built at
a crossroads and there were available sewers in both roads, I can see
no reason why the owner should be entitled to drain into the sewer of
his choice if the water authority required him to drain into the other,
which might, for example, well be a relief sewer expressly provided
for the district because the other sewer was approaching capacity.
Similarly, I see no reason why the owner is entitled to connect at
point X rather than an adjacent point Y, if the water authority
requires him to connect at Y.”
36. This passage sounds eminently sensible, but the judge gave no satisfactory
explanation as to how the authority’s option to select the point of connection could
be derived from section 34. This decision cannot sustain the weight placed upon it
by the trial judge and by Lord Pannick.
The requirements of European Law and the Human Rights Convention.
37. Lord Pannick submitted that if the words of section 106 did not naturally
bear the meaning for which he contended, they should be so interpreted as to carry
that meaning nonetheless in order to avoid infringement of the Directive, the 1994
Regulations and the Human Rights Convention. While he relied upon the facts of
the present case as illustrating his thesis, much of the argument focussed on a
rather different scenario. Mr Porten argued that Pill LJ had erred in suggesting that
an undertaker enjoyed a “modest discretion” to refuse to connect at the precise
location chosen by an applicant where this was not a feasible or sensible location
at which to connect. He submitted that a developer’s “proposals” under section
Page 15
106(3) could specify the precise point of connection and that the undertaker had no
right to insist on deviation from that point by so much as a metre.
38. Lord Pannick seized on this reductio ad absurdum as demonstrating that the
construction for which Barratts contended could not possibly be correct. The
scenario postulated is indeed absurd. It is impossible to conceive of any reason
why a developer should not be prepared, indeed eager, to co-operate with the
sewerage undertaker in selecting the point of connection that is most suitable,
provided that this is within reasonable proximity of the development. In the
present case the evidence placed before us shows that Barratts were prepared to
contemplate any one of a number of manholes in the vicinity of their development
as the connection point. It is, I believe, significant that, in nearly a century and a
half since the 1875 Act was passed, this is the first occasion upon which the
English court has been required to resolve a dispute between property owner and
sewerage undertaker as to the point of connection of a private sewer or drain to a
public sewer. The 1875 Act permitted Local Authorities to make regulations in
respect of the “mode in which the communications between such drains and
sewers are to be made”. There is no evidence that any regulations relevant to the
issues raised on this appeal were ever made. Nor is there any evidence that
suggests that the change to the single ground for refusing a connection made by the
1936 Act led to any practical difficulties.
39. Pill LJ did not identify the source of the “modest discretion” that he
suggested would exist on the part of an undertaker to object to the “precise” point
of connection selected by the developer should this prove not feasible or sensible. I
suggest that section 108(1) of the 1991 Act probably provides the answer. This
requires the developer, before commencing the work of making the
communication, to give reasonable notice to any person directed by the undertaker
to superintend the carrying out of the work and to afford such person all reasonable
facilities for superintending the carrying out of the work. The sub-section is silent
as to the powers of the superintendent, but his role can be traced back to section 21
of the 1875 Act, which provided that the making of the communication should be
“subject to the control of any person who may be appointed by that authority to
superintend the making of such communications” (my emphasis). It is at least
arguable that section 108 of the 1991 Act implicitly confers on the undertaker’s
superintendent power to control the making of the connection and thus to insist
that the precise point of communication is one where it is technically feasible and
sensible to make the connection. There is a lacuna in the Act in that the powers of
the superintendent are not spelt out and no machinery is provided for resolving any
dispute between the superintendent and the developer. Once again this may reflect
the fact that the possibility of a dispute between the supervisor and the developer is
one that exists in theory rather than in practice.
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40. I now turn from the unlikely scenario of a dispute as to the precise point of
connection to the situation that has led to the dispute in the present case.
The real problem
41. The real problem that is demonstrated by the facts of this case arises out of
the “absolute right” conferred by section 106 of the 1991 Act on the owner or
occupier of premises to connect those premises to a public sewer without any
requirement to give more than 21 days notice. While this might create no problem
in the case of an individual dwelling house, it is manifestly unsatisfactory in
relation to a development that may, as in the present case, add 25% or more to the
load on the public sewer. The public sewer may well not have surplus capacity
capable of accommodating the increased load without the risk of flooding unless
the undertaker has received sufficient advance notice of the increase and has been
able to take the necessary measures to increase its capacity.
