The Government launched its 25 year Environment Plan with much fanfare last month seeking to prove that it can talk about other things than Brexit. We review what it means for flood management and specifically prospects for policy changes on sustainable drainage (SuDS.)
The lofty aim of the Environment plan is to set out goals for improvement within a generation. The focus is on reducing risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from natural hazards including flooding, drought and coastal erosion by:
- Access to better information to assess any risks posed by flooding and coastal erosion
- bringing the public, private and third sectors together to work with communities and individuals to reduce risk
- ensuring decisions on land use, including development, reflect the level of current and future flood risk
- ensuring interruptions to water supplies are minimised during prolonged dry weather and drought
- boosting the long-term resilience of our homes, businesses and infrastructure – specific support for property-level improvements like flood barriers, non-return valves, air brick covers and flood-resilient coatings on walls.
Flood risk and coastal erosion
The government has already made financial commitments to improving flood defences, with £2.6bn due to be invested between 2015 and 2021. However, the plan outlines some of the other measures the government has in store:
- Updating the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy and strengthen joint delivery across organisations
- Examining current partnership arrangements and seek to more private sector funding
- Boost the Environment Agency’s role as a statutory planning consultee so that new developments are flood resilient and do not increase flood risk
- Strengthening relevant protections within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
Increasing SuDS uptake
Michael Gove says that in the long term, the Government will consider changes to the NPPF and building regulations to boost the uptake of SUDS, and that Defra will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government to deliver on this.
Key actions include:
- Amending planning practice guidance to clarify construction and ongoing maintenance arrangements for SuDS in new developments. These include “tightening links with planning guidance for water quality and biodiversity”.
- Considering changes to the NPPF and building regulations, to encourage the use of SuDS in the longer term
- Improving existing arrangements for managing surface water flooding, involving lead local flood authorities, water and sewerage companies, highways authorities regulators and other risk management authorities
These measures are all being introduced after evidence was presented at numerous select committee hearings in the last couple of years, criticising a lack of government SuDS strategy, as one of the three main threats to effective water level and flood risk management.
Gove says Defra will support Water UK’s promotion of SuDS through its revision of the guidelines for adopting drainage assets. A revised sewer adoption manual that standardises the water industry’s approach to the adoption of SuDS is slated for publication next month (April 2018).
Defra is also currently considering the economic case for transferring the ownership of newly built sewers to water and sewerage companies.
Reaction to the 25 year plan has been mixed. Chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, Stephanie Hilborne argued: “There are fantastic words and ambitions for land and sea that raise the spirits – but the lack of legal underpinning is a fundamental flaw.”
Friends of the Earth described the plan as “Long on aspiration, short on details. The vision is welcome but unless the government backs up its aims in law this could all turn out to be more hot air.”
The government continues to resist making Sustainable Urban Drainage Schemes (SuDS) standard – wary of loading perceived cost pressures on developers.
The plan should make commitments to target a range of suitable SuDS that are not cost prohibitive but make a net positive contribution to slowing surface flooding and create beneficial environments.
There are many simple schemes that can be incorporated to standard schemes that can be easily adopted by developers without a costly land take.
It is imperative that the Government calls out and promotes these in much the same way as they have done with improved flood resilience measures in the home – they are part of the same end goal.
By David Kempster, Clear Edge Communications Limited