Government SuDS policy criticised at CIWEM report launch

Government policy on SuDS has been roundly criticised at the launch of a report which called for SuDS to be integrated in all developments.

Baroness Parminter with Peter Aldous (left) and CIWEM chief executiveTerry Fuller. Image: HW
Baroness Parminter with Peter Aldous (left) and CIWEM chief executiveTerry Fuller. Image: HW

A Place for SuDS, published by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) to coincide with a current Government review of SuDS policy, found that, contrary to the concerns expressed by some housing developers, well-designed SuDS schemes cost less than conventional drainage and do not cause delays to completion.

However the costs and other benefits of SuDS in most developments are not being assessed and the planning system does not encourage their adoption.

The report calls for "significantly greater effort" to be put into delivering SuDS and green infrastructure both in new and existing developments".

The CIWEM hopes to influence the review, a requirement inserted into the The Housing and Planning Act 2016 following a Lords’ campaign led by Baroness Parminter, Liberal Democrat Lords spokesperson for environment, food and rural affairs, who hosted the launch in The House of Lords yesterday.

She is separately working for a clause to be removed from the Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016-17, currently going through the House of Lords, or for it to be amended to add in an exception for SuDS.

This clause would prohibit the imposition of pre-commencement conditions  - put into place by planning authorities when granting planning permission - in England unless a developer agrees with them.

Speaking at the report launch Baroness Parminter said: "There are policy barriers and it needs addressing now" and expressed hope for a positive outcome from a meeting with Department for Communities and Local Governement minister Lord Bourne next week when she will present the report.

Conservative MP for Waveney in Suffolk, Peter Aldous, who is a former chartered surveyor, said that coastal sea surges can have a devastating impact but are at least predictable and can be planned for but surface water flooding was unpredictable and equally damaging. However it often happened on a local scale and so did not get the national attention or sympathy of a big flood event.

"I think there’s a great deal of work to be done to convince the housing industry of work that needs to be done." He said part of the problem was that the large bulk of housing was built by small number of national housebuilders who have the ear of government.

Shadow minister for housing Roberta Blackman-Woods said: "I’ve done six planning Bills since 2010 and in every one of these Bills we’ve talked about SuDS. It’s absolutely right that we deliver more housing but one in every six homes is at risk of flooding and I think it’s incumbent on us to do more.

"I think watering down the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 was a regressive step. This report shows that SuDS can be installed and maintained with relative ease at a low cost and that they don’t cause delays.

"We shouldn’t be building anything that hasn’t’ got a SuDS scheme in it. The report does a good job of busting some myths. If they prevent flooding down the line they are cost effective. The costs of dealing with flooding are absolutely huge."

The report is the result of a survey of Big SuDS Survey last year which got nearly 540 responses, which the CIWEM believes is the largest independent survey on SuDS in the UK to date. CIWEM also consulted a range of experts, including former president of the Landscape Institute Sue Illman.

The survey found that:

  • 70% of respondents think current planning policy does not sufficiently encourage SuDS
  • 75% are not assessing the costs and benefits of SuDS schemes
  • 75% considered that planning authorities did not have adequate in-house expertise to consider the merits of proposals and opt-out applications
  • Only 8% think the current standards are driving high quality SuDS

The report also found that  site constraints are frequently being used to opt out of putting in SuDS when this is often unjustified and adoption and allocation of maintenance responsibilities is considered be the single greatest barrier to widespread SuDS implementation

Report co-author and CIWEM policy adviser Laura Grant said: "There is no requirement for local authorities to report on SuDS uptake, nor monitor whether they are actually implemented or effective.

"Our findings indicate that the main barriers are not from cost or practicality but from policy and institutional barriers."

From the audience chair of the Cornwall Community Flood Forum Luic Isaacson wanted to know why her group spent so much time talking about building resilience when the Government was not doing the same in terms of SuDS adoption, allocation and maintenance.

Senior Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva said: "Planning reform is a disaster and will prove to be a disaster. The planning reforms are quite blatantly about fast tracking developments of indeterminate quality. It’s a failure of Government because Government needs to think long-term not short-term."

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