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Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change

First published:
13 July 2023
Last updated:

I am pleased to announce the publication of our review of the implementation of sustainable drainage systems or SuDS. This has been eagerly awaited by our partners involved in delivering housing and development, including Local Authorities and water companies. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed towards shaping this report. The delivery of SuDS exemplifies our Team Wales approach by working with public, social, and private partners, removing barriers and promoting opportunities for nature-based solutions and Green Infrastructure. 

Responding to the climate and nature emergencies is embedded in everything we do as a government.  We made a commitment to review how the SuDS legislation was working after its implementation in 2019 and whilst we were delayed by responding to the pandemic, in May last year we commissioned Arup to take this review forward on our behalf.

We know green infrastructure is a tried and tested tool for dealing with many of the issues facing our built and natural environment. According to UK Climate Predictions, Wales will see milder, wetter winters, more intense rainfall events, more coastal flooding and hotter, drier summers. SuDS will improve our resilience to the impact of a changing climate, providing flood risk management, improved water quality and treatment and enhanced amenity and biodiversity. SuDS also deliver and contribute to multiple environmental, social and economic benefits that include improved air quality, carbon reduction, and various elements of community health and wellbeing that can include traffic calming and reduced crime.

There was a recognised need to change our way of managing surface water following the UK floods of 2007. This led to legal provisions for the removal of the automatic right to drain surface water to the public sewer and for government to determine who should own and maintain SuDS.

Prior to 2019 we published national standards on a voluntary basis but this had little or no impact on the uptake of SuDS and a step change was needed. We therefore decided to commence Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010; the first nation in the world to have such statutory SuDS legislation. It is of note that our approach in Wales has contributed to England also now preparing for very similar legislation.

Listed below are some of the main findings of the report and the actions I have tasked officials with taking forward as a priority. 

One of the key recommendations is to amend the national SuDS standards for Amenity and Biodiversity. This will support and align with a number of other policy objectives:

  • The delivery of the Section 6 duty under the Environment (Wales) Act which requires that public authorities must seek to maintain and enhance biodiversity.
  • Aligning the DECCA Framework and Planning Policy Wales, to ensure steps are taken at the development proposal and planning stages to maintain and enhance biodiversity and ecosystems resilience, alongside managing flood risk and the wider socio-economic needs of businesses and communities.
  • We will consider how these amendments can support Objective 6 of the Biodiversity Deep Dive, to unlock public and private finance to deliver for nature at far greater scale and pace.
  • And, most specifically, we will use these amendments to meet our Programme for Government commitment to strengthen the requirements for SuDS that provide wildlife habitat.

Returning to the wider findings of the review, I have asked officials to provide options and timescales to increase capacity building and the delivery of further training for SuDS Approval Bodies (SABs). This will contribute to Objective 5 of our Biodiversity Deep Dive in helping to build a strong foundation for the future delivery of nature recovery. 

We will investigate the practical implications of new standards for the inclusion of SuDS design elements within new and existing highways. This would enable us to tackle road

run-off that drains directly to rivers and other water bodies; a pollutant source which is largely unaddressed.

We will also investigate and develop the best mechanism for annual data collection and reporting by SABs. This will drive improved performance across Wales and allow us to consider whether the current fees structure is appropriate. We will give careful consideration to how performance data collected might have wider value. For example, it could be that surface water drainage information gathered by SABs in site inspections has a role to play in future reporting requirements under Section 19 of the Flood and Water Management Act.

We will consolidate all guidance documents for SuDS into a single document covering both major and small developments as well as agricultural buildings.  We will remove the ambiguity and inconsistency that currently exists across these documents to improve clarity. We will aim to deliver this within the next 12 months.

This will also include new guidance for scenarios that may be deemed to comply or be exempt from requiring approval. Among others, we will consider developments such as allotments, certain types of paths or access routes, emergency works, or types of construction where compliance with alternative standards may safely be deemed equivalent.

We will also scope out the widely supported recommendation to establish and support a new SuDS advisory group to share lessons and best practice for both applicants and SABs alike. To ensure this has value we will assess the resources to help drive forward an action programme taking forward the recommendations of the review. One of its first tasks will be to determine the options and associated costs for the development of a clearer, more proportionate and consistent application process across Wales.  We will explore the preferred options for taking this forward with stakeholders with the aim of convening its first meeting within the Autumn.

Finally, I have asked officials to scope, cost and procure a national commuted sums approach, possibly to include rates and length of maintenance period, and associated guidance. I have asked my officials to make this work an immediate priority, to address the issues raised around by both developers and local authorities, and to help deliver our target of 20,000 new social homes before the end of 2026.

I will be giving further consideration to the review’s recommendations and evidence before making any decisions on wider modifications to the current regime.  Given the cross-cutting implications and opportunities SuDS bring, my officials are working collectively to digest and analyse the detailed findings and recommendations and develop an action programme, detailing short, medium and long-term delivery targets, to be published this Autumn.  

In 2019, we became the first country in the world to legislate a requirement for SuDS on new developments. We have learned a great deal and, as we drive further improvements, we will continue to lead in our innovative approach to managing surface water and minimising flood risk.

With these and other changes to the SuDS regime we will increase and enhance the community green spaces in our villages, towns and cities, making Wales an even better place in which to live and work for current and future generations.