Poor government communication is undermining the industry’s efforts to get to grips with new regulations covering sustainable urban drainage systems (Suds), water industry insiders said this week.
There is confusion about when new duties will begin and what their scope will be, they told NCE.
National standards for Suds schemes have still to be published. Draft standards were due to go to consultation last year, but latest industry estimates suggest that consultation will begin this autumn, with the full regulatory system headed up by new Suds Approving Bodies (Sabs) now not expected to start operating until spring 2012.
“There is still a lot of talking to be done, and unfortunately a lot of it seems to be taking place behind closed doors,” said Arup associate director David Schofield.
Hydro stormwater director Alex Stephenson said the lack of information makes it difficult for the industry to prepare itself.
“They [ministers] seem to be keeping it quite close to their chests in terms of content,” he said.
“There is so much reliance on the content − it’s just a bit frustrating.”
He said the government had delayed publication of the national standards for the right reasons, but that ministers had left the industry guessing about the detail of the standards.
Councils could be “inappropriately staffed”
Local authority sources also told NCE that the lack of information from central government could leave councils inappropriately staffed to set up Sabs.
Scant information from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) means councils are leaving it to the last minute to recruit flooding staff, the sources said.
A leading local flood authority official from the south of England said Defra is giving very short notice about when specific parts of the Act will come into force.
The official said Defra had put back the dates when some parts of the Act come into force, affecting councils’ ability to prepare for new duties as lead local flood authorities and Sabs.
“It’s very difficult to put the mechanisms in place,” he said. “We had new responsibilities last month but were only told about them three or four weeks in advance. We were never even told when we would be told.”
He said the putting back these dates leaves councils reluctant to plan ahead. “I’m not going to go and hire staff on the off chance. Staff have to twiddle their thumbs until the Act comes in.”