28 Jun 2011
The Government’s localism agenda may not have moved the goal posts of the Flood and Water Management Act – but it is certainly changing the game.
There’s no doubt the Act has marked a premier league move for flood risk management and sustainable drainage in UK, but as we raise a cheer to progress it’s also dawning on us that the whistle has only just blown for the second half.
Policy is on the move, even while the Act is being implemented, and agendas such a localism, community involvement and the ‘Big Society’ are sweeping up the wing and chipping in crosses to score new (and often welcome) goals.
Undoubtedly, this has caused delays – for example in the development of National Standards for Sustainable Drainage and there are hints that the Water White Paper, now not likely to be published until December, will have some implications for SUDS.
The Government’s National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) Strategy will come into effect on 18 July. In particular the ‘payment for outcomes’ funding approach promises to hand much more autonomy to local communities in the choice and funding of flood defence schemes. It promises more schemes for local communities and opens new avenues for surface water bids.
All of this raises questions – and there already were plenty surrounding the Flood and Water Management Act – about what it means for the implementation of SUDS.
Of course, by establishing powers to the Lead Local Flood Authorities, localism is already at the heart of the Act, and the Pitt Review itself called for more flood projects and multiple funding streams.
Moving away from the ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ national grant aid approach to FCERM and incentivising LLFAs to find alternative approaches also sounds like common sense.
Local communities can champion creative and sustainable schemes to surface water management based on intimate local knowledge and, where only part-funding is available, help to identify potential finance streams.
The Government says it all means we’ll see more and more SUDS schemes in future. But, some would argue this is purely a smoke screen for the swingeing cuts in Flood Defence budget and question if some smaller schemes will ever be successful in getting funding.
Will private financiers, for example, find creative ways to combine flood alleviation solutions with successful development bids? Or will they see demands for funds as a further drain on hard-pressed resources leaving much-needed schemes on the shelf?
Will agencies like Highways Authorities or Water Companies, collaborate with LLFAs and share costs to achieve jointly-beneficial outcomes? It’s what the Government is hoping for. But the UK has not been good at cross-agency integration in past – and how can we ensure a consistent response country-wide?
Communities who have educated themselves about SUDS are more likely to understand how they work (e.g. coming to accept regular ponding in a detention basin). They are also more likely to respect and help to maintain them.
Yet, we’re still a long way from having the right knowledge and skills available in the right places. Many LLFAs are still ‘tooling up’ for their new roles; there is still much to be done in terms of skills development and capacity building.
Less enlightened local authorities could exploit the chance to divert flooding funds which have not been ring-fenced when faced with tough decisions on public spending cuts. Ill-informed decisions could lead to poorly designed schemes – or worse still fight shy of bold and imaginative schemes.
A period of change always raises questions and anxieties, but there is plenty to remain optimistic about.
It may be too early in the SUDS season to be confident of entry into the champions league, but it’s good coaching that will keep us on a winning streak: The two key elements remain education and communication between all stakeholders involved.