Land drainage responsibilities
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 downpipes.
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.
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.
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 and operates an asset maintenance program for the inspection and clearance of its own trash screens, culvert inlet and silt traps.
The Council can serve notice and carry out works if ditches and culverts 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.