19 Dec 2016
The results of our SuDS: The State of the Nation 2016 survey are in. We’ve been overwhelmed by the response, and in particular the depth of professional insights provided by hundreds of respondents.
We’ve been left in no doubt about the strength of feeling – indeed passion – generated by the SuDS debate among those who work with them every day. There’s a real sense of frustration between those who still feel there needs to be a more robust framework in place to open up more widespread SuDS implementation.
SuDS: The State of the Nation 2016 was conducted between March and May 2016 to investigate whether or not UK industry professionals believe current policy and practice is now sufficient to enable them to deliver effective flood risk and surface water management schemes.
The key findings show clearly that many feel strongly on key issues and suggest there are some sticking points for SuDS delivery. As long as these remain unresolved, it seems to me we will keep going round in circles with SuDS. It’s been a pattern of delay and review, a merry-go-round, that I have watched myself over the years I have been closely involved in advocating SuDS.
Many of our respondents, who are a mix of consulting engineers, local authority flood and drainage professionals and developers, took time to give detailed comments from their professional experience, which provide a true depth of insight that I hope policymakers will take notice of.
A clear theme emerges of a lack of clarity over maintenance and adoption, together with uncertainty over which authorities or organisations should be liable for SuDS components over their lifecycle. Comments suggested a lack of confidence amongst some authorities about taking over ownership of SuDS from developers.
The research insights also revealed concerns about the lack of arrangements in place for inspection of SuDS post-construction and for monitoring their ongoing performance, as well as for enforcement if SuDS features are not maintained as designed. Some people felt that a clearer national policy is needed to place a duty on public authorities, including water companies, to adopt SuDS.
In England, the incorporation of SuDS approval for new developments into the planning system did not, perhaps, provide a strong enough steer on SuDS maintenance. Although the Government made it clear that developers should demonstrate how SuDS are to be maintained, some of our survey feedback suggests that in practical terms, this may be difficult to outline in detail during the early stages of a planning dialogue.
I also get a strong inference, from the wide spectrum of views expressed, that different professionals may have very different interpretations of what SuDS can be. Alex Stephenson covered this topic before (SuDS – A Matter of Definition).
I do believe there is a danger of misinterpretation, especially among the general public and some politicians. SuDS are not the same as flood defence infrastructure, nor are they exclusively ‘natural’ or above-ground features only. There’s still plenty of myth-busting to do.
Developers & SuDS
Developers, especially housebuilders, are under pressure to accelerate building of much-needed homes in the UK. Sometimes they have been cast as the villains of the piece, but if they are to deliver viable developments, as businesses they have to make hard commercial decisions about land-take and construction costs.
They also need to be confident that they can hand over ownership of the SuDS schemes to the adopting authority or organisation once the project is complete, otherwise they may be reluctant to include them.
Our respondents believed that working to a full SuDS toolbox can mitigate against these challenges. As part of this, the majority agreed that integrating proprietary or manufactured components into a drainage scheme can facilitate Green Infrastructure and the long-term maintenance of SuDS schemes.
I’ll cover more on what our survey revealed about views on the role and opportunities offered by proprietary systems in my next blog.