As an industry, not enough is being done to combat flood risk.
To give this argument some context; it is well reported that over the coming decades, major flood events are likely to become more frequent in the UK. At the same time, the government has announced that three million homes are to be built over the next 12 years, with a significant number of these properties due to be constructed on land prone to flooding. The hospitals, retail parks, roads and other amenities required to support this growth simply add to the problem of managing drainage and flood water.
On top of this, the Association of British Insurers has just warned ministers that members will stop providing flood insurance to homeowners in high-risk areas unless the government does more to tackle the problem. Insurers say they want to continue to provide flood cover, but that poor planning decisions could lead to more homes becoming unsaleable, uninsurable and uninhabitable.
This has prompted many local authorities to look at new solutions to tackle some of the problems associated with flash flooding and water management. Some are already implementing new Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), but despite the government’s encouragement, the use of SUDS is not as widespread as it should be.
Often, SUDS measures seem to fall by the wayside – perhaps a result of cost-cutting exercises, lack of forward planning, or lack of understanding of what the systems can offer. But perhaps the most pertinent reason is that there is currently no specific legislation to ensure that issues of sustainability are considered with regard to drainage and flood water management. The responsibility for provision, operation and maintenance of SUDS is not clearly set out – and needs to be.
The housing minister, Ian Wright, assures us that stricter planning rules to ensure councils manage flood risk have been introduced. But they don’t appear to be making much impact at present. It’s imperative that local authorities, in deciding whether to give planning permission for new housing developments, consult the Environment Agency before allowing new developments in flood-prone areas.
However, while local authorities are responsible for developing strategies for sustainable drainage systems, house builders and developers also need to take on the responsibility for considering the management of surface water and flood mitigation. Sustainable drainage measures need to be implemented at the early stages of projects as a specific planning condition - this would provide a more robust framework for implementation.
Countries that have traditionally experienced intense rainfall have adapted their drainage systems to suit. Porous pavements and SUDS have been used in France, the USA and Sweden for some 20 years with proven success, yet there still appears to be a reluctance to use them in the UK.
There is some indication that the industry here is beginning to make movements in the right direction. The government’s Code for Sustainable Homes, published in 2007, provides incentives for house builders to adopt porous surfaces for surface water management as part of their new build programmes. New regulations also require new developments in flood risk areas to incorporate SUDS wherever possible.
The Environment Agency’s report into the 2007 summer floods also called on the government to make clear who is responsible for surface water. Amendments to the climate change bill were cited as ways to secure critical infrastructure in law.
But there’s nothing to stop us upping the ante further. There are a number of SUDS solutions readily available on the market. Porous pavement technology enables roads and footpaths to manage excess rainwater, reducing both the rate and volume of runoff water. They offer huge advantages in improving water quality and also have the potential to capture rainwater for reuse elsewhere.
Local authorities, house builders and developers clearly have a duty to accept the adoption of SUDS and take a realistic approach to incorporating them into projects. Despite the introduction of the new regulations, many would argue that there is a need for more rigorous implementation guidelines and that planning authorities need to do more to promote the sustainable use of water resources and SUDS.
However, it is also the responsibility of all those in the relevant industries to continue to invest in the development of these sustainable solutions and communicate their many benefits to a wider audience.