Land drainage

Living next door to a watercourse - riparian ownership

The owner of land adjacent to a river, watercourse or beck is called a riparian owner. The rights and responsibilities of the landowner related to that river, watercourse or beck are called riparian rights and responsibilities.

The riparian owner is responsible for maintaining the river, watercourse or beck and keeping it clear of obstruction to allow free flow.

For many years there has been a general lack of watercourse maintenance by riparian owners, leading to an increased risk of flooding.

As Land Drainage Authority for ordinary watercourses, becks and non-main rivers the Council has powers to ensure these are maintained and managed to allow free flow. The Council also has powers to undertake clearance work on ordinary watercourses, becks and non-main rivers in the event of a riparian owner failing to fulfil their maintenance responsibilities. The Council can charge the riparian owner for undertaking this work.

Regulation of activities on ordinary watercourses

From 6 April 2012 the responsibility for regulating activities on ordinary watercourses rests with Wakefield Council as Lead Local Flood Authority for the District. The Environment Agency will remain the responsible Authority on main rivers and Internal Drainage Boards retain responsibility within their administrative boundaries.

This regulation manages activities that create obstructions to flow in ordinary watercourses to ensure that flood risk is managed appropriately. It involves giving consent for acceptable works to be carried out and taking enforcement action if work is unacceptable.

Works carried out without consent have the potential to increase flood risk to people and property, including those unconnected with the works.

Activities on ordinary watercourses that require consent are those likely to cause an obstruction to flow or restrict storage and include culverting, bridges, weirs etc.

It is very important that anyone who intends to carry out works in, over, under or near a watercourse contacts the relevant authority to obtain the necessary consents before starting the works.

To find out if you need consent and to confirm which regulatory body you need to consult please contact the Council’s consenting team at

Application form and guidance documents

Please note: Consent may take up to 8 weeks from receipt of application form and relevant information, so early consultation is recommended.

Contact Us

Highways and Engineering PO Box 700 Wakefield One Burton Street Wakefield WF1 2EB

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