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Survey of England's drainage systems reveals drought in resources

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 requires every council to co-operate and communicate strategies with others to prevent flood risks.

Yet according to a comprehensive review of all of England’s 338 adopted and emerging local plans, that requirement may not be currently met - due in part (once again) to a lack of resources.

The new review of planning policy for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS for short), by the British Geographical Survey, found that only 60% of local authorities engage in collaboration over flooding-related planning guidance.

Sustainable drainage systems happen naturally in rural areas as rainwater is largely absorbed into grassland and seeps into the groundrock. Not so, however, in in the country’s more urban areas where acres of paving and tarmac have created the need for drainage and watercourses.

According to the British Geographical Survey, a lack of SuDS creates pollution, as sewers release dirty water into rivers when they become overwhelmed by surface water. Downstream flooding is another key consideration.

Yet according to the review, conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and published last week, only half of the respondents reported co-working practices with their respective water and sewerage companies on surface water management - potentially exacerbating an ecological crisis.

Stretched resources was repeatedly cited as a causing factor, with more than 40% of county councils and unitary authorities (lead local flood authorities, or LLFAs) citing concerns over time and expertise. Some authorities even said it had become more difficult to recruit and retain experienced drainage engineers.

This fact may not be news for many flood experts, however. LGC reported in June on the extraordinary findings of retired Major General Tim Cross who, in his own government commissioned review, found a “lack of any coherent boundaries” had placed around 5.5 million properties in England at risk of flooding.

General Cross, also president of the Institute of Civil Protection & Emergency Management, found that, following almost a decade of austerity, the Environment Agency had seen its budget slashed by 56% since 2010-11 (from £113m to £50m in 2016-17) leading to “dramatic” reductions in emergency planning manager numbers. In some areas these reductions had all “inevitably eroded the ability” to plan and respond to a flood risk.

The latest review has found, once again, that more collaboration is needed on policy - citing a need for industry bodies to “address skills and knowledge gaps through streamlined and updated industry guidance”.

Without recognition of the core, underlying problems that have created these gaps, however, councils will continue to struggle while residents and businesses will continue to face threats from flooding and pollution.

By Robert Cusack, reporter

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