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River Work and Flood Defence Consent

Use this guide to find out if you need Environment Agency flood defence consent. You may need permission to do work on a river, next to a watercourse, a flood barrier, or sea defence.

There are several different processes to get permission granted. But you might need it to do work on a river, flood defence, or other waterway.

In short, you may need to get an environmental permit for any flood risk activities created by your labour.

You may need either a flood defence consent or an environmental permit for river works.

It depends on which type of watercourse, main river, or sea defence (including its flood plains) you plan to be working on.

River Works Licence: These regulations apply only to England.

Note: Different rules apply for Scotland, Wales, and in Northern Ireland.

Permission to Work in Flood Risk Areas

  • In, under, over or near a main river (including where the river is in a culvert).
  • On or near a flood defence on a main river.
  • In the flood plain of a main river or on or near a sea defence.

Note: Doing work on a river or flood defence without permission can result in prosecution, a fine, and a prison sentence.

Rivers, Sea Defences, and Watercourses

You should always check to see if you need a permit. But, in some cases you only need to inform the Environment Agency about your activity. Having Flood Defence Consent means you are not required to apply for a new permit.

You must apply for Ordinary Watercourse Consent any time your work is on or near all other watercourses. Contact the Environment Agency, the internal drainage board (IDB), or your lead local flood authority via your local council.

The Environment Agency provides a Flood Map for Planning. So, you can check online whether your activity is likely to create a flood risk from an ordinary watercourse or a main river.

Environment Agency

The Environment Agency (EA) work to create better places for people and wildlife, alongside supporting sustainable development.

It is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra. That stands for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Environment Agency
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 03708 506 506
Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm
Find out about UK call charges.

Permissions and Environmental Permit

The details of the other licences and consents need observing and complying with. As a rule, they are most commonly known as ‘flood defence consents’ or environmental permits. They associate with authorisation for specific planning and development activities.

Note: Old legislation often referred to them as ‘land drainage consents’.

The new permissions are required to ensure that any work carried out near watercourses and rivers does not increase the risk of flooding, or damages natural flood defences. They also protect fisheries, wildlife, and the environment from the harmful effects of river works.

Note: Receiving consent does not confirm that a proposed structure or activity is of sound design. It may not comply with any other required legislation. This may include planning permissions or health and safety laws in the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt that contacting the authorities early on in your plans helps everyone involved. It reduces the chance of delays and wasted efforts. Be sure to discuss your plans and prepare your application forms in advance. They often require a notice of two months to consider the details of the work you propose to carry out.

Permit fees should be around £50 per application. But, there is no charge if they come under local byelaw applications. Remember that there may be multiple fees if you are applying to work on multiple structures.

You are legally allowed to make an appeal through agreed independent arbitrators if the authorities refuse to grant the consent and you feel that the decision was unreasonable. Even so, you must not carry out any work or activity without written consent.

The consequences of prosecution are likely to be expensive and you may get forced to covers costs of rectifying any damages that you cause.

Water Resources Act 1991

The Water Resources Act 1991, and any appertaining or associated local byelaws, require you to apply for, and successfully, receive consent from the Environment Agency for works in, over, under or adjacent to main rivers.

Some authorities have their own byelaws. But, you are likely to need the consent of the internal drainage board, or unitary or county council to construct or alter a culvert or flow control structure (such as a weir) on any ordinary watercourse, according to the Land Drainage Act 1991.

Permission Check to Work on a River or Flood Defence in the United Kingdom