SuD it, let’s do it! Making SuDS happen
Suzanne Simmons, CIRIA
With over 80 national and local government representatives, professionals and industry practitioners converging on Birmingham for CIRIA’s “SuD it, let’s do it! Making SuDS happen” event, lively presentations and discussions were promised. The event focused on how local authorities were imaginatively converting the rhetoric of 2010 Flood and Water Management Act into SuDS delivery, with specific illustrations of how this is being translated into tangible results.
The day’s proceedings were chaired by susdrain partner, Alex Stephenson, from Hydro International, who introduced presentations from local authority insiders, covering everything from the translation of national guidance and regional planning, into local guidance and actual projects, including retrofitting schemes.
Alex kick-started the event by applauding the huge increase in SuDS activity, emphasising that for continual, positive progress, it was important for all present to take the mission of SuDS to a wider audience, and to actively demonstrate how it can bring “more bang for your buck” in austere times. He handed over to the first speaker with an emphatic challenge to the audience to act as “SuDS Champions”.
Ian Titherington, Cardiff City Council, opened the event with his presentation on “Greener Grangetown Werddach, A Partnership Approach to Sustainable Drainage”.
A key message from Ian’s presentation was partnership working, in this case with Welsh Water, Cardiff Council and Natural Resources Wales. This was a win-win situation for all involved, encompassing not only the wider sustainability agenda, but specifically, creating potential to deliver multiple benefits; including the release of land for up to 12,000 new homes, whilst removing 155,000m2 of impermeable surfaces. This approach will bring an added benefit of £250,000 per annum. Wider benefits in terms of community cohesion, health, educational and commercial potential were all projected. In terms of physical urban quality and place-making, Ian anticipated that the scheme would provide greater connectivity, and safer communities, as well as improved air and water quality.
The approach was demonstrated by illustrations of projects in progress that will eventually cover between 20 – 30 streets in Grangetown, each to benefit from new pocket parks / rain gardens and tree planting, central green spaces on wider streets, footways and cycle paths integrated along flood walls, and a less intrusive approach to parking arrangements.
Ian was optimistic that this stage of the project would be on site by summer 2014, whilst at the same time there are plans to extend this approach elsewhere in Cardiff and to other local authorities in the region.
Ian’s key messages were:
- creation of partnerships with public, private and not-for-profit sector was the way forward;
- use your position to change people’s attitudes, so that they can view water as an asset (not a nuisance);
- Grangetown should not be viewed as an engineering scheme, but rather a community scheme, and an environmental scheme; and
- to change the way flooding is perceived and the way that water is promoted, through education.
Bronwyn Buntine, Kent County Council (KCC), took a county-wide perspective of how Kent was adopting and implementing SuDS projects in the interim period before the National Standards for Sustainable Drainage are introduced.
Bronwyn’s presentation demonstrated how KCC were developing their approval processes, and overcoming obstacles to the implementation of SuDS. Bronwyn used the idea of a treasure map to illustrate how her team sought to circumnavigate the hurdles to achieving partnerships, and community acceptance, with the aim of producing creative, practical and successful SuDS schemes. Coping with the in-limbo position before KCC becomes a SAB has led to the creation of an “Interim Adoption Regime,” that required the development of criteria for use as an assessment tool, thereby providing short-term guidance for developers as well as additional support for engineers, clients, councils etc.
Bronwyn noted how including SuDS on plans at pre-app stage is critical for early discussions and in providing KCC with schemes that they are happy to adopt. KCC are in the process of constructing fifteen new schools projects and are using these, along with other sites, as a basis for further developing technical guidance. This has led to KCC seeking a more strategic approach towards inclusion of SuDS on master plans, which emerged from the South East 7 Group of local authorities, of which KCC is a member. If integrated into master plans, SuDS are more likely to eventually be adopted. Bronwyn has found a great deal of willingness and capturing this enthusiasm in a coordinated way was part of the treasure to be sought on her map. So although not all examples may be exemplars, they do demonstrate engagement that is proving infectious and something that can be taken further when best practice is disseminated further.
In summary Bronwyn encouraged the audience to communicate, promote, to go treasure hunting – looking, seeking and ultimately find good things.
