A Step Closer to Clarity on SuDS?

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Image courtesy of Illman Young Partnership

Important clues to the future of SuDS delivery in England and Wales emerged from the publication of the Water Bill and the commentary that accompanied it.

The Government has confirmed its aim to commence Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act in April 2014.  This will make the right to connect surface water drainage to the public sewer conditional on approval of Sustainable Drainage Systems by new Local Authority SuDS Approving Bodies for developments over one property.

The Government’s stresses its commitment to SuDS in its response to the EFRA select committee’s scrutiny of the Water Bill, as well as its determination to make the legislation work effectively.  The journey, it acknowledges, has been more complex than first expected and more work still needs to be done to ensure the concerns of all stakeholders are properly addressed.

The EFRA committee have repeated their frustrations about the delay in implementing SuDS, but with a promise to give local authorities six months’ notice to start their new roles, it’s hard to see how a date any earlier could be achieved.  So, if you interpret this as a firm commitment, then this date is very welcome.  However, as my fellow blogger Owen Davies has questioned:  has the language changed from ‘will’ to ‘aim to’?  We also need to add the caveat that the regulation is subject to successful and timely progress through Cross Whitehall and Parliamentary Approval.

The Government says it is working through issues raised during the consultation stages through cross-disciplinary ‘task and finish’ groups with local authorities, developers and the water industry working together to come up with an ‘innovative and practical’ solution, that will be satisfactory to all parties.  Their recommendations will be revealed in the autumn.

In the meantime, the Water Bill has provided important clarification that sewerage undertakers can build and maintain drainage to slow down or prevent surface water entering a public sewer, using SuDS where possible.  This is a significant indicator of the Government’s commitment to tackle resilience of the sewerage and drainage networks to flooding with the advancing threats of climate change.

In its response to the EFRA scrutiny the Government also commits to tackling other concerns, especially those raised by the construction industry to ensure the cost-benefits are better understood.

The Government says the groups are working through issues to address the need for:

  • A robust evidence base for SuDS.
  • A set of agreed definitions of SuDS for the purposes of adoption by the SuDS Approving Body.
  • National Standards for SuDS and accompanying guidance.  (A first draft of the National Standards was published for consultation back in December 2011).
  • Guidance for developers and local authorities on the calculation and operation of non-performance bonds.

In my view, providing a framework for SuDS that demonstrates predictable and repeatable performance will be very welcome.  In addition, clarification about the affordability of SuDS may also serve to dispel some unhelpful myths about SuDS being too costly to install.  Further consideration will also be needed on planning for the costs for local authorities to maintain SuDS.

SuDS do not need to be costly and sometimes proprietary features can be used to mitigate against the land take of natural features such as ponds and artificial wetlands.  Proprietary treatment solutions can also provide welcome low-maintenance solutions that are repeatable and predictable.  Choosing from a full toolbox of natural and proprietary solutions can often help to achieve a good cost-benefit throughout the life of the SuDS feature.

It is to be hoped that the proposed definitions and any evidence base includes full consideration of proprietary features that can be used alongside natural solutions to deliver predictable and maintainable SuDS solutions.

All of these measures signify important progress towards SuDS.  But they still only address new development.   With or without regulation, there’s still a long road ahead to retrofit SuDS in urban environments, and particularly to encourage maximum update of SuDS across the highway network.

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