A clear case for stronger SuDS legislation
Sustainable drainage systems can have a positive impact on developments and land value, but the planning process must be improved to ensure wider implementation, believes Stuart Pearce
The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) have published new research urging the government to ensure that new housing developments include sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) as standard.
With the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, parliament required new developments to include SuDS, but the rules were put on hold over concerns that it would impede the pace of housebuilding. The new report, entitled ‘A place for SuDS’, argues that this policy freeze has not sped up housebuilding and has put homes at risk without saving money.
Pressure from the House of Lords, which sought amendments to the Housing and Planning Act last year, means there is now a requirement for the secretary of state to carry out a review of planning legislation and planning policies for sustainable drainage in England this spring.
Last summer, CIWEM launched the ‘Big SuDS survey’, which with nearly 540 responses is believed to be the largest independent survey on SuDS in the UK to date.
The results reveal some significant flaws with SuDS through the planning process, which must be addressed to mitigate surface water flooding effectively as the climate changes:
• 70 per cent of respondents think current planning policy does not sufficiently encourage SuDS;
• 75 per cent are not assessing the costs and benefits of SuDS schemes;
• 75 per cent believe that planning authorities do not have adequate in-house expertise to consider the merits of proposals and opt-out applications; and
• Only 8 per cent think the current standards are driving high-quality SuDS.
The report concludes that the main obstacles to widespread SuDS uptake in England are not cost or practicality but policy and institutional barriers.
While the government is unlikely to remove the automatic right to connect to the main sewer network, the report makes three clear recommendations:
• Make discharge to the sewer system conditional on high-quality SuDS in new developments;
• Update standards, focusing on the wider benefits of SuDS: amenity, biodiversity, and water quality; and
• Provide clear direction on SuDS adoption and funding maintenance.
The last point is a key consideration in commercial property transactions that lawyers and their clients must be alert to. Any SuDS adopting body should have a clear mechanism for raising funds to ensure their continued effective maintenance and eventual replacement.
Devolved administrations are leading the way while England hesitates: Wales is looking to enact schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act, which defines national standards, approval, and adoption of sustainable drainage; Northern Ireland has ended the automatic right for new developments to connect to the sewer; and Scotland has had SuDS as a general requirement for some time.
We fully support CIWEM and WWT on the recommendations in the report, particularly around making discharge of surface water conditional upon first completing a SuDS strategy and demonstrating how much of the additional runoff can be managed on site and how much can justifiably be discharged to the existing drainage network.
We firmly agree with the recommendation that SuDS should be considered in the early stages of design and planning, as well as when buying land for any future development. Land owners, developers, and institutions require clear advice at the earliest stage in the process as SuDS can have a significant impact on the development proposal. SuDS can have a positive impact on a development and land value, but it is advisable to consider this early and avoid surprises later.
Land constraints have been cited as the most common reason for not implementing SuDS. However, our own data shows that the majority of land in England and Wales is suitable for the infiltration of surface water via SuDS. With a multitude of attenuation SuDS options now available, there are very few sites, even where space is limited, for which a SuDS option is not achievable at a reasonable cost.
A lack of information and skills is also cited as one of the key barriers to the wider implementation of SuDS. Here at GeoSmart, we can demonstrate how advancements in data and technology have enabled us to make SuDS information readily available, accessible, and affordable. In this way, SuDS can be considered as standard on every development proposal and on every land transaction.
Stuart Pearce is the managing director of GeoSmart Information