25Jun 2020

SuDS – The Welsh Way

Ian Titherington, Cardiff City Council


It has been an absolute pleasure being the CIRIA SuDS Champion for the last 12 months. To be recognised by people whom I greatly admire (and pinch great ideas from) is all a bit humbling, but the most prominent date for me as an engineer last year was January 7th; the start of statutory SuDS in Wales.


One of the consequences of devolved Government here has been the ability of our Senedd (Parliament in Welsh) to take on and enact schedule 3 of the Westminster Flood and Water Management Act 2010. I am now not just a mere Council drainage engineer but also a SAB Officer! Wales now has 25 SABs (SuDS Approval Bodies), where any development requiring SAB approval has to meet 6 standards based on 12 principles – or they don’t build. It’s as simple as that.


To say that my approach to drainage designs has changed is a significant understatement. Whereas previously, I found myself cajoling developers into doing the right thing, I now have the responsibility to ensure they meet exacting sustainable drainage  standards and the powers if necessary, to insist upon it. In the Cardiff SAB under the excellent leadership of David Brain, we have endeavoured to take a consistent but reasonable approach to every application. Our aim is not to stop development, but to have better design and if we are approached early enough, we can normally save developers time and money.


As I type this, I am working from home due to Covid19 but SAB applications are coming in a lot faster than 12 months ago. There was an initial nervousness from developers to approach us, but we feel in Cardiff that by encouraging early engagement, treating every site on its own potential/opportunities and working with our Council Planning partners, many applicants are now more comfortable in dealing with us. I personally believe that the Planning Authority also being the SAB, helps to avoid large pitfalls in any development requiring Planning permission. The two bodies and respective legislation maybe separate, but both have numerous influence on each other’s progress and success.


I must admit to feeling a little pioneering, as some of the solutions we come up with may not even be found in the “Bible” (the CIRIA SuDS Manual). To say that this book is the cornerstone of what we do is not overstating its importance. It may be over 900 pages long, but there is wisdom between those covers, without which Wales could not have taken such a radical path. Yet, I have sometimes had to come up with alternative solutions with designers – even beyond the “Bible” – particularly when SAB is required in an urban retrofit design. This is when we realise in Wales what a responsibility we have, as the ‘guinea pigs’ for legislation that if we get right, then our English, Scottish, Irish neighbours and numerous other nations can take on and make successful. That would indeed be our biggest achievement, in my view.


So where next for SuDS?


I see the greater use of multi-benefit engineering projects as essential as we leave the immediate threat of Covid19, entering the longer term sustained threat of climate change. Whilst I’m qualified, trained and experienced as a Civil Engineer, my role from now on is as a Climate Change Engineer. The management of surface water as part of multi-benefit, sustainable solutions is not an option – it must be statutory. At the end of the day, treat surface water management just like any other statutory service for a site. It’s no different from gas, electricity, telecom or clean drinking water, except it’s by far the hardest to manage because it falls and flows where and when it wants.


Statutory SuDS makes developers lives so much easier by ensuring they deal with surface water first, not last.


Being the susdrain/CIRIA SuDS champion has enabled me to meet, influence and learn from some amazing individuals; something I doubt would have happened without the recognition. If you could read this year’s exceptional shortlist and choose your 2020 SuDS Champion, it would be appreciated.

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