A river runs through it - buying or developing land near a watercourse: compliance

This is the final article in our series about owning or purchasing land that includes or adjoins a river or other watercourse. It summarises the consequences of not meeting your riparian obligations, other practical issues to consider and other sources of information.

What if I don't meet my riparian obligations?

Given the range of obligations which can apply, it depends on the nature of the breach.

For example:

  • If you carry out works without the Risk Management Authority's consent, or damage flood defences, the RMA can reclaim from you the cost of whatever action it decides is necessary to remedy or remove your works. You can also be required to put things right. If you fail to comply with a notice to rectify, you can face criminal charges.
  • If you carry out works, or fail to remove obstructions to a watercourse and this causes flooding to another property, you may have to pay damages.
  • If you do not hold a required permit or licence, this can be a criminal offence.

What other factors do I need to consider?

  • You may need planning permission for works on or near a watercourse and you may need a flood risk assessment or Environmental Statement to support your planning application.
  • It may be difficult to get insurance if a watercourse has caused flooding previously, or flooding risk may be excluded from the policy. Often, insurance will not cover flooding where flood defences have not been maintained, a culvert has been damaged or there is a history of flooding.
  • There may be location specific issues; for example, the property may be in a Special Area of Conservation.
  • Tidal rivers are subject to public rights of navigation and the control of harbour authorities and marine management organisations in some instances.
  • Local byelaws may impose further obligations or restrictions on use.
  • Some riparian obligations may be passed on to tenants (such as where the obligations depend on a party being in occupation). As a landlord, you may remain liable for the performance of certain obligations, and should ensure your tenant is complying with the lease, and will indemnify you for any breach. As a tenant, you should ensure the lease is clear about who takes on riparian obligations, and ensure issues such as flooding arising from a breach of the landlord's riparian obligations, and recovery under any service charge, are covered off.

Where can I find more information?

There is a practical high level guide available from the Gov.UK website here. The Canal and River Trust, the successor to British Waterways, is the guardian of most canals, rivers, reservoirs and docks in England and Wales. It can provide advice on works near canals and rivers. 

If you would like advice on your particular property, please contact us to discuss how we can help you.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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