I would like to thank two of my neighbours in Normandy, that live in a very flood-prone part of the village, where one of the essential water meadows that has over the years provided some protection for their homes from the effects of flash flooding from agricultural run-off is now being concreted over with an affordable housing scheme, for drawing attention to the dispute over the implementation of SUDS schemes on new housing developments reported by the BBC on Friday 10 January “Today” programme. (Listen for comments at 06:35 and 07:51)
The Flooding Act, 2010 was legislated by the previous government after the Pitt Review. However, the implementation of the requirements of the Act is being held up by arguments between DEFRA and housebuilders. The House Builders Federation are pushing for tanks under the surface, as they don’t want to give up what they see as valuable building land and don’t want to pay for sustainable drainage implementation. House builders don’t want rules that stipulate they must use surface drainage. DEFRA, on the other hand, is having its funding slashed by £500 million under current Government cuts and there is a revolving door of senior civil servants leading to no policy continuity. However, DEFRA is being pushed by experts to hold out for soft flood prevention by use of ponds, hollows and wetlands above the surface. Wouldn’t you know, we are the only country – that is England – that does not use soft flood prevention even though it is seen as the Gold Standard by the rest of the world. So who’s going to pay? “Not us” say the housebuilders; “not us” say DEFRA”. You’ve guessed it, we are, the house owner, but then we pay for the sewage system anyway through our water charges, so no change there.
The subterranean tanks wanted by the house builders are hard to maintain, do not clean the water, fill with dirty stagnating water, provide no benefits to wildlife or amenity to the house owners. Richard Ashley, Emeritus Professor, Urban Water, Sheffield University can be heard to say they can only be used under car parks and are not sustainable. Tanks, cells and pipes are the least sustainable option in the SUDS hierarchy
So what are surface ‘sustainable drainage systems’ [SUDS]? They are made up of combinations of green areas, wetlands, hollows, basins, even your back garden, that means that rainfall does not rush into sewers increasing flooding. The water seeps slowly into the ground, pollutants are trapped by vegetation and cleaned naturally. SUDS are beneficial to wildlife and people. With climate change we are experiencing more heat waves and ponds and pools of water actively have a cooling affect. Those house builders that are using these systems believe it will be cheaper in the long term and beneficial to the area, people and wildlife.
Experts are advising the government and councils of the benefits to the environment including costs. It is argued that using conventional drainage has created the flooding problems that exist today. Too much development without green spaces.
In a further exposition on the same day, the BBC News pages contained an article by Roger Harrabin, their Environment Analyst , who also was the lead journalist on the ‘Today’ programme item, headlined “Government in ‘turmoil’ over implementing flood precaution rules” reiterates the points made in the ‘Today’ programme.
As Normandy faces the prospect of a local authority ‘sucking up’ to ministers as they attempt to steamroller through a Local Plan that proposes taking 16 of the borough’s 24 villages out of the Green Belt, putting eight development sites in Normandy to take anything up to 1,000 new houses on land that locals know is prone to flooding, it’s about time our local and national politicians started to appreciate the environmental damage their ‘dash for concrete’ will cause in unsuspecting rural communities.