SuDS or No SuDS – Is that a question?

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Photo of an Urban SuDS Design - Courtesy of Illman Young

Press reports of a ‘SuDS Loophole’ that may provide a ‘get out’ from the new National Standards have sent ripples around the industry.

The New Civil Engineer exposé suggests Defra is now proposing that Local Authority SuDS Approving Bodies (SABS) can agree a ‘non-SuDS’ solution, if the only options for Sustainable Drainage would be ‘disproportionately expensive’.

Like many, I was initially shocked and surprised by this suggestion, as it seems to go against the spirit of the Flood and Water Management Act in which SABS will need to judge all schemes in line with new National Standards once the provisions come into force next year.

Some fear the ‘get out of SuDS free card’ could give ill-informed developers – or even local authorities – a short-cut to falling back on traditional drainage methods, which could undermine the whole purpose of the Act to favour source control solutions and discourage diversion of stormwater to the public sewer.

All this speculation is, perhaps, inevitable – not to say counter-productive – when the National Standards have been continually subject to delay and are being kept very closely under wraps.   The sooner we have the standards on the table, the better.

Without the facts, it is the commonly-held misperceptions about SuDS that prevail:  Firstly that SuDS are more expensive.  Secondly, that they are always ‘soft’, green and natural’.  The standards are likely to present a framework for designing SuDS schemes and selecting the right components for each new development.  By applying SuDS principles and the full toolbox of SuDS techniques, hard or soft, above or below ground, there should be very few schemes that would fall through the net, and any such schemes should be seen as the very rare exception, rather than a rule.

In the past few weeks, leading local authorities have been sharing their good practice with SuDS on this website – and the solutions are both diverse and involve a treatment train of components.    Local authorities will be expected to work closely with developers to plan SuDS schemes – and the case studies clearly show that when local authorities are involved from the start, the outcomes are highly successful.

Take an early pioneering SuDS scheme in Witney, Oxfordshire.   Guest blogger Gordon Hunt explains in his blog and case study how he chose SuDS to solve a challenging scheme on a flood plain with a high water table – and achieved a cost-effective solution on a site for affordable homes.

Beryl Kemplen, Aylesbury’s Engineering Manager has been stressing the importance of planning SuDS from the start and demonstrating best practice in a new housing development at Berryfields.

And this week new guest blogger Simon Bunn from Cambridge City Council discusses the options for choosing SuDS components in his first blog “Does Size Matter?” and talks about the SuDS solutions at the new Clay Farm housing development.

Local authorities like Simon’s and others are leading best practice by ensuring effective SuDS infrastructure is planned from the outset, and use a treatment train of SuDS solutions appropriate to the site conditions.  They are also best placed to consider the lowest-cost options for ongoing maintenance.

Defra’s Roger Orpin was recently quoted, also in NCE, as saying that local authority flood risk management expertise has increased markedly.  This is really good news.  Ensuring that local authorities don’t use the ‘get out of SuDS’ card begins with being clear on the terminology.   Sharing best practice is the best way to demonstrate this.

Surely there should be no such question as SuDS or no SuDS – simply working to achieve the most sustainable drainage solution possible given the site conditions and the likely costs. Isn’t that the point of having National Standards in the first place?  For the moment, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Brian D'Arcy says:

I strongly agree with the points above. The guidance should be for SUDS technology, with all the flexibility that global experience (15 years and more in UK alone, far more elsewhere) has given. The “get out of SUDS free” card will set back development of adequate expertise in engineering consultancies, landscape architect professionals, and local authorities and regulators. It suggests it will still be just an option, not a routine area of required professional competence.

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