15Sep 2012

SuDS – Why we all have to get it right

Alex Stephenson, Director of Hydro International’s UK Stormwater Division


There’s no doubt that we are making tremendous steps forward on the road to widespread use of SuDS in the UK, but there is still a long road ahead.  That’s why projects like Susdrain are so important and Hydro International is proud to be a Partner.


Despite recent frequent and devastating flooding, we have been beset by delays in SuDS implementation, especially in England and Wales.  There are still question marks about the detail of proposed new National SuDS Standards and when Local Authority SuDS Approval Bodies will begin their duties under the Flood and Water Management Act.


Even following commencement, the system might only initially apply to developments of 10 or more properties.  So the new legislation is, in many ways, just the tip of the iceberg.  It could be a lot longer before it has influenced sufficient developments to make a really noticeable change to our urban environments.


There is also still much to be done to implement SuDS along our national and regional highways and to truly tackle surface water quality via local authority road maintenance programmes.   CIRIA’s invaluable work in producing a guide for Retrofit SuDS has laid out a vision of just how much SuDS could contribute to future urban environments.  At present, the work is all there to do.


To begin with, it will be the large scale housing developments such as those at Elvetham Heath in Hampshire and Clay Farm in Cambridgeshire which set the bar and provide important best practice examples.


Why is sharing knowledge so important?  Because getting it right from the start is essential.  If we don’t, then we’ll end up with patchy and inconsistent implementation of SuDS across the UK, especially if legislative guidelines remain unclear and there continues to be a shortage of funding for local authorities.


That’s why initiatives like Susdrain are so important.  For the past 18 months, Hydro International has been making its contribution to sharing best practice through the Engineering Nature’s Way initiative and will continue to do so. There are also important forums like Local Government Association’s Flownet community to share knowledge between professionals.


As the chair of the British Water SuDS focus group for over 7 years, I have been privileged to be involved in the development of SuDS from its earliest beginnings.  What has impressed me at recent professional events has been the passion of leading industry individuals in putting the case for SuDS.  It wouldn’t be too much to say the mood was visionary.


Learning from international best practice and disciplines such as Water Sensitive Urban Design has also helped to drive forward a vision for SuDS in the UK.  By working together as an industry, we have a real opportunity to use SuDS to transform our urban environments and to provide valuable ecosystems services.


This also means tackling some key ‘urban myths’ around SuDS.  Firstly:  that they are only ‘green’ or ‘soft’ features.  True SuDS embody a treatment train which can be selected from a broad ‘toolbox’ of engineered and more ‘natural’ components.  This is the principle of Engineering Nature’s Way, which I believe offers a practical, achievable and clearly-understandable way forward.


Secondly: that they will make projects more expensive.   Concerns about the potential extra costs of installing SuDs were probably behind a late addition to the draft Standards:  a clause that can exempt developers from installing SuDS schemes on the grounds of “disproportionate cost”.   This has been seen as something of a ‘loophole’ and in my view, is unnecessary.  By applying SuDS principles and the full toolbox of SuDS techniques, there should be very few schemes that would fall through the net.


Susdrain is about dispelling the myths and busting misconceptions, it would be useful to know what other misconceptions you believe there are by responding to this blog.


To achieve success co-operation is required between Government agencies, water companies and industry and between complementary disciplines such as manufacturing, civil engineering and landscape architecture.


After the success of the London 2012 Olympics this summer, we are especially conscious of our national interests.  Initiatives like Susdrain can help to provide a vital engine for progress, enabling government and industry to share knowledge and develop best practice for the good of the environment for all, no matter what the politics of the day.


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