July 16, 2008

New Housing May Be Put on Hold Until Sewers Improved

By Martin Shipton

A MORATORIUM on new housing developments could be imposed in West Wales' largest town amid concerns its sewerage system cannot cope.

Planned projects are currently being allowed to proceed in Llanelli, but future developments are dependent on major investment in the sewerage system by Welsh Water over the next two years.

The crisis affecting Llanelli underlines the strain placed on sewerage systems across the country by the level of house building that has occurred in recent years.

Ironically, the economic slowdown is providing many systems with an unexpected breathing space.

The Western Mail understands that the moratorium was discussed at a high-level meeting between Welsh Water, the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government, Carmarthenshire Council officers and specialist drainage engineers.

A council spokesman said: "The meeting discussed the historical situation concerning foul water sewerage and 'clean' surface water in the area.

"It was confirmed by Welsh Water that there is adequate foul capacity for the area in terms of current and future known development proposals in line with the unitary development plan.

"However, the system in Llanelli has been designed over many centuries as a combined system, where foul and 'clean' water uses the same pipes.

"This, on occasion, leads to discharges during periods of heavy rainfall to avoid sewage flooding people's homes.

"Considerable investment by Welsh Water has meant flooding of residential properties has been greatly reduced and no town centre properties have flooded recently as a result.

"The agencies at the meeting heard that Welsh Water is investing pounds 10mto complete a package of measures by March 2010, which will provide extra storage under storm conditions and modern treatment facilities.

"The regulatory agencies are confident that this extra storm sewage capacity and treatment technology will significantly improve the situation and minimise the impact of future developments in the short term.

"It was agreed at the meeting to pursue a number of quick hit solutions prior to March 2010 to reduce clean surface water entering the combined drainage system.

"This will ensure that any extra sewage entering the system from short-term future developments will not significantly increase flows to Llanelli sewage treatment works.

"With regard to a number of key developments in the area, the agencies agreed that providing the short-term solutions enabled those developments to proceed without detriment."

The meeting also discussed recent mass cockle deaths in the Burry Inlet. There has been speculation that the discharge of sewage into the inlet has been responsible for the deaths.

Council leader Meryl Gravell said: "I recently wrote to the Minister for Rural Affairs Elin Jones suggesting that because of the complexity of the problem a high-level investigation was necessary.

"Carmarthenshire will co-operate fully with Environment Agency Wales to ensure that it reaches a conclusion as quickly as possible, which should enable the industry to recover.

"Public protection officers are continuing to take samples of the shellfish from the Burry Inlet and the Three Rivers fisheries to ensure that they are fit for human consumption.

"Recent tests show that healthy cockles are perfectly fit to eat provided that they have been processed and cooked properly."

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