19Dec 2014

The season of goodwill…

Paul Shaffer, CIRIA/susdrain


Yesterday saw the Ministerial Statement from Eric Pickles on the implementation of SuDS, and the summary of the SuDS consultation undertaken in September (consultation document here). The Statement confirmed what many had suspected, that Local Planning Authorities would now have the responsibility for ensuring major developments have SuDS. Someone mentioned to me “it’s not perfect, but it is progression”. I suppose it’s quite fitting that at this time of year that we should be grateful for what we receive?


Perfect, it isn’t – but workable, who knows? I certainly hope so and it may not be so far from what’s already happening in certain circumstances already (see the videos). There are some benefits in streamlining the process and strengthening the planning system. Let’s hope we can build on the momentum in SuDS delivery over the last four years or so and continue to deliver SuDS (despite the uncertainty and inevitable teething problems).


It would seem that 71% of the September consultation respondents could be disappointed or concerned with the early Christmas gift of the Statement, ie those that expressed doubts the proposals would deliver SuDS that would be maintained. I suppose it is now about making do with what you have (very much like the process of managing our expectations when a Christmas present doesn’t match our lofty aspirations).


It is still questionable whether reliance on the planning system, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and enforcement powers will get the SuDS we all desire, together with the required robust maintenance arrangements. There does seem to be an over reliance on goodwill, negotiation and voluntary agreements – but some good SuDS schemes have progressed in this way.


The Ministerial Statement and consultation summary still leave a number of unanswered questions, a starter for ten being:


  1. When is it inappropriate to deliver SuDS (as mentioned in the Ministerial Statement)? If you plan SuDS early enough with a competent interdisciplinary design team, SuDS should be appropriate on any development.
  2. What’s happened to Schedule 3 of the FWMA, has the removal of the automatics “right to connect” for developments been dropped?
  3. How can converting the National Standards into NPPF guidance deliver the schemes we desire and require to adequately manage flood risk and other environmental challenges? Will there be an abundance of local guidance documents?
  4. If government does make LLFAs Statutory Consultees (see current consultation) will they be funded to provide advice to LPAs? The advice will have to be detailed and time bound.
  5. What synergies with planning and SuDS delivery can be strengthened by this process to ensure that we get great outcomes from SuDS?
  6. Will consulting with LLFAs provide the LPAs with the skills and expertise required to robustly evaluate and approve SuDS schemes? How will this work with the proposed variety of maintenance options? Any sane organisation maintaining SuDS would want to be involved in their technical approval.
  7. How can greater certainty be provided around maintenance provisions? How will the maintenance be equitably and sustainably funded?
  8. What about sewerage undertakers, are they Statutory Consultees for surface water management? Will they/can they adopt SuDS?
  9. How can the planning conditions be enforced for requesting SuDS and securing maintenance provision?
  10. How will delivery, progress performance of the SuDS schemes and overall regime be monitored? Particularly as the thresholds for major developments will probably miss the large proportion of developments. Which was highlighted by 62% of respondent not supporting the exemption smaller developments, primarily due to the cumulative impact of flood risk.


There’s bound to be uncertainties and challenges with the new approach when it starts in April (there often is with a new regime). I’m sure together we’ll get through it, but there are aspects that government will need to keep an eye on. Is it too flexible, too soft with too many loopholes? Possibly, but it’s all we’re going to get.


The challenge to upskill local planners between now and April seems to be of biblical proportions, but that too might be doable and there is a welcome proposal to provide some capacity building.


There are already plenty of resources to help, with susdrain’s signposting to guidance, and the case studies providing a good source starting point. CIRIA’s guidance Planning for SuDS – making it happen, and an animation can help bring on those people new to SuDS. Susdrain events, videos and CIRIA’s training can also help people ascend the learning curve.


There’s no doubt that what with these changes, and the release of CIRIA’s projects on the updated SuDS manual and the tool on Demonstrating the multiple benefits of SuDS 2015 is set to be an interesting year for those committed to improving surface water management.


CIRIA and susdrain will continue to do what it can to support good practice and provide the confidence to deliver SuDS that maximise benefits!

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