Insights

Jonathan Woodroffe

Published 29 January 2024
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Purchasing a Riverside Property

Buyer beware

Whether you’re buying it as your home, holiday home, investment or as a business, the idea of purchasing a riverside property can be idyllic. After all, just imagine those early mornings sitting riverside with a coffee or the prospect of a private mooring, and access straight onto the water. Such is the allure in fact, that according to Knight Frank’s Waterfront Index Q2 2022, the average premium for riverside property was 23% when compared to non-riverside properties.

purchasing a riverside property

But, before you decide to buy that dream property, there are important considerations to bear in mind as buying riverside can come with additional responsibilities, costs and challenges.

Access and permissions to the river

First and foremost, make sure you have access to the river, whether it’s vehicular or pedestrian access and whether you have any mooring rights. Check whether you are purchasing any mooring rights or need a licence. You may also need permission for certain activities that you’re planning from your local authority, Internal Drainage Board or the Environment Agency (the risk management authorities).

Privacy

Take time to consider whether you will have sufficient privacy, particularly if this is a popular area. Ask about what other access the public may have nearby. For example, is your garden going to be constantly overlooked in the summer by local paddleboarders or kayakers?

Damp and flooding risk

In recent years, flooding in the UK has become an increasingly common and serious problem.

You can check a property’s risk of flooding on the Environment Agency website. If a property is in a flood-risk area, you’ll need more detail. Engage a surveyor who can advise on the level and circumstances of any risk of flooding. You must give serious thought as to whether can afford to live with the financial and emotional implications of this. And of course, this can mean higher insurance (or in some cases, difficulty getting insurance).  

Flooding isn’t the only factor when it comes to a riverside property, and other issues for your surveyor are damp, wet rot and erosion. You should also consider things like wildlife and pests. For example, on a hot summer evening, are there going to be swarms of flies and mosquitos?  

Tidal versus non-tidal

It’s important to understand whether the river next to the property concerned is tidal or non-tidal. In the case of a tidal river, the riverbed is presumed to be owned by the Crown unless there is evidence that the Crown has granted rights over the riverbed or has transferred ownership of it.

If it’s a non-tidal river, and the river forms part of your boundary, you will own the riverbed up to the centre of your section of river. If the river runs through your land, you will own all of the riverbed that runs through your land, unless (in both situations) there is evidence about ownership to the contrary.

Rights of riverbed ownership

Whilst the idea of owning a bit of river might seem attractive, it comes both with rights and also with additional responsibilities.

You may have the right to fish in that section of river, extract water for domestic purposes (up to a certain amount) as well as have a right to the natural flow of water through your stretch of river. You should have the right to protect your property from flooding and erosion by the river although you will need to consult with the risk management authorities before you take any action in respect of this. Do not assume you have these rights, as you will need to check they have not been previously sold or leased. You will also need a valid rod licence if you wish to fish.

Responsibilities that come with riverbed ownership

With ownership comes responsibility. In particular, if the river abuts your property, you will usually be responsible for:

  • maintaining the riverbanks and cutting back trees and bushes,  
  • clearing litter and animal carcasses,
  • controlling any invasive species that are growing along your stretch of riverbank and stopping pollutants entering the water, and
  • ensuring that any work done to the river fits the natural water system and does not damage any wildlife.

You will usually need to leave a development free area along the river edge, and you are likely to need additional planning consents for any works. You may also sometimes have to contribute to the cost of work to the river or riverbed, such as dredging or remedial works.

If you don’t comply with your responsibilities, you can face legal action.

If you would like to discuss purchasing a riverside property or the sale or development of one, please get in touch.

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