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