Notice: This blog piece was created prior to the formation of the British Precast Drainage Association.

Posted by & filed under SuDS, Sustainability.

On 12 September 2014, Defra and DCLG launched a joint consultation document, which set out a possible approach for implementing sustainable drainage systems and mechanisms for ensuring their long term maintenance. There are some important differences between the proposed new approach and the previous direction that the industry was heading.

The proposed new approach may avoid delays to the planning process, compared with the SuDS Approval Body (SAB) approach, but SuDS and drainage expertise is still required. This is not generally found in the town/district/borough councils and therefore may have to be sub-contracted. The anticipated general consensus among responses to the consultation is that the proposed approach is the path of least resistance and therefore could see SuDS delivered more quickly. There is however concern for the quality that will be delivered.

Sam Ibbott, Deputy Public Affairs Director of the Environmental Industries Commission stated “The government’s new proposal to deliver SuDS through the planning system is the path of least resistance – it will see SuDS delivered quickly, but not automatically to a high standard” This opinion was echoed by The British Water group “As a group, whilst we feel the proposed approach, if implemented in Spring 2015 will inevitably deliver a solution at least, it is not as far reaching and clear as the originally proposed SAB route.”

Furthermore, The Environmental Industries Commission as a whole stated “With these new proposals the Government has taken the path of least resistance. Overall, we do not feel that the new approach is ideal, but in the circumstance we believe it is workable. It is preferable to find a workable version of the current SuDS proposals by amending the planning system, than to start again and incur even further delays.”

Focus on maintenance is essential but with numerous scenarios, that the new proposal creates, in terms of asset ownership and operation, there will be less certainty in terms of responsibility and liability for maintenance. Gareth Twohey, National Sector Manager for utilities at Keyline raised some issues on this point “Who owns the new asset, and should therefore maintain it? The issue of adoption is crucial, but it’s purely down to how the local authority enforces it, and could leave the taxpayer with huge maintenance costs”

Also another major change with these new proposals is the minimum threshold for SuDS requirement of more than 10 dwellings (or “equivalent”). Many feel that this may lead to developers exploiting the potential loophole with partial development of plots in stages. British Water highlighted the loophole in their response to the consultation “This may well provide a loophole to be exploited by developers and it would be better if this requirement revert back to how it was originally intended, i.e. as a temporary measure during the early part of implementation so ultimately all developments needed to comply.”

The new proposal does not address cumulative effect of numerous smaller plots being developed in close proximity as highlighted by the DSSF response “We are not clear why there should be a special dispensation for developments of less than 10 properties. Clearly in any borough there could be several developments of up to 10 properties that could, taken together, have a greater volume of surface water run-off than a smaller number of larger developments. Furthermore there is no reference to the size of the properties or square area of the total development site.”

The withdrawal of Schedule 3 of the Flood & Water Management Act 2010 and the proposed changes will mean that SuDS will no longer be a legal requirement associated alongside the planning process but diluted down to a planning consideration; it will be down to each individual local authority to lay down their own requirements for SuDS.  This will lead to inconsistencies nationally between local authorities and their demands on developers, which could in turn lead to disputes based on precedent. Gareth Twohey, National Sector Manager for utilities at Keyline stated “By nature, local planning looks at local needs when it comes to new development, and not at the wider context. SuDS has to be holistic rather than site-specific to work properly, looking at crucial ramifications downstream of new installations. Moving the problem onto someone else’s patch could result in a nightmare scenario, when more joined-up thinking might have mitigated this risk”

The proposed changes also only relate to water quantity and flood risk mitigation.  They do not account for water quality and as such, apply to a narrower remit.  Some would argue that this is not true to the three fundamental SuDS principles of (i) water quantity, (ii) water quality and (iii) amenity and biodiversity.

In the British Water response to the consultation they state “There is a strong feeling that water quality is given much less of an emphasis with the new proposals and seems to have been framed almost entirely around flooding issues, probably as a result of the more recent and well publicised flooding problems (Somerset Levels etc.) and the needs to comply with WFD requirements seem to have been missed (accepting that the Water Quality standard No.12 is still currently included in the Draft National Standards).”

In summary the proposed changes in the consolation could see SuDS delivered more quickly which is something that all parties involved agree is a positive step forward. There are however various issues that will need to be addressed in order to produce successful sustainable drainage systems.

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