Fudge and Free-For-All? What to Make of The Alternative SuDS Plan?

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more confusion. Threatened delay and disagreement on Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) has cast yet another cloud in a storm that has been rumbling on for years.

There has been considerable strength in the response to the Government’s revised proposals for SuDS implementation on new developments. However, I fear the ‘consultation’ to build SuDS into the planning process is something of a foregone conclusion – and the new plan will come into force in Spring 2015.

In attempting to draw a line under the SuDS delivery debate that began with the Pitt Review, Defra and DCLG seem to have raised more questions than answers. The speed and scale of changes to the original proposals have come as a surprise to many. The outcome could be a ‘ free-for-all ’ for SuDS.

Despite all the hard work of the past five years, and Sir Michael Pitt’s intentions, SuDS implementation will come in, not so much with a bang as a watered-down whimper. Nevertheless, that whimper may be heard loudest among the hundreds of Local Authority staff already appointed for SuDS Approving Bodies (SABS), which may now be scrapped altogether. So is this a U-turn for SuDS? Have housebuilders ‘won’ the lobbying battle, as some commentators have suggested?

Addressing Local Authority and Developers’ Fears

The Government’s revised proposals seem focused on relieving fears that compulsory SuDS might discourage building by increasing development time, construction and land-opportunity costs, and that Local Authorities were not all ready to take up SAB mantle and more importantly, maintain and adopt the SuDS.

Instead, the new proposals aim to strengthen the existing planning system to incorporate an ‘expectation’ for SuDS on new developments, according to National Standards. The consultation also sets out a requirement for developers to demonstrate how SuDS components will be effectively maintained.

My “glass half full” response is that I hope that this will lay a more certain path towards sensible SuDS. In practice, it’s hard to be confident that the proposals will truly encourage a greater uptake of SuDS on the scale originally intended. The concerns aired across the industry so far seem to reflect this too, and Defra has said it has received a good response to the consultation. The key questions seem to be:

  • Do the proposals give developers too much leeway to avoid using SuDS and their consequent maintenance responsibilities?
  • Will a focus on local authority planning approval lead to a plethora of local guidance which will create an environmental “post code lottery” for SuDS?
  • Is there insufficient emphasis on treatment and environmental water quality?
  • Will increasing the limit for SuDS to 10 properties encourage developers to build more, smaller schemes?
  • How will local planning authorities get consistent and robust expert guidance to ensure effective SuDS delivery?
  • Do the proposals really cover off maintenance or, in practice, will they see SuDS left unadopted or neglected; we have seen some examples of this already both in both Scotland and England?

Ensuring robust guidance for SuDS is going to be paramount and CIRIA’s expected update to the SuDS manual is more important than ever in providing a national framework for best practice. To be effective that framework must reflect a truly pragmatic and sensible approach to meeting source control and water quality objectives using the entire SuDS toolbox with both natural and manufactured components.


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