SuDs – seven years late and not a moment too soon

Sam Ibbott - Environmental Industries Commission

Sustainable drainage systems will finally go ahead in the spring, not automatically to a high standard but better than further delays, says EIC’s Sam Ibbott.

The photo-op. When staged, politicians love them. They are used as a way of showing they’re normal, that they’re just like me and you. If you follow politics, particularly at a local level, they can often be unintentionally hilarious – such as the classic pose of an MP crouched down, pointing at a pothole with a look on his or her face as if the pothole had just said something untoward about their mother.

So when the country saw widespread flooding earlier this year MPs hastily donned waders and got photos of themselves looking sympathetic next to people whose lives had at best been inconvenienced and, at worst, devastated by rising water levels.

Find out about the political parties views on flood management and SuDS at the EIC conference “Establishing a Green Agenda” on 2 December. For details go to

Flooding is a national infrastructure concern, but with the issue so high in the public’s consciousness it would have been an opportune moment to announce at least one practical step forward – the implementation of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).

SuDS are the process of dealing with excess surface water by mimicking natural processes which slow the movement of water before it enters rivers or streams, or storing the water so it can either soak into the ground or evaporate. Not in themselves the answer to all flooding concerns but SuDS have an important role to play, particularly in urban environments.   

The independent Pitt Review, which first recommended the greater uptake of SuDS, was published in 2008 and they were formally legislated for two years later in the 2010 Flood & Water Management Act. An initial consultation on their implementation closed in early 2012, and two ‘go live’ dates were subsequently announced and later rescinded.

Then in September of this year the government went to consultation again with a new approach which intends to deliver SuDS through the planning application process. The hope is that this will finally see the necessary regulations come into force in spring 2015 – or seven years from recommendation to implementation, and only if next year’s General Election doesn’t delay things further.

This new approach of delivering SuDS through the planning system will likely see them delivered more quickly which is positive, but not automatically to a high standard given the disparity of resources and expertise within and across local authorities. It is the path of least resistance, but whilst not ideal it is workable, and certainly preferable to even further delays by going back to the drawing board.

There are other concerns too:

·       The latest consultation document framed SuDS almost exclusively in terms of flooding, and did not take into account their potential impact on water quality.

·       Local planning conditions have not always been effective in the past – with houses being built on flood plains for example.

·       There is a potential loophole in the proposed exemption for ‘micro’ developments from SuDS requirements, in that a major development could be reclassified as numerous smaller ones. There will also be an onus on the local planning authority to monitor the cumulative impact of numerous micro developments in their area.

Despite this, there is a strong, welcome focus on the ongoing maintenance of SuDS which is positive – even if hastily delivered but inappropriate or poorly installed SuDS have the potential for much higher maintenance costs in the long run.

With an ever-increasing call for more housing to be built, and all political parties likely to make a related commitment in their manifestos, it is important to get SuDS regulations in place as soon as possible as we are going to see our towns, cities, and urban spaces become ever more densely populated. If the result of a wider spread use of SuDS is fewer photo opportunities for MPs, that is also a price worth paying.


Sam Ibbott is deputy public affairs director for the Environmental Industries Commission.

EIC is the trade association for the UK’s environmental technologies and services sector.

This article first appeared in Water & Waste Treatment magazine.