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Late SUDS guidance hinders environmental reform

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GUIDANCE ON the use of sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) is five months late and halting the use of environmentally friendly drainage designs.

Developers, engineers and suppliers warned this week that without specific standards to govern the construction and use of SUDS, water companies and local authorities remained reluctant to adopt the schemes.

Technical and legal guidance is being prepared by the multi-party National SUDS Working Group on behalf of the Environment Agency. Guidance was originally promised by the end of 2003.

But following a generally well received consultation process last May, delivery of the final guidance has been delayed.

'It is very frustrating, ' said Kendrick Jackson at the Housebuilders Federation. 'It is difficult to get schemes off the ground.'

One of the major obstacles is the fact that SUDS fall outside the current definition of a sewer. This means water companies cannot add the cost of future maintenance to water bills as with conventional drainage.

Local authorities would also not have powers to raise additional money to cover the maintenance charge particularly and there are uncertainties over exactly how much maintenance is required.

A likely interim solution is for developer to pay a one-off 'commuting charge' to hand over the system to a local authority.

'This would remove uncertainty on development costs which is hampering take-up of SUDS, ' said Microdrainage managing director Aidan Millerick.

The Environment Agency said delays had been caused by the need to clarify complex questions of ownership.

It added that the guidance would be ready by May this year but only in an interim form.

'This is only an Interim Code of Practice, ' said Agency policy adviser Phil Chatfield 'It works within the existing legislative framework.'

Longer term solutions may require legislation to re-define sewer systems and allow local authorities to raise charges.

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