Environmental Legislation

New Legislation Changes will become enforceable as from 1st January 2020 – Are you affected?



If you live in a Semi-Rural, Rural Area and /or in an Area of Natural Beauty (ANOB), there’s a good chance you’ll have a Septic Tank or Cesspit.


Septic tanks are very common in rural properties, and most homeowners find them a relatively easy solution to the problem of dealing with wastewater and sewage where no mains drainage is available – so long as they are regularly emptied and maintained.


However, new rules were introduced in 2015 which mean that some property owners will be required to upgrade their systems, if they haven’t already, over the next two years.


The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2014 came into force on 1 January 2015 and created General Binding Rules (GBRs) for septic tanks or small sewage treatment plants.


The rules are basically designed to reduce the level of pollution from sewage in the nation’s watercourses.


As such, the government has put Legislation in place to end the practice of Septic Tanks discharging directly to a local watercourse, such as a river or stream.


Under the General Binding Rules, anyone with a septic tank discharging into a watercourse must replace it by 1 January 2020. (or sooner if the property is sold before this date, or if the Environment Agency (EA) finds that it is causing pollution.


Systems can be replaced by:


  • Connecting to a mains sewer (where available),

  • Replacing the existing Septic Tank with small sewage treatment plant.

It is the operators of septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants that are responsible for GBR compliance. The operator may either be the owner of the property/land where the septic tank/sewage treatment plant is located/used, the user (even if the system is located on a neighbour’s land) or the tenant/leaseholder where there is written agreement with the owner of the system explaining what maintenance must be carried out in order to comply with the GBRs.


It is also recommended that all treatment systems are checked to ensure that they:


  1. Met the relevant British Standard when installed or have a CE mark. If installed pre-1983, this requirement does not need to be met providing they have  sufficient capacity and were installed in  line with the manufacturer’s specifications.

  2. Are maintained at least once a year/in line with the manufacturer’s specifications

  3. The sewage release is below the ‘mean low water spring mark’ if in a tidal area

  4. Are repaired or replaced if not in good working order by a competent, Water Industry Contractor.

  5. There are additional rules for new discharges from a treatment system installed on or after 1 January 2015.


These apply if there was a discharge to surface before 1 January 2015 which you wish to change to discharge to groundwater (or vice versa) or if there was a discharge to the ground before 1 January 2015 and you wish to install a new drainage pipe which discharges more than 10m away from the existing one.


In these cases the following steps must be taken:


If any part of the building your treatment plant serves is within 30m of a public sewer, the EA will not allow a new discharge from a sewage treatment plant. This is multiplied by the number of properties, e.g. 90m for three properties.


If there is a very good reason that you cannot access this sewer, e.g. river/hill or if the discharge is within 500m of a designated sensitive area, e.g. Special Area of Conservation, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Ramsar site, 200m of an aquatic local nature reserve of 50m from a chalk river or aquatic local wildlife site, apply for a permit


Apply for planning permission and Building Regulations approval to install a new sewage treatment plant

New discharges to a ditch or surface water are only allowed if there is sufficient all-year round, flow.


For a free, ‘Compliance Check’  Site Survey please call us on 0800 0614 066 or email us on Compliance@wamuk.com