David Smoker 13 July 2015

'Nibbling' away at urban surface water flooding

Nibbling away at urban surface water flooding image

The planning process is now tasked with driving the implementation of sustainable drainage systems, to reduce the problem of urban surface water flooding, in major developments and redevelopments. Realistically this can only ever serve to slow down the problem.

With the current rules meaning not all new developments will need to comply – and whilst we continue to pave over our gardens and extend our homes - the requirement to retrofit is becoming ever greater.

Without a different approach to surface water management, flooding will continue to worsen. Already, four million households are at threat of surface water flooding and with the UK population set to reach 70 million by 2018, we can foresee even greater pressure on urban infrastructure.

Whilst masterplanning has a role to play, there is also a crucial need for ‘nibbling’ and implementing small-scale, local SUDS retro-fit schemes.

Green roofs, rain gardens, rills and channels not only provide a habitat for a variety of flora and fauna, they also have a positive impact on surface water management.

Of course for small-scale schemes to have a major bearing, two things need to happen. Firstly, we need to reach a critical mass – and this will only be achieved with joined up thinking.

Town planning, regeneration and traffic calming projects all have the potential to contribute. Derbyshire Street Pocket Park, for example, began as a project to improve a dead-end road in Bethnal Green that had become a hub for anti-social behaviour and fly tipping: It became an exemplar street-greening scheme incorporating SuDS, due to the collaborative working of the Oxford House community centre and Tower Hamlets. However, compartmentalisation across local authority services and planning departments can mean that all too often opportunities to retro-fit like this are missed.

Secondly, we need to educate the public on how to live with and appreciate SuDS. Local residents may initially view a rain garden or pocket park as reducing on-street parking until the benefits of flooding reduction and improvement in visual amenity are accepted.

Whereas government schemes, building regulations and levies have all contributed to the energy efficiency agenda, the mounting issue of surface water management has attracted less attention, despite being a real threat to the resilience of our communities.

Local authorities should play a pivotal role – but they need to think outside the box. Every opportunity for ‘nibbling’ needs to be exploited, if we are ever going to achieve the step-change towards cohesive SUDs retrofit programmes that we so desperately need.

David Smoker is business development manager at ACO.

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