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

Unless your activity is an exclusion or an exemption, you need an environmental permit if you carry out:

  • a stand-alone water discharge activity that involves releasing polluting liquids to surface water such as rivers or streams
  • a stand-alone groundwater activity that involves 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

Check if you need a permit and who to apply to

Depending on your activity and the pollution risk, you need to apply to the Environment Agency or your local council. If it’s the Environment Agency, there’s guidance for each activity. This explains 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

Installation

Check whether your activity is classed as ‘Part A1’, ‘Part A2’ or ‘Part B’ in appendices 1 and 2 of the guidance on the meaning of ‘regulated facility’.

Apply to the Environment Agency if your activity is listed as ‘Part A1’.

Apply to your local council if your activity is listed as ‘Part A2’ or ‘Part B’.

Waste or mining waste operation

Read the guidance on permits for waste and how to apply. Permits are managed by the Environment Agency.

Medium combustion plant or specified generator

Read the guidance on permits for medium combustion plant and specified generators and how to apply. Permits are managed by the Environment Agency.

Small waste incineration plant

Read the guidance on waste incineration to check which permit you need and who to apply to.

Mobile plant

Apply to the Environment Agency if the mobile plant deals with waste. Apply to your local council for other mobile plant permits.

Solvent emissions activity

Apply to your local council for solvent emissions activity permits.

Stand-alone water discharge or groundwater activity

Read the guidance on permits for discharges to surface water and groundwater to check whether you need a permit for your activity. Permits are managed by the Environment Agency.

Flood risk activities on or near a main river or sea defence

Read the guidance on flood risk activities on or near a main river or sea defence. Permits are managed by the Environment Agency.

Radioactive substances

Read the guidance on how to apply for nuclear sites or non-nuclear sites. Permits are managed by the Environment Agency.

If you’re not sure what to do

You can contact the Environment Agency for help. 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.

General enquiries

National Customer Contact Centre (office closed due to COVID-19)
PO Box 544
Rotherham
S60 1BY

Email enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk

Telephone 03708 506 506

Telephone from outside the UK (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm GMT) +44 (0) 114 282 5312

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

The office is closed due to COVID-19. However, we are still receiving and dealing with post.

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.

Published 1 February 2016
Last updated 23 October 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated page to clarify that people with a stand-alone water discharge or groundwater activity should check if they need a permit. Updated the 'Who to apply to' section so the guidance for each type of activity is presented under headings rather than as a table (for accessibility reasons).

  2. Added the requirement for medium combustion plant and specified generators.

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

  4. First published.