With flooding events becoming more frequent why doesn’t anyone act to make surface water management as much of a selling point as energy efficiency? Andrew Gill, Marketing Manager, Brett Landscaping argues that is the direction the industry needs to take.
We’re still feeling the repercussions of climate change, with last winter’s torrential rain, flash flooding, and rising water levels all creating ever higher repair and insurance costs.
Alongside this we can see urbanisation increasingly replacing our green spaces, and this changing nature of our landscape has become an indisputable factor in this susceptibility to flooding.
So, as our country’s skyline continues to change, and flooding remains a real risk, is it right to make the installation of SuDs a desirable choice rather than merely a begrudging necessity?
While there is still a lot of talk around the most recent floods, and promises of future protection, the action required to fulfil these promises seems less abundant.
Defences installed following previous floods have failed and while the previous Government has promised to plough more money into bigger barricades – which often only relocate the problem downstream – surely it is now time for the construction industry to seek a more strategic, long-term solution?
Given that today the rate with which new houses are being built shows no signs of slowing, there can be no doubt that the problem will only increase unless we change our fundamental approach to surface water management.
One solution to help reduce the risk of flooding would be to make the implementation of sustainable drainage solutions (SuDs) mandatory in any new development – as is already the case with energy reduction measures.
SuDs allow surface water to be pro-actively managed in a way which replicates natural run-off patterns on a greenfield site.
This crucial attenuation process prevents excess surface water overwhelming our urban drainage systems and can be created using a range of technologies such as swales, permeable paving and flood basins.
However, to be a true SuDS solution the system must fulfil three basic requirements:
• Surface water attenuation
• Improvement of water quality
• Enhancement of amenity
We would argue that one of the best ways to achieve all three of these goals is through the use of permeable paving, which allows surface water to drain between the individual blocks and be held in the sub-base from where it can be slowly released.
This process significantly reduces surface water run-off, has been proven to reduce pollution loads entering our watercourses and also helps provide an attractive, low maintenance surface.
It is not difficult to sell the benefits of permeable paving to a home owner. Many homeowners are not aware that since October 2008, it has been a legal requirement to ensure that SuDS are incorporated into any driveway over 5m² which is being paved, even if it is simply replacing an existing driveway.
Also, in those instances where it is not possible to include SuDS homeowners will need to seek planning permission from their local authority before starting any work.
If they do not do this they may find it more costly in the long-run, as non-compliant driveways will have to be replaced they chose to sell the house in the future.
Installing permeable paving also provides an additional “insurance” to the homeowner. Not only is their home protected from potential flooding, it may also mean they are eligible for lower premiums because effective surface water management is in place from the outset reducing the risk of flooding.
We have already seen that there are also a number of environmental benefits to SuDS which come with no extra cost to the homeowner.
Indeed research from Interpave suggests that integrating a permeable paving solution into a new development incurs no additional cost to the contractor over an impermeable one where adequate surface water management is provided.
Counting the cost
Interestingly, the cost of investing in such solutions is being cited as one of the reasons the previous Government held back on making the installation of SuDs mandatory throughout the UK lest it damage the recovery of the housing market.
However, according to experts at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the cost of last December’s ‘Storm Desmond’ may rise to the tune of £500 million, double the cost of the serious storms the UK saw in 2009 which will have an inevitable impact upon home insurance premiums – especially for people living in high risk areas.
Assertive approach the only way forward
Many, ourselves included, believe a more proactive approach is required to surface water management, such as the previous Government’s response to the increase in global warming.
Since the early 2000’s, ongoing revisions to Approved Document L have seen developers and builders continually increase the thickness of insulation in homes.
This has significantly reduced heat loss and is now seen by many home buyers as a benefit as it can cut heating bills over the long term as well as making their home more comfortable.
Nationally, this trend towards greater energy efficiency has also enabled us to reduce our carbon footprint in the process.
This all tracks back to the definitive legislation surrounding the reduction of carbon footprints for all parties in the construction industry but we believe that the construction sector should be looking to integrate SuDS voluntarily given the benefits offered to all involved.
In order for this to happen we all need to look at a far more evangelical view from all concerned – Government, planners, designers, builders and homeowners – which demands that surface water management be considered during each and every step of constructing a new building – or modifying an existing one – which should in turn create a more sustainable housing market.