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29Dec 2014
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So who is to blame??

Owen Davies

 

Government have finally played their cards in relation to how the recommendations from Pitt can finally be laid to rest. Are we actually surprised that the outcome of the consultation is exactly what the questions indicated? Yes 71% of 402 respondents were clear this approach will not deliver sustainable drainage, yes 62% of respondents believe all development should be considered, but Government clearly don’t agree and at the end of the day they are in the position to make those decisions.

 

It is easy to apportion blame to Government and various departments. We can look at DCLG and say their priority is to ensure restrictive or “red tape” process does not hinder the construction of what is essentially necessary housing. Treasury are clear that sustainable economic growth is the priority of this administration and this is supported by the introduction of both the Growth and infrastructure bills. There is the Star chamber who’s responsibility is to ensure that any policy is challenged so it does not introduce unnecessary burdens on business or impose restrictions. Then there are the mantra’s from the prime ministers office, “those with the broadest shoulders”, “we are listening” and “we are all in this together”. None of this is a surprise, all of these approaches have been clearly conveyed since 2010. So whilst it is easy to suggest this government is clearly to blame is it more convenience than it is the truth?

 

So is it the developers? This much maligned group of stakeholders, are these really the pantomime villains? Most sites use soakaways and a lot of sites now have elements of SuDS. So they are doing it maybe they just don’t see it or realise it’s SuDS? Or with better design SuDS that do more than attenuation? What have they done which has been so fundamental to lead to the downfall of Schedule 3? Are they not just defending their corner? are they not doing what the supporters of Schedule 3 have been doing in promoting their corner? In reality is there really one organisation who by themselves have scuppered schedule 3 or are they a convenient foil?

 

So who is to blame, where can we lay the blame who should we be berating who should be walking the plank into a SuDS pond?

 

Well, maybe no one, maybe we need to look at the branding and marketing of SuDS, Sustainable Drainage Systems maybe that is what has let us all down. lets be honest “SuDS is sooo 2007”. It was the buzz, it was the panacea, it was the silver bullet that formed part of the Pitt review it was to have it’s own legislation, albeit secondary. What more could we want, it was fashionable for politicians to be seen endorsing them, they were the babies of general election canvassing. So what are SuDS? What is the one thing they are? What is the thing which can be the photo opportunity? What is the thing we show those who want and need to know what they are? What has or is the message for SuDS what does it do, why is it so great why should we be using it over conventional drainage what is the message what is the USP? Why don’t we have politicians wanting their photos taken next to SuDS? Why aren’t they eulogising about SuDS? Why isn’t the general public insisting that SuDS are part of a development? Where is the people power? Why is not socially unacceptable not to have a rain garden? Do we know what SuDS are? Is it a movement? Is it a principle? What is it? Do we know what the message is? Have we confused the conversation? Maybe this is part of the problem, SuDS, as such, are a combination of solutions, the sum of all the parts – a broader philosophy. We don’t speak about conventional drainage as a system of different elements.

 

I think those in the industry across the broad spectrum, from the purists to the producers of proprietary products, to the consultants, to the Institutions need to look at what and how SuDS are being sold. We all know the benefits, we all know what can be achieved and we know that SuDS are cheaper. The problem was we didn’t match the outcomes and benefits to the growth and infrastructure bill, the Localism Act, health boards and so on.

 

How? We know SuDS are economically sustainable, we know the benefit cost ratio outstrips most other forms of construction, we know they provide several different primary functions, Flood Risk, Water quality, water management. However by default and dependant on the type they can provide biodiversity, they can provide amenity, they can provide health and well being, they can even provide car parking!  And they can be easily maintained by most people, it would be as simple as watching Gardeners World!

 

So maybe we could have sold the economics of SuDS for the Growth Bill, we could have sold SuDS as Flood Defence Assets through the Infrastructure Bill #buildingbritain. We could have sold the health, wellbeing and amenity as a direct response to the health boards. We could have sold flood defence assets in public open space to local communities as community assets through the Localism Act. We could have sold maintenance to Government through the Localism Act. We could have even ticked the box about available parking on developments through SuDS. We could have ticked nearly every box needed, the problem was those who make the decisions just don’t know how great SuDS are. That is probably one of the reasons for where we are, a system which will only have a minor impact and probably very little influence over the wider picture. Minor development will be kept under review, unfortunately a review is already too late and there is no acknowledgement for the importance of retrofit and to my mind probably the biggest and easiest win to achieve overall, so maybe we would have been better off with the status quo that may well have delivered greater benefits than what will be in place in April 2015.

 

As for the future, who knows? This Government has seen some of the most extensive and prolonged flooding across the UK, it is one of the very few areas of government spending which although reduced, is not as much as other areas and maybe as an industry we need to fit the message of SuDS to government priority.

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