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Land drainage

Chichester District Council's land drainage functions are now being delivered by Coastal Partners. To find out more about their work and projects along the coastline of Chichester, visit Coastal Partners (opens new window) or sign up for the Coastal Partners newsletters (opens new window).

Under most circumstances, landowners are legally responsible for any surface water drainage features on, or adjacent to, their land.  Such features can be natural watercourses, such as rivers and streams, or man-made features, such as ditches, drains, culverts (piped watercourses) and sluices etc. Any landowners with any such features on, or adjacent to, their land are legally defined as 'Riparian Landowners' under the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended); a definition that brings certain rights and responsibilities. For further information about any rights or responsibilities that you may have, please refer to the "Riparian Rights and Responsibilities" and "Riparian Responsibility Diagrams".

Landowners should also be aware that; under the Water Resources Act 1991, the Environment Agency also has a responsibility to maintain water flow and carry out flood defence works along any watercourses that have been specifically classified as a 'Main Rivers' or a 'Critical Ordinary Watercourses'.

Additionally, West Sussex County Council and the Highways Agency have responsibilities relating to the drainage of surface water from the public highway.

Our powers

Chichester District Council has no statutory duty with regards to land drainage, except where we are the landowner.  We do however have 'permissive powers' to help ensure that:

  • Watercourses are properly maintained, across the district.
  • Riparian Landowners abide by the law and undertake their riparian responsibilities.

The council's 'permissive powers' are only generally used when landowners have demonstrated an unwillingness to fulfil their riparian responsibility to appropriately maintain their watercourse. If you need to contact the council, please email

Altering, infilling or culverting a watercourse

Under the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended) watercourses within our district must not be created, altered, infilled, or culverted or 'discharged into' without the prior written consent of Chichester District Council.

You can apply for consent to undertake any of these actions, by completing and submitting a consent application: West Sussex County Council - Ordinary watercourse land drainage consent (opens new window)

If you are a riparian landowner you have a responsibility to maintain the free-flow of your watercourses 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, specifically if you are directing water somewhere new.

Blocked, infilled or poorly maintained watercourse

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 and/or,
  • The silt level in the watercourse has built up so much that insufficient capacity remains for water.

Additionally, trees, rubbish, or other debris that has fallen into a watercourse can cause an obstruction to the free-flow of water and will therefore require removal. Culverted (piped) watercourses are more prone to blockages than open ditches.  Culvert blockages can be either within the culvert, or at the culvert entrance. Culverts must be regularly checked and cleared by the landowner or the relevant authority.

Tackling blocked or poorly maintained watercourses

If you have concerns that a watercourse is blocked or not being appropriately maintained, you should first contact the landowner (if you know who the landowner is, if not, the local Parish Council may be able to help).  This will often result in appropriate action being taken by the responsible person or authority to resolve the problem identified. However, if you still feel your concerns are not being addressed then please do contact us.

Reporting infilled watercourses

If you have concerns that a watercourse has been infilled please contact us.  Additionally, if you are considering infilling a watercourse please contact us, prior to starting any such works.

Watercourse responsibilities

There are a number of different categories of watercourse and the category can affect where maintenance responsibilities lie:

  • 'Main river' and/or 'critical ordinary watercourse'

These are watercourses that have been specifically classified by the Environment Agency for their strategic drainage importance.

Responsibilities lie with the landowner(s), but they are likely to be supported by the Environment Agency.

  • Ordinary watercourse

These are open watercourses that have not been specifically classified as 'main rivers' or 'critical' by the Environment Agency.

Responsibilities lie with the riparian landowner(s).

  • Culverted watercourses

These are piped sections of watercourses, where the water flows underground or beneath a structure/building or a crossing over the watercourse.

Responsibilities lie with the riparian landowner(s) or perhaps West Sussex County Council (if the culvert runs under the public highway).

  • Highway gullies and drains

These are the drains on adopted roads that remove the excess surface water from the highway only.

Responsibilities lie with either West Sussex County Council or Highways England, depending upon the designation of the road.

  • Sustainable drainage systems

These are surface water drainage systems designed and installed to drain surface water from a developed area.

Responsibilities can lie with; the developer, landowner or a management company.

Surface water drainage proposal checklist

The council has a duty to ensure that new developments do not increase flood risk and that surface water from the development is appropriately drained.  We have therefore developed a 'Surface Water Drainage Proposals Checklist' for planning applicants and their consultants.

The checklist is designed to clearly outline our expectations and requirements for 'Surface Water Drainage Proposals'.   If applicants or their consultants submit a completed checklist with any surface water drainage proposals it will enable the council's drainage engineers to quickly and efficiently review and evaluate the submission.

The checklist can and should be used when completing 'discharge of conditions applications', or perhaps prior to that stage of the planning process should the applicant wish to avoid pre-commencement conditions relating to surface water drainage.

Before completing this checklist you are advised to read our 'Supplementary Requirements for Surface Water Drainage Proposals' document. 

Surface Water Drainage Proposals Checklist V5.3 (Word doc) [204KB]


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