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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Council held on 17/02/2004
Executive - 3rd February 2004 : Land Drainage Capital Programme 2002-2004







1. The Council maintained a rolling programme of capital expenditure on the construction of flood defence schemes from its inception in 1974 until 2002. Schemes have been constructed, in the common interest, irrespective of riparian owner liabilities, entirely at public expense. Larger schemes, such as the major Cranleigh Flood Relief Scheme, constructed in 1986/87, qualified for Government grant aid. In some circumstances, where benefits to highway drainage or public sewerage resulted from the schemes, contributions were made by Surrey County Council or the sewerage undertaker. Contributions from riparian owners have not been sought for any scheme constructed to date.

2. The priority schemes identified and programmed during this period have largely been completed. However, the Council has now become aware of a significant flooding risk at a site, described below, where it is believed the Council may have intended to take action following completion or priority schemes elsewhere in the Borough, subject to resources being available for the purpose. Provision for flood defence schemes of 30,000 was made in the capital programme for 2002/03 and a further 30,000 for 2003/04, for which no schemes are currently identified. However the Chief Officer Group has now questioned the Council’s long established and published policy on seeking to reduce the flooding risks in the Borough and has proposed a number of options to address this particular flooding risk which conflict with this policy. These are detailed in the Recommendations.

Critical Ordinary Watercourse - St Christopher’s Road, Haslemere

3. The site, the circumstances of which are believed to be unique in Waverley, is at St Christopher’s Road, Haslemere where the Council has previously used its powers, and its own funding, to enlarge and strengthen an underground culvert both immediately upstream and downstream of an unimproved section. The Council became aware of the situation following an extreme rainfall event in July 2001 in which a number of properties both domestic and commercial suffered serious internal flooding.

4. The flooding followed the partial blockage and subsequent collapse of part of the unimproved section of underground culvert. A comprehensive report, with (Exempt) Annexes, on the matter, was considered by the Executive at its meeting of 28th August 2001. The report and annexes provided a full assessment of the flood risk resulting from the condition of this culvert, its known history, ownership and status and the implications for Waverley, its policies, responsibilities, financial commitments and the associated technical and legal issues. It also addressed the consequence of Waverley’s action or inaction in the matter.

5. The Executive approved the recommendations that:-

6. The short-term remedial works were accordingly undertaken and completed in November 2001. The culvert needs to be subject to regular internal inspections to monitor its condition and measure its deterioration. This report is produced in response to Recommendation 2.

Permanent Renovation or Reconstruction

7. The range of “no-dig” methods of renovating the defective culvert, without excavation, were investigated, but were all found to be unsuitable due to its construction and limited size. The lining of the culvert would result in insufficient capacity incompatible with that upstream and downstream. The existing culvert follows a devious alignment close to the foundations of the properties, beneath patios and other hard landscaping. It is concluded that the most practicable and economic solution is the construction of a replacement culvert on a new alignment to a size matching that upstream, which was previously constructed by Waverley. The route of the proposed culvert is through four gardens and a shared unadopted road. The estimated cost of the scheme is 60,000. Access for construction is very constrained and double-handling of excavated and imported materials will be required. A high standard of reinstatement will be required in the private gardens.


8. Legally, responsibility for the culvert may rest with the riparian owners, those whose land it is sited in or adjacent to. Its history is indeterminate, but it is understood to have been constructed at the turn of the 20th century. It is buried throughout its length and owners have no means of access to it on their own property. Many were unaware of its existence until its failure. It originates in the communal grounds of a development of four private flats, passes under the gardens of three private houses, the parking area of a business premise and under Meadow Vale, an unadopted and unregistered roadway which serves 16 private dwellings. There are therefore potentially 24 separate parties and their insurers and mortgage companies who may each have differing levels of interest in, and responsibility for, parts of the structure. Most are unaware of that responsibility. A collective scheme is the most practicable solution.

Policy Implications

9. In this case, it could be argued that it is impracticable, unsafe and unreasonable to expect landowners to maintain a culvert which is a critical part of the drainage of the whole area and to which they have no legal right of access from land where its entry points are sited. Waverley has the necessary powers of entry and the power, as the Land Drainage Authority for the area, to ensure that this critical part of the drainage infrastructure of the district is made safe and improved to a standard compatible with the works which it has constructed both upstream and downstream.

