Poor understanding of SuDS benefits is hampering housing schemes, as legal mandate for developers looms, say construction experts

Despite the benefits of nature-based sustainable drainage approaches being established in the construction industry, including tackling flooding, water shortages and water quality issues, there is a widespread lack of understanding among planners and homebuyers that needs addressing. 

This was one key finding of a recent industry round table which brought together experts from various parts of the construction sector to discuss best practice in managing surface water on new housing developments. 

Schedule 3 of the 2010 Flood Act is finally due to be implemented in 2024, requiring all new developments to introduce SuDS approaches to mitigate their impact on the drainage network, and absorb surface water as close to source as possible. As well as addressing the UK’s increasing extreme weather events, and issues like water scarcity, installations will also increase water quality and add natural features to developments, enhancing biodiversity.

The Building Insights LIVE round table (sponsored by Brett Landscaping, Innovyze, and Polypipe Civils and Green Urbanisation) included landscape architects, housebuilders, engineers and product manufacturers. Key takeaways emphasised the need for environmental engineers to work closely with landscape architects, and that both should be involved at an early stage in projects. 

Attendees said the industry had to “embrace the complexity of SuDS” using digital modelling and “systems thinking” to design “multi-functional open spaces” that would help to offset the land take and cost issues from SuDS schemes. Seeing SuDS as a “multi-disciplinary design” would enable better collaboration and avoid a pecking order of professional disciplines, attendees said. A holistic design approach would also prioritise the ‘bigger picture’ of environmental benefits.

Practical design considerations were discussed, including ‘how steep is too steep’ when it came to SuDS installations, the use of wetlands as a way to achieve required biodiversity net gain, and the importance of maintenance responsibility. National president of the Federation of Master Builders, Chris Carr, commented that “there is too much conflict” between individual stakeholders regionally, and that over-arching “rain to sea” policies could solve this.

An objective shared by several attendees was the need for greater education of both consumers and planning departments on the benefits of SuDS approaches, with one saying there was still a “complete lack of understanding” to tackle. Planning departments combining public open space with SuDS features, rather than “segregating them,” would help to educate consumers on the benefits of including them in developments.

This key round table event staged by netMAGmedia was one current example of education and knowledge sharing within the industry. James Parker, managing editor at netMAGmedia, who chaired the event, commented: “The need for housebuilders to learn from best practice in SuDS and stormwater management has become more acute, not only because of the impending 2024 legislation, but with recent major floods showing the need to mitigate new developments’ impact on local drainage. Our round table could not have come at a more critical time, and it was refreshing to hear a constructive and frank discussion between professionals from different sides of the industry, looking to collaborate to find the best answers.” 

About netMAGmedia:

Publishers of leading construction industry media brands, including Architects’ Datafile, Housebuilder & Developer, Selfbuilder + Homemaker and Housing Management & Maintenance.