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The Vale of Glamorgan Council

Cabinet Meeting: 21 September, 2015

Report of the Cabinet Member for Visible and Leisure Services

Rationalisation of Cesspit Emptying (Cesspools) at Channel View (Marcross), Croft John (Penmark) and Church Terrace (St Mary Church)

Purpose of the Report

1.    To inform Cabinet of the general status of council owned cesspools serving a combination of private and council owned properties and to agree arrangements for any ongoing debt and proposals for charging at two particular locations; Channel View, Marcross and Croft John, Penmark.

Recommendations

1.    That Cabinet notes the general situation regarding ownership and emptying of former council housing communal cesspools by the Council.

 

2.    That Cabinet approves the charging regime proposed for properties connected to the council owned cesspools at Channel View, Marcross and Croft John, Penmark.

 

3.    That Cabinet authorises the Director of Environment and Housing Services be granted delegated authority to implement and manage the proposed emptying service for the Channel View and Croft John cesspools.

 

4.    That Cabinet authorises the writing off of an estimated £439,041 costs incurred emptying the Channel View (Marcross), Croft John (Penmark) and Church Terrace (St Mary Church) cesspools in default from 2002 to March 2016.

 

5.    That Cabinet authorise the provision of a subsidy to Council tenants covering the ongoing cesspit emptying costs at Channel View and Croft John.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.    For information

 

2.    To allow the Council to recoup all future costs incurred providing an emptying service to Channel View and Croft John cesspools.

 

3.    To allow the recovery of all future costs to the Council regarding emptying of the cesspools.

 

4.    To comply with Financial Regulations and write-off non-recoverable costs.

 

5.    To enable the Council to subsidise Council tenants in properties served by the Channel View and Croft John cesspools.

Background

2.    Council housing constructed in more rural areas of the Vale were commonly served by a communal cesspool.  The sale of former council properties over a number of decades has left cesspools in the ownership of the Council which serve few or no council housing properties.  In some instances the land containing the cesspools serving current council housing stock has been sold, whilst the Council retains the right to access and empty the cesspool.

 

3.    A review of 16 Council owned foul drainage assets serving former or current housing stock was undertaken in 2010, including cesspools, sewage treatment works and sewage pumping stations.  Eight cesspools were identified across the Vale serving current or ex-Council housing stock which remain in the ownership or responsibility of the Council.

 

4.    Of the 8 cesspools there have been ongoing emptying costs, incurred by the Council acting in default of a Notice served under Section 50 of the Public Health Act 1936, at 4 of the locations; Channel View, Croft John and two cesspools at Church Terrace.  Emptying of the remaining cesspools is managed by the residents and no reports of pollution incidents have been reported to the Council.

 

5.    The Council has powers under Section 50 of the Public Health Act, 1936 to require residents to empty overflowing cesspools.  If the resident fails to do so the cost of emptying can be recharged in default of Notice.

 

6.    The Council has powers under Section 59 the Building Act 1984, and Section 22 of the Public Health Act, 1961, to effect repairs to defective drainage.

 

7.    The following, or similarly worded, covenants were included in the Deeds of all Council properties transferred to private ownership.

"The Purchaser with intent to bind the Purchaser and the successors in title of the Purchaser hereby further covenants with the Council well and substantially to repair cleanse maintain and amend the property including the shared accessway (if any) any boundary walls fences and the sewers drains conduits gutters pipes cesspits and the sanitary and water apparatus thereon and the appurtenances thereof and to keep the same so repaired cleansed maintained and amended and to pay a fair proportion of the expense of repairing cleansing maintaining and amending any shared accessway (if any) any party walls or fences and any sewers drains cesspits (including the emptying of the same) any conduits gutters pipes and sanitary and water apparatus and any other services the use of which is common to the property and any other adjoining or neighbouring property."

 

8.    The current owners of former Council properties therefore have an obligation to contribute to the maintenance and operational costs for the drainage serving their property, unless Dwr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) have assumed responsibility for elements of the system.

 

9.    Channel View (Marcross), Croft John (Penmark) and Church Terrace (St Mary Church) cesspools have all been emptied in default of Notice repeatedly since the mid-1990s.  The latest continuous period of emptying in default of Notice commenced in the early 2000s at all 4 cesspools.  Failure to empty the cesspools was causing an environmental pollution issue and was detrimental to public health.

 

10.    Residents often fail to reach a consensus regarding the fair apportionment of emptying costs and repairs to private communal drainage systems.  This can lead to tension within the affected communities.

 

11.    Residents in areas not currently served by the DCWW mains drainage can request the installation of such a provision.  DCWW has confirmed it has no plans to connect either Marcross or Penmark to the foul network.  Connections can be funded independently but the costs involved are likely to be prohibitively expensive in rural areas.  This option was considered prior to the relining of both cesspools.

