Our top ten wish-list for the Environment Secretary and her new floods and water minister

Written By: European Sales Director, Hydro International

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As the majority Conservative Government gets to work, Environment Secretary Liz Truss has returned to her desk and new under-secretary Rory Stewart has been appointed with a brief including the natural environment, floods and water and lead responsibility for overseeing the Environment Agency.

In the Queen’s Speech on May 27, the Government reiterated its promise to ease the housing crisis and support the development of social housing. But, disappointingly, flooding did not even get a mention.

So, here are my thoughts on what our industry would want to see in terms of SuDS and flooding. Will the ‘to do’ list on the two ministers’ desks include the following?

1.     Build robust flood defences

According to the Government’s own figures one-in-six homes in the UK is at risk of flooding. At a time when public spending is likely to face further cuts, I hope that Truss and Stewart will work together to protect allocated spending on flood defences and ensure that planned programmes are adequately financed in the long-term. With memories of the 2014 floods still fresh in the memory of many, will available funds be enough to avoid more devastating floods?

2.     Monitor SuDS implementation

Liz Truss has been credited for finally bringing in new regulations for SuDS in England after years of delay. However doubts remain about implementation, long-term maintenance and water quality. (See Alex Stephenson’s excellent blog on the topic.) It will be important for the Environment Secretary’s team to work closely with colleagues at the Department of Communities & Local Government (DCLG) to monitor how planning authorities implement the new regulations, and ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to ensure SuDS best practice.

3.     Promote practical and sensible SuDS

In their manifesto, the Conservatives committed to a nationwide programme of house-building that will deliver 200,000 starter homes a year by 2017. Housebuilders are keen to ensure they can meet the demand, and build as quickly and economically as possible. However, sometimes SuDS can (often erroneously) be perceived as adding to a site’s construction and land take costs. Taking a practical and sensible approach that combines proprietary systems and ‘natural’ components together can achieve the best of both worlds – delivering kerb appeal and sustainability, whilst minimising commercial impact. I hope Stewart will continue to be a champion for SuDS.

4.     Improve Water quality

Unlike legislation in Scotland, the technical standards that accompanied the English regulations do not specifically mention water quality. Along with their DCLG colleagues, I hope that Truss and Stewart will not underestimate the importance of environmental water quality, and the need for rivers to meet ‘good’ status under the European Water Framework Directive. Properly engineered and well-maintained SuDS solutions can make a huge difference to water quality. Read about the Hydro StormTrain® Series.

5.     Promote effective maintenance and adoption of SuDS

In his ministerial statement in December, the then Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles laid out a new regime for SuDS and set out an expectation that developers should demonstrate clear and affordable arrangements for maintenance of SuDS over the lifetime of a development. But there was no mention of this within the technical standards that followed. I hope that Liz Truss and her new floods and water minister will play their part to support and guide planning authorities, ensuring that through-life maintenance of SuDS is fully considered as part of planning applications and that SuDS components are properly adopted and maintained. Using drainage devices with repeatable, predictable maintenance regimes will help.

6.     Champion engineering and innovation in flood prevention.

Innovative engineering can help the Government to get the most out of the £2.3bn it has pledged to spend on 1,400 flood defence schemes and protect 300,000 homes.  In Glasgow the White Cart flood prevention scheme, which is centred on giant Hydro-Brake® Flood Alleviation Flow Controls, prevented an estimated £11m damage when it was first tested as water levels rose suddenly in November 2014. Schemes like White Cart provide a sustainable means of attenuating flow upstream using a low-maintenance solution without power-use. Given the climate change resilience and flood challenges faced by the UK, I hope Liz Truss and her Government colleagues will champion excellence in engineering and innovation.

7.     Consider retrofitting

I hope Liz Truss and Rory Stewart can continue to be supporters of SuDS and look for opportunities for retrofitting in our highways, towns and cities. In its pre-election manifesto the Conservative Party pledged to support the creation of pocket parks – small inviting spaces where people could enjoy nature.  There is a fantastic opportunity to incorporate SuDS into these parks – an imaginative way to reduce flood risk and deliver public amenity and biodiversity.

8.     Encourage excellence in SuDS and floods construction

Given the scale of the proposed house-building programme and the new SuDS regulations, developers and contractors will need specialist skills in the construction of SuDS. The Environment Secretary could support and encourage training and skills in this area and ensure SuDS are implemented, and can be maintained, according to best practice standards.

 9.     Value the natural environment

The National Capital Committee (NCC) was set up in 2012 to advise on the best use of England’s natural assets. It suggests a new way of thinking about the environment – encouraging local and national government to consider natural features as economic and community assets.  This sort of imaginative thinking could start a quiet revolution in the way people think about the built environment. Will developing economic justifications for sustainable water management systems, including SuDS, be on the agenda

10.     Encourage public education and support of SuDS

Public awareness of SuDS is increasing, as was highlighted recently when Prince Charles mentioned the need for sustainable drainage in a BBC broadcast from the Chelsea Flower Show. I do hope the floods and water minister in particular will understand the benefits of promoting a practical and sensible definition of SuDS that can be embraced by local communities across the country.

 

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