Ordinary watercourse consents

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Under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, Surrey County Council (as the Lead Local Flood Authority, or LLFA) is the consenting authority for proposed structures and obstructions within a watercourse, which require consent under section 23 of the Land Drainage Act 1991. These structures and obstructions may include dams, weirs, culverts (pipes) or any other structure which affects the flow of water within the channel.

What is an Ordinary Watercourse?

An Ordinary Watercourse is any river, stream, brook, ditch, drain, culvert, pipe and any other passage through which water may flow which is not designated as Main River. It does not have to be recorded on a map to be an ordinary watercourse and commonly is not.

You can check if a watercourse is classified as a Main River with the Environment Agency's Main River map. If the section of watercourse you want to work on is not on their map, then it is automatically classified as an Ordinary Watercourse.

Do I need Ordinary Watercourse Consent?

The consent Surrey County Council issues covers works (including temporary works) that affect water flow within the channel of an ordinary watercourse. This could be a new pipe (culvert), bridge, dam, pond or other structure in the watercourse or a change to the alignment or the banks of the watercourse. Our Guidance Note below contains further details and examples of structures that might require consent.

If that section of watercourse is classified as a Main River, you will need to contact the Environment Agency for an EA Environmental Permit.

How do I apply?

In order to submit your application, please use our online Ordinary Watercourse application form.

You will need to include several supporting documents with your application, please use our Document Checklist (PDF) to see what you need to include. Without this information, it is likely that your application will be refused, so make sure you have everything you need before you apply. If you have any questions about what supporting documents are needed, please contact us.

What does it cost and how can I pay?

Each consent costs £50 and a separate consent is required for each structure or part of the works which affect the channel. Multiple consents can be made for the same location in a single application. Structures in different locations will need separate applications. If you need to build a temporary structure or diversion for the water to enable you to build the final structure, you will need to apply for consent for both of these for example temporary structure plus final equals 2 consents which equals £100.

If you are unsure of how many structures your plans will involve or what you need to pay for, please contact us.

Payment can be made by credit or debit card through our online Ordinary Watercourse application form.

If you have any issues with payment or completing the form, please email suds@surreycc.gov.uk and we will assist. We regret that we cannot accept payment by card over the phone.

When do I need to apply?

Consent must be granted before any works are undertaken. We cannot grant consent retroactively for works that have been completed or are already underway. If works are carried out without consent, then we may legally require that the watercourse be returned to its original state.

How long will it take?

The Land Drainage Act 1991 sets a statutory deadline for consent applications. The maximum amount of time we can take to consider your application is two months from the date of receipt of application and payment. If you are not informed of a decision before this deadline, the consent is automatically granted.

Some reasons for refusal

Surrey County Council has a general presumption against culverting (piping) of Ordinary Watercourses. In order for approval to be granted, a valid reason for the proposed work must be supplied when an application is made. If other alternatives to culverting have been discounted, evidence of this should be provided.

Sufficient information and rationale must be provided in order for applications to be assessed. Applications may be refused for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • The works cause an increase in flood risk at the location of the works or elsewhere;
  • Insufficient information submitted to allow an assessment to be made of an application;
  • Adverse impacts on ecology and biodiversity or water quality - linked to the Water Framework Directive.
  • Viable alternatives may exist which cause less impact to the ordinary watercourse (like retaining an open channel over culverting).

If your application is refused, you have the right to appeal our decision under Section 23(5) of the Land Drainage Act 1991. Alternatively you can make a new application straight away.

Contact Details

Enquiries, applications and supporting documents may be made to the following:


0300 200 1003

Files available to download

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