SuDS – Why We All Have to Get it Right

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Image courtesy of Illman Young Partnership

There’s no doubt that we are making tremendous steps forward on the road to widespread use of SuDS in the UK, but there is still a long road ahead.  That’s why sharing knowledge and best practice is so important.

Since its launch in May 2012, there have been nearly 20,000 visits to the Engineering Nature’s Way website.  Now, with the launch of Susdrain, CIRIA has established an important new community for SuDS.  Hydro is proud to be a partner and we wish them every success with the initiative.   The more ways there are to share information and resources, the better.

There is also still much to be done to implement SuDS along our national and regional highways and to truly tackle surface water quality via local authority road maintenance programmes.   CIRIA’s invaluable work in producing a guide for Retrofit SuDS has laid out a vision of just how much SuDS could contribute to future urban environments.  At present, the work is all there to do.

Why is sharing knowledge so important?  Because getting it right from the start is essential.  If we don’t, then we’ll end up with patchy and inconsistent implementation of SuDS across the UK, especially if legislative guidelines remain unclear and there continues to be a shortage of funding for local authorities.

That’s why initiatives like Susdrain are so important.  For the past 18 months, Hydro International has been making its contribution to sharing best practice through the Engineering Nature’s Way initiative and will continue to do so.  There are also important forums like Local Government Association’s Flownet community to share knowledge between professionals.

As the chair of the British Water SuDS focus group for over 7 years, I have been privileged to be involved in the development of SuDS from its earliest beginnings.  What has impressed me at recent professional events has been the passion of leading industry individuals in putting the case for SuDS.  It wouldn’t be too much to say the mood was visionary.

Learning from international best practice and disciplines such as Water Sensitive Urban Design has also helped to drive forward a vision for SuDS in the UK.  By working together as an industry, we have a real opportunity to use SuDS to transform our urban environments and to provide valuable ecosystems services.

This also means tackling some key ‘urban myths’ around SuDS.  Firstly:  that they are only ‘green’ or ‘soft’ features.  True SuDS embody a treatment train which can be selected from a broad ‘toolbox’ of engineered and more
‘natural’ components.  This is the principle of Engineering Nature’s Way, which I believe offers a practical, achievable and clearly-understandable way forward.

Secondly: that they will make projects more expensive.   Concerns about the potential extra costs of installing SuDs were probably behind a late addition to the draft Standards:  a clause that can exempt developers from installing SuDS schemes on the grounds of “disproportionate cost”.   This has been seen as something of a ‘loophole’ and in my view, is unnecessary.  By applying SuDS principles and the full toolbox of SuDS techniques, there should be very few schemes that would fall through the net.

Both Susdrain and Engineering Nature’s Way are about dispelling the myths and busting misconceptions, it would be useful to know what other misconceptions you believe there are by responding to this blog?

To achieve success co-operation is required between Government agencies, water companies and industry and between complementary disciplines such as manufacturing, civil engineering and landscape architecture.

After the success of the London 2012 Olympics this summer, we are especially conscious of our national interests.  Initiatives like Susdrain can help to provide a vital engine for progress, enabling government and industry to share knowledge and develop best practice for the good of the environment for all, no matter what the politics of the day.

To begin with, it will be the large scale housing developments such as those at Elvetham Heath in Hampshire and Clay Farm in Cambridgeshire which set the bar and provide important best practice examples.

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Paul Lucas says:

Untill very recently, drainage was SuDS compliant, with the exception of sewage. By recently, I suggest early 20th century. Since then vast areas of hard surfacing, changes in agricultural practices and most recently, financially driven lack of maintenance of waterways, have created an infrastructure that almost promotes flooding. Any attempts to halt and hopefully reverse this are to be applauded, but as usual, too much talk and not enough action. I have recently seen pollution control tanks built with no drain, once full of rainwater any hydrocarbons would simply float off, “swales” designed for soakaway built on what could be sold as the finest puddle clay discharging into a waterway, no hydrocarbon interceptor in sight. At least the old water meadows soaked up the water, cleaned it and returned it to the rivers. PS Keep up the good work

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