42. This problem is accentuated by the fact that the budgets of sewerage
undertakers and the charges that they are permitted to make have to be agreed by
OFWAT and that this process takes place at five yearly intervals so that forward
planning may have to be carried out five years in advance. This is not a problem
that arises because, if it be the case, the developer has the right to select the point
of connection. It is fortuitous that in this case there was spare capacity in the final
short section of Welsh Water’s sewer that led to the Treatment Works. In many
cases there will be no alternative point of connection that will avoid overload on
the public sewer. Welsh Water has presented this appeal as if the problem to be
addressed relates to the point of connection whereas in truth the problem relates to
the right of a developer, on no more than 21 days notice, to connect to a public
sewer that lacks the relevant capacity.
43. The Court of Appeal suggested that the practical answer to this problem lies
in the fact that the building of a development requires planning permission under
the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The planning authority can make
planning permission conditional upon there being in place adequate sewerage
facilities to cater for the requirements of the development without ecological
damage. If the developer indicates that he intends to deal with the problem of
sewerage by connecting to a public sewer, the planning authority can make
planning permission conditional upon the sewerage authority first taking any steps
necessary to ensure that the public sewer will be able to cope with the increased
load. Such conditions are sometimes referred to as Grampian conditions after the
decision of the House of Lords in Grampian Regional Council v Secretary of State
for Scotland [1983] 1 WLR 1340. Thus the planning authority has the power,
which the sewerage undertaker lacks, of preventing a developer from overloading
Page 17
a sewerage system before the undertaker has taken steps to upgrade the system to
cope with the additional load.
44. Mr David Holgate QC, whose expertise in the field of planning led Lord
Pannick to delegate to him this area of the case, sought to persuade us that
planning law did not provide a satisfactory answer to the problem. He
demonstrated that there are some projects that have a major impact on sewerage
that are not subject to any planning control. Further, the planning authority may
not always take the right decision so far as demands on the sewerage system are
concerned. Article 10 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development
Procedure) Order 1995 (SI 1995/419) sets out a wide range of bodies that must be
consulted by the local planning authority on an application in relation to a
development such as Barratts’. They include the Health and Safety Executive,
highway authorities, the Environment Agency, English Heritage, Natural England,
the Countryside Council for Wales and the National Assembly for Wales, but not
sewerage undertakers.
45. If conditions of planning permission are to provide the answer to the
problem of the connection of private sewers to public sewers which are not
adequate to bear the additional load, it would seem essential that there should be
input to planning decisions from both the relevant sewerage undertaker and
OFWAT. In the present case there was input from each, but in the submission of
Welsh Water the County Council’s planning department made an erroneous
decision. Before looking briefly at what occurred, it is instructive to note that
Welsh Water and OFWAT were approaching the situation from different
viewpoints.
46. In 1997 an appeal was made to OFWAT, purportedly under section 106 of
the 1991 Act, by the Post Office against a refusal by Yorkshire Water to allow a
connection to a sewer in Sheffield on the sole ground of lack of capacity in the
sewer. OFWAT ruled that this was not a valid ground for refusing connection.
Subsequently, on 28 November, OFWAT sent a letter to all sewerage undertakers
about this decision. It included the following passages:
“The key issue, which the Director was required to consider when
making his recent determination, is whether the Act allows
companies to refuse, or impose conditions upon, a connection of a
surface water drain to its public combined sewer on the grounds of
limited capacity in the latter.
Page 18
The Director concluded in his determination that the company was
not able to refuse a connection solely on the grounds of lack of
capacity. The Act refers only to the condition or construction of the
private drain or sewer which is to be connected. This cannot, in the
Director’s view, extend to a consideration of the additional flows to
be discharged into the public sewer, except in very specific
circumstances. For example, if the additional flows were to be
discharged at such high pressure as to potentially cause damage to
the receiving sewer. The Director also considers that companies are
not able to make connection conditional upon works, by the person
requesting the connection, designed to reduce flows and therefore
address capacity problems in the companies’ own systems.
. . .
The Director also acknowledges that it is not in anybody’s interest
for new connections to lead to flooding from the public sewers.
