SuDS Design Standards – Where do we go from here?

Written By: Associate Director, Hydro Consultancy

Image of Downstream Defender protecting wetland

When the news quietly trickled through, local authority SuDS approving teams could not have been surprised to learn that they will not be commencing their new roles in April 2013.  A further delay had come to seem inevitable.

The question is, what should the preparing SABs do now?  Those who are farthest ahead could follow the lead of Oxfordshire and Cambridge City councils and expect developers to work to locally-agreed SuDS guidelines.  At the other end of the spectrum, some local authorities might be tempted to put preparations ‘on hold’ altogether with no indication of when their roles will begin and allocate precious funds elsewhere.

Even if it is motivated by the best intentions to deliver really good National Standards through further consultation,  Defra’s low-key announcement of another delay will not help to clarify matters.  It will be interesting to hear the comments
of officers to the Engineering Nature’s Way local government SuDS survey launched this month.

Just as Flood Minister Richard Benyon delivered his news to local authority flood risk officers, another SuDS consultation was coming to an end – the proposed new British Standard BS8582 Code of Practice for Surface Water Management for Development.

It’s a shame the British Standard consultation was not more widely publicised.  It would  be good to see the consultation extended for further stakeholders to comment.  Although not perfect, the British Standard is actually a much better
document than Defra’s National Standards.

The problem with a shortage of information is that it leads to speculation.  It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to question what might lie ahead when we have a Government with a stated intent of reducing standards, red tape and building regulations.  I even heard a theory that the British Standard could replace the National Standards.  This seems unlikely.

Of course, there are differences between them: BS8582 is a Code of Practice only, and relates to the whole of the UK, whereas the National SuDs Standards will be part of the Flood and Water Management Act and will only be applicable in
England and Wales.  Nevertheless, there is much in the BS8582 that could be applied to make the National Standards more robust.  One thing is for sure, if both are developed in parallel at some point there will need to be clarification on
which Standard designers should follow first.

In the meantime, with a further delay in implementation of the SAB roles, designers and developers are left to deal with a ‘power vacuum’.  Strictly speaking with the automatic right to connect to a sewer withdrawn, there is no official legal entity at the moment who can give a developer approval to connect.

Defra has given few clues as to how or when the Guidance which is supposed to accompany the National Standards will be drafted and published.  My feeling is that perhaps the excellent FlowNet community run by the Local Government Association could have a role in developing and scrutinising the guidance so it really works well for the people who will be using it.

Amidst all of this, it is the ‘leading light’ local authorities that are setting the bar for SuDS best practice and producing their own design guides.  The latest from Essex County Council, for example, is excellent.  So do we need National Standards at all?  Could localism lead to locally-developed guidelines, supported by a British Standard?

My feeling is that without clear National Standards for designers to work to, we will end up with an inconsistent approach to SuDS across the country.  Whilst the more visionary councils will continue to support developers in delivering great schemes, there will be others where the results will be less satisfactory.    With so many misperceptions about SuDS still abounding, this could be very damaging in the long run.

While the climate of uncertainty continues, it’s the role of all SuDs stakeholders to continue to champion and share best practice.  We must do everything possible to make sure the best exemplars are widely known by local authorities,
designers, civil engineers, contractors and developers.

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