Flood and sea defences: when maintenance stops

What happens when the Environment Agency stops maintaining a flood or coastal erosion defence, how to challenge the decision and how to manage your risk afterwards.

Applies to England

To reduce the risk and impact of flooding, the Environment Agency carries out maintenance work:

  • on or near main rivers
  • to main river and sea defences

Maintenance can include:

  • grass cutting and weed control
  • removing obstructions from rivers
  • repairing and operating sluice gates and pumping stations

The Environment Agency can stop maintaining and operating these defences if the cost is judged to outweigh the benefits.

The Environment Agency will contact you if you’re going to be affected by these changes.

How you’ll be notified

You’ll be sent a letter if you’re going to be affected, explaining:

  • why maintenance is going to stop
  • what maintenance work the Environment Agency currently carries out
  • recommendations for future maintenance work
  • the asset’s condition and an estimate of when you’ll need to replace it
  • the proposed notice period and when maintenance will stop
  • the environmental permits and other permissions you may need to maintain the asset in future

You’ll also be given a contact at your local Environment Agency office so you can express any concerns, discuss alternatives, or challenge the decision.

How to challenge the decision

You have a right to challenge the decision to stop maintenance, or raise concerns about the way the Environment Agency has consulted with you.

You’ll find details of your Environment Agency contact in the notice they send you.

How much notice you’ll get

You’ll usually get at least 6 months notice. More notice is given when appropriate. The Environment Agency will continue to maintain the asset throughout the notice period.

Under exceptional circumstances, the Environment Agency can’t provide reasonable notice, eg if a defence unexpectedly fails and it’s uneconomic to repair. In this situation, you may be given the opportunity to carry out repairs yourself, as long as you have the necessary approvals and permits. You’ll need to maintain the defence after you’ve repaired it.

At the end of the notice period the Environment Agency will stop all maintenance. Decisions about future maintenance will be for you to make from that point onwards. You’ll still need a permit to carry out some works - check with the Environment Agency if you’re not sure.

Managing risk when an asset is no longer maintained

You can discuss your flood risk management options with the Environment Agency.

These could include:

  • maintaining the asset yourself
  • setting up a community partnership or neighbourly arrangement with others who benefit from it
  • setting up an internal drainage board, eg to maintain a pumping station
  • doing nothing, or removing the asset and accepting that your risk of flooding may increase
  • changing land use, eg creating a wildlife habitat
  • a combination of these options

Contact the Environment Agency

General enquiries

National Customer Contact Centre
PO Box 544
S60 1BY


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 impact of COVID-19 means you may experience some delays in responses.

Updates to this page

Published 14 May 2015
Last updated 6 April 2016 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reflect changes made by the Environmental Permit Regulations.

  2. First published.

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