What does the future look like for SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems)?

The UK’s inability to cope with excess rainfall has always been a contentious issue and one that’s been in the news again recently following the House of Commons’ rejection of the Lords’ amendment on SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems).

The affect of flooding in the UK

As part of our Water Matters campaign in October 2015, we held a debate on flooding in the UK. The Environment Agency’s Alison Baptiste, Director of Strategy and Investment, was on the panel and stated of flood management: ‘’We are working with partners so that, if we do our bit, they can do theirs. We will be ready for the next big flood if we all do our bit [and] we have record investment over the next six years with £2.3bn in defences.’’

Unfortunately, when storms Desmond, Eva and Frank subsequently hit two months later, the UK saw over 16,000 homes flooded and insurance claims in the region of £1.6bn. These staggering statistics confirm that, as a country, we simply don’t have the tools in place to prevent or reduce the effects of flooding.

We urge the government to go beyond its current target and aim to have virtually all its critical assets meeting the Environment Agency's required condition by 2019.
Mary Creagh | Labour MP & Environmental Audit Committee Committee Chairwoman

Developers encouraged to use SuDS

Given the eye-watering costs incurred by flooding, it could be assumed that building better resilience to flooding would be a priority for the government – particularly considering their promise to development hundreds of thousands of new homes in the next few years – but the recent rejection of the House of Lord’s amendment on SuDS suggests otherwise.

The Lords’ proposed amendment would have removed the automatic right of developers to connect to public sewers for surface water and would instead have encouraged use of SuDS to absorb rainwater.

Housing developers don’t currently have to comply to reduce flooding, so this amendment would have meant the secretary of state carrying out a review of the planning legislation, government planning policy (introduced in April 2015) and arising local planning policies concerning sustainable drainage.

As a stakeholder in the delivery of SuDS, we believe that in order to really address flood resilience and protect current and future housing stock, mandating SuDS into legislation is a key requirement.
Martin Lambley | Foul, Utilities and Water Management Product Manager, Wavin

Criticism of government reluctance to adopt SuDS

As you’re no doubt already aware, the House of Commons rejected the amendment, a decision that has been met with criticism. One critic is Labour MP Mary Creagh who commented that continued climate change will increase flooding in the UK and urged the government to pay for the upkeep of existing flood defences as well as developing new ones.

‘’It just isn’t good enough for government to react to flooding events as they occur,’ she said. “Any decline in the condition of critical flood defences represents an unacceptable risk to local communities in flood prone areas. We urge the government to go beyond its current target and aim to have virtually all its critical assets meeting the Environment Agency’s required condition by 2019.”

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Mandatory use of SuDS

This isn’t the first time that the mandatory use of SuDS has been recommended. The Flood and Water Management Act of 2010 made provisions for the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems and an end to the automatic right to connect new homes to existing sewage networks.

These provisions were never implemented and instead a voluntary system that asked – opposed to instructed – developers to follow these practices was put in place. Analysis by the Committee on Climate Change’s sub-committee on adaptation found that, of 100 planning applications in areas of flood risk, less than 15% were going to incorporate sustainable drainage measures.

The recent rejection of the Lords’ amendment represents the government’s reluctance to adopt SuDS in future building developments in a meaningful, legislated, manner. As a stakeholder in the delivery of SuDS, we believe that in order to really address flood resilience and protect current and future housing stock, mandating SuDS into legislation is a key requirement.

Without legislation, SuDS remain an “optional extra” which can be omitted as and when required with developers often hiding behind the excuse of complexity, costs and difficulties in adoption.

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About the author

Martin Lambley

Martin is Wavin's Product Manager for Foul, Utilities and Water Management. Martin joined the team in November 2015, bringing with him a wealth of experience and knowledge.

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