Landscape architect Sue Illman of Illman Young Landscape Design told an audience at March's Ecobuild conference in London that Government plans to give cities more autonomy mean they could drive the charge to implement SuDS measures locally.
Certainly independence has allowed cities abroad to implement green infrastructure more freely, said Illman, a former Landscape Institute president. In Portland, Oregon, USA, for example, more than 56,000 downpipes have been disconnected to save local waterways, while Philadelphia chose to invest in green infrastructure rather than pay an £8bn infrastructure bill it could not afford.
"Once city authorities have autonomy, those devolved cities maybe will have a bit more power in working with the water industry to do these sort of things," she suggested.
Illman's message echoes that of the Green Infrastructure Partnership (GIP), which points out that the transfer of powers to Scotland has allowed for strong green infrastructure policy compared to the "tepid" political support seen in England. In a January newsletter the GIP said the devolution of powers to English local authorities would give "scope for far-sighted councils to invest in green infrastructure", making their areas more healthy, resilient and attractive to business.
Stephen Garvin, director of BRE's centre for resilience, told Ecobuild the UK has produced a huge number of innovative solutions for flood resilience but those solutions are not being embraced by developers. He said the best way forward is to raise awareness. "I believe, at least initially, that this is not going to be legislationor regulation-driven the way it is in many aspects of construction and development. It is up to engineers, designers and practitioners to grasp that there are innovations out there, solutions that can solve a lot of issues."
While there was agreement that local people have a part to play in making their areas more resilient - by making front gardens permeable, for example - an audience member said it could be "difficult for people to accept there's a shortage of water and they have to ration but at the same time being told they need to spend money on SuDS".
But Illman said that is part of the future climate scenario. "The other hand of flooding is drought. It's just as big a problem - and just you wait, when all these (flood resilience) reviews are announced in early summer, I bet it will be a drought. But that's what water-sensitive urban design is about - managing the water cycle, minimising water use and dealing with all water issues. Drought is going to be the big problem in terms of GDP and its impact on business. That hasn't gone away, we're just dealing with the current situation."
Illman admitted that "retrofitting isn't cheap" but said for local authorities there is an obvious way to get around the funding dilemma. "The best opportunity for funding is to align it with works that are going to happen anyway. If there's going to be an intervention in the highway, don't just resurface. Ask what else can we do? Can we integrate storm water planters or bioretention swales at the same time? That has multiple benefits - air cooling, biodiversity - so the cost of dealing with the drainage becomes minor with the added benefits."