SuDS: The State of the Nation Round Table

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Special Report

Round Table Panel Members

Alastair Moseley,
Honorary Vice President, CIWEM and Director of H2OWEM Ltd

Alex Stephenson,
Chair, British Water SuDS Focus Group and
Hydro International

Ian Bernard,
Technical Manager,
British Water

Jonathan Glerum,
Flood Risk Manager,
Anglian Water

John Bourne,
Deputy Director in the Water Availability and Quality Programme,

Sue Illman,
Managing Director,
Illman Young

Bronwyn Buntine,
Sustainable Drainage Engineer,
Kent County Council / Local Government Association (LGA)

Jeremy Jones,
Independent Consulting Engineer,
JFJ Consulting Ltd / CIWEM

Professor David Butler,
Director, Centre for Water Systems,
University of Exeter

David Schofield,
Associate Director,
Hydro Consultancy

Owen Davies,
Sustainability Engineer,
London Borough of Lambeth

Paul Shaffer,

David Evans,
Associate Director,
Ove Arup & Partners





BUILDING Sustainable Drainage Schemes (SuDS) in our towns and cities is widely acknowledged to offer multiple benefits to the environment, to integrated water management and urban regeneration.  Yet delivering SuDS in our urban environment can be challenging, especially where funding streams are unclear, or where successful implementation requires agencies to work in partnership in new and unfamiliar ways.

So what progress is being made and where do we go from here?

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Hydro International hosted SuDS: The State of the Nation, a Round Table debate, held in the prestigious surroundings of the Council Room of Haberdashers Hall in London on 21 December to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing SuDS delivery.SuDS: The State of the Nation was conducted in association with CIWEM (Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management), SBWWI (Society of British Water and Wastewater Industries) and British Water.

The Round Table provided a timely opportunity to discuss the opportunities for future SuDS implementation amongst a distinguished panel of local government representatives, industry specialists and drainage experts.   Chair Alastair Moseley, Honorary Vice President of CIWEM, noted the experience, knowledge and passion of all panel members as they set out an encouraging and positive vision for SuDS in the future.

The Survey


But implementation of legislation that will make SuDS compulsory for new development in England and Wales has been subject to continued delay and the debate was also the launch pad for a specially-commissioned survey of local authorities who will be responsible for approving new SuDS schemes.

The Survey was commissioned by Hydro International for Engineering Nature’s Way.  Hydro’s UK Stormwater Director Alex Stephenson presented the results of the survey which suggested that delays may have led councils to question the Government’s long-term commitment to SuDS implementation.

The survey revealed that 60% of officers believed their councils were not yet sufficiently prepared to take on their new roles as SuDS Approving Bodies (SABS).  They had significant concerns about funding, with only a quarter of respondents believing they had access to sufficient funds to perform their new roles.

The Survey revealed 68% believed the Government was either ‘not entirely committed’ or ‘not committed at all’ to long-term implementation of SuDS.  For more information about the survey read the report.


A strong lobby by housebuilders and developers concerned about the costs and practicalities of the new proposals is also thought to have influenced the decision to delay implementation.  Of the local authorities questioned in the Engineering Nature’s Way survey, however, 63% believed that affordability for developers should not be considered in SuDS approval.



Making Progress without Legislation

Bronwyn Buntine, sustainable drainage engineer for Kent County Council – one of the more forward thinking of local authorities in relation to SuDS – also represented the Local Government Association on the panel.  She commented: “The survey is reflecting the range of what you have in councils.  You have those who are prepared and have resources, capacity and staff whereas you have got smaller councils who do not have capacity and who do not have the ability to implement additional requirements.”

But a lack of legislation had not prevented SuDs from being implemented around the country already, especially since the planning requirements of PPS25 were enacted, she said: “Attenuation is going on and has been going on for the last 10 years, and there are a lot of systems out there.”


John Bourne, Deputy Director in Water Availability and Quality Programme at Defra agreed: “Yes, there is legislation in draft, but actually there’s an awful lot that can be done on SuDS without legislation.”

He challenged the view that the Government was not committed:   “I don’t think there is any evidence, other than the fact that it’s taken longer than anticipated. I actually think if you look at it and look how complicated it is, and how difficult it is, and the issues that have to be balanced, then the fact that the Government is still firmly going ahead with it and taking it forward and trying to address those issues is actually more a symbol of its commitment, than the opposite.”


