House of Lords urge more proactive SuDS guidance

In the second of two consecutive blogs, we summarise the key outputs from the House of Lords National Policy for the Built Environment Committee meeting. Turning to the impact of climate change, the committee was fully behind the need for a more proactive approach to the provision of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).

The Committee cited The Government’s decision not to implement Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which would have established a separate approval regime for SuDS in new developments, as a key area for criticism by witnesses.

This decision means that any SuDS provision will now be considered directly through the planning system, risking its implementation in cases where developers may raise questions over cost and seek to negotiate out of such provision.

The Construction Industry Council was highly critical of the decision, telling the Committee that the decision had created voids in policy, uncertainty in planning policy interpretation, the abandonment of the concept of drainage as “critical infrastructure”, no structure for the adoption and maintenance of SuDS, and no measures to address flood resilience at a local scale.

From submissions made at the Committee, they recommended that the Government takes a more proactive approach to the provision of Sustainable Drainage Systems.

They further recommended that the Government consider whether to introduce a separate approval regime, as was envisaged in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, or whether to upgrade the status of Sustainable Drainage Systems to critical infrastructure.

Further efforts need to be made to increase flood resilience in the built environment and to look at how SuDS could be retrofitted, together with other individual property measures.

With over 240,000 properties in England currently located in areas of high flood risk, and 1,500 homes a year being built each year in areas that are currently designated as high flood risk, there is an essential need to act as climate change events grow ever more severe.

They cited the Committee on Climate Change, who observed that progress in managing surface water flood risk had been slow in urban areas, and that surface water flooding was likely to increase in future with increased paving over of front gardens, infill development and an ageing public sewer network.

The Committee urged taking steps to reduce the number of new properties built in areas of flood risk against Environment Agency advice. In addition, there should be a requirement for all new properties in flood risk areas to have flood resilience measures built in. The Government should also promote a co-ordinated programme of retrofit for the growing number of existing properties in such areas.

The advocacy for a more robust SuDS regime, managed by Planning Authorities with more mandation lies at the heart of real change here. Also, incentivising homeowners to implement resilience measures and obtaining financial benefit (e.g. insurance cost reductions) would also be a powerful step. This final point wasn’t picked up in the Committee but feels like a natural step, especially if Flood Re does not stay as policy forever.