16May 2016

Much ado about a SuDS review – what’s on your wish list?

Paul Shaffer, CIRIA/susdrain


Last week saw the Housing and Planning Act gain Royal Assent. It was an interesting, maybe disheartening couple of weeks for those that desire effective policy supporting delivery of good SuDS schemes.


The House of Lords (led by Lady Parminter, Baroness Young and Lord Krebs) proposed an amendment to the Bill that would give SuDS delivery a much needed boost, by removing the automatic right for developers to connect their surface water management systems to the public sewer system.  Their amendment suggested that connection could be made, but only if the surface water drainage system complied with the Non-statutory SuDS Standards or more robust local planning policy (where in existence). This link to local planning policy could deliver SuDS that dealt with flood risk, but could also deliver benefits for water quality, amenity and biodiversity.


This approach gained support by a number national charities, institutions and organisations with an interest in the water environment. This included the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, ICE, CIWEM, Water UK and the Climate Change Committee.


Following the polite political “ping-pong”, the House of Commons rejected the amendments from the House of Lords on the basis of them ‘being unnecessary and impractical’. MP’s who were not in favour of the amendment suggested there was adequate policy already in place and that SuDS may not be possible on all sites. There were other logistical considerations to think of too, in terms of transition for industry, particularly smaller developers. Ultimately, the impact of the amendment on delivering the required housing numbers was used as the final reason for rejection.


While the amendment may have been viewed by some in the Commons as a little clumsy, its inclusion was promoted by organisations who recognise that the approach introduced last year is not working. Where SuDS are (rarely) delivered, they’re often pipe-to-pond systems that offer little of the flood resilience and multiple benefits we’re looking for. Adoption of the system is still very piecemeal and difficult.


The susdrain website is full of information to suggest that if a good design team is engaged early in the development process, good SuDS can be delivered. Presentations and discussions at susdrain also make it clear that reliance on the planning process at the moment isn’t working for the most part which has prompted CIRIA to develop a proposal that will support planners on SuDS.


In rejecting the amendments the government offered to review planning legislation, government planning policy and local planning policies concerning sustainable drainage. No information was provided about the scope or timing of the review. While many in the industry would prefer if government fully supported SuDS delivery, rather than rely on a review, it will perhaps highlight what those at the sharp end already know – that good SuDS on housing developments is rarely being delivered?


The definition of SuDS used clearly will have an influence on the review, the non-statutory standards has a focus on flood risk. But we should be looking to achieve additional benefits around water quality, amenity and biodiversity. The review should also include an assessment of capacity and capability of local planning officers and lead local flood authorities. A review of the effectiveness of legislation and policy should also include a robust review of some of the schemes (performance and costs) that have been delivered since the changes to planning were made last year. What about the impact of excluding minor housing developments?


So there’s just a few ideas to get started, what would you like to see/ be included?

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