As the flood waters recede they reveal that the “Greenest Government Ever”‘s environmental credentials have finally all been washed away.
The idea of Sustainable (Urban) Drainage Schemes, or SUDS has been around for a long time. I can remember arguing for a floodwater storage area or swale (which also had wildlife benefits) as part of a development on the edge of Aylesbury 20 years ago.
The idea is to make developments such that when there is high rainfall, the water takes a path, either returning to the local groundwater or to the nearest river, without flooding properties or infrastructure. This means allocating part of a development to the Green Infrastructure needed to enable the water to do this.
Now we hear that after four years of wrangling, the SUDS requirements in the Flood Act 2010, have been shelved. The developers don’t want to lose land to green infrastructure including SUDS – land that could be built on. The Home Builders Federation said “If you are forced to put in a large pond, that means you can’t build homes on that, so there is a cost involved.”
What the HBF mean is that they would have to reduce the massive profit they make on developing land for housing. That is not the same as, say, a cost to taxpayers, or the emotional and psychological cost of living in a flood-prone property. The HBF would rather be left to decide how best to reduce flood risk on new developments – and look how well that has worked in the past.
New Natural England chair Andrew Sells has friends on the board of the HBF – perhaps he can have a word.
But I digress.
So while new developments fail to receive the flood-reducing SUDS green infrastructure, at the other end of the catchment, Owen Paterson is encouraging farmers to speed the removal of water from their land – so it can – yes you guessed it, arrive all the more quickly in those towns and cities that are so commonly sited on large rivers.
There are some great examples of imaginative approaches to reducing downstream flooding including farmers willingly changing their land-use management to help reduce flooding in nearby villages and towns.
This Government seems much more interested in appeasing housing developers (who provide very large donations to the Tory Party); big industrial farmers who just want the water off their land; selling off publicly owned land for private profit; and cutting the budgets of the department (Defra) and its agencies (EA and NE) and the Local Authorities who have responsibility for sustainable management of our rivers, wetlands and greenspaces.
Of course, Green Infrastructure is not just there to reduce flooding – greenspaces near your house help improve mental health for people living in local communities and that improvement is sustained in the long-term.
National planning policy doesn’t really care about the mental health benefits of local greenspace though – after all, where’s the profit in that? The NPPF is designed in such a way as to allow developers to completely ignore local views, if the Local Planning Authority has not managed to get their Core Strategy past a Government Planning Inspector, especially on grounds that they have not allocated enough land for housing. This is the Pandora’s Box that was highlighted in the campaign on the NPPF two years ago, and is now being opened.
So enjoy your local greenspace for all its values, before it’s sold off to developers to build flood-prone houses.