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Water: Flood Act destroyers must take the blame

Richard Ashley

The recent hysteria from politicians trying to prove they are doing all they can to help flood victims, hides the truth that successive governments have failed to take increasing flood risk seriously.

I was part of the group of experts who published the Foresight Future Flooding reports in 2004 and an update in 2008 for Sir Michael Pitt. I also did a review in 2008 for ICE to inform the State of the Nation report: Flooding: Engineering Resilience that considered the state of understanding of floods and preparedness.

Each report, and the many earlier reports commissioned by ICE, all concluded much the same; that government was not taking the risks seriously and ignoring the expert advice that continuing with business as usual was not going to be effective and traditional hard engineering approaches to defence were going to be unaffordable.

The government’s dependency on building our way out of recession is diminishing the role of regulations

Public engagement in all aspects of flood management was seen as essential and urgent. As a result of the 2007 Pitt Review, more than 90 recommendations were accepted by the Government and most of these have been in process of implementation; albeit some more than others.

The Making Space for Water programme championed by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), demonstrated through pilot schemes how partnerships could work and private funds could be raised to contribute to flood management schemes. This now contributes more than 30% of the total being funded.

One of the main outcomes of Pitt was the Flood & Water Management Act 2010. This legislation was inherited by the current government, with it’s emphasis on SuDS and changing the way that surface water should be managed. New arrangements were stipulated, whereby Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) would approve SuDS and take on their maintenance.

Diminished SuDS standards

But the government’s dependency on building our way out of recession is diminishing the role of regulations and the SuDS standards have diminished in scope as a consequence.

In response to vigorous lobbying from developers Defra and Department of Communities and Local Government have resisted regulations compelling the use of SuDS and produced a draft national standards document that has a get out clause that only where SuDS are shown to be cheaper need they be used.

It was originally intended that Schedule 3 of the Act would be commenced from April 2014; unfortunately this has now been put back seemingly indefinitely.

Housebuilders’ claim that they already use SuDS; but these are only below ground storage systems or end of pipe ponds for which most of the benefits do not accrue.

Fortunately the revision of the CIRIA SuDS manual and the new British Standard BS8582 code of practice for surface water management for development sites, together with various other guides, such as the SusDrain website, all provide best practice guidance that surpass the minimalist approach being taken by our deregulators in government.

Sadly, SuDS use in England will be voluntary rather than compulsory as was originally intended by Sir Michael Pitt.

  • Richard Ashley is emeritus professor of urban water at the University of Sheffield

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