Land Drainage Act 1930

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Land Drainage Act 1930
Long title An Act to amend and consolidate the enactments relating to the drainage of land, and for purposes in connection with such amendment.
Citation 1930 c 44
Royal Assent 1 August 1930

The Land Drainage Act 1930 was an Act of Parliament passed by the United Kingdom Government which provided a new set of administrative structures to ensure that drainage of low-lying land could be managed effectively. It followed the proposals of a Royal Commission which sat during 1927. It sought to set up a Catchment Board with overall responsibility for each of the main rivers of England and Wales, and to alter the basis on which drainage rates could be collected, removing the 400-year-old precept that only those who directly benefitted from drainage works could be expected to pay for them.


Prior to the 1930s, land drainage in the United Kingdom was regulated by the Statute of Sewers, passed by King Henry VIII in 1531, and several further acts which built upon that foundation. However, there was some dissatisfaction with these powers, as although there were administrative bodies with powers to manage the drainage of low-lying areas, they did not have sufficient resources to do this effectively. Existing drainage boards and those who lived and worked in the areas they covered made complaints to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries during the 1920s, and the Government decided that a thorough review of the situation should be carried out.[1]

Accordingly, a Royal Commission was set up, with Lord Bledisloe acting as its chairman. It was convened on 26 March 1927, and produced a final report later that year, on 5 December.[2] The report described the existing laws as "vague and ill-defined, full of anomalies, obscure, lacking in uniformity, and even chaotic." It recommended that any replacement should have powers to carry out the work necessary for efficient drainage, together with the provision of financial resources to enable them to carry out their duties.[3] At the time there were 361 drainage authorities covering England and Wales, and the proposed solution of having catchment boards responsible for each main river, with powers over the individual drainage boards, was essentially the same as had been proposed in 1877 by a select committee of the House of Lords.[4] The report formed the basis for the subsequent bill.[5]

The Act[edit]

The bill became an Act of Parliament on 1 August 1930, and came into force immediately. Its full title was "An act to amend and consolidate the enactments relating to the drainage of land, and for purposes in connection with such amendment."[6] One unusual aspect of the Act was that it repealed most of the legislation that had preceded it. In total, 16 acts dating from 1531 to 1929 were repealed, and three others were amended.[7]

There were two fundamental ideas built into the legislation. One was that there should be an overall authority, responsible for the main rivers in each of the catchment areas, who would work closely with Drainage Authorities, who would be responsible for the internal drainage of smaller areas within a catchment. The other was that the funding for the drainage work should be levied over a much wider area than had previously been the case.[2] Since the Statute of Sewers of 1531, it had only been possible to collect drainage rates from people whose land benefitted directly from the drainage works, or whose land was saved from damage by them. The new Act swept this provision aside.[8] The new Catchment Boards could now levy rates on the county councils and county borough councils throughout the entire catchment,[9] not just on the low-lying parts of it, and could also levy rates on the Internal Drainage Boards within their area. However, the 1930s were a time of economic uncertainty, and it was not always possible to levy rates at a level which would pay for drainage improvements. Thus the Somerset Catchment Board were able to improve regular maintenance of the main rivers in the Somerset Levels, but would have needed to raise between £5 and £6 per acre to fund improvements. In a time of agricultural depression and falling prices, such rates were unrealistic.[10] Internal drainage boards raised their funding by a levy on the landowners and occupiers of those who lived within their district.[11]

As originally conceived, local drainage boards were defined as internal drainage boards if they were situated in an area covered by a catchment board, and external drainage boards if there was no overall catchment board for their area.[9] The distinction only lasted until the passing of the River Boards Act 1948, which transferred the land drainage, fisheries and river pollution functions of the catchment boards to River Boards. Thirty-two river board areas were defined covering the whole of England and Wales, and a river board was constituted for each one. Consequently, all external drainage boards were within a river board area, and they became internal drainage boards.[11] The 1948 Act was repealed by the Water Resources Act 1963, and the river boards were replaced by twenty-seven River Authorities on 1 April 1965.[12]


The Royal Commission had identified one hundred catchment areas, based on the main rivers of England and Wales.[5] When the Act was published, it contained only 47 catchment areas, listed in part 1 of the first schedule.[13]

A catchment board was set up for all but one of these areas by November 1931, with responsibility for the drainage of 67 per cent of England and Wales.[5] Section 84 of the act specifically excluded any jurisdiction over Scotland or Northern Ireland,[14] while section 65 limited the application of the act to any drainage board which was within the Doncaster Drainage District. This was because the First Report of the Royal Commission on Mining Subsidence (1926) had identified the problems of the Doncaster area as being particularly severe, and as a result, a second commission had looked specifically at that area. It reported in 1928, and the Doncaster Area Drainage Act 1929 (19 & 20 Geo.5, c.17) was passed, creating the Doncaster Central Board. Section 65 sought to ensure that the role of the new Catchment Board would not conflict with the role of the Central Board.[15]


  • Anon (10 December 1932). "Land Drainage". Nature (130). doi:10.1038/130875a. 
  • Dobson, Alban; Hull, Hubert (1931). The Land Drainage Act 1930. Oxford University Press. 
  • Darby, H.C. (1956). The Draining of the Fens (2nd Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-40298-0. 
  • Williams, Michael (1970). The Draining of the Somerset Levels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-07486-5. 
  • Wisdom, A S (1966). Land Drainage. London: Sweet & Maxwell. 


  1. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, pp. ix-xi.
  2. ^ a b Dobson & Hull 1931, p. xi
  3. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, p. xiii
  4. ^ Darby 1956, p. 259.
  5. ^ a b c Anon 1932, p. 875
  6. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, p. 5.
  7. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, pp. 129–130.
  8. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, pp. 7–8.
  9. ^ a b Wisdom 1966, p. 1.
  10. ^ Williams 1970, pp. 234–235.
  11. ^ a b Wisdom 1966, p. 2.
  12. ^ Wisdom 1966, p. 4.
  13. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, p. 113
  14. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, p. 112
  15. ^ Dobson & Hull 1931, p. 88