Under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 the responsibility for consenting and enforcement on ordinary watercourses has transferred from the Environment Agency to Torbay Council, as Lead Local Flood Authority. Consents are required for any changes to ordinary watercourse that either obstruct or alter the flow. Enforcement action will be used to rectify unauthorised and unlawful work on a watercourse.


What is an Ordinary Watercourse?

Ordinary watercourse definition:

“watercourse” includes all rivers and streams and all ditches, drains, cuts, culverts, dikes, sluices, sewers (other than public sewers within the meaning of the Water Industry Act 1991) and passages, through which water flows.

Land Drainage Act 1991

An "Ordinary Watercourse" is defined as a watercourse that does not form part of a "Main River".

The Environment Agency will continue to consent on Main Rivers and a statutory map showing main rivers is available at the Environment Agency: Am I at risk of Flooding? Opens in a new window


What needs consent and why is it needed?

Any work affecting a watercourse may need consent whether it be temporary or permanent. This is required to ensure that it does not increase the risk of flooding and that it does not adversely affect the environment. The Land Drainage Act 1991 as amended by the Floods and Water Management Act 2010 states:

"No person shall:
•erect any mill dam, weir or other like obstruction to the flow of any ordinary watercourse or raise or otherwise alter any such obstruction; or
•erect a culvert in an ordinary watercourse, or
•alter a culvert in a manner that would be likely to affect the flow of an ordinary watercourse

without the consent in writing of the drainage board concerned"

Please see this guide for more information on whether works require consent. If you are still unsure whether you need consent or you would like any advice prior to submitting your application please contact us.


How do I apply?

Please read the guidance notes and complete an application form. Also ensure that there is sufficient information contained within your application for us to review and process it. You must also demonstrate that your proposals will not have an adverse effect on flood risk or the environment. An application fee is required with the application form (please contact us to confirm, currently £50 per structure and an additional fee of £50 where temporary works within the watercourse are required).

We will either grant or refuse consent within two months from the date we receive an application.

The granting of our consent should not be regarded as in any way approving the design and soundness of the proposed works, other than in relation to the impact on flows and the effects on the watercourse and its floodplain.

Unconsented work enforcement

Any works carried out without consent will be required to be removed and the watercourse put back to it's original condition, there is no procedure for retrospective approval.

If you have concerns that work is or has taken place without consent then please contact us on highways@torbay.gov.uk.

Application for Ordinary Watercourse Consent permissions – Guidance notes
Information to help you fill in your application for Ordinary Watercourse Consent
Application for Ordinary Watercourse Land Drainage Consent
Land Drainage Act 1991 Section 23 (Amended Flood and Water Management Act 2010)
Cross sections of consentable activities
List of cross sections of consentable activities indicates what works might and might not require consent