Water industry insiders said this week that poor government communication on new sustainable drainage systems (Suds) regulations is causing confusion and preventing the industry from preparing itself adequately.
There is confusion over when duties will commence and what exactly they will entail, experts told NCE, and national standards for Suds schemes have yet to be published. The standards were due to go to consultation last year, but have been significantly delayed.
“They seem to be keeping it quite close to their chests in terms of content. There is so much reliance on the content – it’s just a bit frustrating.”
Alex Stephenson, Hydro
In the absence of official information from the government, the latest industry estimates suggest that consultation will begin this autumn, with the full regulatory system headed up by new Suds Approving Bodies (SAB) now not expected to commence until spring 2012.
“There is still a lot of talking to be done, and unfortunately a lot of it seems to be taken 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 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 is right to prevent publication of the national standards until they have been perfected, but its delays have kept the industry guessing as to the nature of the standards.
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 leave it to the last minute to recruit flooding staff, the sources said.
“I’m not going to go and hire staff on the offchance. Staff have to twiddle their thumbs until the Act comes in.”
Local authority official
A lead local flood authority official from the south of England said Defra is giving very short notice on when specific parts of the Act will be commenced, and has deferred the expected dates of some commencements.
This affects 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 a whole suite of new responsibilities last month but we were only told about them three or four weeks in advance. We were never even told when we would be told.”
He said the deferral of commencement dates leaves councils reluctant to plan ahead. “I’m not going to go and hire staff on the off chance,” he said. “Staff have to twiddle their thumbs until the Act comes in.”
Industry rumours also suggest that the government could yet make changes to the SuDS arrangements set out in the Flood and Water Management Act, further adding to the SuDS confusion.
While local authorities were previously understood to be responsible for setting up SABs to assess new schemes, Schofield told NCE: “I understand from contacts in the industry that that is still being discussed. It’s possible that water companies may be interested in taking on the SAB role.”
“There could be more local flexibility – and that worries me.”
David Balmforth, MWH
Similarly, MWH executive technical director David Balmforth told NCE that a localism-based approach to Suds could threaten the quality of schemes that are built.
“My understanding is some of the initial ideas are now being relaxed and there could be more local flexibility – and that worries me,” he said.
Balmforth said unless all SABs demand the same quality of Susd, there could be an incentive for them to lower their demands to avoid deterring development – and the associated economic benefits – from their area.
“The more flexibility you give locally, the more the playing field ceases to be level,” he said.
- Read more on SuDS in next week’s NCE