Katherine Goodyear, from Essex County Council (ECC) explained their approach in producing strategic SuDS guidance. Her insightful presentation illustrated the drivers and processes behind the creation of ECC’s SuDS Design & Adoption Guide, demonstrating the impact of the guidance, post adoption through a series of reflective case studies.
The production of this guide was used to focus on issues that were very pertinent to Essex. There were similarities to Kent in that an interim guide was needed for local developers in the lead up to the introduction of the National Standards. Interestingly the “floods” and “SuDS” teams are separate at ECC, making the production and eventual utilisation of this guide fundamental to joined-up service delivery. Continual requests for guidance and steer from developers was further impetus behind the guide’s production.
Kathryn explained the links between national and local planning principles and standards, using an in-house team, working group, and external steering group. The guidance was refined using a selective consultation approach in the first instance and seeking a wider audience feedback when technical refinements had been carried out.
In terms of implementing SuDS schemes, ECC want consideration to be given on a site by site basis and like KCC, ECC are using Section 38 and commuted sums as a means for adoption. Kathryn highlighted the biggest success stories so far as being development of improved communication and understanding between ECC and developers; clearer definitions of roles; and better links to, and understanding of, asset registers, legislation and designated features. Areas where improvement is needed were highlighted as – communication with non-statutory consultees; ECC becoming involved too late in the process to have meaningful impact; the standard 1 in 30 and 1 in 100 systems putting too much pressure on developers; and projects that still have insufficient scope for implementation of SuDS in their development parameters.
In summing up, Kathryn called for greater attention to detail, less reactive approaches to health and safety, and improved follow-up post implementation. She emphasised the need to clarify issues of affordability, defining who would be responsible for adopting what, agreeing methods of adoption from the outset, and ensuring enforcement measures are clearly stated up-front.
Owen Davis, London Borough of Lambeth provided the final presentation of the day, with an overview of small scale retrofit and “de-paving” interventions taken in an inner city context.
Owen focused on case studies that demonstrated how much can be achieved with small budgets and local enthusiasm. He has effectively been championing and creating small scale SuDS interventions throughout Lambeth in South London, learning lessons along the way and gaining momentum through persuasive community engagement activities. The drivers in this context are based upon the specific needs of Lambeth, a borough requiring an extra 21,000 new homes by 2025, with the subsequent pressures of increased sewage treatments, and water supply requirements, on what is already an over stretched combined system. With fourteen Critical Drainage Areas and no natural watercourses, Lambeth is considering all options available.
Owen provided an exemplar of “how-not-to-engage-with-local-residents”, effectively illustrating how lessons were learnt the hard way and illustrates how by taking an alternative approach to project planning his team improved local cooperation and collaboration. Critical to his more recent project was the involvement of Sustrans, the national cycling charity, who acted as an independent facilitator through a series of community engagement activities, and planning-for-real events. By offering alternative, creative solutions to specific problems, the community were drawn into the project and were able to engage significantly on what they could see as the best option for their street. The project is due to start on site this summer.
This experience has supported other fast-track de-paving projects – removal of paving slabs and asphalt from a selection of public footway, highways and private front garden sites throughout Lambeth, bringing direct benefits to individuals and smaller local groups. Owen was keen to point out that many interventions illustrated in his presentation were extremely low cost ie a Streatham front garden de-pave solution cost only £25 (now a susdrain case study).
A recent residents’ survey as part of the Local Flood Risk Management Strategy illustrated a 90% approval rate with the Council’s approaches on de-paving, green roofs, grass verges and highway rain garden installations.
The event provided an excellent opportunity to share experiences and to discuss approaches to an increasingly pertinent area of sustainable environmental management. Key messages emerging from our guest speakers were around issues of
- Partnerships and collaboration
- Communication and early engagement
- Getting SuDS onto master plans early in the planning processes
- Ensuring greater attention to detail and follow up post implementation.
Emerging areas in need of further and wider consideration were
- Third party land owners and overcoming obstacles to implementation of SuDS
- Clarity over the National Standards adoption date
- Clarity over who adopts what, consideration of merging responsibilities for systems.