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Are we on the verge of proper implementation of a sustainable drainage system regime in England?

The Government outline their plan for better management of rainwater, which could see sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) implemented in England.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan on 26 August 2022, as required by section 141A Water Industry Act 1991 (inserted by section 80 Environment Act 2021).

The Plan describes itself as "the largest infrastructure project to restore the environment in water company history". It sets out targets for water companies and actions for the Government.

Within the latter section, under the heading "Better management of our rainwater", the Plan states that the Government will: Publish the review and decision regarding implementation of Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 in Autumn 2022, (this action applies to England; the SuDS provisions were implemented in Wales in January 2019).

If implemented, this schedule would:

  • introduce standards for new sustainable drainage systems;
  • introduce an ‘approving body’; and
  • remove the automatic right to connect to the public sewer system, to prevent new developments adding more surface water to the combined sewer network when it rains.

The Plan expands on this: "The Government will review the case for implementing Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, in the Autumn. This would introduce standards for and adoption of most new drainage systems and would make it compulsory that systems are approved before any construction work commences. We encourage property owners to make sustainable changes to their own existing properties as good practice regardless of any decision to implement Schedule 3."

The Plan also provides wide-ranging cost estimates for the use of SuDS, depending on the extent of uptake, with Capex ranging from £126.6 billion to £215.8 billion and Opex from £107 million to £455 million.

The Plan concludes that "Implementing this legislation will require collaboration across government departments, regulators and industries."

It is good news that implementation in England of the sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) legislation, enacted as long ago as 2010, might perhaps be moving closer. Although, as the Plan recognises, there are a number of challenges in widespread use of SuDS techniques, including the requirement for large permeable surfaces, which are unavailable in many dense urban environments.

SuDS can only ever be a part of the solution to surface water discharges and flooding, in combination with other measures, but the time feels right to reconsider the formalisation of the SuDS regime, with a view to its implementation.

For more information on storm overflows and drainage systems, contact our water sector lawyers.

For wider environmental law advice, contact our environmental lawyers.