Can-Do Approach

The challenge was to go beyond compliance and deliver the multiple benefits that SuDs can provide, said Alastair Moseley:

“There’s definitely a need for a ‘can-do’ approach and we don’t necessarily have to wait for legislation. We genuinely would not wish to have something foisted on us; we are going to need time to develop this thing properly.  So it is the right thing that legislation is not rushed in. As we go forward there are initiatives that can be incorporated in the developing legislation, to the benefit of everybody.”

Ian Bernard, Technical Manager of British Water, agreed that legislation was not necessarily needed to make progress but stressed it could help drive forward investment in the Research and Development of engineered systems that could contribute to practical and effective schemes in future as well as boost business for UK companies overseas.

“I’ve heard a lot of people today say the standards don’t matter and SuDS will be implemented and I agree with that.   In research and development, if you have got targets and you are developing proprietary SuDS equipment, it will accelerate implementation.  It could help bring some new tools out.   I think if we had the standards in, it would accelerate implementation and provide a wider toolbox.”


Demonstrating the Value of SuDS

Multiple Benefits

Succeeding with SuDS is about demonstrating multiple benefits to secure funding streams and encouraging multi-agency working to maximise “bang for buck”, said Paul Shaffer, Associate Director at CIRIA .

“When we talk about affordability there’s a focus on costs.  I think we also need to start thinking about the benefits and trying to see that as another way of looking at affordability.”

“My vision for SuDs is that we go beyond compliance to enable us to really deliver multiple benefits –  primarily for us to have better places for us to live, play and work.   For that to happen we need to start thinking about how we can integrate in terms of the water cycle, and also integrate all the different disciplines, and bring together the designers and the drainage engineers to really make this happen.”

Demonstrating multi-benefits also provides evidence to encourage agencies to work together. New policy areas such as Payment for Ecosystems Services and Social Return on Investment provide a platform to demonstrate value, he said, and CIRIA would be working on looking at ways of developing a ‘common currency’ for investment by partners such as water companies and local authorities whose funding and investment structures are very different, he said.


Gathering the Evidence

Case Studies

Shaffer also pointed out the importance of developing case study examples, as those provided through CIRIA’s Susdrain website, to demonstrate best practice.   Professor David Butler of University of Exeter agreed:

“What I would like to see more of is case studies and pilot studies of SuDS in practice.  I’d like some more modern solutions, more modern sites that are properly configured, properly monitored over the long term.  That builds confidence in their performance and then we can spin that confidence out to practitioners, who then can be confident to specify those systems.”

All agreed that delivering SuDs successfully depended on closer collaboration and partnership both between local authority functions – particularly planning and highways – as well as between local authorities and other stakeholders, especially water companies and the Environment Agency.


Encouraging Partnership Working


David Evans, Associate Director of Ove Arup & Partners and CIWEM provided an example of a multi-benefit SUDS scheme in Wales which had shown significant cost savings for the water company – around 25-30% of a traditional approach: “The local authority are gaining out of it, because by preventing or removing the consequences of flooding, that would release the land for development.  So it is a symbiotic relationship between the water company, the local authority, and of course the Environment Agency, because the water that would otherwise find its way into a sensitive watercourse is being controlled.”

Jonathan Glerum, Flood Risk Manager, Anglian Water also provided an important water company perspective on SuDS implementation.    Anglian was ‘very pro-SuDS’ he said and one of the few to adopt SuDS in open space.

“Working together in partnerships with the lead local flood authorities gives us a fantastic opportunity to be able to work together and deliver SuDS in an integrated manner.  That’s something that certainly from a Water Company’s perspective is quite new and because it’s new, that means it’s going to take a bit of time in terms of understanding how the partnership works, who will do what within that partnership and who gains and benefits from the work that gets done.  So that’s something we are very much looking towards and working towards in the future. “

Jeremy Jones, of JRJ Consulting Ltd spoke from his experience as an independent consulting engineer working with Welsh Water to emphasise the need to demonstrate benefits accrued from partnership working:

“In all of the things that we do in this area, we realise we have to capture the information that is coming out; we have to monitor them; we have to prove that what we are looking to achieve using this type of technology, we do actually achieve and then record it. We identify the surface water that we are reducing and the rainwater that we are capturing for reuse, and we actually know exactly how we are managing all of that.“


Engaging with Communities

Community Involvement

Jeremy Jones referred to some significant schemes that were underway in Wales taking “massive amounts of water out of the urban drainage system.   However, community-based schemes were also developing to encourage buy-in to SuDs, and public opinion is proving to be a powerful tool in achieving the desired change.

