Assessing SUDS and BMPs in the year of The Pig
Some environmental problems are probably truly intractable – the irretrievable contamination of the marine environment and its biota by persistent pollutants which accumulate via food chains to levels implicated in failed reproduction of top predators such as killer whales for example. But these are far less frequently encountered than perfectly solvable challenges which fall in the category “can’t do won’t do”. I still recall from many years ago, the depressing experience of watching the then nominal lead for SUDS in Scotland for example, bellowing at a gathering of unit managers; some of them had the temerity to speak up against the de facto policy of no inspections, and suggest they could find some time for their enthusiastic and willing staff to inspect a small percentage of SUDS developments as they were being implemented. The aim of course was to drive up the standard of design and completion. Spluttering with anger the boss (long gone thank goodness) roared at them that surely they have some litter problems or something else they could be doing?
Happily those dismal days are in the past. In Scotland now, and in Wales, as well as in several local authorities in England, water utilities too, there are progressive people leading SUDS implementation. But across the UK there is still a general and dogmatic hostility to regulation. Regulatory benefits from using available powers are obvious, including addressing misconnections of foul into surface water drains; they can be corrected by serving notices. They can be deterred by prosecutions, with associated publicity. In Scotland administrative penalties are gradually being introduced to the regulatory regime. For multiple individually minor but collectively significant sources such as diffuse pollution, such an approach has been advocated from the outset1. It can also be the simplest enforcement option for the general binding rules (GBRs) which were introduced in 2006 in Scotland2. GBRs 10 and 11 are the key ones for SUDS, protecting surface water drainage (including SUDS features) from pollution at a practical level, and introducing the statutory requirement (in Scotland only) to use SUDS technology for new development2. Earlier this year SEPA announced that higher risk activities for sediment release (e.g. major construction sites) will be licensed, which brings them out of the GBR part of the regime and allows for planned inspections and more traditional enforcement3. It’s commendable progress, albeit still falling short of the tiny but v significant step to have a minimal enforcement element for the GBRs too.
As indicated above, the rational approach for regulating many individually minor sources is to assess only a small number of them – a sample. A sensible analogy with policing techniques is the enforcement of bald tyres, or seat belts; you don’t register with anyone that you have tyres and seats, and no-one pretends that every car will be inspected. But we all know the law and that the police will have a look from time to time at some vehicles and we risk being prosecuted for non-compliance. As a result of that knowledge of the intent to enforce if failures are encountered, most people comply. The opposite occurs when the regulator publicly states no intention to enforce at all. Imagine if that approach was used for speeding? Or bald tyres?
Now a modest inspection regime as above can be greatly enhanced by new technology. Drones and satellite data are here to greatly assist those who wish to assess many environmental features which are scattered in the landscape but are increasingly important for flood risk management, pollution control, and creation of amenity habitats. At a seminar on 26th February in Edinburgh4, Living Roofs guru Dusty Gedge enthusiastically championed the use of drones and satellite data to evaluate landscape features. Far cheaper than sending out a team of ecologists or enforcement staff from the planning department in the council. This sort of approach could be a game changer and needs to be advocated strongly as diffuse pollution and flood risk management move higher up the public agenda again. The techniques are equally applicable for rural BMPs and assessment of landscapes for compliance with rural GBRs, identifying diffuse pollution hotspots etc. It’s also fashionable high tech, data-rich and relatively inexpensive – what more could anyone want? “Could do, shall do” might even be the new mantra, after all, it is the year of the pig (and it might fly…).
Brian J D’Arcy
Independent Environmental Consultant
1D’Arcy BJ, Schmulian K and Wade R (2006) Regulatory Options for the Management of Rural Diffuse Pollution. In L Gairns, K Crighton and B Jeffrey (eds.) Managing Rural Diffuse Pollution. Proceedings of the SAC & SEPA Biennial Conference, Edinburgh 5-6 April 2006, pp. 192-200. ISBN 1-901322-63-7
2D’Arcy BJ and Hemingway A (2018) The regulatory regime for bringing SUDS into routine use for industrial estates and business parks in Scotland, UK, in BJ D’Arcy, L-H Kim and M Maniquiz-Redillas (eds.) Wealth Creation without Pollution – Designing for Industry, Ecobusiness Parks and Industrial Estates. IWAP, London, UK. ISBN:
3SEPA (2019) New construction licence aims to protect Scotland’s water environment. Scottish Environment Protection Agency press release, Stirling, UK, http://media.sepa.org.uk/media-releases/2018/sepa-calls-on-construction-industry-to-be-aware-of-new-licensing-requirements.aspx; https://www.sepa.org.uk/regulations/water/pollution-control/construction-site-licences/
4Gedge D (2019) Key note address, Specifi Edinburgh LANDSCAPE EVENT, 26th February 2019, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, UK.
BJ D’Arcy 6th March 2019.