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PR 24 - Flood action jeopardised by tardy planning bill

07 May 2008

Urgently required action to reduce the risk of flooding may be delayed by the tardy progress of the Planning Bill, according to the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

Last year a series of floods caused by a combination of heavy downpours and poor drainage caused £3.3bn of damage and severely disrupted the supply of utilities - including fresh water - to thousands of homes across the UK. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee carried out an investigation into the flooding. Its report, which was released today (Wednesday), recommends that local authorities insist developers install Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDs) on all new developments. SUDs are drainage schemes designed to imitate the natural progression of water, reducing the dangerous build-up of surface water which caused last year's floods (1). The Report also recommends that a presumption in favour of SUDs be included in the Planning Bill(2).

The RTPI backs the introduction of measures to compel the use of SUDs but is concerned that the tardy progress of the Planning Bill could mean it won't gain Royal Assent before parliament rises for its winter recess. As a result the Bill will have to be carried over into 2009, meaning that at least 10 avoidable months of potentially damaging development would have taken place by the time the recommended measures are formally adopted.

The Bill received its first reading in the Commons last November but since reaching the committee stage in February this year it has stagnated. There are still nine stages for the Bill to complete before it becomes law.

RTPI Policy Director, Rynd Smith, said: \"Last summer's devastating floods were a graphic demonstration that immediate action was needed to improve surface water drainage. Efra's recommendation to promote the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems to mitigate flood risk is welcome but the vehicle it has chosen to drive this agenda forward is in danger of stalling. The Planning Bill hasn't budged since the committee stage closed at the start of February and with nine stages still to navigate and the number of sitting days left this year rapidly ticking away there's a danger it won't gain Royal Assent before the winter recess. The Efra Committee's recommendation is just another reason for the Government to get the Planning Bill back before parliament.\"

The RTPI is also backing the call for local councils to be given the power through the planning process to oblige homeowners to use permeable surfaces - like porous paving - when installing driveways or paving garden areas.

Permeable surfaces reduce the risk of flash-flooding by absorbing rainfall rather than repelling it, allowing excess water to enter the water table, rather than diverting it directly into storm-water drains, rivers and streams where it can contribute to flood surges. By filtering the water which seeps through they also remove heavy metals and toxic liquids like engine oils which drip from cars, before they can enter the water table.

RTPI Policy Director Rynd Smith said: \"Using water-tight surfaces to cover over gardens and driveways is a recipe for very wet disaster. Storm-water drains are already struggling to cope with run-off during heavy downpours, leading to flash floods in populated areas. It is a problem that will only get worse if home owners are allowed to carry on cementing over driveways and gardens in high risk areas.

\"Local authorities need to be given the power, via the planning process, to step in and say to homeowners in flood risk areas that while they can have a paved driveway or patio area they're going to have to pave it in a way that doesn't contribute to flooding'.\"

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Dale Atkinson, RTPI Communications Manager, 0207 929 9479

Notes to Editors:

1. SUDs include green roofs, water butts, porous paving on roads and driveways and the adoption of larger scale schemes like swales, detention basins and balancing ponds.
2. A presumption in favour means that SUDs would be an automatic requirement of any new development unless the developer could demonstrate good reasons why they should not be adopted.
3. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is a dynamic organisation leading the way in the creation of places that work now and in the future. We understand that just as people develop places, so places develop people. We are committed to the enhancement of our natural and human environment, using spatial planning to manage competing pressures on our built environments and the very real effects on our space. Through our 20,000 members, we constantly seek to create areas and places in which people want to live and work.

For further general information, visit the RTPI website at: www.rtpi.org.uk

41 Botolph Lane, London, EC3R 8DL, charity no. 262865