A new report shows that the delivery of sustainable drainage in England is currently a long way behind the ambition

Landscape feature incorporating successful SuDS elements at Rathbone Market, Canning Town, by Churchman Landscape Architects. Copyright © Tim Crocker

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) are an important way of managing surface water runoff in built developments.

Partly or wholly natural in design, SuDS were first introduced to the English planning system in 2010. National planning policy encourages SuDS in all major developments ‘unless there is clear evidence that this would be inappropriate’, while as of January 2019, SuDS are mandatory in Wales for all new developments over 100m2.

But a new report by the Landscape Institute and Construction Industry Council highlights the huge step change still needed in this area.

96% of local authorities report that the quality of planning submissions for SuDS are either ‘inadequate’ or ‘mixed’. And as of 2017, 25% of local authorities had no formal SuDS policies in place, nor any immediate plans to implement any. This is putting communities under threat of surface water flooding as climate change continues to put pressure on our landscapes.

‘The problems for LLFAs in delivering good quality SuDS are clear,’ said Sue Illman, CIC Champion for Flood Mitigation and Resilience, past President of the Landscape Institue and co-author of the report. ‘At a time when climate change and sustainability are such prevalent issues, the shortcomings and inconsistencies highlighted in this report are of real concern.

‘But the review also shows how relatively small changes in government guidance could provide better outcomes for communities and the environment.’

‘When designed and implemented properly, SuDS schemes manage the quantity and quality of water, improve biodiversity, and help create attractive and healthy places.’

The LI and CIC’s new report surveyed Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) – who are responsible for flood strategy, including SuDS – across the country. The research aimed to evaluate the current system, and how policy is (or isn’t) leading to successful SuDS schemes on the ground.

The research shows that delivery is currently a long way behind the ambition. Only 3% of authorities reported receiving adequate information to appropriately assess a planning application for SuDS. As for local authorities themselves, most are gearing up for more SuDS, but coverage is uneven.

‘SuDS can do far more than just manage surface water,’ Sue continued. ‘When designed and implemented properly, SuDS schemes manage the quantity and quality of water, improve biodiversity, and help create attractive and healthy places.

‘All of us – from policymakers to practitioners, planners to designers, public sector and private – need to work together to ensure we are doing the best to safeguard our local environments.’

Read the report here.


  1. the term SUDS means different things to different people it is a misnomer which does not help
    We should adopt a different term for SUDs when we are meaning open water, bio-diversity and amenity to distinguish between an engineered tank which does fulfil planning obligations to control the outflow from a site. I have noticed the term “Green SUDS” being used to good effect

    • Hi Seamus, thanks for your comment. SuDS are a relatively new concept, and you’re right that the “S” part can be interpreted in different ways – not all of which are technically “green”. “SuDS” is still a young acronym, and perhaps in 10 years time we’ll all be talking about “Green SuDS” instead. The principles of biodiversity and amenity are important here, and we’ve made sure to stress that in our report.


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