13Mar 2014

Back to the Future!

Peter Martin, Black & Veatch Ltd


As project manager and lead author for CIRIA’s original SuDS manuals (C521 – design manual for Scotland and Northern Ireland; C522 – design manual for England and Wales; and C523 – best practice manual), work that started in 1997, I am often asked if I am surprised and discouraged by the apparent time it is taking to implement the initial guidance and recommendations for the development and promotion of SuDS made back in 2000.


Although I share the frustration of many with the seemingly slow pace of some of the political/regulatory dimensions; I find developments in other areas that have taken place over the intervening years to be positively encouraging.



In the late 1990’s, we had to return to first principles to develop our initial technical guidance, reinforced by some design manuals from overseas (most notably, parts of the USA, Sweden and Australia).  Since then, CIRIA has proactively updated and expanded our UK technical guidance building on developing practical design, construction and operational experience of various techniques.


The design protocols developed in those early days to ensure that design for SuDS was robust, such as integrated catchment design and consideration of exceedance, are now used as a matter of course in the design of all drainage systems.  Similarly, the promotion of a partnership or stakeholder approach and integrated multi-disciplinary project teams, as opposed to the drainage engineer working in splendid isolation, is now the norm on most drainage projects.  Consideration of multiple benefits to multiple stakeholders is bringing more players into the design process and consequently more innovative ways of solving drainage issues, whilst also addressing affordability and totex.


In the intervening years, an expanding range of techniques and proprietary products and systems have added considerably to the designer’s toolkit.


Case studies/demonstration projects

At the outset, we struggled to find our initial 15 examples in the UK.  Today, hundreds of projects have been implemented and now contains 43 (and growing) examples.



At the start of the original CIRIA project in 1997, the project team and steering group comprised the foremost thinkers and proponents of SuDS in those early days.  Names such as John Gardiner, Geoff Steeley, David Brook, Brian D’Arcy, Bob Sargent, Phil Chatfield, Jim Conlin, Chris Pratt, Chris Jefferies, Bob Bray, Cedo Maksimovic, Larry Roesner and Peter Stahre (with apologies to all those I have missed).  We identified having champions as a key factor in the ultimate successful uptake of SuDS.  Sixteen years later, in December 2013, I was honoured to be invited to a CIRIA workshop chaired by Prof David Balmforth to help inform the development of the latest update of the SuDS Manual being undertaken by HR Wallingford and others.  I was surrounded by over 40 authoritative practitioners from many and varied complementary backgrounds who willingly and enthusiastically shared their considerable knowledge of SuDS.  Sixteen years earlier, we could only dream and hope these resources and knowledge base would be available in the future.



Looking back from today, we may be frustrated by some delays over National Standards.  Looking forward from 1997, we have made great progress.


But what of the future?

So how might things look in 2030 ….

  • SuDS and integrated catchment management is “business as usual”, and drainage is a key component of water resources?
  • The optimum outline drainage design of any retrofit or new development in its regional context is carried out at the press of a button?
  • Re-organisation and simplification of the duties and responsibilities for drainage (in its widest sense) overseen by national Drainage Authorities means that Drainage Law is no longer the most complex part of civil law?
  • As part of the National Curriculum, every school child at the age of 11 understands the water cycle and importance of this vital resource?


Or maybe you have different ideas?

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