SuDS, It can’t be done because …

Written By: Sustainability Engineer, Lambeth Council

Since I have entered the world of SuDS I have heard the same expression on numerous occasions whether it is a discussion over a couple of beers with colleagues, or in meetings with designers, or negotiating S38 agreements with developers.

I listen to snippets of conversations or am told of conversations that at times are reassuringly depressing and sadly all too common whatever the subject is.

This resistance to change or “new technology, materials, methods, design” is nothing new it is the same arguments, same reasons just conveyed to a differing subject area. In the previous authority I worked in we were bold and undertook work outside of the accepted Highway remit, this work was rewarded with a national award, we also pushed boundaries with another area of work and again were recognised nationally, we adopted a different approach to network management and it is only now, 8 years later that work is being widely adopted. So the question has to be why is change so difficult?

Since the New Year I have had two conversations with consultants where the crux of the conversation has centred on the same ethos;

Conversation 1: The meeting held between the consultant and the client an hour of a two hour meeting was spent deflecting criticism and defending the proposals by the consultant.

Conversation 2: The client is clear that they want a strategy to green the authority; however the majority of the meeting was taken up by the client finding excuses and reasons why a particular element, design or approach can not be included.

As mentioned those two conversations are all too familiar, I have attended conferences, seminars and various other meetings where the same arguments and reasons not to are reeled out again and again whether it is SuDS, traffic calming, network management, insurance claims, etc. I agree and I am one of the worst people for doing it, you must challenge every scheme, proposal and project to the nth degree to ensure you deliver something that is robust and stands up to challenge. Though it must be realised the reason you challenge any scheme, proposal or project is to find the weaknesses and flaws and as engineers find the solutions to enable the scheme, proposal or project to be delivered.

Arguments about who will maintain it are weak; all authorities have both a highway and grounds maintenance contracts, so how can it not be maintained? It will collect litter, who will clean it? Do authorities not have waste cleansing contracts, how do parks, grass verges and other areas of public realm get cleaned? There should be no reason or excuse why SuDS can not be maintained sensibly and within existing contracts.

There should also be no excuses over materials, planting, proprietary products, as these are all well tried and tested elements which have clear guidance and practice on maintenance, which can be easily incorporated into existing contracts and moving forward can be re-negotiated as contracts expire or are extended. Design should follow the very simple rules of SuDS and whether the system is a hybrid of different elements or just a very simple rain garden, again there is no reason why it can not be incorporated into existing contracts. In Lambeth we have just designed a rain garden inlet and to keep maintenance simple we have used everyday accepted highway materials, which we know are sustainable and will be maintained, it took us three hours in total to come up with the design and trial it on site, we could have quite easily turned around and said “it can’t be done” but engineering is about solutions to problems not problems to solutions.

It is clear from the results of the “SuDS The state of the nation report” that there is uncertainty as to the future of SuDS unless the SAB role is created, implemented, training, however there is a clear desire and acceptance that SuDS are a good thing and have value, so there is clearly a will.

It is right to challenge design, it is right to be negative, it is right to show that something won’t work but it is important and essential as engineers to show how it can be delivered, so the question that really needs to be asked is “SuDS, It can be done because….”


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