Following a winter of floods and to the dismay of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) advocates and specialists, the October revised date set by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for implementing SuDS will be missed, raising fears about the risks of flooding.
A fortnight ago, the Environment Agency issued a warning that heavy rainfall could cause more flooding. Such warnings are increasingly common and follow on from the wettest winter in England for 250 years, which resulted in £1bn of damage to property, infrastructure and businesses. Increasing demand for houses is pushing developments onto more marginal land and, by its own calculations, the Environment Agency has stated that around 3M properties in England are already at risk from flash flooding.
Against this backdrop, the delay is concerning. However, there are a number of reasons behind it. One issue relates to concerns that the implementation of SuDs could impact the government’s drive to increase housing supply. In a letter to stakeholders, Defra stated that while it is “committed to implementing SuDS at the earliest available opportunity,” it should not occur in a way that has “any adverse impact on development.”
While I can see this point of view and support the need for new housing, it overlooks the potential of cost-effective SuDS solutions and the longer term socioeconomic costs of failing to embed these systems within developments.
Another pertinent consideration lies in the potential reluctance of some housebuilders to incorporate surface drainage features into new housing schemes due to the perception that they take up valuable land. The lack of definition and legal agreement about the maintenance and upkeep of SuDs is also a significant factor contributing to this lack of momentum.
In light of these concerns and in order to better understand the appetite and market for SuDs, we commissioned research asking two hundred companies for their views on and usage of SuDS.
Almost three quarters of respondents (71%), expected the demand for SUDs to grow, with the rest expecting the market to remain the same.
However, only 20% believed that legislation would directly lead to this increase in the number of SuDS installations, citing budgetary or technical concerns. At the same time, while almost all (98%) felt that they would be impacted to some degree by new regulations, only 5% cited increased costs as a likely impact.
Approximately, a fifth of those questioned were also concerned that the changes would make the planning process more complicated, with an increase in regulations sparking fears that the process could become even more cumbersome.
These are all valid concerns, which must be fully addressed via better collaborative working across all stakeholders and greater awareness about the solutions on offer, such as Hydromedia, particularly in new developments.
While SuDS must not adversely affect development, they are an essential part of delivering a more sustainable built environment and mitigating the disruption and costs associated with flooding. To achieve this, all parties must come to the table – including the government, developers, legislators, contractors and materials providers – to work out the thorny issues, such as the funding mechanism to maintain SuDS.
It is only when this happens that we will be able to block the flood of delays.
- Jeremy Greenwood is managing director at Lafarge Tarmac Readymix