10. The full legal issues and Human Rights Implications are set out in (Exempt) Annexe 5 to this report.

11. Waverley’s published Policy Statement on Flood Defence states the action it will take to reduce or manage flood risk (paragraph 3.8) viz:-

Flood Risk

12. On the occasion of the storm rainfall event of 7th July 2001, the internal flooding of at least six properties followed the blockage and subsequent rupture of the fragile brick culvert. The rising flood waters suddenly abated when the blockage released under the pressure of the water. Total collapse of the culvert, which is a very real risk, might result in the flood waters continuing to rise and the consequent flooding of many more properties in St Christopher’s Road, Meadow Vale and parts of Weyhill. The valley is effectively dammed by the railway embankment and therefore flood waters can only drain through this culvert. Its function is therefore critical to the control of flood risk in this area. The Council has argued that this watercourse meets the criteria for designation as a Critical Ordinary Watercourse and has invited the EA to consider its adoption under DEFRA’s newly announced policy.


13. The Council has four options:-

14. In the light of the impending changes to flood defence funding mechanisms and responsibilities, this might be the prudent option. If the EA accepts this watercourse as a Critical Ordinary Watercourse the Council would cease to have any power or responsibility over it. If the EA did not adopt it, funding for the works might be available direct from the EA. However, should the EA take responsibility, it is unlikely to do so until completion of the requisite legislative process in March 2006. The EA will be taking responsibility for possibly hundreds of kilometres of watercourse and will need some time to determine its priorities for expenditure on flood defence schemes. There would be no certainty of the works being completed to any timescale, so the flood risk might continue indefinitely. The Council will know if the EA is willing to accept the St Christopher’s Road watercourse as a Critical Ordinary Watercourse by November of this year, when the enmainment proposals are published for public consultation.

Option 2 – Implement and Fund the Scheme in Full

15. This option is consistent with the policy which the Council has implemented throughout its 30 year life and with that of its predecessor authorities. It is also consistent with its published Policy Statement on Flood Defence and its Service Plan and Performance Plan. It recognises that we have accepted responsibility for works on this watercourse in the past and deals with one of the known areas of greatest flooding risk in the Borough, removing the need for further worries of flooding or for emergency call out. On the other hand, this option will consume some 60,000 of the Council's budget at a time of tight financial constraints, discharging a function which, by some standards, could be regarded as the responsibility of the various landowners under whose property the culvert passes.

Option 3 – Seek Funding from Landowners

16. 90% of the existing failing culvert runs through private property; 75% if a straight line was followed. By certain definitions, Waverley should be seeking a contribution of up to 75% of the cost of the scheme, having regard to individual responsibilities and liabilities of the landowners concerned. This would be a personal expense, unlikely to be covered by household insurance. On the other hand, the view could be taken that the work is in the public interest and charge a lesser or nominal contribution in respect of individual responsibilities, even 5,000 per household or less.

17. The response of landowners to this option is detailed in (Exempt) Annexe 5.

Option 4 – Contribute to a Riparian Owner’s Scheme

18. The Council could elect to make a financial contribution to a scheme planned, funded and implemented by the riparian owners. However, this is considered to be impracticable for the reasons outlined in paragraph D.10 of the main report. There is a multitude of potentially interested parties, many of whom would not directly benefit from the works. The principal riparian owners do not have the power to undertake works on the land of others, which would be necessary for an effective scheme.


19. The St Christopher’s Road culvert, in the Council’s opinion, conveys a critical ordinary watercourse as defined by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in that its failure or blockage would result in the flooding of many properties. It is a critical part of the effective drainage of the area. The power to carry out works on this watercourse may transfer from the Council to the Environment Agency with effect from 1st April 2006 subject to the review of responsibilities currently in progress and the public consultation which follows it.

20. The Council has not previously sought contributions from landowners where it has carried out flood relief works in the interests of the wider community. The decision to make that approach will be contingent upon the Executive’s interpretation of the Council’s flood defence policy and the action which a responsible flood defence operating authority should take where it is aware of an avoidable flood risk situation on a critical ordinary watercourse.

21. There is no guarantee that each owner is willing and able to fund the scheme in proportion to the length of culvert in their riparian ownership. Hence, a notional or nominal payment, simply to underline their individual liability and responsibilities has its attractions.

Financial Implications

22. If it proves to be practicable to recharge riparian owners, the estimated contribution, based on the length of culvert in each property, would range up to 24,000 (for one landowner) and 54,000 of the estimated 60,000 scheme cost might be recoverable as a total maximum. At the other extreme, notional contributions of 5,000 per household would recover 20,000 or a third of the estimated cost. The willingness and ability to pay will be an issue. The Capital Schemes General Fund Provision for the Land Drainage Rolling Programme is 30,000 in 2002/03 and 30,000 in 2003/04. The 2002/03 provision has been rolled forward to the succeeding year to provide sufficient funding to enable all options to be considered.

23. It is recommended that:-

The Council does not undertake or fund the works necessary to reduce the flooding risk at St Christopher’s Road, Haslemere by replacement of the deficient culvert.