Although there is no specific provision in the Act to allow conditions
to be imposed as to the timing of the connection, there may be
circumstances in which it would be desirable to seek a deferment of
the connection date to allow the company time to carry out necessary
works to prevent flooding. However, if the company has had
warning of a development and ought reasonably to have foreseen a
likely connection (for example, if it is included in the local structure
plan), but fails to act, then a deferment condition is unlikely to be
defensible. In this context, the companies’ duty under Section 94 of
the Act to provide, improve and extend the system of public sewers
so as to ensure that the area is effectually drained is relevant.
Finally, all of the comments above regarding rights of connection
assume a situation in which there are no specific planning conditions
upon a development specifying the nature of the connection or works
to be completed prior to making the connection. There may be cases
in which a planning condition would prohibit making a connection to
a particular sewer, or place conditions upon that connection. There
are mechanisms by which developers may appeal against such
planning conditions, in which the Director has no role.”

47. Despite this advice, Mr Ian Wyatt, the New Business Manager of Welsh
Water, made it clear in a statement in these proceedings that Welsh Water believed
that fairness required that a developer such as Barratts should bear any costs
caused by the connection of the development’s private sewer to a public sewer.
Welsh Water had not budgeted for the cost of upgrading their system to cope with
the demands that Barratts proposed to make on it by connecting at their chosen
point. Upgrading involved replacing the pipe bridge with a pipe of larger diameter
at a cost of about £200,000. Welsh Water’s attitude throughout has been that
Page 19
Barratts should pay for this to be done or alternatively requisition Welsh Water
under section 98 of the 1991 Act to build a parallel sewer to link the development
to the public sewer at SO29127901, again at Barratts’ expense.
The facts in this case
48. In 1999 a pre-deposit draft of Monmouthshire County Council (“MCC”)’s
Unitary Development Plan was sent to Welsh Water for purposes of consultation.
This made provision for, inter alia, the Llanfoist development. Welsh Water’s
response was that they objected to this proposed development because their
sewerage system was already overloaded and improvements to it were not
included in their relevant development programme.
49. On 18 August 2005 Barratts applied to MCC for planning permission for a
development of 120 dwellings. Welsh Water were consulted and, on 14 September
2005, objected to this development for the same reason given in 1999. They added,
however, that it might be possible for the developer to fund the accelerated
provision of replacement infrastructure or to requisition a new sewer under
sections 98 to 101 of the 1991 Act. Barratts revised their planning application,
reducing the number of dwellings to 98 but adding a primary school. On 14 May
2007 MCC granted planning permission, subject to a number of conditions, which
included:
“10. No development shall take place until a scheme of foul
drainage, and surface water drainage has been submitted to, and
approved, by the Local Planning Authority and the approved scheme
shall be completed before the building(s) is/are occupied.”
50. Meanwhile, negotiations proceeded between Barratts and Welsh Water
under the common assumption that, if the development was to proceed, Barratts
would have to fund either upgrading of the public sewer to accommodate the
increased load or the construction of a new sewer to link with the public sewer at
manhole SO29127901.
51. On 29 May 2007 Barratts served a notice under section 106 of the 1991
Act, on a standard form provided by Welsh Water, of their intention to make a foul
water connection to the public sewer “on or after June 07” at SO29131302, this
being a manhole in close proximity to the development. A parallel application was
made in relation to surface water. Welsh Water replied on 26 June 2007 as
follows:
Page 20
“Thank you for your application to connect the foul and surface
water flows from the above-proposed development into the public
sewerage systems.
We are in a position to approve the connections, however, the foul
water connection must be made into or downstream of manhole
SO29127901, as shown on the attached plan (ref. ConF1).
Please note that if you encounter problems with third party
landowners you may requisition, under Sections 98 to 101 of the
Water Industry Act 1991, one of the following: –
 A new sewer from the boundary of your site to this point of
adequacy, or,
 The necessary improvement works as identified in the
hydraulic assessment dated November 2006.”
It is now accepted that this somewhat confusing letter is to be treated as a refusal
of Barratts’ proposal.
52. Discussions continued between Barratts and Welsh Water on the premise
that, in one way or another, Barratts would be funding the cost of dealing with
Welsh Water’s capacity problem. However, on 11 September 2007 Barratts wrote
to Welsh Water, referring to their letter of 26 June, asserting that Welsh Water had
no right under section 106 to set the point of connection and asking Welsh Water
to approve the connection. Welsh Water’s response on 26 September was to
contend that Barratts had served a requisition notice under section 98 and that this
precluded any right to connect under section 106.
