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U-Turn for the SuDS campaign bus?

Is the government about to do a U-turn on Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)? Further consultation, recently released by Defra and DCLG on an alternative to the Flood and Water Management Act’s proposals for sustainable drainage, certainly suggests so.

A further consultation document, recently released by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs and Department for Communities and Local Government on an alternatives to the Flood & Water Management Act’s proposals for sustainable drainage, certainly suggests so.

So has industry lobbying to prevent a separate drainage consenting process led to an alternative consultation offering, which does little to implement Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendations to reduce flood risk? Or was it the realisation that the original plan cost too much?

The Pitt report had identified that effectively maintaining drainage systems was essential for reducing flood risk. It proposed that the SuDS Approving Bodies (SABs), should be responsible for the adoption and maintenance of systems in perpetuity. This had huge cost implications - there would have had to be a charge for the service, or a tax applied.

The consultation could now see the proposed SABs scrapped - surface water drainage will continue to be approved under the existing planning system. Secondly, no single body would be responsible for the adoption and maintenance of SuDS.

So industry concerns seem to have at last been heard. If the separate consenting regime is not introduced, SuDS will not be placed above all other material planning considerations, as developers had feared, and there will be no increase in development risk, cost and programme.

What about planning authorities, though? Some will be breathing a sigh of relief that they probably won’t be establishing new systems or adopting SuDS in perpetuity. However, the local authorities which have established SABs and started adopting systems must be wondering what the last two years were all about.

Without SABs, will local authorities get the power they need to ensure that sustainable drainage systems are delivered for new developments? The consultation suggests that planning policy will be strengthened, allowing decision makers to give increased weight to the provision of SuDS. Planning guidance will be amended to reflect the requirements of the draft National Standards.

However, minor developments (nine houses or less and equivalent non-residential uses) will not be subject to the proposed changes. For major developments, the provision and implementation of SuDS will ultimately only be controlled by planning conditions. The consultation document also expressly states that the planning authority can choose not to apply conditions for SuDS implementation on sites where it considers that maintenance costs affect development viability.

For SuDS maintenance, it will be up to developers to propose a suitable mechanism for the lifetime of the scheme. The cost of this should not be passed on to the homeowner. So, in future, we may see an increase in private drainage systems and “orphaned SuDS” which don’t fit the adoptable model of local authorities, water companies or the management company.

The good news is that water industry regulator Ofwat has been given powers under the Water Act 2014 to require water companies to lower household charges where surface water is managed by SuDS systems.

Unsurprisingly, with a general election looming, the government is unwilling to be seen to increase tax or charges on home owners. So is the only way out to scrap the SAB idea?

  • Daniel Hayes is director of civil engineering at Peter Brett Associates


Readers' comments (5)

  • What a mess. The statement; "The consultation document also expressly states that the planning authority can choose not to apply conditions for SuDS implementation on sites where it considers that maintenance costs affect development viability." effectively means SuDS can be completely ignored if the developer/authority are set on developing an area. Someones got to be brave and foot the bill. I would have thought the local authority should take charge initially, until formally adopted by respective the water company just as any other requisition. The only additional cost this puts is then on the developer... (as the local authority and water company will benefit from the increased population growth/reduced flood risk respectively)

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  • We know from the franking consultation just how meaningless this will be. Let's face it the housebuilders federation has Pickles ear and Truss is too new to understand the issues. I'm trying to interest the media thru the links I had last winter, but so far no luck. It's incumbent on all of us to make sure everything we do provides best overall value to society. Peter Bide has a blog on the susdrain website on this. I will be speaking at the UDG conference in Blackpool with a keynote looking back and forward for SuDS on the Thursday morning.

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  • stephen gibson

    Pitts recommendation's were correct and SABs was the correct approach for an industry which has to be forced to change. The irony is that SUDs is typically cheaper than unsustainable methods both in capital and maintenance. Loose talk about "huge cost implications" was never supported by evidence. The vast majority of new housing across the UK is schemes under 10 houses. The new proposals are a waste of time.

    As you suggest, the only element of hope is that the sewerage companies pass on the real costs of the surface water network to those connected and remove entirely the charges for those with SUDs. At the moment there is an unfair subsidy. That way SUDs can actually be sold as a benefit and increase the house price - just like a solar panel can reduce your electricity bill!

    Stephen Gibson

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  • I was the designer for the Newhall Valley SUDs project nearly 20 years ago, and it's depressing that while we know SUDs is effective - both in engineering and cost terms - in many instances, that the same arguments about long term maintenance are still restraining its application.
    At Newhall Valley the scheme was being driven by people with foresight at Birmingham City Council, and if I recall correctly the plan was on a split between the 'soft' SUDs elements (swales etc) to be maintained by the council and the hard engineering like the hydrobrakes to be adopted by Severn-Trent Water. I'm unsure if this was implemented and how successful it was but that was the plan!
    You would hope the government would show some leadership, but I suppose it doesn't offer the same photo opportunities as standing alongside a dredger in the Somerset levels in a hard hat.

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  • The consultation has provoked some interesting responses. Most, like the comments above, have focused on the cost of implementation and maintenance for developers and property owners, but the impact on local authorities has drawn less attention. They would obviously be spared the long term maintenance obligation, but with a heighten focus on SuDS design and approval, they are likely to require additional skilled resource or attract out-sourcing costs, even if this through the planning system rather than the SAB. Will Local Government be funded to perform this function appropriately?

    Daniel Hayes

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