 

12.    The Housing Department recovers water and sewerage charges for the majority of Council tenants directly through tenants rent accounts. However there are a small number of rural sites where mains drainage is not available and sewerage discharges either to a cesspool or sewage treatment works.

 

13.    In the case of sewage treatment works the Council has historically recharged tenants and owner occupiers an amount commensurate to those customers who discharge to mains drainage. The income received from these tenants is used to cover the costs of annual routine inspections and responsive maintenance.  The Housing Revenue Account is responsible for more substantial repairs and Capital works.  Consequently the sewerage charge element charged ensures that rents remain affordable and all tenants across the Vale pay similar amounts for their water and sewerage costs.

Relevant Issues and Options

General Principles of Emptying Service

14.    The cost of ongoing maintenance and repairs to the cesspools and pipe connections to properties will be dealt with separately to the proposed emptying service.  Any works would be undertaken using the various powers outlined above or under the terms of the covenants included in the Deeds of the privately owned properties.  Depending on the location and nature of any defect or blockage the costs would be apportioned fairly to all properties affected.

 

15.    No requests for additional connections shall be considered by the Council in respect of either the Channel View or Croft John cesspools.  This is to ensure that adequate capacity remains available at both sites, thus reducing the risk of further pollution incidents.

 

16.    All the private residences, including Penmark Village Hall, have the option to disconnect from the Council owned cesspools and make their own arrangements for the provision of sewerage, subject to the appropriate consents.

 

17.    The cost of emptying will be divided equally between all residential properties served by a cesspool.  Where a non-residential property (Penmark Village Hall) is connected to the Croft John cesspool a charge commensurate with the reduced sewerage loading will be applied.  This is considered the fairest allocation of costs as differing occupancy rates, demographics and general water consumption rates make a more detailed consideration overly complex and no fairer.

 

18.    The properties will be invoiced in April based on the estimated emptying costs for the next 11 months (April - February).  The estimates will be based on the actual costs for the previous 3 years.  A reconciliation invoice will be issued in the following April, or as soon thereafter as possible, based on the actual emptying costs incurred for the year.  The reconciliation invoice will be made up of the actual emptying costs for March plus any difference between the estimated and actual emptying costs for April to February.   Private residents will be offered the option of paying in a single lump sum or splitting the cost as monthly direct debit payments.  Council tenants will be charged a subsidised emptying charge on a weekly basis, as outlined below.

 

19.    Payments for private residences will be managed via the Income Management section.  A failure to pay the invoice, or missed payments, will initially be addressed by contacting the resident to arrange payment of the overdue balance.  If a resident continues to fail in the payment of outstanding balances the Council may issue a County Court Summons plus costs to recover the balance owed.

Subsidised Sewerage Rates for Council Tenants

20.    There are a total of 6 Council properties connected to the Channel View and Croft John cesspools, 3 properties at each location.

 

21.    The council tenants have not previously been required to cover the emptying costs at Channel View or Croft John. The water and sewerage element of the rent to council dwellings is not covered by Housing Benefit as an eligible cost and therefore the full cost would fall on the tenant. This would equate to tenants having to find an additional £37.26 or £23.48 per week at Channel View and Croft John, respectively.

 

22.    The consequences of implementing full recovery to Council tenants would be:

  • Properties would become unaffordable to those on low incomes potentially leading to homelessness and financial difficulties for existing tenants.
  • Properties would only be allocated to those on relatively high incomes and would not be targeted at those in the greatest housing need.
  • The Council could incur void properties in areas of high rural demand if no suitable tenants were available.   
  • The Council might have to consider disposal of a much needed housing resource in rural areas where affordable housing opportunities for local residents are already extremely limited.

23.    In light of the above, officers have considered the impact of subsidising its tenants in mitigating the impact and bringing sewerage charges in line with all other council tenants.

 

24.    The annual emptying costs for Council properties is estimated to be £9,476.49 per annum.  Officers have used current benchmarked figures for Sewerage charges for council only properties in proximity to these sites to calculate a total cost of £7,631.49 per annum to subsidise tenants for the emptying at Croft John and Channel View.  These full costs would fall on the HRA and the Council would only recover a proportion via rent income.   The weekly charge to the tenants is estimated at £6.15 per week per household for 50 weeks per annum.

 

25.    The Council will be required to consult formally with its tenants regarding the additional charge and to serve the necessary 4 week variation notice in line with the provisions of the Housing Act 1985. Provision for this is also contained within the tenancy agreement and the relevant clause is provided below:

"The rent and other charges are payable on Monday, in advance, will be collected in a priority determined by the Council and may be altered at any time by the Council after giving  the tenant four weeks’ notice in writing."

