PROVISION OF BASIC UTILITIES IN RURAL ENGLAND
Report No DWI0632
Copies of this report may be available as an Acrobat pdf download under the 'Pre 2000 Reports' heading on the DWI website.
- This report presents findings of a study into the extent,
location and consequences for rural areas of non-supply from the
mains of the basic utility services of electricity, water and
- Enquiries covered the whole of rural England. Four case study
locations were selected for more detailed investigation in North
Norfolk, South Devon, parts of Shropshire and North Yorkshire.
- All English electricity and water utilities and all English
rural Counties and Districts were approached for information on the
scale of non-supply in their areas, and for any details that they
had of problems arising from non-supply. Accurate and detailed
information is nowhere available, but from replies received and from
the evidence of the case studies the following estimates of
non-supply in England have been made:
- Electricity About 2,430 unconnected properties. These are
almost exclusively in rural areas. They represent about 0.01 percent
of national connections. There are unconnected properties in all
regions, but they exceed 0.03% of total connections only in the
North-East and South-West. It was impossible to estimate the extent
of single-phase connections rather than three-phase.
- Water About 150,000 properties have private water supplies.
Again, these are virtually all to be found in rural areas. They
represent about 0.8% of national connections. Many of these private
supplies are on small systems supplied by boreholes and serving
small communities or individual properties. Most other sources are
abstractions from streams in rural areas. The largest concentrations
of non-supply from the mains are to be found in the South West where
as many as 5% of all households lack mains supply.
- Sewerage Around 750,000 properties are without mains sewerage
equal to 4.0% of national connections. Again the highest
concentrations are to be found in the South-West where as many as
15% of households are not connected to the mains sewerage system.
These properties are mostly to be found in rural areas but
non-connection is common in areas of urban expansion.
- The principal explanation for non-mains supply to existing
households and businesses of electricity and water is the high cost
of first-time connection to isolated areas. Under existing
legislation, water and electricity consumers may requisition the
utilities to provide a supply, but there are charges for these
- As regards the non-connection to mains sewerage and drainage,
there are, in addition to problems arising from isolation, capacity
constraints in treatment works. These have arisen from historical
under investment by the utilities, rural re-population and diversion
of resources by Water Authorities to meet increasing standards of
service provision for existing consumers. These constraints have
inhibited Water Authorities from agreeing to make connections for
new developments unless the developers make a substantial financial
contribution to the Authority. These capacity constraints at
treatment works are scattered geographically and are not restricted
to isolated areas.
- Costs faced by potential consumers and developers for first-time
supply are usually prohibitive. For water and sewerage, the charges
often appear to be arbitrary and unrelated to actual costs incurred
by the utility in any specified case.
- The costs of alternative supplies for electricity and water are
invariably higher than most urban and rural consumers are charged
for mains supply. There are, in addition, several inconvenience
factors e.g. the need for regular petrol or diesel deliveries and
the noise and inconvenience of local electricity generation, and the
variability of water flows from shallow boreholes and streams.
Alternative solutions to mains sewerage such as cess pits, septic
tanks and small scale package sewerage schemes often are
cost-effective. In certain localities physical conditions such as
high water tables preclude the use of soakaways making local
sewerage alternatives very expensive to install and operate.
- Alternative supplies of water from boreholes can usually be made
safe for drinking and meet the directives of the EEC with
comparatively modest amounts of treatment. Other private water
supplies are more likely to require substantial treatment to meet
directives particularly if they involve surface run-offs. Apart from
the problems associated with meeting directives, alternative water
supplies suffer from discolouration.
- The consequences of non-mains supply may be divided into two
basic types of issue:
- Rural deprivation, where non-mains supplies are just one of a
number of factors which contribute to the comparatively low
standards of living of existing rural dwellers in isolated area.
- Limitation on economic development arising from non supply in
the remote rural areas.
