Land Drainage is a complex area of responsibility, but in short a landowner is responsible for the drainage of their land. By law a person owning lower-level land has to accept natural land drainage water (that is, spring water, ground water or surface water run-off) from adjacent land at a higher level. This doesn't apply where the owner of the adjacent land has carried out "improvements" such that the run-off from the land isn't "natural" - for example if the entire back garden has been paved over. 'Natural' runoff does not include water from gutter down-pipes.
Ditches, streams and rivers
In the case of ditches, streams and rivers it is the landowners each side of the watercourse (known as "riparian owners") who are responsible for the maintenance of the watercourse itself and the flow within it. More information about riparian ownership, including the rights and responsibilities of riparian owners, is available on our Riparian Ownership page.
Main Rivers and Critical Ordinary Watercourses
Certain important streams and watercourses are known as Main Rivers and in these instances the Environment Agency have an additional responsibility to maintain water flow and carry out flood defence works. The term 'Main River' needs not reflect the actual size of the river - some are quite small - but the overall effect of that watercourse on the drainage system of surrounding areas. The landowner is still responsible for the physical maintenance of the river.
The route and extent of these Main Rivers within the Borough can be accurately determined from plans held by the Environment Agency.
The Agency provide a "Floodline", which is a 24 hour advice and information service for floods and flood warning on 0845 988 1188.
All watercourses of any description fall to the landowner to maintain, which in some instances may be the Borough Council but more often will be private landowners.
The Council holds a budget to meet its own responsibilities on its own land. It has no money available to carry out land drainage works on privately-owned land.
Discharges to a watercourse
Certain discharges to watercourses require the consent of the Environment Agency, which will be able to advise you on this subject. These discharges include outfalls from septic tanks and private sewerage treatment plants.
Highway water run-off
The riparian owner of any ditches alongside roads is normally the adjoining landowner, as the highway boundary invariably lies along the top of the bank closest to the road. Thus, although the road may drain into the ditch, the landowner is responsible for maintaining it.
However, if the Council, the highway authority, have piped the ditch under their highway powers, they become responsible for its maintenance. Likewise, any pipe beneath the highway is the responsibility of the Council. When the condition of a ditch is causing flooding on a highway it will be the Council that takes action under the Land Drainage Act.
Who enforces the maintenance of a watercourse?
The Council can serve notice and carry out works if ditches have become blocked resulting in a flood risk or health hazard. These powers are contained in the Land Drainage Acts 1991 and 1994, and Sections 259-265 of the Public Health Act 1936, but are not instantaneous - the process between first notification of a problem and serving a notice can take some months, and further stages are required if the landowner defaults on the notice.
The costs involved in carrying out any such works, plus the administration costs associated with serving notice, are passed on to the landowners.
If this is ignored, the Council concerned may carry out the necessary work itself and then recharge the person responsible for the full cost incurred. The person responsible may also be prosecuted for nuisance under the Public Health Act 1936.
If you feel a watercourse may be polluted or you are concerned about the water quality you should contact the Environmental Protection Team.
If you propose to discharge surface water from a new building or development into an existing watercourse you may be required to make improvements downstream (to enable the watercourse to deal with any increased flow) or to provide storage to control the rate of flow from the site. Please contact Planning Services for advice and guidance.
What do I do if I'm being flooded?
The Council can help resolve flooding problems. Please report any incidents or potential incidents to us using the contact details below.
For further information, please contact us using the details below.