Drainage and flooding of roads | Oxfordshire County Council

Drainage and flooding of roads

Who is responsible for various types of drainage, and emergency contacts.

Emergency responses

The Environment Agency has extensive and sophisticated flood warning systems in operation and emergency procedures for controlling and managing flooding through river and lock management etc.  See our flooding pages for more information.

Thames Water Utilities provides emergency responses for public foul sewer and public surface water sewerage problems.

Report a flooded road online

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As a highway authority we will provide emergency response to flooding by closing roads, setting up diversions, pumping flooded highways, and providing sand bags to properties and communities threatened by flooded highways where resources permit. District councils may also respond to assist residents in times of flooding, particularly vulnerable people. Rest centres may be established if necessary. We work closely with the district councils and the emergency services (the fire service in particular).

The Highways Agency is responsible for major roads in the UK, including the M40 in Oxfordshire.  For further information on the roads the Highways Agency is responsible for please visit the Highways Agency website.

Flood and Water Management Act 2010

The above legislation came partly into force in April 2011 and with this act the county council became the lead flood authority for Oxfordshire.  As such, we are responsible for and have a duty to:

  • Promote 'Sustainable Drainage Systems' (SUDs) on all developments.
  • Investigate significant flooding in Oxfordshire.
  • Designate flooding structures in Oxfordshire.
  • Maintain a public register of designated flood structures noticed by the county council as well as the district council and Environment Agency.
  • Consent to the piping of watercourses from April 2012.
  • Carry out enforcement concerning watercourses.
  • Act as Statutory Consultee to the Local Planning Authorities from April 2015 for Drainage Submissions on Planning Applications.

Note: There has been a recent Defra consultation where consideration is being given to amending the current planning process for the provision of SuDS rather than it being undertaken directly by Lead Local Flood Authorities.

We will take a more local role, while the Environment Agency takes a strategic national role.

Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (government website information)


Ditches are the responsibility of landowners (often called riparian owners). Roadside ditches belong to the adjoining landowner and not the highway authority, except where land has been acquired for new road building. The highway authority has rights to drain highway water to a roadside ditch and may maintain it, there is no obligation to do so.

Landowners may drain their land to any ditch on their property at a rate, or not exceeding the Land Drainage Flow. They have a duty to maintain their ditches in such a way that nuisance is not caused to neighbours. If you have any questions or problems concerning ditches or watercourses please contact your local Land Drainage Engineer based at your district council offices (or in the case of Cherwell district, please ring 0345 310 1111).


These are similar to ditches. In a few areas, drainage boards have been established consisting of local landowners and tenants who maintain and manage watercourses on a shared co-operative basis. However they are becoming less common.

Piped watercourses and culverts

Generally speaking, these too are the responsibility of riparian owners. Where a watercourse or a ditch in a highway has been piped it still is the responsibility of adjoining landowners (often multiple owner / occupiers in urban situations) unless the piping was at the behest of the highway authority in order to make the highway wider or safer or more convenient.

In that situation the highway authority would need the consent of the ditch owner(s) and proof of this consent would be evidence of the highway authority's liability. When a watercourse crosses the highway, the Highway Authority would normally be responsible for it. The same duties, responsibilities and rights exist for piped watercourses and culverts as for ditches.

Highway drains

These are private drains owned and maintained by the highway authority. They are intended only for highway water though they often carry much more surface water run off. The highway authority may discharge highway drains to any ditch, watercourse or piped watercourse.

Public surface water sewers

These drainage systems cater for rainwater running off the surface of areas of hard standing and other generally impermeable areas such as car parks, industrial land and public amenity areas, as well as from the roofs of buildings. Responsibility for them is vested in the sewerage undertaker (usually the water company). Public surface water sewers are recorded on a map of public sewers held by the sewerage undertaker.

Foul sewers

The system carrying waste water from domestic, commercial and industrial premises for treatment at the sewerage works before discharge to rivers is an entirely separate and theoretically sealed system.

Public foul sewers are the responsibility of the sewerage undertaker (usually the water companies). These will be recorded on a map of public sewers held by the sewerage undertaker.  The water companies are responsible for all foul sewer connections up to the boundary of a single property and for foul connections within the public highway. 

The Water Company is responsible for all foul connections within the public highway. They are also responsible for the foul sewer connection from a group of properties up to the boundary of the first property.

Critical watercourses and main rivers

These are major water channels (occasionally enclosed) which are identified and registered by the Environment Agency who have a responsibility to make sure they are maintained. The maintenance of the watercourse/main river rests with the riparian owner.

Last reviewed
09 March 2017

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