Land drainage

Landowners are legally responsible for surface water drainage through a series of watercourses including, main rivers, streams, ditches, drains, cuts, culverts and sluices etc. Landowners adjacent to any one of these watercourses are legally defined as 'Riparian Landowners' under the Land Drainage Acts of 1991 and 1994; a definition that brings certain Rights and Responsibilities with it.

Under the Water Resources Act 1991, the Environment Agency has additional responsibility to maintain water flow and carry out flood defence works along watercourses specifically classified as Main River or Critical Ordinary Watercourse.

West Sussex County Council and the Highways Agency have responsibilities for surface water drainage of the public highway.

Our powers

Chichester District Council has no statutory duty with regards to land drainage, except where we have retained ownership of land. We do however have permissive powers to ensure that watercourses are properly maintained across the District, and that Riparian Landowners undertake their responsibilities, thereby not breaking the law. These permissive powers are only generally used, when landowners have demonstrated that they are not willing to carry out maintenance works on their watercourse following a request from a concerned member of the public, a Parish Council or other operating authority.

Unfortunately it remains a common misconception that the district council maintains watercourses to prevent flooding.

Altering, infilling or culverting a watercourse

Watercourses must not be created, altered, infilled or culverted without the prior written consent of the Environment Agency and Chichester District Council.

Your Riparian responsibility states that you must maintain the free-flow of the watercourse for which you are responsible at all times. Altering, infilling or culverting a watercourse will impact the free flow of water, and may leave you liable should flooding occur as a result of your actions. Creating a new watercourse could create new problems to other landowners, if you are specifically directing water somewhere new.

If you have plans to create, alter, infill or culvert a watercourse, please submit these in writing to the Environment Agency and Chichester District Council. This should include a map to illustrate the location of proposed changes, with a brief sketch stating capacities etc. The Environment Agency and Chichester District Council will consider these and respond to you. Any changes may also require planning permission. You should also speak to Chichester District Council or the Environment Agency before carrying out any works near a watercourse because you may need to apply for flood defence consent first. Work requiring consent could include improvements to your property or land within your boundary and near a watercourse (such as building extensions, erecting garages or outbuildings, erecting fences and repairs or alterations to riverbanks).

The Environment Agency's National Customer Contact Centre will put you through to the Development and Flood Risk Team for your area. They will be able to tell you whether your work is likely to cause flooding to others and conforms to current legislation.

Blocked, infilled or poorly maintained watercourses

Open ditches can be described as poorly maintained if the bed and banks of the watercourse are so heavily vegetated that they are preventing the free-flow of water. Another problem could be that the silt levels in the bottom of the open watercourse have built up so much that little capacity for water remains in the ditch. Also, if trees, or rubbish fall into the ditch, these can cause temporary blockages to the free-flow of water. Culverted watercourse are prone to blocking either within the culvert or at the culvert entrance.

Culverted watercourses cause the biggest problems across the Chichester District because they are prone to blocking, either within the culvert itself or at the entrance. Entrances to culverts often have weed screens fronting them, which become full of debris - these must be regularly checked and cleared by the landowner or relevant authority.

Tackling blocked or poorly maintained watercourses

If you believe a watercourse is not being well maintained or are worried about a blockage, please refer to the page 'watercourses pollution and responsibilities'. On this page you will be able to identify who is responsible for the watercourse you are concerned about, enabling you to contact that person or authority to address your concerns.

This will often result in appropriate action being taken by the responsible person or authority to resolve the problems identified. If you feel your concerns are not being addressed after contacting the responsible person / authority, please refer to the page 'land drainage - our powers', as the Council may be able to help, but usually you should contact your Parish Council in the first instance.

Reporting infilled watercourses

If a landowner has infilled their watercourse, this must have been consented by the Environment Agency. If you have concerns, you should first speak to the Environment Agency to determine whether consent was given. If not the Environment Agency will contact either the landowner (or us) to question the infill. The Environment Agency or Chichester District Council will consider taking enforcement action and asking for the fill to be removed if it is believed that it will lead to flooding. The available poster offers guidelines on how to avoid any enforcement action.

Watercourse responsibilities

Watercourses can be divided into a number of different categories. Responsibility changes between the categories are summarised here. These pages provide further detailed information on each of these categories, explaining what the responsibilities mean for you.

  • Main river and critical ordinary watercourse
    Responsibility; Landowner, supported by the Environment Agency: Watercourses that have been specifically classified by the Environment Agency for their strategic drainage importance.
  • Non main river, open ditches and watercourses
    Responsibility; Landowner: Open watercourses not classified as Main River or critical by the Environment Agency.
  • Culverted watercourses
    Responsibility; Landowner / West Sussex County Council: Piped connections where watercourses flow under the land or a structure.
  • Highway gullies and drains
    Responsibility; West Sussex County Council / Highways Agency: Drains on the roads that remove excess surface water.
  • Sustainable drainage systems
    Responsibility; Developer / Landowner: Drainage systems designed and installed to intercept surface water on site to reduce surface water run-off from sites.