Local Authorities Question Government’s Long-term Commitment to Sustainable Drainage

Written by: , 6 Feb 2013

RoundTable News

Local authorities preparing for new roles to oversee the compulsory use of Sustainable Drainage Schemes (SuDS) in England and Wales doubt the Government’s long-term commitment to their implementation, a new survey suggests.

SuDS:  The State of the Nation was commissioned for the Engineering Nature’s Way knowledge-sharing SuDS website by sustainable drainage specialists Hydro International.  Of those questioned 68% believed the Government was either ‘not entirely committed, or ‘not committed at all’ to long-term implementation.

The 149 local authority officers who participated in the survey represented a broad range of Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) across England and Wales who will operate SuDS Approving Bodies (SABs) as well as some district councils who may be given delegated functions.  But commencement of the role under the Flood and Water Management Act has been delayed until at least April 2014.

Most (60%) believed they were not yet sufficiently prepared to take on the new SAB roles and 75% felt they needed further training.  Only 26% believe they have access to sufficient funds to the new approval role which relates only to new development.

“We commissioned the research to understand how ready local authorities feel to perform the new roles and to investigate their attitudes to implementation,” said Alex Stephenson, Director of Hydro’s UK Stormwater division and chair of the British Water SuDS Focus Group.

“We were surprised by the high response to the survey and just how keen local authorities were to share their views – the majority of respondents also took time to make additional comments, on the understanding that their identities remained confidential.”

Some 1,200 council officers were contacted and invited to participate in the survey during November and December 2012.  Those who contributed represented a wide geographical distribution of English and Welsh County Councils, City Councils, Metropolitan and London boroughs. The survey was conducted in association with CIWEM (Chartered Institute of Water and Environment Management), SBWWI (Society of Water and Wastewater Industries) and British Water.

“The Government is undertaking further work on new National Standards and technical guidance for SuDs by which the SABs will approve new schemes,” explains Stephenson.  “ It is thought that a lobby by housebuilders and developers concerned about costs and practicality may have influenced the delay.

“For me, a key conclusion to draw is the need for a full understanding that SuDs solutions do not have to be land-hungry natural features.  Using a mix of engineered and natural features can help deliver commercially-viable development whilst still creating a better environment,” he added.

More than three quarters of respondents familiar with the National Standards believed they were insufficiently clear to support the execution of their roles and 63% agreed that SAB approval should not be influenced by the affordability of schemes.

Nearly half those questioned indicated a need for better definition of the SAB and planning roles in effective SuDS delivery and some commented on the challenges faced by two-tier authorities in particular.

The survey went on to gauge a country-wide vision for retrofitting SuDS and for storing and re-using rainwater through SuDS in future.  Whilst 29% had a long-term vision, only 7% currently have firm plans for retrofit schemes with comments suggesting there were concerns about such schemes could be funded.  27% said they already actively encouraged the use of SuDS as a water resource.

The results of the survey were previewed to an expert panel of government, industry leaders and drainage experts at a specially held Round Table debate on 21 December in the Council Room of the Haberdashers Hall in London.  The panel discussed the implications for long-term implementation of SuDS.  A full report and film of the debate can be viewed at www.engineeringnaturesway.co.uk. A report of the survey results is also available to download.

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