SuDS - The flood gates are starting to open

As lobbying groups continue to press the House of Lords to ensure that new housing development legislation adequately protects our homes from flooding, we wonder if the time has finally come for SuDS enforcement.

The flood gates are starting to open. Following on from a winter of torrential rain and downpour damage, organisations including the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the Chartered Institution of Water & Environmental Management (CIWEM), the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Water UK, have joined forces to lobby parliament on the topic of flood prevention. 

At Brett Landscaping, we’ve long questioned why flood prevention measures have not been legally enforced sooner along with other key environmental targets. However, the time for change could now be near - just last month it was argued that a Housing & Planning Bill that is currently passing through the Lords will, if successful, potentially place additional pressure on the country’s already overloaded drainage and flood defence infrastructure currently in place.

The aforesaid lobbying faction, it’s been reported, is pushing the Lords to change the Housing & Planning Bill so the automatic right of developers to connect new houses directly to existing drainage systems, is restricted.

If successful, this would necessitate housing developers having to integrate low-cost sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) into their development’s infrastructure to deal with rainfall drainage at source and reduce the risk of new housing schemes and their surrounding areas from flooding.

We have previously expressed concerns that the Flood & Water Management Act 2010, which legislated to this effect, was never implemented; wasting valuable time and disputably leading to vagaries and delays when it came to developer responsibilities. 

The time that this has taken can be ill afforded; we are, after all, a country with continuing flooding issues, made worse with each passing winter. And with the environmental, financial and emotional damage caused after last winter’s flooding alone, it is obvious that our already challenged infrastructure and increasingly developed landscape simply cannot continue to cope.

Which is why I for one, am hoping that this group of lobbyists, with its unquestionable collective knowledge of the situation’s severity, will have the power to push change.

Of the companies involved, former ICE president David Balmforth has been quoted as saying that: “Flooding is one of the major challenges facing society today, yet we continue to add to the problem by building new homes in a way that makes flooding more likely. This does not have to be the case as there is a proven and low cost solution using SuDS. The Pitt Review and the Committee on Climate Change view them as a force for good; so should the law. We urge the Lords to send the Commons a bill that will help protect society from flooding."

Richard Benwell, head of government affairs at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), said: “This bill is a test case for whether the government is serious about a joined up approach to flood defence and environmental protection. Wales, Scotland and especially Northern Ireland have already made progress on sustainable drainage, but England is lagging behind. Building new homes that are naturally resilient from the outset is much more affordable than dealing with the consequences later, and can do wonders for water quality and nature. The minister should listen to the cross-party alliance of Lords supporting sustainable drainage, in the long-term interests of communities and the environment.”

CIWEM chief executive Terry Fuller added: “It is absurd that in the current age we still allow developers to build homes and automatically connect to the sewer system without any consideration of the impact of doing so. This amendment would set us on the right path to encourage developers to consider flood risk from the outset.”

The Pitt Review, mentioned by David Balmforth, was published back in 2007, and presented the case for change advocating the enforcement of SuDS following the extensive flooding of the same year. Yet despite its production and publication, nothing was ever finalised. Then, in 2010, further guidance on the implementation of SuDS was presented, this time via the aforementioned Flood and Water Management Act.

Still nothing was legally enforced.

Now in 2016, following on from another winter of flood events, there is hope that with the collective influence of so many authoritative bodies, change could soon be on the wind. If this happens, SuDS will finally, legally, become part of a compulsory process, designed to make a long-lasting difference to newly built urban developments, and consequently, their already established neighbours sitting downstream in the water management train.

The effective implementation of SuDS will benefit our highways, our wildlife and our country’s infrastructure. It will also, as part of a much bigger picture, save money, reduce damage and loss, together with untold long-term disruption. This is essential in the face of the ongoing impact of climate change and the need to provide additional housing stock across the UK.

Surprisingly perhaps, the installations that will have to take place for legitimate SuDS success will be little different from existing standard processes – althougth they now need to addess the three aspects of Quality, Quantity and Amenity. Here, materials such as permeable paving can help make a real difference in meeting these SuDS requirements.

Such materials are designed to offer effective SuDS-friendly solutions, but without compromising on design aesthetics. The paving replicates the run-off characteristics of a greenfield site and, interestingly, improves the quality of water discharged from the site by trapping up to 95% of water-borne pollutants in the sub-base. This on-site removal of many pollutants provides a significant advantage for the surrounding area and actively boosts biodiversity.

As far as Brett Landscaping is concerned, SuDS are, and have long-been the solution. I just hope the likeminded lobbyists will finally achieve success with what is, after all, everyone’s cause, namely the provision of sustainable housing which can start to address the well-publicised lack of housing across the UK.