With increasingly long wet spells, surface water runoff flooding is a growing problem. But what is the legal position?
Contact our Property Disputes Team on 01225 462871 or by email.
Surface water runoff, otherwise known as surface water flooding or pluvial flooding, occurs when water – typically rainwater – does not drain away through the soil, instead lying on or flowing over the ground surface.
Runoff may occur even over normally free-draining soil if the ground is saturated or baked hard due to a prolonged dry spell.
Who is responsible for surface water drainage?
The law does not attribute responsibility for surface water per se. However, the Flood and Water Management Act (2010) requires county councils to coordinate the work of different organisations in managing the problem.
Water coming from neighbour’s property
But what about where the problem is one between private landowners?
Property owners have a common law duty to use their land in a way that does not increase the risk of flooding on neighbouring property. If one property owner does something on their land resulting in flooding – or increased flooding – on another person’s property, they risk a claim for an injunction and/or damages. An injunction will require the responsible landowner to take steps to remedy the problem. Damages compensate for the financial loss caused.
Surface water runoff law UK
To reduce the risk of flooding to your neighbours, the law also requires you to:
- Keep your drains clear and ensure you don’t drain water onto your neighbour’s property or into their foul drain. You have a natural right of drainage in terms of water that flows naturally downhill across your land to a neighbour’s land. However, you cannot artificially channel water in such a way that it causes damage to a neighbour’s land. If you do so, you open yourself to civil action.
- Maintain any flood defences on your land. If a failure to maintain such defences results in flooding or increased flooding, you open yourself to a claim.
What if your property is next to a river or other water course?
If your property lies near a river or other natural watercourse, you have certain rights at common law, known as riparian rights. One of those rights allows you to take reasonable steps to protect your property from flooding. That includes an entitlement to put up flood defences such as an embankment or wall. But in doing so, you must not cause harm to other people’s land or property.
If your defences exacerbate the flooding on a neighbour’s property, you may face a claim for an injunction and/or compensation.
Please note, however, that irrespective of your riparian rights, your flood defences may still require consent from the Environment Agency and/or planning permission from your local authority. Speak to both before undertaking any work.
Also, remember that your proposed works may not be allowed if they would reduce flood storage on a flood plain.