- Rural deprivation issues centre on the non-availability of
mains electricity and water, since these are the services to
existing domestic consumers for which alternative supplies can
sometimes be costly and in the case of water, fail to meet direct
ives. The failure to meet water directives is a matter of public
- The Consultants encountered only rare cases of economic
development being frustrated by non-mains supply of electricity and
water. Economic development is certainly frustrated by the
non-availability of 3-phase electricity since this is necessary for
the running of electric motors and is normally costly to install.
Unfortunately, absence of information about 3-phase makes estimation
of the extent to which economic development is frustrated on this
account very difficult.
- By far the most important adverse influence on rural economic
development arising from non-mains supply is the absence of
treatment capacity for sewerage. Many frustrated developments are
for housing but the Consultants did find wide-spread evidence that
industrial development was being frustrated by high charges quoted
by the Water Authorities for developers' contributions.
- Moreover, the scale of these contributions is often revealed
only at the final stages of the planning process after much
preparatory work for new development has been done. Developments
have been frustrated by the size of these contributions. There is
scope for better co-ordination of Planning activities in rural areas
involving the Water Authorities and more accurate estimating of the
actual costs by Water Authorities of increasing capacity for
- Existing policy recognises the difficulties of the rural areas
with respect to non-supply of basic utilities from the mains. Water
Acts enable local authorities with Central Government help to grant
aid connections. The scale of resources available for this programme
of works is inadequate relative to the scale of the tasks. The Rural
Development Commission also has its own programme of grant
assistance to rural projects covering redundant buildings and site
servicing. This programme can be fine-tuned on a case-by-case basis
to meet the varying needs of rural areas. The Consultants recommend
a focus on the provision of mains electricity and water, including
3-phase electricity given that the scale of the problems for
sewerage is so great. A new source of funding to overcome sewerage
problems of restraint seems to be required on economic development
- Privatisation of the electricity and water industries is
currently underway with both Bills at Committee Stage in
Parliamentary proceedings. The approach which will be adopted by
Parliament to first time supply provisions of the privatised
utilities remains uncertain but the following conclusions may be
drawn at this time:
The Bill puts the onus for controlling the privatised industry
firmly on the regulatory body to set limits to the overall level and
also to assess the structure of charges. It is unlikely that under
privatisation there will be extra provision of resources to overcome
the high costs of connection for isolated areas, or provide
The Bill provides for certain costs to be recovered from occupiers
of properties for supplying new mains and connections to existing
mains and for a right of appeal to an independent technical expert
if there is disagreement over those costs. This right of appeal is
valuable and an improvement over the present position, but in
general the legislation is designed to confirm rather than improve
on the status quo which is not to the advantage of the rural areas.
The Bill provides no basis for assuming that Government will
recognise the need for additional resources for sewerage and
drainage for economic development.
- Within a context of no significant increase in resources the
Rural Development Commission may have wished to see improvements to
the status quo for first time supply particularly for water and
sewerage. There are four possible options:
- to go for a standard charge as in telecommunications. This
would remove uncertainty and put everyone on the same footing.
However, the Government is unlikely, as in electricity, to support
the general position that new users should not bear the burden of
higher costs if costs are in fact higher. Indeed, the Government has
already rejected the suggestion that charges should be standardised
for that reason. However, there is scope for pressing for standard
charges within defined areas or for requiring the companies to set
out in advance what average contributions are going to be;
- to get nearer to the OFGAS model, and involve the Director
General in the process of determining what is reasonable. That would
allow a "case-law" to be developed and general principles
promulgated. The DG could be advised by independent technical
- to endeavour to ensure that the new companies may charge
only a limited range of costs, such as the direct costs of
connection or supply, excluding basic infrastructure such as
reservoirs or treatment works;
- to scrap the existing clauses in the Water Bill entirely and
go for the drafting used in the Electricity Bill. That would leave
the onus on the Director General.
The prospects of making amendments to the proposed legislation are
not now great, however.