December 10, 2013 1:51 pm

House rules: property law and riverside homes

©James Ferguson

1. Rivers and streams – owners’ obligations

We recently bought a house with a stream running through the garden. Is there anything we should know?

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If you own land alongside a watercourse in England and Wales, you have specific responsibilities for maintaining the bed and banks, and for managing flood risk. If you only own land on one side of the stream, you are responsible for the bank on your side and the bed up to the middle, unless your property documents show that someone else is responsible.

What do we actually have to do?

You should keep the stream clear of litter and other obstructions – you might even have to dispose of a few animal carcases. You must also make sure the banks don’t gradually erode.

We’ve got an official notice, telling us that our garden wall is a “flood risk management asset”. What does that mean?

In practice, it means that your wall plays a part in controlling flood risk and you can’t alter, remove or replace it without consent from whoever issued the notice. Depending where you live and what sort of watercourse runs through your land, you will need consent from the Environment Agency (or Natural Resources Wales), your local authority or possibly an Internal Drainage Board.

Can they stop me doing things on my own land?

Yes – they are all flood risk management authorities and you need consent to alter or build anything on or near a watercourse. They also have a right to come on to your land to carry out flood risk management work of their own.

Is there anything we can do without permission?

If you are planning anything more than simply clearing litter from the stream or routine maintenance of trees and shrubs, you should check first with your flood risk management authority. They may ask you to carry out work in a particular way. For example, if you need to stop banks eroding, they may want you to use planting or natural materials, rather than piling with steel or blockstone.

What if we want to build over the stream to extend our driveway?

You would need consent; but you may not get it. Building over a watercourse means creating a culvert. Flood risk management authorities are not keen on new culverts because they can increase the risk of flooding and may damage the natural environment.

That’s a lot to think about. Where can I get more information?

Start with the Environment Agency’s new guide. Then find out who your local flood risk management authority is and get in touch with them.

2. New energy requirements

We are planning a loft conversion in our house and have heard about some new rules on improving energy efficiency. What’s changed?

On November 15 2013 the UK government published a series of documents relating to Part L of the Building Regulations 2010. Part L deals with energy efficiency and specifies minimum standards for heat loss through walls, roofs and floors when building work is carried out. The new documents increase existing standards.

Does that mean that complying with the new standards is going to be more expensive?

The initial capital cost of complying with them is likely to be higher, but with a more energy efficient loft conversion you should save money on your energy bills.

Is there anything we can do to avoid the extra building cost?

From April 6 2014, any building work (including a loft extension to an existing home) will need to comply with the new standards. If you start the work before that date, it needs only to comply with the current (lower) standards. If you at least manage to deposit the required notice and plans with your local authority’s building control department before April 6 2014, the work only needs to comply with the current standards, as long as you start the work by April 6 2015.

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Angus Evers is a partner at King & Wood Malleson SJ Berwin

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