Schedule 3 – Gone but not quite forgotten yet?

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Berewood SuDS during construction with show homes in the background

THE HOUSE of Lords became the rather polite battleground last week for an attempt to revive abandoned proposals to establish a separate local authority approval system for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) in England and remove developers’ automatic right to connect to the public sewer.

Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act (FMWA) 2010 was shelved when SuDS approval in England became part of National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) approval last April.   Reviving it became the subject of a cross-party amendment tabled during committee stage scrutiny of the Housing and Planning Bill in the House of Lords last Wednesday (23 March).

So, it seems, Schedule 3 may be gone, but not altogether forgotten just yet.  For a start, the Welsh Government is seriously considering adopting an approach much closer to the original FMWA proposals.  There have also been hints that the Government may take stock of the current arrangements after they have been allowed to run for a couple of years.

Put forward in the name of four Lords, including Lord Krebs, a long-standing campaigner for SuDS and member of the Committee on Climate Change, the amendment was also given a high-profile public statement of support from six professional bodies led by CIWEM and representing 150,000 engineering, architectural and environmental professionals.

The proposal would have reinstated the Schedule 3 provisions that prevent developers from automatically connecting surface drainage to sewers and instead expect SuDS to be implemented to national standards, adopted by local authorities and overseen by a separate local authority SuDS approving bodies.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the motion was withdrawn, serving nevertheless to successfully keep the debate alive and keeping pressure on the Government to deliver on more widespread adoption of SuDS in England.

Just a few weeks earlier, the Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment published its “Building Better Places” report which recommended that the Government reconsider establishing a separate approval regime for SuDS in new developments, strongly suggesting that the current arrangements were undermining the uptake of SuDS in England, because developers may use affordability as a reason to negotiate their way out of provision. Further, the Committee called on the Government to consider whether to upgrade the status of SuDS to “critical infrastructure.”

The report’s conclusions and recommendations were based on more than 180 submissions of written evidence and oral evidence from 58 witnesses in 27 evidence sessions. In giving its evidence, the Construction Industry Council, for example, was highly critical of the decision to abandon Schedule 3, saying it “had created voids in policy, uncertainty in planning policy interpretation, the abandonment of the concept of drainage as ‘critical infrastructure’, no structure for the adoption and maintenance of SuDS, and no measures to address flood resilience at a local scale.”

In her response to the Lords amendment, Planning Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford told the committee that the Government was meeting with key stakeholders to gauge their views on how the changes were bedding in and added: “we intend to have a more in-depth review in a year’s time, which will be two years post change.”

Engineering Nature’s Way is currently conducting its own survey of professionals to assess their impressions of uptake of SuDS in the UK, so it will be interesting to see how professionals ‘on the ground’ are seeing the progress of implementation.  If you haven’t taken part in the survey yet, I would urge you to do so by visiting the link here.

What strikes me most about this latest episode in the story of SuDS politics and policymaking is the strength of the professional body of opinion, both through the evidence of the Lords select committee and through the CIWEM statement, which represented the views of the ICE, RIBA, IES, Landscape Institute, CIEEM and the Environmental Policy Forum.   There would seem to be serious doubts about the ability of the current system to deliver the outcomes we all want to see.

The apparent strength of opinion was also reflected in a quick dipstick poll we held with the engineers attending our last SuDS webinar, in which about three quarters agreed that there should be increased regulation to enforce greater use of SuDS to protect the water environment (missed the webinar? Catch up here).

At the end of the day, as professionals, whatever the Government policy, we must doggedly focus on key elements of SuDS delivery that will deliver the best and most practical outcomes.  As was pointed out during the Lords debate, SuDS are not usually more costly than conventional alternatives, especially when pragmatic and practical designs are achieved, by selecting from a full toolbox of components, both natural and proprietary.

Equally, SuDS delivery must focus rigorously on provision of robust through-life maintenance and servicing schedules that will ensure ongoing adoption and support of the local communities where they are installed.  If we end up with poorly maintained or unadopted schemes, SuDS uptake will most definitely be compromised.

We do, at least, have in place a wealth of technical standards and guidance across the UK, and a growing body of best practice experience.  This latest skirmish at the heart of our Government system only serves to demonstrate the responsibility of us all as professionals to keep the debate alive and kicking.

For full details of the House of Lords debate, visit the Hansard records.
Now read “State of the Nation” Survey Tests ‘Grass roots’ Confidence in Future SuDS Delivery


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