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Scottish septic tank questions

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Hi our neighbours septic tank is on our land and they have rights of access for "maintaining and renewing".

They're selling up and this has triggered a survey which is recommending a replacement as the existing one is an old and slightly leaky brick one.

It seems they can not replace it in the existing location because it floods occasionally and the ground is considered to be too unstable (it's actually at the top of a river bank and discharges directly into the river). So they want to move it to a different location but still on our land.

In Scotland currently you can replace a septic tank with a new one even if it discharges into a watercourse, and it seems that that is what they would prefer to do in order to avoid the extra cost of a treatment plant (no space or soil even for a leaching field btw).


So my first question: Does anybody here know if Scotland is going to follow in Englands footsteps and require a treatment plant for watercourse discharges in the near future? I've heard, third hand, of a SEPA employee saying that this change is imminent.


Second question: I think in Scotland the regs say that a septic tank must be at least 5m from an inhabited house and/or a boundary. But what about trees and outbuildings? I've come across a graphic called "Distances to repect" which details the distances for trees and outbuildings, but it's provenance seems to be from a drainage business and doesn't seem to be official guidance, so I'm not sure if I can use it to try to influence the location of the new tank. We have some lovely apple trees which we would be sad to lose.


Third question: Do the neighbours have any right in law to dictate the new location of this tank, given it's a replacement for one they have some kind of wayleave or servitude for, or can we ask them to put it in their own garden which would technically be possible though a bit more difficult?


Any help with these questions would be very much appreciated. Please do bear in mind that we're in Scotland.

With many thanks in advance


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SEPA are at the moment toothless.  I know 2 septic tanks draining to a watercourse and they have no intention of upgrading.  when I spoke to SEPA they said they will only investigate in case of a report of pollution. Otherwise they leave old systems undisturbed.  I do HOPE this is going to change and they start enforcing the law.


A treatment plant has to be 5 metres from a house and 10 metres from a watercourse, even if discharges into that watercourse.


My guess is in practice your neighbours will sell, nobody will be interested, the new owners will use it as it is, leaks and all, and probably won't bother even emptying in, probably like the present users never empty it would be my guess.


And SEPA will do nothing.


I guess what they can do in relation to alterations depends on the wording of the agreement that allows it to be there.  If the agreement shows a plan showing the location of the tank, then they just can't go and put the replacement somewhere else.  They would have to negotiate with you.


The best outcome for you would be they replace it with a treatment plant discharging into the watercourse.  You say there is no room and the ground is unsuitable for a soakaway.    

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Thanks both, 

so from what you say (ProDave) it sound like there already is a requirement in Scotland to not discharge a replacement septic tank to a watercourse.

We were going to push for a treatment plant anyway so this news will help, but the sellers are not keen as they are looking for every saving they can make.

However a treatment plant will be cheaper than both a new septic tank and a new leaching field I'd guess (though this would probably be impossible anyway due to small gardens sitting on solid rock!)

The bubbler ones seem reasonable and probably shallower than an onion so less rock to peck out?

Many thanks again for your help



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Would the bco be involved? The Scottish rules still require a stupidly large drainage field even once treated. But anecdotally they accept a soakaway.

When I started using these 20+ years ago they said you could drink the discharge. It is not so, but it is pretty clean.

I've got a leaky brick one in a 1920s house. They can't make me change it. What goes off to soakaway isn't nice, but it works. 

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Indeed both our outflow and the neighbours drain into the river and not 30 feet further down river is a local beauty spot car park and many people's favourite swimming spot!

However SEPA test the water there regularly and have never found a problem, even when the river is very low in the summer.

When we bought the house 20 yrs ago they told us not to worry about it.

However I have heard that the regulations are due to change to be more in line with the new (2020) English system quite soon, which would then mean an upgrade to treatment plant for both of us.

Problem is it's very difficult to confirm this. Sepa will hardly even answer emails. 

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4 hours ago, Justin R said:

Sepa will hardly even answer emails. 

We didn't get any response to our drainage proposals. Maybe they looked, saw it appeared to be calculated and considered, and went off to prosecute polluters rather than do a detailed assessment..

Or maybe they didn't and we are theoretically at risk.

The fire brigade didn't respond either so our 10m3 water tank is also at our risk.

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8 hours ago, saveasteading said:

We didn't get any response to our drainage proposals. Maybe they looked, saw it appeared to be calculated and considered, and went off to prosecute polluters rather than do a detailed assessment..

I don't have a very high opinion of SEPA as they showed complete disinterest when I raised a complaint about how  treatment plants were registered.  They don't want ANY details whatsoever about what you install so of course they don't check it.

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1 minute ago, ProDave said:

don't have a very high opinion of SEPA 

I've never met or spoken to a sepa person. I have often dealt with the EA though and have assumed they are similarly set up and empowered. 

They have all been knowledgable and professional. But EA are hugely under- resourced. 

Also they are civil servants and cannot comment personally. Hence the EA spokesperson on thd news asked to comment on flooding or pollution cannot say that its obviously due to building on flood plains/ government policy, the private water companies or whatever.


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