Memorandum submitted by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (FW 21)
1. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) welcomes the opportunity to make written representation to the Floods and Water Management Committee. WWT responded to the earlier consultation on proposed Bill content and is pleased to see a Bill before Parliament that retains much of the spirit of the earlier draft.
2. Given the strategic and timely significance of this proposed legislation, and the need to tie-up and implement historic policy strands as well as the key recommendations of the Pitt Review, we believe that not bringing forward a Bill before an election would have been more unhelpful than helpful to all concerned, even though the Bill deals with little beyond flooding issues.
3. WWT has a membership approaching 200,000 and nine wetland centres throughout the UK, the majority associated with a wetland of national or international significance. We have a million visitors each year, each given an opportunity to learn about wise-water use, how wetlands work and the wildlife associated with them.
4. All of our sites are located in areas liable to flood. Five are in areas at risk of progressive coastal erosion, and we are developing adaptation plans. All of our sites support functional wetland treatment systems, designed to enhance water quality and biodiversity and act as demonstration sites for educational purposes. Many of our sites also incorporate SUDS and water harvesting systems. We have a long and successful track record of designing and delivering such systems, both in the UK and overseas through WWT and WWT Consulting (WWTC).
5. WWT is a member of the 'Blueprint for Water' coalition. The Blueprint has long sought coherent legislation that implements Making Space for Water, and delivers truly sustainable management of our wetland environment. Effective legislation, which duly considers the benefits of working with natural processes, and seeks to maximise environmental benefit across all water management related activities is critical to this vision. We therefore welcome this Bill, but do have a few remaining concerns.
6. WWT looks forward to playing a key role in researching, promoting and delivering the innovative ways of dealing with water that will hopefully arise as a result of this Bill. We hope our views are helpful at this stage.
Views on Bill content:
7. A definition of SUDS should be adopted which encourages them, and enables future projects, initiatives and schemes with a primary objective of surface flood water management to be developed in a way which does not put unnecessary barriers in the way of truly holistic water management. We hope that the National Standards will also assist here. We believe that the definition currently detailed within the Bill is too narrow (paragraphs 9-14 detail what needs further consideration).
8. There must be no residual ambiguity over who owns, adopts or approves a SUDS, or uncertainties over whether doing so will incur additional costs, which cannot be realistically met. We believe that Local Authorities are best placed to undertake this due to the range of services and functions they already provide, and that with appropriate investment from central government and skills sharing from a range of bodies, they can successfully embrace this role. Local Authorities, with logistical support, are best placed to adopt and approve SUDS, though the Bill should allow for Local Authorities to delegate this responsibility under exceptional circumstances.
9. Holistic water management includes the consideration of mechanisms to capture and utilise water before it reaches the ground, ways of holding back water that can provide for biodiversity and other domestic water use purposes, and sometimes treatment of water whilst temporarily captured. The need to treat water may especially be the case with surface run-off coming from or via roads, or from industrialised areas.
10. Treatment wetlands can improve the quality of water from across the spectrum of slightly dirty surface run-off, right through to domestic foul waste and industrial diffuse and point source pollution. A narrow definition of SUDS may discourage consideration of easy and relatively proven techniques for more holistically capturing and treating water before it enters our watercourses and sewers and potentially subsequently cause flooding. The Bill does not currently recognise the parallel and often complementary roles of SUDS and treatment wetlands.
11. A treatment wetland can be of highly constructed nature, or can consist of a more natural wetland feature or habitat. Wetlands are proven providers of water treatment, and usually are able to retain water for longer than equivalent areas that have no wetlands. Such wetlands need not displace current land-uses, since they can be small and integrated within a mixed landscape in every part of the UK.
12. Different sources of water passing through the landscape, its surface and sub-soil, usually mix to some extent. Flooding events can produce mixed surface water (and groundwater), which may originate from a number of places. SUDS 'designed' to accept surface water therefore rarely exclusively do so, and so we hope to see a definition that reflects this, and accommodates the fact that SUDS do not just deal with 'clean' rain water, although they primarily do so. This is misleading.
13. New approaches to retaining water are required in both an urban and rural context. Surface water management systems with sustainability 'designed in' occur or are planned for some rural areas, and many require further development. These may involve highly constructed systems, planned land-use change or the reinstatement of habitat. All these design forms can make a contribution to holding back and treating water, which may go on to flow through urban areas. These need not all be considered SUDS though, since they constitute other examples of working with natural processes that contribute to the same overall aim.
14. The definition of SUDS and indeed the text of the Bill, needs to strike an appropriate balance between describing systems which make a contribution to alleviating urban surface water flooding, and placing a manageable framework around primarily urban systems that need more rigorous approval and long-term investment such as SUDS. We do not believe that the Bill is quite there yet and in light of this believe the text needs a re-read to ensure that unhelpful distinctions do not exist or confuse.
Working with natural processes
15. SUDS is a design concept that allows water to exhibit a greater affinity with its natural path and flow rate, and is an example of a scheme that could be said to be working with natural processes.
16. We greatly welcome the explicit recognition within the text of the Bill that effective flood risk management can be achieved by working more explicitly with the natural form of the landscape, the natural pathway of water through it, or land-uses and practices that better chime with natural processes. It therefore directly embeds the relevant recommendations made by the Pitt Review. Numerous examples demonstrate that translating this philosophy into practice will help avert or reduce the impacts of future flooding events.
17. We hope that embedding this concept in legislation will reinvigorate flood risk management practice and project delivery: this is long overdue. We believe the Bill adequately recognises that there has been over reliance on hard engineering, and a balance is needed which considers the full range of options on offer - and crucially in a way that incorporates other societal priorities and enables more sustainable adaptation to climate change. It expands the armoury of available solutions to societal problems, and whilst we hope this supports a shift in practice in line with the Sir Michael Pitt's recommendations, we do not believe that it will risk crowding out other priority land-uses. We also believe that this shift in practice will deliver more sustainable development.
Automatic right to connection
18. The Bill text leaves some ambiguity over whether or not a new development has the right to connect to public sewers. This text needs revising, such that there is no ambiguity, and proper advisory procedures are followed. We cannot risk a similar situation to that of Environment Agency advice against building on floodplains being ignored, with obvious consequences for urban flooding.
Strengthening the role of the EA
19. We greatly welcome the enhanced strategic role afforded the Environment Agency, as per the earlier consultation. We believe sufficient safeguards are stipulated within the Bill to ensure local and regional views can be taken into account in devising flood risk management strategies.
20. Unsustainable development is not an option for society, and we therefore welcome the new sustainability duty detailed within the Bill on all Operating authorities. We remain concerned that this duty remains weak however, and does not seem to apply to all bodies that have a flood risk management function such as the Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs). We hope that a definition will be developed to accompany the Bill which clarifies what this means in practice. This definition should be clear and enable all bodies involved in flood risk management to readily adopt its principles into their practice.