53. On 25 January 2008 OFWAT, who had been kept informed of these
developments, wrote to Welsh Water with a copy to Barratts, stating that there was
no impediment on a developer pursuing simultaneously rights under sections 98
and 106. This letter concluded with the following statement:
“In any case, it is apparent that the application under section 106 of
the Act by Barratt Homes was made on 29 May 2007, received by
Welsh Water on 30 May 2007 and the company did not respond to
the application until 26 June 2007. The response on 26 June 2007
was outside the statutory 21 days provided under section 106(4) and
the company was not, therefore, entitled to refuse the application as
made.
Page 21
That being the case, please confirm by 1 February, that Barratt
Homes’ proposal for connection as notified on 29 May 2007 can
proceed. It is for Barratt Homes to confirm with the Planning
Authority that it can satisfy the planning condition No 10.”
54. This letter was, I suspect, something of a bombshell. If so, it was as nothing
compared to the next development. Barratts, with the aid of OFWAT’s letter and
an opinion from Mr Porten, the content of which has never been disclosed,
persuaded MCC to treat condition 10 as discharged. The present proceedings
followed.
Conclusions on the point of connection
55. On its natural construction section 106 of the 1991 Act gives the developer
the right to connect his private drain or sewer to a public sewer subject only to (i)
the right of the sewerage undertaker to give notice refusing permission to make the
communication on the ground of deficiencies in the condition of the private drain
or sewer (section 106(4)) and (ii) the right of the sewerage undertaker to give
notice that he will make the connection himself (section 107). The section confers
no express right on the sewerage undertaker to select the point of connection or to
refuse permission to make the communication on the ground that the point of
connection proposed by the developer is open to objection. Lord Pannick has
argued that, despite its natural meaning, the section must be interpreted as
conferring such a right if the operation of the relevant provisions of the 1991 Act
are not to be rendered “insensible, absurd or ineffective to achieve its evident
purpose” – the phrase used by Lord Bridge of Harwich as justifying the disregard
of particular words or phrases in a statute in McMonagle v Westminster City
Council [1990] 2 AC 716 at p. 726E.
56. I have not been persuaded by this argument. The lengthy history of the right
to communicate with a public sewer does not suggest that the point of connection
has ever given difficulty in practice. The facts of this case do not illustrate that
section 106 gives rise to a problem with the point of connection. It illustrates the
more fundamental problem that can arise as a result of the fact, accepted by Lord
Pannick, that no objection can be taken by a sewerage undertaker to connection
with a public sewer on the ground of lack of capacity of the sewer.
57. As OFWAT has pointed out, although the 1991 Act affords no such right,
there is a case for deferring the right to connect to a public sewer in order to give a
sewerage undertaker a reasonable opportunity to make sure that the public sewer
will be able to accommodate the increased loading that the connection will bring.
Page 22
The only way of achieving such a deferral would appear to be through the planning
process. Some difficult issues of principle arise however:
 Is it reasonable to expect the sewerage undertaker to upgrade
a public sewerage system to accommodate linkage with a
proposed development regardless of the expenditure that this
will involve?
 How long is it reasonable to allow a sewerage undertaker to
upgrade the public sewerage system?
 Is it reasonable to allow the sewerage undertaker to delay
planned upgrading of a public sewer in the hope or
expectation that this will put pressure on the developer
himself to fund the upgrading?
58. The facts of this case suggest that a sewerage undertaker may well take a
different view from OFWAT as to how these questions should be answered. Be
that as it may, it would seem desirable that the sewerage undertaker and OFWAT
should at least be consulted as part of the planning process. I would endorse the
comment made by Carnwath LJ, at para 48, that more thought may need to be
given to the interaction of planning and water regulation systems under the modern
law to ensure that the different interests are adequately protected.
59. These comments are an aside from the narrow issue of statutory
interpretation raised in relation to the point of connection. For the reasons that I
have given I would endorse the judgments of the Court of Appeal in holding that a
sewerage undertaker has no right to select the point of connection or to refuse a
developer the right to connect with a public sewer because of dissatisfaction with
the proposed point of connection.
The 21 day limit.
