VIEWPOINT: We need decisive action on flood defences
For thousands of homes and properties that face flooding misery, nothing has changed significantly since the Pitt Review following the floods in 2007.
According to the Government’s final progress report, less than half of Pitt’s 92 recommendations were fully implemented with most of the rest remaining “work in progress”. Key recommendations, embodied in the Flood and Water Management Act, have been subject to continuing setbacks.
According to Pitt, two thirds of the floods were caused by surface water flooding. Yet plans to introduce new national standards in England and Wales making Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) compulsory through Local Authority SuDS Approving Bodies (SABS) have been subject to delays. It seems likely that local authorities will have to wait until April 2014 to begin their roles – two years behind the original schedule, whilst work continues to clarify Defra’s draft National Standards which have been criticised by stakeholders as unworkable.
But these measures are the tip of the iceberg in the upgrading of our urban surface water drainage systems. As yet there are no firm plans to legislate to retrofit SuDS into the existing drainage network and the proposed legislation does not cover highways. Accepted thinking on surface water drainage has been overly influenced by the Green lobby, which has insisted on natural features for SuDS, causing concerns for developers who may be forced to reduce available land for building in new developments already facing tight profit margins. At the same time, natural features present engineering challenges for drainage designers to predict their performance in extreme weather conditions, as well as their long-term maintenance requirements.
Engineered systems are available that can enhance the amenity value of natural features whilst providing repeatability of measurable performance. Slowly the industry has come round to this way of thinking. Unfortunately, this uncertainty has caused delays in framing unequivocal National Standards that can provide a consistent benchmark for all designers to follow.
Whilst urban drainage schemes remained dogged by delays, there are similar frustrations for many proposed flood defence projects put on hold after the cuts in 2010. New partnership funding arrangements now require local stakeholders such as councils, developers, utilities or Network Rail, to contribute to schemes in their area.
As a result, communities desperate for updated flood defences have had to wait longer for defences to be built whilst funds are raised.
The good news is that the British water industry offers some innovative and imaginative technologies to provide sustainable, maintainable and reliable solutions to flood defences in future. We have the ability to solve the problems raised in Sir Michael Pitt’s excellent report. For the sake of all those affected by flooding we need decisive government action with redoubled effort to follow through.
Alex Stephenson is director of Hydro International’s UK Stormwater Division.
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