I’ve been looking at the DEFRA/DCLG joint consultation on delivering sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) through changes to the current planning system. This will be an alternative approach to the one envisaged by the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (FWMA 2010).

On the face of it if change is implemented as envisaged by the consultation it will be a considerable improvement on what has previously been envisaged through the FWMA 2010. It will allow an holistic approach to be taken in relation to SuDS delivered as an integral part of the green infrastructure and amenity facilities for new developments.

Readers may be aware that the regulations relating to the adoption of SuDS under the new FWMA 2010 regime have been considerably delayed. It’s suggested that one of the reasons for that delay results from the potential dysfunction of local planning authorities operating under the planning regime and the role of county or unitary authorities taking on the new functions of SuDS approving bodies (SABs) when considering SuDS schemes in new developments. Also, there has been a real concern about funding the long-term maintenance of SuDS once transferred to the SAB.

The consultation contains proposals to strengthen planning policy, to make clear that the expectation is that SuDS will be provided in all new major developments - that is residential developments of ten or more houses and equivalent non-residential and/or mixed use developments, where there are surface water drainage implications. This will give scope for decision-makers to give increased weight to the provision and maintenance of SuDS alongside other material considerations during the determination of a planning application.

By the use of planning conditions, local planning authorities can impose obligations on the developer and future landowner to ensure that the SuDS are maintained for the lifetime of the development. Where appropriate, section 106 obligations can be applied alongside planning conditions.

An effective maintenance obligation must clearly identify who will be responsible for maintaining the SuDS to a stated minimum standard. Funding for maintenance will need to be patently fair when charged to householders and premises occupiers.

The consultation suggests that it should be left open to the developer to decide whether it maintains the SuDS itself, or negotiates for a third party to take the role. It follows that developers may choose to retain the responsibility and include SuDS maintenance charges as part of an estate management service charge. Where, as is often the case, the SuDS infrastructure incorporates green open spaces and water bodies, the SuDS will be of positive amenity value beyond its core purpose of managing surface water drainage. So it makes sense for SuDS to become an element of the shared assets enjoyed and funded by contributions from the new communities which they serve.

Adoption by water and sewerage companies, or by local authorities remains an option. Water and sewerage companies will be able to fund maintenance costs through the surface water drainage elements of household water bills. The consultation document recognises that local authorities may need to consider additional charging arrangements to be put in place.

The consultation period of six weeks commenced 12th September 2014 and expires 24th October 2014.