Delays put dampener on SuDS

Published:  22 December, 2011

UK: Delays and lack of clarity could compromise the spirit and execution of new National Standards for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), drainage experts are warning.

The Government yesterday began a consultation on the National Standards for Sustainable Drainage Systems, which are designed to provide a structure for the new SuDS Approving Bodies (SABs) to make judgements on the acceptability of drainage schemes for developments and redevelopments

Alex Stephenson, stormwater director of Hydro International and Chair of the British Water SuDS Focus group, commented: “The considerable delay in the publication of this consultation has already put the Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) on the back foot.

“It looks highly unlikely that the SAB roles will come into force as the Government originally intended in April 2012. Instead it will be October – or possibly even later, depending on the preparedness of the LLFAs for the task. Let’s not forget, the standards only apply to new development. There’s even more work to be done to move towards greater retrofitting of SuDS in our urban environments.

“The National Audit Office already highlighted concerns about the readiness of local authorities in recruiting and skilling-up staff for their new roles back in October. My impression is that only about a third of LLFAs have the people they need in post so far.

“While some leading lights have made excellent progress, others have been adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. Local authorities are expressing concerns that the delay has made it difficult, if not impossible, to get agreed funding for posts in their budgets in enough time, without a definite start date. There will also be no ‘up front’ loading of the central Government funding promised to help get SABs underway, so any LLFAs that choose to recruit early will have to foot the bill in difficult economic times.

“To do their job, the standards must drive through consistent sustainable outcomes across the land, but with such a varying picture ‘on the ground’, there is real cause for concern.

“The proposal for exemptions from the standards on the grounds of “disproportionate cost” is a particular worry. The draft standards propose that ‘full compliance’ with the standards is not required where the SuDS design would be more expensive than a ‘conventional design’. But what exactly constitutes a conventional design? Experience shows that perceptions of SuDS can get very muddled.

“By applying SuDS principles – as outlined in the standards - and the full toolbox of SuDS techniques, there should be very few schemes that would fall through the net, and any such schemes should be seen as the very rare exception, rather than the rule. If this clause really does deliver a ‘get out of SuDS free card’ for ill-informed developers – or even local authorities – it could compromise the whole spirit of the Act.

“Proposals to enable the local planning authority to impose ‘more stringent’ requirements also raise more questions than answers, and the liberal sprinkling of ‘where practicables’ provides opportunities for caveats that we must be careful of.

“To achieve their objectives, I hope the standards will show that a mix of SuDS components, natural - or used in combination with proprietary systems - can achieve the principles and requirements of the standards. This is the principle of Engineering Nature’s Way, which I believe offers a practical, achievable and clearly-understandable way forward.”

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