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Engineers call for further legislation after Floods Bill watered down

Engineers have called for further legislation following the General Election after a compromised Flood and Water Management Bill became an Act this week.

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 gives responsibility for sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) to local authorities, imposes drainage requirements on new developments and sewers, and orders the government to establish a strategy to manage flood and coastal erosion risk. Water companies will also have increased control over non-essential uses of water in times of drought.

The Act covers some key recommendations of Sir Michael Pitt’s Review following the 2007 floods, but fails to address others. Industry experts have called for those shortcomings to be taken up in a future Bill.

“It doesn’t cover everything that Pitt wanted it to,” said Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) president and WSP water sector director Alastair Moseley.

“I would like to see further legislation, particularly around wider issues of water resource management.”

The Act suffered for being rushed through before the General Election, he said.

“I don’t think it’s had quite the scrutiny that it might have got. There’s good scope for future legislation to tweak things in a measured way.”

Moseley also noted a danger that conflicts between the new Act and River Basin Management Plans could be used as an excuse to delay action.

Still, the Act was welcomed as a solid first step. “Even though it’s not what we expected it’s going to give us powers to tackle some issues,” said Moseley. “It’s interesting to see there’s a provision for protecting water supplies. That was beginning to worry me.”

The Act states that local authorities must adopt and maintain drainage systems in line with national standards, with exceptions where a system is designed only for a single property or where part of the system is a publicly maintained road.

National standards for the implementation of sustainable drainage will be published under the Act, covering drainage systems’ design, construction, maintenance and operation.

Construction work which will affect the land’s ability to absorb rainwater cannot go ahead unless a drainage system for the work has been approved. If that drainage system is not constructed properly a non-performance bond will be payable by the planning applicant to the local authority.

The Act states that the Environment Agency and Welsh Ministers must develop and apply a flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. Local authorities must do the same for local flood risk management in their areas.

Local authorities must also keep a register of structures or features likely “to have a significant effect on a flood risk in its area”, and the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers are allowed by the Act to specify infrastructure projects which must be put out to tender.

The Act will also mean that private assets (for example, walls) which help manage flood risk cannot be altered without consent.

Readers' comments (1)

  • The Flood and Water Management Bill is now an Act. This is to be welcomed, although we are playing catch up with the legislators north of the border. The fact that it may have been “watered down” is not, I think, significant in terms of addressing flood risks. The major issue remains the ability of local authorities to meet their increased responsibilities.

    The recent experience with Site Waste Management Plans (SWMPs) has shed some light on this. The smaller councils are struggling with the technical issues and in some cases are unsure how to apply for the available funding. By contrast, the larger councils tend to have sufficient staff and expertise, and can progress matters. Having said that, the main barrier for them is the initial funding from central government, which in some cases is insufficient to undertake a strategic assessment throughout their boundaries. In such cases, councils are planning to undertake more detailed studies of known hot spots. Both approaches are valid. However, in my view there is a risk with the first approach that a lot of public money will be spent on modeling and the like, whereas I think the public, particularly those in flood risk areas, would expect us to be able to identify and promote solutions more rapidly. One of my more cynical colleagues has suggested that it is cheaper in the short term to fund studies rather than schemes.

    The real barrier to flood risk management is not the truncated nature of the Act, but the likely limited funding and the need to fund some schemes from the public (local authorities, Environment Agency) and private (water companies) sectors.

    Chris Wotherspoon, Grontmij Technical Director

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