Septic Tank Planning Permissions & Building Regulations

Being the owner of a home or other property with a septic tank brings a lot of responsibilities. First and foremost is that your waste is not polluting the environment, because the sort of waste likely to be discharged can do a lot of long-term damage if done thoughtlessly, carelessly, or illegally.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, given the above, that there is a fair amount of legislation governing the use of septic tanks and cesspools. So this month, the team at Cammack & Wilcox is going to be taking a look at the rules and regulations in the area of planning permission and permits for septic tanks and cesspools.

Do I need planning permission to install a septic tank?

If you’re installing a new septic tank in a domestic or commercial property, you will need planning permission from your local authority. If you’re simply replacing an old one, however, there’s no need to seek further permission. 

In either case, however, you will need to make sure that you have building regulations approval – these govern things like where and how much waste is discharged. Rules were updated in 2015, and if you’re selling a property with a septic tank, you must ensure your tank meets current legislation, as otherwise, your property is legally unsellable.

Do I need a permit for an existing septic tank?

Regardless of whether you need an actual permit, all septic tanks do need to be registered with the Environment Agency, and if you do need to get a permit, you need to get it from the Environment Agency.

You need a permit for a septic tank if you are the ‘operator’ of a property with a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant and if you do not meet the ‘general binding rules’.

Let’s take a look at those two terms in detail.

Who is the operator of a septic tank?

You are the operator of a septic tank if:

  • You own the property that is using the system
  • You own a property that is sharing the system with neighbouring properties. Under these circumstances, you and your neighbours are joint operators with shared responsibility
  • You’re not the owner – e.g. if you’re renting the property – but you have written agreement that you are responsible for maintenance of a septic tank serving that property

What are the general binding rules?

1 The sewage must:

  • Be domestic in nature (i.e. from toilets, bathrooms, showers, kitchens) and from a house, flat or business (such as a pub, hotel or office)
  • Not cause pollution – this is based on a monthly check with separate checks depending on whether you’re discharging into the ground or into water

2 If you discharge into the ground, you must apply for a permit if:

  • You discharge into a well, borehole or other deep structure
  • You discharge over 2000 litres per day
  • You discharge in a groundwater source protection zone (SPZ1)

3 If you discharge into surface water, such as into a river or stream, you must use a small sewage treatment plant and apply for a permit if you discharge over 5000 litres per day.

What if I have a cesspool?

The rules are much more simple if you have a cesspool rather than a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant. You won’t need to comply with the general binding rules and you won’t need to apply for a permit.

However, you do need to maintain it, make sure it is emptied regularly by a licensed carrier, and make sure it does not leak or overflow.

If you want to install a new cesspool – although this is unlikely, as septic tanks have so many advantages – you do also need to get planning permission and get building regulations approval. A new cesspool also needs to have a minimum capacity of 18,000 litres for two users, with an extra 6,800 litres for each extra user.

Regular cesspool and septic tank emptying and maintenance are essential if you want to meet all the regulations covering properties using them for their wastewater. The team at Cammack & Wilcox has many years of experience servicing the needs of septic tank and cesspool owners across Cambridge, Northampton and surrounding areas.

Get in touch today to find out more.