60. Section 106(4) of the 1991 Act provides that the sewerage undertaker has
21 days from receipt of a notice under section 106(3) in which to give notice of
refusal to permit the communication to be made. The issue arises of whether this
time limit results in an absolute bar on giving such a notice once it has expired. In
the light of my conclusion that the right of a sewerage undertaker to refuse
permission to connect under section 106 of the 1991 Act arises only where there is
reason to question the condition of the private drain or sewer that is to be
Page 23
connected, this issue is of limited importance, and of no significance at all on the
facts of this case.
61. A similar issue arises in relation to section 107(1), which gives the
sewerage undertaker 14 days in which to give notice that it intends itself to make
the communication.
62. In the Court of Appeal both Carnwath LJ and Pill LJ inclined to the view
that the 21 day time limit was not mandatory but refrained from deciding the point.
I take the opposite view. Notices given under sections 106(4) and 107(1) remove a
right to connect which is otherwise vested in the developer. Under the provisions
of sections 107 and 109 respectively it is a criminal offence to cause a drain or
sewer to communicate with a public sewer after a notice has been given under
section 106(4) or section 107(1). In these circumstances it seems to me that the
time limits in those two subsections must be strictly applied.
63. For the reasons that I have given I would dismiss this appeal.
LADY HALE (Dissenting)
64. It is curious that it should have taken so long for a dispute of this sort to
reach the courts. One might have thought that developers and sewerage
undertakers were quite frequently at odds with one another about how best to
accommodate a new housing development within the sewerage system and how
the costs should be borne. But there is no English or Welsh case directly in point.
Wyn Williams J reached one conclusion on the meaning of the legislation and the
Court of Appeal reached another. Most members of this Court agree with the Court
of Appeal, but the legislative history of the matter leads me to disagree.
65. Section 106 of the Water Industry Act 1991 can be traced back to section 21
of the Public Health Act 1875 and before that to section 8 of the Sanitary Act
1866. The 1875 Act consolidated with amendments the patchwork of public health
legislation which began with the Public Health Act 1848. The 1848 Act, together
with the Local Government Act 1858, provided for the setting up of Local Boards
of Health with a variety of powers dealing with sewers and drains, road cleaning,
water supply and the like. Under those Acts, the Local Boards had the duty of
effectually draining their Districts. There was no right to connect to their sewers
without their consent. But the drive was to get new and existing houses to connect.
The Board could direct how any new house built within 100 feet of a sewer was to
Page 24
connect to it and could require old houses within the same distance to connect. But
Local Boards did not cover the whole country. The Sewage Utilization Act 1865
set up Sewer Authorities in other areas and gave them all the powers of the Local
Boards. Section 8 of the Sanitary Act 1866 gave owners or occupiers of premises
within the district of a Sewer Authority the conditional right to cause his drains to
empty into the Authority’s sewers in almost identical terms to section 21 of the
1875 Act. The Public Health Act 1872 rationalised the administration by dividing
the whole of England and Wales (apart from the Metropolis) into urban and rural
sanitary districts. The Metropolis was included in 1874 and the whole legislative
scheme consolidated in the 1875 Act.
66. Section 21 provided that the owner or occupier of any premises within the
district of a local authority “shall be entitled to cause his drains to empty into the
sewers of that authority”, subject to giving the authority such notice as they
required of his intention to do so and by “complying with the regulations of that
authority in respect of the mode in which the communications between such drains
and sewers are to be made” and subject to superintendence of its making.
67. In Ainley v Kirkheaton Local Board (1891) 60 LJ (Ch) 734, the plaintiff
was already connected to the authority’s sewer but they wanted to cut him off
because the sewer emptied into an open stream and proceedings had been taken
against the authority for fouling the stream. Stirling J held that the owner’s right to
drain into the existing sewers was not affected by the authority’s obligation under
section 17 of the Act not to allow its sewers to convey untreated sewage into a
natural stream or watercourse. It was for the authority to provide sufficient sewers
and to treat the sewage before discharging it into the stream.
68. This case was followed in Brown v Dunstable Corporation [1899] 2 Ch
378, where Cozens-Hardy J held that he could not grant an injunction to prevent
the authority from allowing new connections to a sewer. Following Ainley in
preference to Charles v Finchley Local Board (1883) 23 Ch D 767, at 390, he held
that the
“absolute right is no doubt subject to any regulations in respect of the
mode of making connections and subject to the control of any person
appointed to superintend the making of the connections; but no
regulations can justify an absolute refusal to allow a connection to be
made on any terms . . . . It is obvious that under this by-law the
surveyor can only prescribe the manner of connection. He cannot
refuse to allow any connection”.
