Manifestos for Floods and SuDs? Reviewing the Parties’ Election Agendas

Written By: European Sales Director, Hydro International

Berewood SuDS during construction with show homes in the background

Throughout the election campaign all the main parties have been united in one commitment at least – that tackling the housing crisis will be top of the agenda for the next Government.

After the General Election, incentivising new homes building will be a priority and that has to be good news for the country and our industry. But will the dash for homes compromise better flood risk management? What do their manifestos tell us of their plans for Sustainable Drainage?

For the consulting engineers, developers, contractors and drainage engineers who follow Engineering Nature’s Way there are clearly busy times ahead. With a new Government in place, will we finally see an end to the doubt, delay and uncertainty that has dogged the progress of sustainable flood risk management and surface water drainage during the past two parliamentary terms?

For sure, a line has now been drawn under the debate over Sustainable Drainage Systems on new development in England with new planning regulations in place. However, doubts remain about how robustly they will be interpreted and implemented according to local priorities.

SuDS and Floods – the Key Questions

On the hustings, the Coalition parties have championed their record as “The Greenest Government Ever”, but how committed will a new Government be to improving environmental water quality, or to investing in flood defence infrastructure?

What are the chances of seeing sustainable approaches to surface water runoff being retrofitted to benefit our towns and cities? With an outright winner seeming unlikely, the influence of smaller parties in a future Government could bring influence to bear on environmental issues. There are some tantalising clues in the manifestos.

Environment and the Economy

Squaring the need to remove barriers to development with a commitment to building sustainable environments; squaring the need to cut public spending with a need to protect against climate change through investment in flood defence infrastructure: For all parties, these are difficult balances.

Conscious of the conflicts, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats all commit to the ongoing work of the Natural Capital Committee, the Government advisory body that looks at ways of putting an economic value on the parts of the natural environment that produce value for people. Developing economic justifications for sustainable water solutions as ecosystems services in future could be critical for long-term environmental progress.

Another consistent theme amongst the parties is the creation of more green urban spaces. For the Tories this is the promise of “Pocket Parks” – an ambitious programme to create small areas of inviting public space where people can enjoy relief from the hustle and bustle of city streets. The Lib Dems pledge to identify up to a million acres of valuable green space that should be protected permanently as new National Nature Parks. Labour promises to promote “access to green spaces in local planning.” The Greens want to ensure everyone lives within five minutes’ walk of green open space.  Could this prompt an opportunity to retrofit SuDS into our urban environments – especially where imaginative combination of green and engineered features could achieve results?

Flood Defences

With the Government’s own Public Accounts Committee declaring recently that one in six homes in the UK are now in danger of flooding, investment in flood defence infrastructure is a concern to many voters. The Conservatives promise to build 1,400 new flood defence schemes, to protect 300,000 homes.

Labour promises that a new Infrastructure Commission will prioritise investment in flood prevention and commits to climate change adaptation. The Liberal Democrats want to create a national resilience plan, to deal with the infrastructure changes likely to be needed because of a 3-4 per cent global average temperature rise.

Going into far more detail on water management issues than any of the other parties, the Liberal Democrats outline proposals to set up a commission to research back to nature flood prevention schemes, including the role of habitats such as upland bogs and moors, woodlands, wetlands and species-rich grasslands in absorbing and holding water.

The Greens, too, want to “encourage storing water in uplands through full river system management – including wetland restoration, natural regeneration, allowing rivers to meander and allowing flooding upstream.”

The Lib Dems also pledge to work with local government to review the governance of flood risk and land drainage including the role of Internal Drainage Boards and introduce high standards of flood resilience for building and infrastructure in flood risk areas. They are also the only party to commit to increasing “the uptake of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems to maximise value for money for the taxpayer” and say they will consult on the best way to finance this.

Both the Greens and UKIP want to abolish the National Planning Policy Framework, although possibly for different motives. UKIP pledges to reform planning law, introducing new national planning guidelines that encourage brownfield development and reduce red tape by merging planning and building control departments in local authorities. The party also wants to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change and repeal the Climate Change Act.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru have both made water issues a strong focus and water quality already has a greater focus in the way SuDS are delivered in Scotland, in particular. Regulations for Flood Risk Management and surface water drainage are different in Scotland and Wales to the rest of the UK. In both places, exemplary best practice has developed as a result. It could be good for the country if the experience and good practice learnt across the borders is brought to bear in the corridors of Westminster.

Elsewhere in the Manifestos, specific plans to improve water quality are somewhat unclear, although the Tories say they are committed to cleaning up rivers and lakes and to protecting marine waters through the creation of a UK Blue Belt of protected sites.

Amongst all the parties, housebuilding is a major priority. Labour says it will make sure that at least 200,000 homes a year get built by 2020. The Conservatives promise to build 200,000 new starter homes. UKIP wants to build a million new properties on brownfield sites by 2020. The SNP also calls for house building, saying it will set a target of 100,000 new affordable homes a year. Meanwhile, in Wales, Plaid Cymru has also called for more homes to be constructed and wants to create “sustainable communities”.

As we look forward to a welcome boost to house building, let’s hope that doesn’t come at the expense of flood defence or protecting water quality.

For more examples of SuDS best practice in housing developments read:

Sustainable Drainage Infrastructure for Cambridge Homes Expansion

Housebuilder’s New Vision for SuDS

For examples of sustainable flood defence with upland storage to create biodiversity read:

Flow Controls Bring Much-needed Flood Relief in Telford

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