Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 370 - 379)



  Chairman: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. For the record may we welcome from Severn Trent Water Mr Tony Wray, their Chief Executive, Mr Andy Smith, their Water Services Director, Mr Martin Kane, their Customer Relations Director; from Severn Trent Water Mr Richard Aylard, External Affairs and Sustainability Director and Mr Bob Collington, who is their Director of Wastewater Services. Gentlemen, you are very welcome. May I thank you in advance for the written evidence that you were able to send to the Committee. We will start with Paddy's question on SUDS.

  Q370  Paddy Tipping: I think you all heard the previous discussion. Clearly SUDS can play a role but there do seem to be issues around who installs them, the planning system that puts them in and, most particularly, around maintenance and long term responsibility. I am not entirely clear what the law is; perhaps you would explain it to us.

  Mr Wray: If I can start, SUDS absolutely have an important to play—one of many—and we are certainly of the view that there needs to be far clearer accountability in the first instance for developers, agencies, whomever. To address your point from earlier on, what happens when developers go away, I think there is a case to be made for once a scheme is put in place for it being put into the hands of an authority that can maintain it in the long term. For that I am sure we are going to need legislative changes and of course there will be the issues of funding for that. But absolutely, a primary responsibility for anybody constructing, building, having an impact upon the environment, having a duty to ensure that they provide a sustainable method of attenuation of surface water flooding.

  Q371  Paddy Tipping: What would be the legislative change that we need?

  Mr Aylard: At the moment the local authorities can insist that developers create SUDS when they build a new development; in practice they very often do not. We played a leading role on the national SUDS working group and we have issued guidance to developers for the ways in which they could create SUDS that would make it easier for us to take them on afterwards. However, there are issues with maintenance particularly because as well as collecting water they also collect silt and that silt has to be taken away. It that silt has got highway run off in it then it has to have a waste management licence so life gets relatively complicated as things go on. I think that the most important thing would be to get local authorities to insist that developers install SUDS when they build developments.

  Q372  Paddy Tipping: Yorkshire Water suggested to us that the organisation that should take long term responsibility would be the local authority. I do not agree. I think this is your neck of the woods and it really ought to be the water and sewerage companies.

  Mr Wray: If I may comment, we certainly have the competencies to do that; we do understand the management of flows and certainly the waste treatment, the treatment of silt, sludge et cetera. However, that does come at a cost. We have finite resources and our customers bear the cost of the additional activities that we have to take on, so whilst we may have the competencies to do that, we must have the full appreciation of what the impact upon our customers would be on bills and how we would go about that in an organised manner and in an affordable way.

  Q373  Paddy Tipping: Is this something that the SUDS working group has looked at?

  Mr Collington: I think the key issue is ownership once the facilities are built. At the moment there is no clarity about ownership anywhere in the country except in Scotland. In Scotland they have already solved this problem. They have split responsibility for SUDS depending on whether those drainage schemes are above ground or below ground. If they are above ground in Scotland the local authorities take them on because it is more akin to the management of parks and ponds; if it is below ground the sewerage undertakers take responsibility for them. That could be one way of working throughout the rest of the country.

  Mr Aylard: If I could add two practical problems with SUDS, one is that to be effective they require quite a lot of land and in urban areas we very often do not have that land. Secondly, to be most effective you need a permeable substrate so that they drain away. Again, if you are in London you have clay so SUDS in a lot of areas are not going to be as helpful as they might.

  Q374  Paddy Tipping: How do we get clarity on the way forward? What needs to be done?

  Mr Collington: I think we need definitive legislation from government.

  Q375  Chairman: Just describe for my benefit what one of these things looks like.

  Mr Aylard: They can take various shapes but they are generally a pond of some sort—sometimes a longish pond that is called a swale—but they collect the run off and it sits there and gradually percolates through back down as ground water.

  Q376  Chairman: It has got to be a designed system because most people do not want water draining out of ponds.

  Mr Aylard: Yes, it has to be a designed system to work properly and there are various ways of doing that.

  Q377  Chairman: That, effectively, addresses the issue about run off and the nature of it. I had a picture in my mind of lots of green open spaces and nature taking its course, but this is a rather more constructed managed environment.

  Mr Aylard: That is right. Of course the real benefit is that you are not, unlike other forms of drainage, just pushing the problem rapidly onto somebody else; you are dealing with it where it is and where you can do that that must be good.

  Q378  Chairman: It is something which, if I have understood it correctly, you cannot really retro-fit in an urban environment.

  Mr Aylard: Not easily, particularly if you are on a brown field site where you have perhaps got deep foundations from previous buildings or basements; you can cause more problems than you solve.

  Q379  Chairman: So we should not get too carried away. SUDS might be good for new build but it is not going to solve the problem with the existing infrastructure.

  Mr Wray: Absolutely. I mentioned that SUDS are part of the solution; there are many other aspects that have to be brought to play and in particular dealing with the existing infrastructure that we have and the progressive development and enlargement of that infrastructure to deal with the greater flows that we are having to contend with, including the potential separation of surface water from foul water. That is a huge, huge, civil undertaking for the UK and one that we do need to take very seriously and make a start on.

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