Land drainage

As the lead local flood authority for Kent, we have powers to regulate watercourses in Kent, this policy statement sets out how we deliver this role.

A watercourse is a channel which water flows through, this includes:

  • rivers
  • streams
  • ditches
  • shallow trenches which carry water infrequently
  • culverts.

We are the responsible authority for ordinary watercourses that are outside of the internal drainage districts and main river networks. We have powers to regulate the proper function of ordinary watercourses in two ways:

  • by maintaining the free flow of land drainage, including the enforcement of riparian responsibility to maintain flow and structures in an ordinary watercourse
  • to consent and enforce structures in ordinary watercourses and changes to the alignment of ordinary watercourses.

Ownership of a watercourse

A private landowner is considered by law to be a ‘riparian owner’ if you own land which:

  • is located next to an ordinary watercourse, or
  • has an ordinary watercourse running through or underneath it.

If the land on the other side of the watercourse does not belong to you, you’re presumed to be a joint riparian owner, together with the landowner on the opposite side of the watercourse. If you are unsure as to who owns the land visit the Land Registry website to get copies of the title register and plans.

The dividing line for each joint riparian owner is presumed by the centre line of the watercourse and each is responsible for their side of the watercourse and the clear flow of water through it.

The riparian owners are responsible for the maintenance of the channel, banks, including culverted sections, pipe or other structures. To find out more about the responsibilities of ownerships read:

Local borough and district councils can carry out flood risk management works on minor watercourses.

Internal Drainage Boards

The Internal Drainage Boards (IDB) is the operating drainage authority responsible for their designated drainage district. They manage and directly maintain watercourses in their district for:

  • land drainage
  • flood risk management
  • environmental protection and enhancement
  • water level management purposes.

While they undertake routine maintenance, the overall responsibility still lies with the riparian owner. The IDB also have a general supervisory duty over all drainage matters within their districts and have consenting and enforcing powers for work carried out.

Land drainage consent

To complete work on or near a watercourse which is not a main river and is not looked after by IDB, you may need land drainage consent from us. To find out if you need consent from us, find out who's responsible for the watercourse by using the land drainage consents map (PDF, 857.0 KB).

Pre-application advice

We provide pre-application advice for a fee on land drainage consents for most major developments.

Our advice can:

  • indicate whether a land drainage proposal would be acceptable
  • reduce the time your advisers spend on developing a drainage strategy
  • ensure your submission is complete so it doesn't get rejected in the early stages
  • let you know how guidance and policies will be applied to your development
  • identify whether you need specialist input.

This advice is only available for sites where we are the land drainage authority. Advice for areas within an IDB or watercourses classified as main river will require discussions with the relevant authority.

Chargeable advice

Land drainage pre-application advice fees

All fees include VAT:

  • written advice for a general site enquiry or flood risk assessment enquiry - £240
  • meeting at County Hall - £360
  • meeting on site - £480
  • further written advice after meetings - £180
  • any additional correspondence (price upon application as it depends upon complexity of request).

We are also able to provide pre-application surface water management in major developments, which is a separate service. Meetings with both our SuDS team and land drainage engineer can be arranged, enabling you to have an in depth discussion about the drainage issues of your site.

Land drainage and surface water management pre-application advice fees

All fees include VAT:

  • meeting at County Hall / online meeting - £540
  • meeting on site - £720.

We also offer chargeable advice for county planning and highways matters.

Apply for consent

We may tell you that you don't need consent or give you advice that will help avoid delays. Before you apply read the guidance notes for land drainage consent (PDF, 183.1 KB).

Apply for consent

Call 03000 41 41 41 or email if you are unable to use the online service or are unsure what type of watercourse your planned work is on.


£50 per structure.

Pollution prevention

Please read the pollution prevention guidelines (GPP5) on the GOV.UK website to ensure that your works in or near an ordinary watercourse protect the environment and meet the legal requirements.

Land drainage policy

Read our land drainage policy.