 

26.    In line with variation of other service charges it is proposed that the new cesspit charge becomes effective in April 2016 in line with the rent and service charge increase letter which will be issued towards the end of February 2016.

 

27.    Any repair costs required to the cesspit structure or associated pipework for which the tenant would be responsible must be met from the general net rent and not charged separately.

  • Church Terrace, St. Mary Church

28.    Church Terrace, St Mary Church is now served by the DCWW network.  The 12 properties originally connected to two cesspools are either connected to mains drainage or have made their own provision for foul drainage.  There is no cesspool emptying currently being undertaken in default.

 

29.    The Church Terrace cesspool originally serving Nos 1 - 8 has been emptied by the Council under default of a Notice served under Section 50 of Public Health Act 1936 from 2002 until 2011.  The total cost for emptying of the cesspool in default was £56,709.69.  Since this time no emptying of the cesspool in default has been undertaken by the Council and no reports of pollution have been received for investigation.  Mains drainage is now available at this location and further investigation would be required to confirm whether the Nos 2, 3, 7 and 8 have connected to the DCWW network. Nos 1,4,5 and 6 are no longer served by the original cesspool.

 

30.    The Church Terrace cesspool originally serving Nos 17, 19, 21 and 23 was also emptied by the Council under default of a Notice served under Section 50 of Public Health Act 1936 from 2003 until 2012. The total cost for emptying and surveying of the cesspool in default was £45,507.52. Since this time no emptying of the cesspool in default has been undertaken by the Council and no reports of pollution have been received for investigation.  Mains drainage is now available at this location and further investigation would be required to confirm whether the four private residences have connected to the DCWW network.  The Council retains ownership of the cesspool at this location and future costs for the repair, maintenance and decommissioning of this asset may be incurred.

  • Croft John, Penmark

31.    The cesspool at Croft John has recently been relined and brought up to a good condition by the Council.  This has reduced the frequency of emptying required.  Prior to this renovation various options were considered and discounted as viable alternatives for the provision of foul drainage to the site.  

 

32.    The Croft John cesspool, originally serving only Nos 1 - 8, has been emptied by the Council under default of a Notice served under Section 50 of Public Health Act 1936 from 2004 onwards.  Further emptying costs were also incurred by the Council prior to 2002.  At some time post-construction the Penmark Village Hall was also connected to the cesspool.

 

33.    The cost of emptying will be divided equally between all residential properties served.  Where a non-residential property (Penmark Village Hall) is connected to the Croft John cesspool a charge commensurate with the reduced sewerage loading will be applied.  This charge will be calculated based on estimated discharge rates from the Environment Agency Pollution Prevention Guidelines 4 and an assessment of the annual usage of the hall.  The cost to the village hall will be re-assessed annually to ensure a fair allocation of costs if usage alters markedly in the future.  Currently this is assessed as 1.1% of the overall emptying costs, at an estimated cost of £108.65 per annum.  The remaining emptying costs at Croft John will be split between the residential properties, resulting in the estimated costs tabled below.

 

 Emptying Charges  Per Annum  Monthly  Weekly
 Individual residential property  £1,221.09  £101.76  £23.48
 Penmark Village Hall  £108.65  £9.05  £2.09

                       
34.    This is considered the fairest allocation of costs as differing occupancy rates, demographics and general water consumption rates make a more detailed consideration overly complex and no fairer.  

  • Channel View, Marcross

35.    The cesspool at Channel View has recently been relined and brought up to a good condition by the Council.  This has reduced the frequency of emptying required.  Prior to this renovation various options were considered and discounted as viable alternatives for the provision of foul drainage to the site. Negotiations were entered into for the provision of a septic tank and soakaway scheme, and initial site investigations were undertaken in the adjacent field in December 2012.  Unfortunately the investigation revealed poor infiltration rates that that make the area unsuitable for a soakaway based solution.

 

36.    The Channel View cesspool, serving Nos 1 - 10, has been emptied by the Council under default of a Notice served under Section 50 of Public Health Act 1936 from 2003 onwards.  Further emptying costs were also incurred by the Council prior to 2002.  

 

37.    The cost of emptying will divided equally between all residential properties served, resulting in the estimated costs tabled below.

 

 Emptying Charges  Per Annum  Monthly  Weekly
 Individual Residential Property  £1,937.74  £161.48  £37.26
                   

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

38.    The total cost for emptying of the Church Terrace cesspool originally serving Nos 17, 19, 21 and 23 in default  is £42,776.13, with a further  £2,731.39 spent on associated drainage investigations.

