19Sep 2014

SuDS consultation – a flow of good ideas?

Peter Bide, Independent Consultant

On the face of it, the consultation issued by Defra and DCLG on 12th September on a possible approach to implementing SuDS is to be welcomed for breaking the silence since Defra announced back in June that they wouldn’t be implementing Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act (FWMA) as previously planned. It’s also good to see suggestions of strengthening the National Planning Policy Framework. However on closer reading it is not clear how the new proposals can meet the commitments embodied in the FWMA to encourage SuDS and provide clarity and certainty on ownership and maintenance.


Sir Michael Pitt said in his report on the 2007 floods: “The main barrier to the incorporation of SUDS in developments is their adoption once they have been designed and constructed”. The FWMA intended to remove uncertainty over adoption by requiring unitary or county local authorities to adopt SuDS. Liz Truss said in her announcement of the consultation “we are determined to deliver the outstanding recommendations made by Sir Michael Pitt in his 2008 Review. His recommendations included encouraging sustainable drainage systems to reduce flood risk from new developments. A key element of this is providing certainty on who will own and maintain the drainage systems in the long term”. However it is not clear how the new proposals provide this certainty.


The proposals drop key provisions of the FWMA. Oversight of SuDS is passed to lower tier planning authorities (but without clarity on how they would access the expertise or resources to do it, making no reference to the SAB), and the automatic right of developers to connect surface drainage to public sewers continues. The proposed approach using the planning system would require local planning authorities to give “increased weight to the provision and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems for the management of run-off, alongside other material considerations” and set requirements for SuDS through planning conditions. Under the new proposals, the planning policy to require sustainable drainage systems would only apply to ‘major developments’ (10 or more houses).


The new proposals leave the decision on adoption and maintenance largely to the developer. If the developer doesn’t come up with a viable maintenance option the local planning authority cannot put a planning condition for SuDS on the permission.


The national standards for SuDS will be incorporated into planning guidance, meaning that they will no longer be statutory standards. Their application will be at the discretion of local planning authorities and can only be enforced through conditions on planning permissions.


Developers and local authorities alike have been requesting certainty around planning, SuDS and development and while this approach provides flexibility, it’s unclear how certainty will be improved and development can be facilitated.


Labour’s shadow environment minister Barry Gardiner was critical of the delay in progress with the SuDS requirements, suggesting that SuDS was the lowest cost way of protecting homes


It’s also not clear how the consultation supports the better management of local flood riskand other important benefits of SuDS  including managing water quality of surface water runoff and providing better places to live, work and play.  SuDS are not just about managing local flood risk, with good engagement and design they can deliver many more benefits (often with little additional costs). It’s important that the measures the Government introduces to implement SuDS can facilitate this.

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