Post-legislative scrutiny: Flood and Water Management Act 2010 Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS)

1.New development is essential to support thriving communities and it is important that plans to build a million new homes by 2020 can be delivered cost-effectively. But it is vital that development does not increase flooding. The Government purports to support the use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) as a method for reducing flood risk from new development as well as for delivering a range of other benefits. But its sub-standard sustainable drainage (SuDS) policies are leading to too few systems being installed in new developments, and too few of these are of high quality. This is leaving communities unnecessarily exposed to flood risk and planning approaches are failing to deliver maximum biodiversity, water quality and amenity benefits. (Paragraph 14)

2.We acknowledge the views of local authorities and developers concerned about the commencement of Flood and Water Management Act measures for the approval and adoption of SuDS. (Paragraph 19)

3.We are not persuaded that it is currently essential to commence Schedule 3 of the Act in order to improve the SuDS regulatory framework. Rather, we recommend that the Government strengthens planning approaches to require SuDS schemes to be installed in all developments of more than one property so as to prevent smaller developments cumulatively adding to flood risk. Planning policies must also be significantly tightened to reduce the ability for developers to use cost or practicality reasons to opt-out from installing SuDS. Standards must require schemes to deliver multiple benefits wherever possible, including biodiversity, amenity and water quality benefits as well as simply reducing water run-off rates. (Paragraph 19)

4.The Government should enshrine standards for the design of SuDS in statute to ensure that all new developments install high-quality SuDS. These standards must ensure that developments do not add to surface water flood risk and that that new drainage systems deliver biodiversity, water quality and amenity benefits. (Paragraph 22)

5.Stronger regulation is needed to ensure that SuDS systems are maintained effectively in the long-term. Developers can all too easily hand over responsibility for schemes to companies which are subject to no external oversight over how they maintain SuDS on the developments they manage. It is in the interests not only of those living in a new development but also those in the wider local community that SuDS systems continue to function well in order to minimise flood risk. The Government must clarify how the effective management of SuDS on private land can be better secured through robust agreements for funding and monitoring the long-term maintenance of schemes. (Paragraph 24)

6.The Government must clarify how the effective management of SuDS on private land can be better secured through robust agreements for funding and monitoring the long-term maintenance of schemes (Paragraph 24)

7.Barriers to Water and Sewerage Companies (WaSCs) being able to adopt SuDS must be removed: the definition of a sewer must be amended to remove any uncertainty over WaSCs’ legal ability to build or adopt SuDS. Such adoptions must be accompanied by robust agreements for the funding by private developments of ongoing maintenance costs incurred by WaSCs. (Paragraph 27)

8.We called in our Future flood prevention report for WaSCs to become Water and Drainage Companies with a remit for local surface water management: this would incentivise the installation of new, high-quality SuDS systems. Bringing local flood management and water management together would drive companies to adopt holistic solutions such as SuDS since these would often provide the most cost-effective methods for delivering their regulated range of obligations. (Paragraph 28)

9.The automatic right for new developments’ surface water drainage to be connected to conventional drainage systems must be repealed. This would provide a strong incentive to developers to install SuDS systems in far greater numbers. (Paragraph 31)

10.Improvements to the SuDS policy framework must be matched by effective local delivery arrangements. Under a planning-led approach, it is vital that all Local Planning Authorities and Lead Local Flood Authorities have sufficient skills and expertise on SuDS to ensure that high quality schemes are developed and standards for their construction and maintenance are enforced effectively. The Government must set out the actions it is taking in partnership with the local government sector to ensure that all local authorities with SuDS roles can develop sufficient capacity and expertise. (Paragraph 34)

11.Sewer overflows and surface water flooding are exacerbated by the low prevalence of SuDS installed in existing properties. It is clear that approaches are needed to promote the use of sustainable drainage not just in new developments but for all urban properties. Otherwise, costly new infrastructure could be required to avoid flooding in dense built-up areas as a result of the increasingly intense rainfall likely to affect the UK in future because of climate change. (Paragraph 36)

12.The Government has conceded the need to review the adequacy of its current approaches. Departments must set out a clear timetable for completion of this work and for the implementation of findings in light of the forthcoming General Election. Consultation arrangements must enable all interested parties to contribute their views. The review must take into account the recommendations in this Report together with the recommendation in our previous Future flood prevention report. (Paragraph 38)

13.Our successor Committee may wish to review progress in improving the SuDS regime in 18 months’ time to ensure that a far higher proportion of new developments are installing high-quality SuDS. If policies fail to provide as robust a regime as that under the Flood and Water Management Act by the end of 2018, we consider it would be appropriate for that Committee to consider recommending commencement of Schedule 3 measures. (Paragraph 39)

Sewer adoption

14.Failure to commence provisions in section 42 to enable automatic transfer to Water and Sewerage Companies of private sewers, lateral drains and pumping stations built since July 2011 could potentially lead to an accumulation of sub-standard infrastructure. The Government’s assessment of the costs and benefits of commencing these provisions was flawed since it did not fully take into account the future costs to the water industry of remedying faults in private sewers upon transfer. (Paragraph 42)

15.Furthermore, non-commencement of section 42 has created an arbitrary divide between those reliant on sewers, lateral drains and pumping stations built before 2011 and those reliant on systems built later. Those using pre-2011 systems have their costs shared out among all of a water company’s customers but, unfairly, those using newer systems must directly bear the operating costs themselves. (Paragraph 43)

16.We therefore recommend commencement of the provisions in section 42 of the Flood and Water Management Act as soon as Parliamentary time is available after the General Election as this constitutes a fairer and lower-cost option than current approaches. (Paragraph 43)

Reservoir safety

17.Taking into account the balance of evidence to this inquiry, we support the Government’s current decision to retain the threshold for the application of the Reservoirs Act 1975 to raised reservoirs with a capacity of 25,000 cubic metres or more. However, the Government has said that it is keeping its decision under review and has commissioned further research on regulating smaller reservoirs. (Paragraph 47)

18.The next Government must update our successor Committee on the findings of this research. It is vital that, should the Government propose reducing the threshold to apply provisions to reservoirs with a capacity of 10,000 cubic metres or more, that it sets out a full evidence base to justify how its decision balances safety, economic and water management issues. (Paragraph 47)

Water customer debt

19.Customers are paying on average £21 a year to cover the debts of those who do not pay their water and sewerage bills. With a high proportion of this debt attributable to rented properties, it is vital that landlords share information on their tenants with Water and Sewerage Companies. Whilst a voluntary approach is preferable to imposing mandatory requirements on landlords, many of whom are small and micro-businesses, the current scheme is not working well in England. (Paragraph 52)

20.The Government must review the operation of voluntary initiatives such as Landlord Tap with landlords and the water industry and to make recommendations by the end of 2017 on improving communication so as to improve take-up of the scheme. We recommend also that the Government assesses by the end of 2017 the experience of the Welsh water industry to analyse the impact of a mandatory scheme on both bad debt levels and on costs on landlords. Take-up of the voluntary scheme must significantly improve by the end of 2018: we recommend that our successor Committee consider reviewing this issue then to assess whether the Government should commence the provisions of the Flood and Water Management Act to require landlords to provide information to Water and Sewerage Companies about their tenants for billing purposes. (Paragraph 53)

25 April 2017