Gravityscan Badge Moves to end flood prevention plans delay — Alrewas Neighbourhood Plan

Moves to end flood prevention plans delay

By Roger Harrabin - BBC Environment analyst

A four-year delay to rules meant to prevent new housing developments making floods worse could finally be ended.

Policy has been paralysed, with builders rejecting demands that they should install ponds and grassy hollows to catch water running off roofs.

There is still deadlock on this but it is understood that a deal has been reached over who pays to maintain any new anti-flood landscape features.

Councils will be able to bill owners of new homes for maintenance.

The councils argue this is fair as owners of existing homes have to pay to have their run-off water treated by water firms through the sewerage system.

The Flood Act of 2010 obliges builders to landscape developments so water from roofs and driveways seeps into open ground, rather than rushing into the water system.

But detailed policy has been paralysed, with £500m worth of spending cuts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) causing regular reshuffles of staff, and the key players unable to agree on how the schemes should be built.

We have alternating periods of droughts and flooding in England and these systems are best at dealing with both”

Technical experts say the green drainage measures should generally be cheaper than running the water into the sewers, but housebuilders want flexibility.

They say if they have to create ponds on all new developments it may put up the cost of housing.

John Stewart, from the Home Builders Federation, told BBC News: "If you are forced to put in a large pond, that means you can't build homes on that, so there is a cost involved."

The builders want to be able to catch run-off water in giant underground tanks.

Technical experts say this is a poor solution compared with surface features.

Paul Shaffer from Susdrain - the community for sustainable drainage, based at the construction research institute CIRIA - said: "There are much greater benefits if you capture water on the surface.

"It's a simpler solution that's easier to maintain; you get pollutants broken down free of charge by vegetation, you get amenity value that improves people's quality of lives, you help to improve biodiversity, you also get the benefit that in heatwaves the open areas of water help to cool down the surrounding land.

"It helps with flood prevention but it also gives so much more to society than just holding the water in a tank."

One scheme I visited in Sheffield takes the run-off water from a housing estate, breaks up the flow through a pile of rocks and allows the water to soak away. A nearby pond designed to hold run-off water hosts ducks, a heron and dragonflies, which local people appreciate.

The park in Sheffield that is also a "smart drainage system"

The government and councils have been advised by technical experts that green drainage measures will typically be cheaper than carrying the water away in a pipe.

'Extremely sensitive'

The row over technical standards and who pays for maintenance has delayed the publication of the rules several times, and last summer MPs on the Efra committee urged the government to find a solution immediately.

Defra planned to bring in the rules in April, but this week admitted that even this delayed deadline would be put back further.

All parties describe discussions as "extremely sensitive". Some participants have privately described their extreme frustration that it's taking so long. Observers are dismayed that the disputes are rumbling on.

Hundreds of properties have been flooded owing to storms since before Christmas

"It is ridiculous," said Richard Ashley, professor of urban water at Sheffield University.

"The government is ideologically in favour of deregulation but it's supposed to be introducing this complicated piece of legislation with a demoralised department with civil servants that keep changing.

"The housebuilders are lobbying furiously behind the scenes.

"We have alternating periods of droughts and flooding in England and these systems are best at dealing with both - so there really shouldn't be a problem in sorting it out."

Local Government Association spokesman Mike Jones told BBC News: "The developers should be able to pay for the works that are needed. They are making very healthy profits."

He added that it was "appropriate" that people should pay for their drainage.

Prof Ashley warned: "Let's keep this in perspective. New developments are a small fraction of all buildings.

"The problem of floods has already been made worse by decades of misguided drainage rules allowing people to think that getting rid of water into rivers was solving the problem. It is the existing buildings and car parks that are the real challenge."

A Defra spokesperson said: "Reducing the impacts of flooding on houses and businesses is a key priority for us and we are committed to introducing sustainable drainage systems (Suds) to help reduce the risk of floods from new developments.

"Suds are usually cheaper to maintain than conventional drainage, and we will be consulting soon on how they will be maintained by local authorities."

via BBC News - Moves to end flood prevention plans delay.

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