Page 25
69. In Wilkinson v Llandaff and Dinas Powis Rural District Council [1903] 2
Ch 695, CA, the main issue was whether a roadside surface water drain was a
“sewer” within the meaning of the Act. If it was, the authority had to keep it clean.
One of the arguments against its being a sewer was that section 21 would then give
everyone the right to connect their own drains into it. Romer LJ bluntly observed,
at p 702, that “it does not follow that, because this channel is a ‘sewer’ within the
definition of the Act, it can be used by any inhabitants of the district for sewage or
faecal matter”. Stirling LJ (as he had become) thought, at p 703, that the argument
was an exaggeration of the effect of section 21:
“Section 21 does not provide that every owner or occupier of
premises within the district of a local authority shall be entitled as of
right to connect every drain which he has with every sewer
belonging to the local authority. That is not the meaning of the
section. All that is given by that section to the owner and occupier is
a right to have the drain connected or made to communicate with the
sewers of the local authority, subject to compliance with certain
conditions – amongst others, that he is to comply ‘with the
regulations of the local authority in respect of the mode in which the
communication’ with the sewers is to be made. So that, in my
opinion, the local authority may define by regulation the particular
sewer with which the communication is to be made.”

70. Each party in this case can get something from these three authorities. For
the developer, the fact that continuing an existing connection or allowing a new
one would cause a nuisance to the public or to a private individual was not by itself
a reason to stop up or prohibit the connection. For the undertaker, on the other
hand, the “mode in which the communication . . . is to be made” could be
regulated and this could cover the time and the place where the connection was to
be made.
71. The Public Health Act 1875 was consolidated with other enactments and
some amendments in the Public Health Act 1936. Section 21 of the 1875 Act
became section 34 of the 1936 Act. Once again, the owner or occupier of any
premises, or the owner of any private sewer, within the district of a local authority
was entitled to have his drains or sewer made to communicate with the public
sewers of that authority. This was subject to various restrictions in the section
itself, and to the requirement in section 34(3) that a person wanting to avail
himself of this right should give notice to the local authority and “at any time
within 21 days after receipt thereof, the authority may by notice to him refuse to
permit the communication to be made, if it appears to them that the mode of
construction or condition of the drain or sewer is such that the making of the
Page 26
communication would be prejudicial to their sewerage system . . . ” Disputes about
the reasonableness of any refusal could be determined by a magistrates’ court.
72. Lord Pannick has referred us to the Report which led up to the 1936 Act
(Cmd 5059 of 1936). There is nothing in that report to suggest that the change in
language, from the “mode in which the communications between such drains and
sewers are to be made” to the “mode of construction or condition of the drain or
sewer”, was intended to cut down the existing scope of the local authority’s power
to control the place and manner of the connection. Yet one would expect such a
significant change to be flagged up in any report proposing consolidation with
amendments. It would be very strange if Parliament had intended to make such a
change. The public interest in ensuring that connections were made in ways which
were not prejudicial to the sewerage system remained the same. There were no
other means available of doing so. It could not have been contemplated, for
example, that the developer could knock a big hole into an existing sewer and
simply stick his own perfectly sound drain through it without making good.
73. It would also be strange if Parliament had legislated for such a change in
England and Wales, while leaving the position in Scotland, under section 110 of
the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1897, the same as it had been in England and
Wales under section 21 of the 1875 Act. And further that Parliament should later
re-enact and clarify that provision in section 12(1) of the Sewerage (Scotland) Act
1968, which provided that the Scottish local authorities could “specify the mode
and point of connection”. It is inexplicable why provisions which began in the
same legislation covering the whole United Kingdom should diverge in this
respect. It is much more likely that Parliament intended them to mean the same
thing.
74. Then came the well known case of Smeaton v Ilford Corporation [1954] 1
Ch 450. The local authority’s Victorian sewers were over-loaded and from time to
time sewage erupted from a manhole near the plaintiff’s house and overflowed into
his premises. Despite section 31 of the 1936 Act, providing that a local authority
shall so discharge their functions “as not to create a nuisance”, the plaintiff’s claim
in nuisance failed. The local authority were not causing or adopting the nuisance.