“Dead-end areas of local streets are being transformed into ‘pocket parks’ where children are encouraged to play and the community are taking these on board …  When you get situations like this, it not only benefits the individual stakeholders but society itself really embraces and understands it.  To hear residents going away and telling other residents why we need to be managing our rainwater and surface water better , then you know you are really making an impact and making things happen.”

Owen Davies, Sustainability Engineer with Lambeth Council pointed out that progress could be made even on a “door to door” level to encourage implementation of sustainable schemes.  Residents have a key role in protecting themselves and their resilience:

“Twenty-seven percent of land use is gardens in Lambeth.  We want people to disconnect downpipes; we want people to put rain gardens in their front gardens; we’ve done de-paving projects.  We’ve gone in and taken out 40% of hard-standing on people’s front gardens.  We are running a workshop for 30 residents for installing small green roofs on sheds.”  Alastair Moseley summed this up: “These may all be small measures at an individual level but collectively they will make a huge difference to the management of surface water in Lambeth and will serve as an example as to how we can tackle surface water reduction in existing urban areas”.


Integrated Water Management

Water Reuse

David Schofield, director of Hydro Consultancy, emphasised that integrated water management could also help businesses to achieve significant cost savings through surface water disconnection and storing and reusing rainwater instead.

“This year, in Hydro International, working with three other collaborative companies we’ve decided to take integrated water management one step further into what we call SWIM – Sustainable Water Management.

“We’ve spent a large part of this year (2012) looking at various clients and their installations…  and we have seen some incredible wastage and expense in regards to water – for example racecourses which are irrigated with potable water at huge expense, same for cooling towers, potable water.  We often have huge volumes of storage provided both above and below ground and yet very little, if any of that, is ever reused”.

“We are demonstrating to these organisations, etc. that we can give them a very good payback period and return on investment very quickly – in some cases surprisingly quickly.  We just need collaboration and we need to think outside the box sometimes.”

Sue Illman, Managing Director of Illman Young Landscape Design outlined her vision for co-operation and engagement between all the professions in driving forward a vision for SuDS:

“In the landscape profession – these days, we’re not just talking about design – what we are really starting talking about is climate change…  I am doing a lot of work with other professions; CIHT, ICE and the RTPI to really get out there this vision about water management, SuDs and Water Sensitive Design.  So I would like to see all the professions working together to fully understanding it and actually getting the best out of it – because we can!!  I would love the Government to pick it up and run with it – it’s such a ‘no brainer’ I can’t understand why they are not; but if they are not then we have got to work at the grass roots level in every which way we can to get this whole thing going viral and just making it happen holistically by getting people power to get behind it and actually just get on with it!!


Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, Alex Stephenson, Chair of the British Water SuDS Focus Group and Director of Hydro’s UK Stormwater Division reminded panellists of the requirements of the European Water Framework Directive for water quality which demanded acceleration in progress, especially in treating polluted surface water runoff.

Hearts and Minds

“The really encouraging thing for me in the last two or three years is the number of projects. There are some really good case studies, some really good surface water management schemes with natural features, sometimes needing proprietary devices to deliver them.”

“It is possible to change hearts and minds”, he said: “We’ve all become habitual recyclers and how many of us would have thought 15, 20 years ago, that you could go for a drink in the pub without stinking of cigarettes.  It is possible to change people’s attitudes and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Chair, Alastair Moseley thanked the panellists for their contributions.

“We most certainly have some inspirational leaders in the room here today; a huge thanks from my perspective to Hydro for being visionary in driving this initiative forward through the Engineering Nature’s Way website.  We’ve heard so much today about the benefits of SuDs; let’s work hard to get the important messages that have been stated today in our discussions out into the open.”


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