Government approach to sustainable drainage ‘sub-standard’, committee says

The Environment Food, and Rural Affairs Committee has criticised the government’s ‘sub-standard’ approach to sustainable drainage (SuDs), claiming it failed to protect communities from flood risk.

The report analysed the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and condemned the resulting weak SuDS policies, warning they put areas at risk and ‘miss opportunities’ to enhance the amenity and environment of local communities.

According to the committee, SuDs provide a cost-effective, green method of removing surface water from built-up areas. However,it highlighted that the government had not commenced provisions to set up a ‘robust policy framework’ to promote their use and has instead adopted sub-standard planning policies which have led to far too few schemes being installed in new developments.

The committee recommend that: planning rules must be strengthened to require high-quality SuDS schemes, which deliver benefits for amenity and the environment as well as reducing flood risk, be installed in all developments of more than one property; planning guidance must be tightened to reduce significantly the potential for developers to opt-out from installing schemes on cost or site-practicality grounds;

In addition the next government must make specific improvements, including: making standards for SuDS construction statutory to provide a stronger basis for enforcement; amending statutory definitions of a sewer to make it easier for Water and Sewerage Companies to adopt SuDS; ending the automatic right of new developments to connect surface water discharges to conventional sewerage systems to spur developers to develop sustainable alternatives; and improving support for local authorities which have SuDS responsibilities.

Neil Parish MP, Environment Food, and Rural Affairs Committee Chair, said: "Plans to deliver some one million new homes by 2020 must be achieved without increasing flooding. Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) are an essential part of the solution as they provide a cost-effective, green method of removing surface water from built-up areas. The government purports to support SuDS but has not commenced provisions to set up a robust policy framework to promote their use.

“Instead it has adopted sub-standard planning policies which have led to far too few schemes, many of which are of low quality, being installed in new developments. Significant improvements in the numbers and quality of SuDS schemes installed must be delivered by the end of 2018. We urge our successor Committee to consider calling for the full commencement of SuDS provisions in the 2010 Act if this is not achieved.

“Planning rules must be strengthened to ensure that all new developments, of any size, are required to install high-quality sustainable drainage systems. Guidance must be tightened to reduce significantly the potential for developers to opt-out from installing schemes on cost or site-practicality grounds.  In addition standards for SuDS construction must be made statutory to provide a stronger basis for enforcement and make it easier for Water and Sewerage Companies to adopt SuDS.”

Parish concluded: “We call for an ending of the automatic right of new developments to connect surface water discharges to conventional sewerage systems to spur developers to develop sustainable alternatives."

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