Watercourse management and consenting

Watercourse Management

The maintenance of watercourses plays a key role in managing water levels and reducing the risk of flooding. If you are planning to undertake works within a watercourse, you need permission to do so by law. It is essential that anyone who intends to carry out works in, over, under or near a watercourse, contacts the relevant flood risk management authority to obtain the necessary permissions before starting the work.

In relation to works on an ordinary watercourse:

Section 23(1) of the Land Drainage Act 1991 states

"No person shall:

  1. erect any mill dam, weir or other like obstruction to the flow of any ordinary watercourse or raise or otherwise alter any such obstruction; or
  2. erect a culvert in an ordinary watercourse, or
  3. alter a culvert in a manner that would be likely to affect the flow of an ordinary watercourse, 

without the consent in writing of the drainage board concerned.”

Ordinary watercourses include every river, drain, stream, ditch, dyke, cuts, sluices, culverts, sewer (other than public sewer) and passages through which water flows that do not form part of main rivers. It is not required for water to flow at all times for it to be considered as a watercourse. The Environment Agency remains responsible for regulating activities affecting the coast and main rivers through environmental permitting.

Landowner Riparian Responsibility

There are many other consents, permits and exemptions that you may need to apply for depending on the work that you are doing on your land. It is your responsibility to identify all the necessary permissions and licences required to maintain, repair, build or remove anything in or around a watercourse.

If there is a watercourse on or near your property boundary, you may be a 'riparian owner'. Information about riparian ownership can be viewed here. We have also made a ‘Riparian Owner’ factsheet  which outlines your rights and responsibilities as a riparian owner.

Enforcement action could be taken against parties who carry out unapproved works or interfere with access required for maintenance of a watercourse

Land Drainage Consent

When considering if the proposed works to an ordinary watercourse will require consent, you should consider whether it would affect the flow of the watercourse when the channel is full. If the answer to this is yes, then a Land Drainage Consent will be required. Consent will be required irrespective of whether works are temporary or permanent. Any form of development within 9 metres of an ordinary watercourse will also require prior approval. This includes landscaping works (fencing and tree planting) as well as any structures (e.g. development, utilities infrastructure, drainage features, outfalls etc.).

For ordinary watercourses in the Borough of Milton Keynes, outside an Internal Drainage Board area, the relevant authority is Milton Keynes City Council.

To undertake works on or near to all watercourses in the Borough of Milton Keynes that are not main rivers you need to complete a Consent form for the Bedford Group of Drainage Boards (please select the form relevant to Milton Keynes City Council) as they are responsible for issuing consents on behalf of Milton Keynes City Council.