Potential of sustainable drainage systems for modern housebuilding

Potential of sustainable drainage systems for modern housebuilding

Richard Eddy, category manager of underground and utilities at Polypipe Building Products, discusses the potential of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) for modern housebuilding. 

Climate change and the increase in urban flooding have put significant pressure on the UKs ageing sewage infrastructure. The need for effective, innovative drainage solutions has never been greater.

Sustainable drainage systems have been designed to tackle these challenges. Unlike conventional drainage solutions that typically direct stormwater into sewers and watercourses, SuDS mimic natural processes to manage rainfall by storing water, allowing it to infiltrate into the ground, or slowly release it. This approach not only lessens the impact of urban development on the natural water cycle but reduces the strain on our sewer systems.  

Yet, despite sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) being available for some time, the adoption of these systems has been slow. To increase uptake across the industry, we must understand the barriers preventing the adoption of SuDs, and the legislative changes set to make these systems a mandatory part of new residential projects. 

There are many benefits to SuDS, the most significant being that they mitigate urban flooding by reducing the runoff entering sewer systems during heavy rainfall, which improves water quality by naturally filtering out pollutants. On top of this, SuDS can also enhance biodiversity and urban green spaces by being incorporated into the landscape through green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavements, all of which contribute to the cooling of urban environments by counteracting the urban heat island effect.

Therefore, by integrating SuDS as standard, housebuilders will be able to align with broader environmental goals and legislative requirements while meeting the needs and expectations of future residents. However, despite their benefits, SuDS adoption in new developments faces several barriers. The UK’s fragmented regulatory landscape, with varying local standards, causes confusion and deters developers with complex approval processes. Ambiguous SuDS definitions and guidelines complicate project integration, making regulatory compliance and achieving environmental benefits difficult.

The lack of technical expertise in hydrology and site-specific conditions requires bespoke approaches, raising concerns about high upfront costs, particularly for retrofitting sites. Historically, this has deterred developers despite potential long-term savings. If we are to overcome these obstacles, we need cohesive policies, clear guidance and more support for developers via technical resources, specialist support, training and even financial incentives. Promoting sustainable drainage practices and addressing climate change challenges requires cross-party collaboration.

SuDS adoption in the UK is heavily influenced by the legislative framework for water management and urban development, notably the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This legislation promotes SuDS use by mandating sustainable surface water management in new and redeveloped sites.

Schedule 3 of the Act, yet to be fully implemented in England, mandates SuDS for all new residential developments over 100m². Its introduction in England, following Wales’ 2019 implementation, standardises SuDS use and integrates them into broader planning processes. 

Developers must integrate SuDS considerations from the earliest planning stages to comply with these regulations. This involves navigating complex approval processes, adapting designs to site-specific conditions, and maintaining SuDS long-term. 

Effective SuDS implementation depends on understanding a site’s unique characteristics, such as environmental conditions, soil types, topography and hydrology. These factors determine how water behaves, impacting the suitability and effectiveness of various SuDS components. Customising SuDS solutions to fit the unique conditions of a site ensures that they will complement the natural water cycle. This approach not only maximises the performance of the drainage system but also can lead to cost savings over time. By aligning the drainage strategy closely with the site’s natural characteristics, it’s possible to reduce the need for extensive engineered solutions, which can be more expensive to install and maintain.

A site-specific approach to SuDS encourages a more thoughtful and integrated planning process, requiring collaboration among developers, planners and engineers to create solutions that respect and enhance the natural environment. It’s clear that widespread SuDS adoption in the UK is crucial for mitigating flood risks, enhancing urban resilience, and promoting environmental sustainability. 

This will only be possible through effective collaboration between the drainage sector, policymakers, housebuilders, and developers to promote SuDS and address misconceptions about costs, maintenance, and feasibility. Highlighting successful case studies, providing cost-benefit analyses, and offering technical support can build industry confidence in SuDS benefits and implementation.

As climate change intensifies, the need for a sustainable, resilient future becomes increasingly critical. Prioritising SuDS in housing development projects invests in the future of communities, ensuring they can handle environmental challenges.

For further information on Polypipe Building Productssustainable drainage systems (SuDS) visit Sustainable Drainage Systems | Polypipe

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