 

39.    The total cost for emptying of the Church Terrace cesspool originally serving Nos 1 - 8 is £56,705.69.

 

40.    The total cost for emptying of the Channel View cesspool originally serving Nos 1 - 10 is £202,467.96.

 

41.    The total cost for emptying of the Croft John cesspool, originally serving Nos 1 - 8, is £106,540.00.

 

42.    The estimated emptying costs for 2015/16 for Croft John and Channel View are £9,160 and £18,660, respectively.

 

43.    A total of £377,200.43 was provided for in 2013/14 and charged to the Highway Maintenance & Engineering budget, with an additional £34,050 costs incurred in 2014/15 and £27,820 estimated costs to be incurred in 2015/16. Both of these amounts have also been charged to the Highways Maintenance & Engineering revenue budget.  It is requested that all of these amounts are now written off prior to the charging regime commencing in 2016/17.

 

44.    All future costs incurred emptying the cesspools, including technical salaries will be recovered from the properties benefitting from the service. Provision of the emptying service by the Council will therefore be cost neutral.

 

45.    An estimated subsidy of £6,257.88 per annum will be provided for the council housing tenants which will be met from the Housing Revenue Account.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

46.    The proposed emptying regime will implement a sustainable emptying regime for the Channel View and Croft John cesspools.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

47.    The proposed charging regime does not require a new contract to be entered into by the properties being served by the cesspools as the existing covenants suffice.

Crime and Disorder Implications

48.    There are no crime and disorder implications in respect of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

49.    There are no equal opportunity implications to this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

50.    The Vale is a clean, safe, well maintained and sustainable place to live or visit.

 

51.    Vale residents have access to affordable, good quality suitable housing and housing advice and support:

  • Meeting local housing need.
  • Providing support and advice.

Policy Framework and Budget

52.    This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

 

53.    A number of local Members have been consulted on this project and will continue to be engaged throughout the process.

 

54.    The affected residents of Croft John and Channel View will be consulted prior to the introduction of charges.  It is anticipated that meetings will be held with the residents in October 2015, with charging commencing from April 2016.

 

Consultation Carried out:

 

55.    The Ward Members affected by the report were forwarded an Executive Summary of the report by the Cabinet Office on 11th September 2015 to consult on the proposals contained. Two comments were received by email from Councillor Edward Williams and Councillor Anthony Bennett by email on the 12th September and 13th September respectively. A summary of their comments is provided below.

56.    Councillor Edward Williams raised concern that we were still liable for the properties and yet they had previously been sold off. He queried whether other options such as main foul drainage have been considered for Marcross and Penmark, however, he accepted that although costs seem high, if they were competitive market rates there should not be an issue. Finally, he queried why the council had not recovered these costs to date.

 

57.    Councillor Anthony Bennett raised the following concerns and queries as well as suggesting Cabinet take a sensible approach to the issue.

1. The failure of the Council to collect the outstanding payments should be investigated and requested whether there are any other areas  where a similar set of circumstances apply?

2. How many households are effected by the charge to recover the costs and how will costs be recovered from homes that have previously been sold? Would longer term residents pay more than more recent owners?

3. How many properties are controlled by the Council and how many are owner occupied.

4. He noted alternatives had been exhausted, but was concerned that Elected Members were not made aware or consulted before any notices were issued.

5. He agree fully that any future costs are covered and that proper charging procedures are applied and administered correctly, but raised concern that residents may struggle to repay past debts.

 

Response:

 

58.    It is considered that majority of the queries raised are already covered in the full Cabinet report. The residents will not be required to pay the outstanding emptying costs, and the report seeks to write off these costs until the new charging regime commences in April 2016.

 

59.    There are three council owned properties remaining at both Channel View and Croft John (6 in total).  The cesspool at Channel View serves a total of 10 properties.  The Croft John cesspool serves 8 residential properties and the village hall.

 

60.    The Council tenants will be subsidised so the emptying costs will be comparable to properties on mains drainage.

 

61.    There are no other sites where the Council is currently emptying in default.  There are four other Council owned cesspools but the residents are arranging adequate emptying independently.  Prior to issuing such notices the appropriate Head of Service would have been consulted and ward members notified.  The notices in question were served from 2002 to 2004 so some members will not have been consulted for some time.

 

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

62.    Economy and Environment.

Background Papers

None.

Contact Officer

Clive Moon, Principal Engineer (Flood and Coastal Risk Management)

Tel. No. 02920 673 277

Officers Consulted

Operational Manager, Legal Services

Accountant, Building and Visible Services

Manager, Invoice Management

Group Auditor, Resource Management

Operational Manager, Public Housing

Responsible Officer:

Miles Punter - Director of Environment and Housing Services

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