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29th July 2016

New environmental permits for work on main rivers

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The rules governing works in or near main rivers have recently changed.

The rules governing works in or near main rivers have recently changed. Such works were previously covered by Flood Defence Consents (FDC). The Environment Agency (EA) website has a flood map showing whether a watercourse is a main river. Works to ordinary watercourses are still governed by the land drainage consent regime run by the Internal Drainage Board and local flood authorities.

FDCs have now been brought under the broader Environmental Permitting regime by the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016 (EPR). Activities covered include erecting any structure in, over or under a main river, work to a structure that could affect the flow of water, dredging, diverting the flow of water; and activities near flood defence structures which may reduce their effectiveness. There are four types of control under the EPR, depending on the type and scale of activity.

  • Excluded activities are the lowest risk activities, such as erecting fencing away from the bank of a main river, clearing out sediment traps, or attaching notice boards to existing posts. There is no requirement to notify the EA, and no charge is payable.
  • Exempted activities include constructing footbridges, drinking bays, wildlife refuge structures and access platforms, and improving tracks and paths. The activity needs to be registered as exempt with the EA, and specific conditions will need to be met when carrying out the work.
  • Standard rules permits cover activities such as temporary diversion of a main river, repair of a river bank and construction of an outfall pipe. An application must be made to the EA for an Environmental Permit (EP), with a fee of £170 for one activity and £40 for each subsequent activity applied for on the same form. As with exemptions, specific conditions must be met when carrying out the activities. These conditions cover matters such as the size, scale and location of the works, when during the year they can be carried out, and what methods can be used.
  • Bespoke permits are needed for any works not covered by the first three categories, or where the conditions cannot be complied with. An application to the EA is required, and a bespoke fee is payable. There must be a management system in place, and a risk assessment must be completed.

There are transitional provisions in place for existing FDCs. If the FDC is for an activity that is now excluded under the EPR, it will lapse and the activity can continue. If the FDC is for an activity that is now exempt, it will be kept on record by the EA and treated as though it has been registered. If the FDC is for an activity that now needs an EP, it will automatically change to an EP. If the FDC is for an activity not covered by the EPR, it will lapse. Individuals and businesses carrying out work under an FDC must therefore check if the activity is covered by the new regulations.

The changes to the regime also allow dredging of up to 1.5km of ditches, drains and previously straightened watercourses that are main rivers. Up to 20 metres of other types of main river can also be dredged. This is an exempted activity so the EA must be notified but no fee is payable. Importantly, the dredging cannot be carried out within 5km upstream of sites such as Special Protection Areas, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Nature Reserves.

Farmers have welcomed the cut in red tape and fees for small scale activities. However, where a permit is still required, the fee has increased from £50 to £170. Detailed guidance and application forms are available on the Government’s website.

For more information please contact Emma Bowman on 01223 461155 or click here to email Emma.