“Sensitive SUDS” for alleviating flood risk

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The past decade has seen destructive floods throughout the UK. With the future set to get wetter, there’s a greater urgency to upgrade flood defence systems and implement the latest drainage technologies and techniques to protect homes, infrastructure and lives.

In the news

The past decade has seen widespread flooding in the UK, almost year-in year-out. Some of the most notable floods occurred in:

  • 2000 – the autumn of 2000 was the wettest since records began with almost 10,000 homes flooded throughout England and Wales, causing £3.5 billion worth of damage.
  • 2007 – the wettest May to July since records began was recorded in 2007, when the UK experienced further severe flooding.
  • 2009 – in November 2009, flooding in Cumbria resulted in catastrophic damage to homes and infrastructure, with the town’s vital Northside Bridge collapsing.

This year, as Cumbria sees a new £1.7 million bridge lowered into place, Bournemouth recovers from severe flash flooding and the North of the country braced itself for hurricane Katia, which brought winds of up to 80mph and more flooding. Most recently, Northern Ireland was brought to a standstill and emergency measures were implemented when days of heavy rain caused widespread flooding, claiming two lives.

SUDS and the For a Rainy Day report

The London Assembly’s Environment Committee recently noted that if the City of London were to experience rainfall similar to that which caused severe flooding in parts of England and Wales in 2001, streets would flood within minutes, and the city would be unable to cope.

Published in July this year, the For A Rainy Day report called on the Mayor of London to address the risk of flood damage by improving public access to flood risk information, and to extend an existing funding scheme for green roofs to include other forms of sustainable drainage systems (SUDS). Earlier in the year, Defra had announced new funding for more flood and coastal defence systems, but this was met with criticism, as it appeared that the public would have to contribute to the scheme.

The For A Rainy Day report also states that SUDS are rarely retrofitted in London, placing blame on developers:

developers see obstacles to fully sustainable drainage, pointing out that 96 per cent of development in London takes place on previously developed land. Progress is therefore slow and the UK lags behind other countries in the extent of sustainable drainage.

Britain has an ageing drainage infrastructure. SUDS have been around for decades, and while other countries such as the US, Sweden and France have adopted them, uptake in the UK has been slower. Indeed, a report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) states that tens of thousands of homes are still being built on floodplains.

Make room for WSUDS – SUDS are “so last year”


In September this year, in a parliamentary debate of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Anne McIntosh, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, said:

Colleagues would be disappointed if I did not mention sustainable drainage systems. We need to know the commencement date for the relevant provisions of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Are we really looking at a delay until 2012, and if so, do we as parliamentarians accept that? I put it to the Minister that we do not. I do not think it would be appropriate to have a phased introduction of sustainable drainage systems. The country is crying out for sustainable drainage systems to be introduced with a specific target date—I hope, by the end of this year.

But just as the UK finally starts to get to grips with SUDS, Alex Stephenson, Director of the UK Stormwater Division of Hydro International, has suggested that SUDS are “so last year … the concept is already being overtaken by international thinking”. Apparently, there’s a new buzzword in town: WSUDS (Water Sensitive Urban Design).

Developed in Australia, Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUDS) is about attractively integrating water cycle management into urban planning and design, to help create cities for the future. WSUDS aims to protect natural water systems; integrate stormwater treatment into the environment using multiple-use corridors; protect water quality; reduce run-off and peak flows; and add value while minimising costs.

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