Upjohn J explained, at pp 464-5:
“It is not the sewers that constitute the nuisance; it is the fact that they are
overloaded. That overloading, however, arises not from any act of the
defendant corporation but because, under section 34 of the Public Health
Act 1936, subject to compliance with certain regulations, they are bound to
permit occupiers of premises to make connections to the sewer and to
discharge their sewage therein . . . Nor, in my judgment, can the defendant
Page 27
corporation be said to continue the nuisance, for they have no power to
prevent the ingress of sewage into the sewer.”
75. The real problem in such a case, as both Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead and
Lord Hoffmann pointed out in Marcic v Thames Water Utilities Ltd [2004] 2 AC
42, is that the “every new house built has an absolute right to connect” (para 34)
and the undertaker has a duty “to accept whatever water and sewage the owners of
property in their area choose to discharge” (para 53). The overflow is not caused
by any failure to clean or maintain the existing sewers but by a failure to build new
or bigger ones. And there is a long line of authority, dating back to Glossop v
Heston and Isleworth Local Board (1879) 12 Ch D 102, that the authority’s duty to
provide sufficient sewers effectually to drain the area is to be enforced through the
statutory scheme and not by private action.
76. The decisions in Smeaton and Marcic were predicated on the authority’s or
undertaker’s duties to allow connections and to accept sewage, but they did not
decide what that duty entailed. The only other relevant observations to which we
have been referred are in Beech Properties Ltd v GE Wallis & Sons Ltd [1977] EG
735, where the question was whether a condition in a contract for the sale of land
had been performed. Part of this depended upon whether the purchaser would have
the right to connect to the public sewer at a particular point. Walton J thought it
“obvious” that the right given by section 34 of the 1936 Act “is not an absolute,
but a qualified, right” (p 747). He continued (pp 748-9):
“ . . . wide as the words of subsection (1) may be, . . . , they do not confer
upon an individual the right to connect his sewer to the water authority’s
sewer at any point which he may choose. In most cases, of course, the
matter will be quite academic. There will be the water authority’s sewer,
going along the road; a new house is built in the road; and quite obviously
and clearly the owner will expect to have a right to drain into that sewer . . .
Even so, if the new house was built at a crossroads and there were available
sewers in both roads, I can see no reason why the owner should be entitled
to drain into the sewer of his choice if the water authority required him to
drain into the other, which might, for example, well be a relief sewer
expressly provided for the district because the other sewer was approaching
capacity. Similarly, I see no reason why the owner is entitled to connect at
point X rather than an adjacent point Y, if the water authority requires him
to connect at Y.”
77. So we have three propositions for which there is respectable authority going
back over many years and which are not inconsistent with one another. The first is
that the sewerage authority or undertaker cannot refuse to allow an owner or
Page 28
occupier to connect at all. He must allow some sort of connection even if the
system is already overloaded or will thereby become so overloaded that a nuisance
will result. The second is that the authority or undertaker is not liable for nuisances
which result from such over-loading. The remedy lies in the statutory procedures
to oblige them to build more sewers. But the third is that all courts which have
addressed themselves specifically to the point at issue here, the place and manner
in which a particular connection is to be made, have expressed the view that the
authority or undertaker can refuse to agree to the developer’s proposals.
78. There is no material difference between the 1936 and 1991 Acts for this
purpose. The 1936 Act provided that disputes between developers and authorities
should go to a magistrates’ court. The 1991 Act provides that a developer who
argues that an authority’s refusal is unreasonable can take the dispute to OFWAT,
which is a much more appropriate body to resolve such matters. The 1936 Act
provided that a local authority could refuse on the ground that “the making of the
communication would be prejudicial to their sewerage system” and section
106(4)(b) provides the same. This is obviously capable of including the deleterious
effects of connecting at point A rather than point B. This too may help cast some
light on the meaning of the words “mode of construction or condition”: it is easier
to think of ways in which the place and manner of making the connection would
be deleterious to the system than of ways in which the physical condition of the
developer’s drain would be so.
79. In the light of the historical development of this difficult legislation,
therefore, I would hold that the words “mode of construction or condition” do
cover the way in which it is proposed to connect that private drain or sewer to the
public sewer, including the place. Whether the undertaker’s reasons for refusing to
allow the proposed connection are reasonable is another matter, which in my view
it is for OFWAT to resolve. If that were the only issue in the case, therefore, I
would have allowed this appeal.