Last week, before Parliament dissolved for the General Election, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee held an inquiry into the post-legislative life of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. The inquiry scrutinised the implementation of crucial flood prevention measures outlined in the Act: including Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). Letâ€™s take a look at how things have played out.
Sustainable Drainage Systems
SuDS are features that are designed to remove surface water. Including features such as ponds, ditches and soakaways in new housing developments will reduce both flood risk and strain on the sewer system. It is generally agreed that SuDS cost the same or less than connecting to existing sewer networks, but developers donâ€™t want to use up valuable acreage on eco-friendly flood prevention measures.
Schedule 3 of the 2010 Act made provision for SuDS legislation to be enforced, but Schedule 3 has never been commenced. Instead, the government has relied on measures within the existing planning system. With very few exceptions, everyone reported to the EFRA Committee that SuDS were an effective flood prevention measure. They also agreed that current policy was failing to deliver the desired objective of extensive implementation of SuDS.
Not Much Progress
A 2014 survey by the Committee on Climate Change found that only 15% of planning applications in areas of high flood risk made any mention of SuDS. Moreover, complex high quality SuDS such as green roofing systems, ponds, swales and permeable pavements are being shunned in favour of low-quality SuDS. These lower quality systems achieve the narrowest requirement (that of removing surface water) without any of the environmental benefits of the more complex systems.
The Ongoing Review of SuDS Planning Legislation
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 included a requirement that a review of SuDS be carried out:
â€œThe Secretary of State must carry out a review of planning legislation, government planning policy and local planning policies concerning sustainable drainage in relation to the development of land in England.â€
The EFRA report mentions the current status of this review:
â€œMinisters have commenced this review, however witnesses to this inquiry were concerned that it is being held without full stakeholder involvement or a definite timescale for either its completion or for the implementation of its findings.â€
The Select Committeeâ€™s Recommendations
One of the jobs of a select committee is to assess the impact and effectiveness of legislation and make recommendations. On this occasion, the EFRA select committee has not recommended that the Schedule 3 provisions be commenced â€“ so there will be no legal requirement for developers to include plans for SuDS in addition to their planning applications. The committee has recommended a tightening of planning guidance to prevent developers opting out of installing SuDS. They have also recommended ending the automatic right of developers to attach surface water drains to the existing sewer system.
A Missed Opportunity
Not commencing the Schedule 3 provisions that would force developers to include SuDS is typical of the short termism that characterises many areas of government thinking. Creating cheap housing stock on flood plains without adequate provision for dispersal of surface water is a recipe for disaster. Flooding is miserable and life changing for those that experience it. It seems crazy to design housing developments that will flood when a solution is known and legislation is in place. The taxpayer as well as insurers bear the brunt of the cost while the developers get off scot-free.
At the very least, we would suggest that a mechanism is put in place to measure how many SuDS of what quality are being put in place under the current system. When the next committee reports on this, they should have accurate figures to guide them on future policy.
Flood Re Scheme
All of this has implications for the Flood Re scheme. Flood Re is the UKâ€™s levy and pool system that aims to provide affordable flood insurance coverage to domestic properties. Residential properties built after 2009 are excluded from joining, because it was assumed that flood protection schemes (including SuDS) would have been built into all modern developments. This hasnâ€™t happened â€“ potentially excluding thousands of households from adequate insurance.
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Read the full EFRA Committee report on the implementation of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.