Guidance

Check if you need an environmental permit

Permits for installations, medium combustion plant, specified generator, waste or mining waste operations, water discharge or groundwater activities, or work on or near a main river or sea defence.

You may need an environmental permit if you do an activity that could:

  • pollute the air, water or land
  • increase flood risk
  • adversely affect land drainage

You are breaking the law if you operate without a permit when you should have one.

If you have a Flood Defence Consent, the introduction on 6 April 2016 of environmental permits for flood risk activities affects you. Find out more in the guide changes to your Flood Defence Consent after 6 April 2016.

What you need a permit for

You need an environmental permit if you operate any of the following:

  • an ‘installation’ – an industrial facility, manufacturer or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, for example a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory, a furniture factory, a dry cleaners, a petrol station
  • a waste operation – a site where waste is recycled, stored, treated or disposed of
  • a mining waste operation – a site which manages waste produced from mines or quarries
  • a medium combustion plant or specified generator
  • a small waste incineration plant – where certain types and quantities of waste are burned
  • mobile plant – plant that’s designed to move or be moved, for example a machine that’s moved onto a site to clean contaminated soil
  • a solvent emission activity – releasing organic solvents directly or indirectly into the air

You need an environmental permit if you carry out any of the following:

  • a stand-alone water discharge activity – releasing polluting liquids to surface water such as rivers or streams
  • a stand-alone groundwater activity – releasing polluting liquids directly or indirectly to water underground

You need an environmental permit for an activity which involves radioactive substances.

You may need an environmental permit for flood risk activities if you do work:

  • in, under, over or near a main river (including where the river is in a culvert)
  • on or near a flood defence on a main river
  • in the flood plain of a main river
  • on or near a sea defence

Who to apply to

Depending on your activity and the pollution risk, you need to apply to the Environment Agency or your local council.

Check the table to see who you need to apply to. If it’s the Environment Agency, there’s guidance for that activity, including whether there are:

  • exclusions (when you do not need a permit)

  • exemptions (when you do not need a permit but you may need to register)

What you do Who to apply to
Installation Check the guidance on the regulations to find out. If your activity is listed as ‘Part A1’, apply to the Environment Agency. If it’s ‘Part A2’ or ‘Part B’, apply to your local council
Waste or mining waste operation Environment Agency – read the guidance on how to apply
Medium combustion plant or specified generator Environment Agency – read the guidance on how to apply
Small waste incineration plant Check the guidance to find out
Mobile plant Environment Agency if the plant deals with waste – read the guidance on how to apply, otherwise apply to your local council
Solvent emissions activity Your local council
Stand-alone water discharge or groundwater activity Environment Agency – read the guidance on how to apply
Flood risk activities on or near a main river or sea defence Environment Agency – read the guidance on how to apply
Radioactive substances Environment Agency – read the guidance on how to apply for nuclear sites or non-nuclear sites

If you’re not sure who to apply to, contact the Environment Agency. If you have a query about a flood risk activity, you will need to provide the location and postcode (or National Grid reference) of the site where you will carry out the work.

Contact the Environment Agency

General enquiries

National Customer Contact Centre
PO Box 544
Rotherham
S60 1BY

Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm.

Due to the current health emergency we have reduced the times our phone lines are open. This is under review and we hope to be able to extend them soon. If possible please contact us by email at enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk.

The impact of COVID-19 on our teams means you may experience some delays in responses as most of our staff will be working from home. We are currently unable to deal with post sent to our offices in the usual way.

Published 1 February 2016
Last updated 15 July 2019 + show all updates
  1. Added the requirement for medium combustion plant and specified generators.

  2. This now includes information about when you need an environmental permit for flood risk activities.

  3. First published.