Environment: Rat tsar needed to clear sewers

The time may be ripe for a `rat tsar' to crack down on the booming population of rodents, a conference in London heard yesterday.

The water companies - whose sewage pipes they lurk in - and local council environmental health officers agree that they are failing to coordinate, and current systems of pest control are inadequate.

Before privatisation, councils and the old, state-owned water authorities had a much closer working relationship. Now water companies complain that the councils do not notify them about rat infestations when the sewers are a likely source. Councils allege that the water companies are no longer regularly putting poison bait in the sewers.

The problems emerged at a conference in London devoted to rats and sewers. Some delegates felt central Government should take the lead role in bringing the two groups together and drawing up a new code of rat-busting standards and practices.

Stephen Battersby, of Surrey University's Robens Centre for Environmental Health, complained that the new crop of ministers showed little interest. The centre had asked for one to attend to give the Government's view, but none came.

He believes the new, plastic pipes used in sewers may be less rat-resistant than the old cast iron ones, and poor workmanship when installing drains may be a factor.

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