Last month the Government announced that Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems would become compulsory in new developments, in a move that will relieve pressure on the existing sewerage systems and reduce the risk of flooding to homes and communities as well as pollution in our rivers.
There has been handwringing in councils and water companies for years as they grapple with a system where developers are encouraged to provide nature-based solutions and have limited scope for ensuring that – where they are included in a development – they are appropriate.
A typical domestic roof collects around 70,000 litres of rainwater each year. This water is clean but without the means to collect that locally during heavy rain and storms it can overwhelm the drains and, in some cases, mix with the foul water thus becoming contaminated. It seems unbelievable that for so long we have failed to ensure that clean water is not going through an expensive process when nature has the answers.
However, all SUDS are not equal. Some are hardly better than a concrete tank and in the worst cases pretty new homes are sitting alongside a deep concrete wall with a row of life rings – SUDS by name but more bunker by nature! Schedule 3 of the Water Act will see the creation of SUDS Approval Boards and it will be interesting to see where the responsibility for such organisations sits.
Genuine nature-based solutions within developments and wetland-based solutions in the wider community need to be approved in a way that supports the local authority’s strategic aims, with the involvement of the local water company. Their ongoing management should also be carefully considered so residents do not end up footing the bill three times – once through their sewerage bill, via their council tax and again to a private organisation.
There are other super simple solutions that could become standard for new homes, and retrofitted across domestic, industrial and community buildings – water butts!
Most people think of them as a help to gardening in the dry summers but their use as a flood defence has the potential to be even more effective. Attached to every downpipe and roof run-off they can regulate the flow of water into the drains. Property owners then need to release the water once the SUDS or street drains have capacity to ensure the butts do their job the next time it rains. A small functional redesign on these commonly seen garden object could be revolutionary and there is always the opportunity to rethink the way they look too so they become next year’s ‘must have’ item!
The public consultation later this year which will shape how the implementation of Schedule 3 will progress shouldn’t just be for planners and housebuilders to engage with, it’s an opportunity for the whole community to think about how we combine flood risk, pollution, wellbeing, nature and the potential for summer water shortages – this is an opportunity not to be wasted.