SuDS and planning

By its very nature spatial planning has a considerable influence on the quality of spaces and places where we live, work and play. Like any other infrastructure SuDS need to be effectively planned within our natural and built environments. Planning policy provides guidance to local authorities and developers on what can be built and where.


National policy states what should be included in strategic and local policies. These provide policies and provisions which are the starting point for all development control decisions. Having appropriate SuDS policies at a strategic level assists with delivering multiple benefits and synergies with other requirements such as managing local flood risk and delivering green infrastructure (potentially included in local flood risk management strategy, or a green infrastructure strategy).


Good SuDS planning and design begins with an understanding of both the site opportunities and constraints. Sustainable drainage should be considered at the start of the project, preferably at the master planning stage.


The best outcomes are secured through proactive and partnership working with early, pre-application discussions between developers, local authorities and other relevant stakeholders like the appropriate regulators.


Sustainable drainage and the planning process in England

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its associated technical guidance (that replaced Planning Policy Statement 25 (PPS25) in 2012) states that priority should be given to sustainable drainage and discusses the impact of new development on flood risk. The NPPF maintains strong policy on avoiding and managing flood risk, based on local planning authorities preparing local plans and deciding planning applications and granting planning permissions.


Local Plans

The NPPF stresses that Local Plans should consider climate change, covering factors like changes to flood risk, coastal areas and water supply. A local planning authority may develop local planning policies that facilitate:


  • the protection of watercourse corridors within a green network and their use in place making

  • avoidance of new culverting and efforts to open existing culverted watercourses

  • requiring sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) in new developments

  • the use of Section 106 agreements – from the Town and Country Planning Act – or community infrastructure levy (CIL) to secure suitable surface water drainage arrangements e.g. regional SuDS facilities and improvements to watercourses.


Local Plans should be supported by Strategic Flood Risk Assessments (SFRAs) which are carried out by local planning authorities. The SFRA should be used to improve knowledge of flooding and inform the sustainability appraisal of local development documents. It is also a requirement of the NPPF that site-specific flood risk assessments (FRAs) are undertaken and submitted together with a planning application. (A site-specific FRA may also be required even when the site is not in a flood risk area.


Some local authorities have combined these policies with Surface Water Management Plans and presented these in the form of surface water management supplementary planning documents (SPDs) or local adoption and guidance documents, eg Cambridge City Council (2010) and the London Borough of Islington (2010).



Neighbourhood planning

The NPPF was introduced to improve local accountability and the involvement of communities. Neighbourhood planning provides a useful mechanism for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community. However, the ambition of the neighbourhood should be aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider local area, including the management of flood risk.


Click here for further information on the regulatory framework.



Sustainable drainage and the planning process in Wales

Wales has a different local government structure to England. Planning Policy Wales (PPW) sets out the land-use planning policies of the Welsh Assembly Government and is supplemented by a series of technical advice notes (TANs).


The spatial plan introduced by the National Assembly for Wales (2008) sets out a wide ranging spatial vision and strategy. The plan has statutory status, to which all lower tier plans must have regard.


Under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, each unitary authority in Wales is required to produce a local development plan for its area. Unlike the local development framework (LDF) approach in England, this is a single document that sets out the strategy as well as site specific and development control policies.


Click here for further information on the regulatory framework.



Sustainable drainage and the planning process in Scotland

Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) sets out the Scottish Government’s policy on land use planning and also provides policy on surface water management and SuDS. Similarly to the rest of the UK, Scotland local government produces Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) and Local Development Plans (LDPs) to promote good practice, facilitate good decision making and provide requirements for SuDS.


A number of Planning Advice Notes (PANs) have also been produced to assist with the delivery of SuDS in developments and there a specific responsibilities for Scottish Water and SEPA.


SEPA’s Regulatory Method (RM-08) covers the management of surface water from developments and SuDS are a legal requirement for all development except single dwellings that drain to the water environment (except coastal waters).


The Water Environment and Water Services (WEWS) (Scotland) Act 2003 made Scottish Water responsible for SuDS that deal with the run-off from roofs and any paved ground surface within the property boundary. SuDS need to be designed to Scottish Water specification as set out in their manual “Sewers for Scotland 2nd Edition”. In addition, the law makes the use of SuDS obligatory when dealing with surface water drainage from all new developments.


Click here for further information on the regulatory framework.


Sustainable drainage and the planning process in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, Planning Policy Statement 15 (PPS15) ‘Planning and Flood Risk’ sets out the Department of Environment’s planning policies to minimise flood risk to people, property and the environment. PPS15 embodies the Government’s commitment to sustainable development and the conservation of biodiversity. It adopts a precautionary approach to development and the use of land that takes account of climate change and is supportive to the wellbeing and safety of people.


PPS15 has a number of annexes – Annex C deals with SuDS. The annex recognises the importance of development changing the natural drainage regime, that downstream flooding may be increased from new development and that ecological damage to streams and streamside habitats may occur.


While the disposal of surface water has long been a material consideration in determining planning applications in Northern Ireland, amenity, ecology and water resource issues have historically had limited influence on drainage system design and the determination of development decisions. In addition, the water quality improvements required by the EC Water Framework Directive means that continuing to drain built up areas without taking these wider issues into consideration is no longer an option.


The benefits that SuDS offer have been identified in Northern Ireland, and further research has been commissioned to help understand the opportunities they provide.


Click here for further information on the regulatory framework.


Stakeholders involved in SuDS planning

There are numerous organisations involved in the planning process. Their level of engagement and participation varies and it is important to include the public and communities planning decisions for best results.


All consultees should be contacted at the earliest available opportunity, to ensure developers are aware of requirements at a site specific level, particularly with regard to flood risk, pollution control and creating better places to live.


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