EFRA committee review: time to act on SuDS

We were delighted to contribute to the consultation published in a recent report (26 April 2017) by the EFRA Committee inquiry into how effectively the Government has implemented the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Specifically, we are focussed on further developments with the long overdue roll out of the provisions of Schedule 3 of the Act, implementing Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).

While progress has been made in recent years much more needs to be done to improve flood resilience. Delays in implementing reforms could result in greater costs which may ultimately be borne by the property owner and potentially local government. In addition the multiple benefits to water resources, biodiversity and amenity that can be achieved through SuDS have yet to be fully realised.

There remain plenty of issues that are impacting on the effectiveness of SuDS in reducing flood risk across property development.

Consistent SuDS guidance and national framework

Chief among these is the sheer complexity and variety of guidance on SuDS. What is in place from Defra is non-statutory and limited in extent. Runoff guidance also varies widely by local authority and the absence of common standards rightly causes confusion among developers whose businesses cross authority boundaries.

A national framework would limit the complexity of the SuDS requirements during the early stages of planning. A uniformity of approach across England during the initial stages of design would allow the early engagement of developers and planners with SuDS. While there are inevitably local variations driven by ground conditions, a standard approach would avoid the need for every local authority to publish individual guidance covering every aspect of SuDS.

The regulatory treatment of SuDS is very fragmented. SuDS are dealt with through the planning process by the Local Planning Authority but must refer it on to the relevant Lead Local Flood Authority. There is clearly the potential for a communication gap, which can be compounded once the scheme passes from planning to Building Control. The Environment Agency no longer has a remit to comment directly on SuDS schemes, yet they have significant expertise and retain responsibility for river and tidal flooding.

We believe that SuDS are part of the catchment management jigsaw and therefore think that the Environment Agency should have a part to play. Water Companies have also yet to be properly integrated into the SuDS process.

Better information for property owners

Property owners need to understand the implications of SuDS when they buy a property. A current standard drainage search that is provided by a solicitor in most property transactions could easily be extended to include this information. While SuDS are a good indicator that flood risk is being actively reduced, the property owner should also be aware of their obligations for contribution to the operation and maintenance of a SuDS scheme. Third party charges and access arrangements may also be in place for the SuDS. It is essential that a solicitor can easily identify and advise their client of this.

We therefore believe that a register of approved SuDS installations would ensure schemes were installed correctly and property owners were aware of their obligations. Precedent already exists for the adoption of private sewers by water companies in 2011, given a similar lack of knowledge about owners’ liabilities.

Clear ownership of SuDS management

At the moment, there is no consistency, meaning many SuDS have limited maintenance plans which mean larger management costs and, ironically, flood risk could increase. The requirement for a developer to maintain an interest in the site or establish a management company is an added complexity and a disincentive to SuDS.

Adoption by a local authority or water company is an obvious solution and would provide long term confidence that a scheme would be installed to acceptable standards and maintained in a responsible manner.

The implementation of SuDS could be strengthened by removing the automatic right to connection to the sewer system and ensuring that surface water runoff is managed on-site, reducing the demand on the public drainage and sewer network and reducing the risk of flooding downstream.

Connection to the sewer system should only be as a last resort and as part of an integrated solution alongside SuDS.

Finally, identifying whether there is an existing SuDS solution on-site and whether or not one is required in the future is a key requirement for anyone buying land, particularly for development purposes.

We look forward to seeing the outcome of the review of the Act. We believe that GeoSmart can play a key role in providing clear information for the benefit of developers, placed alongside clear leadership from central government to develop the more rapid and integrated implementation of SuDS.

Read the full report.