Review of sustainable drainage

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 27 Hydref 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

(1) Before exercising his powers under section 35(1) the Secretary of State must carry out a review of planning legislation, government planning policy and local planning policies concerning sustainable drainage in relation to the development of land in England.—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to review the impact of the planning system on the management of flooding and drainage.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am sure that the Minister was an avid follower of the deliberations on the Housing and Planning Bill, so he will know that the issue raised by this new clause was mentioned in those proceedings, particularly in the other place. The Government have already committed to a review of planning legislation, Government planning policy and local planning policies as they relate to sustainable drainage. Given that, it is appropriate for the Minister to ask, “If so, why make a similar amendment to this Bill?” I hope to give him the answer. The new clause is, first, very much a probing one, so that we may put questions to the Minister about the review, and secondly, to reiterate the importance of undertaking that review before the Secretary of State exercises new powers that the Government have said are made under the Bill in order to bring forward more development.

The review came about as a result of a call for a more strenuous new clause on sustainable drainage that was tabled by a cross-party group in the other place. In response, the Government said that they would carry out a review, although it was much narrower than what was requested by their lordships. We ended up with a commitment to undertake a full review of the strengthened planning policy on sustainable drainage systems by April 2017—narrower than this new clause and the previous one.

The Housing and Planning Minister at the time said:

“The Government are committed to ensuring that developments are safe from flooding, and the delivery of sustainable drainage systems is part of our planning policy, which was strengthened just over a year ago. Our policy is still new, as I outlined in more detail last week, and I am willing to consider issues further as it matures. I am happy to review the effectiveness of current policy and legislation”.—[Official Report, 9 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 463.]

That commitment was given in lieu of the amendment in May this year.

Notably, the previous Minister did not give the other place a time commitment for when the review would be completed. Further clarification from the Minister suggested that a review would be undertaken by April 2017, but at this point in time we are not exactly sure what stage the review is at, including whether it has started or whether the timescales will be met. The point was forcefully made to the Committee in evidence from Friends of the Earth, which said that the Government are still failing

“to instigate requirements for sustainable urban drainage”.

As that issue was brought to my attention, and given the commitment from the previous Minister, I tried to find out what the Government were doing. I am not sure that anything is being done. The point of the original amendment was to say that there is a really serious issue of flooding and that one of the ways in which the Government can more easily address flooding issues is to ensure that new developments have SUDS. That amendment asked that, if any such review identified that there was a lack of SUDS in places where they should be in place, action be taken to ensure that SUDS were applied to new developments. However, lots of developments are going up—as we speak, I suspect—that might be liable to flooding but do not have SUDS in place. As we are planning to build about 1 million new homes between now and 2020, it is important that the Government get on with the review.

Indeed, the Environment Agency estimates that one in six homes in England are at risk of flooding. Some 2.4 million homes are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea alone, 3 million are at risk from surface water alone, and 1 million are at risk from both. That is an awful lot of homes at risk of flooding, which is why there was cross-party agreement in the other place that something needed to be done to improve the delivery of SUDS in new developments. That is why we thought the Minister agreed to the review. We thought that it would be a speedy review, given how awful it is for people affected by flooding. Some communities are subjected to flooding year on year, which can be incredibly disruptive for individuals and families. Therefore, some urgency is needed when it comes to carrying out the review and putting SUDS in place. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 4:00, 27 Hydref 2016

Not for the first time, the hon. Lady has accurately predicted what I was going to say. The Government believe that the new clause is unnecessary. Section 171 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 includes a requirement for the Secretary of State to carry out a review of planning legislation, Government policy and local planning policies concerning sustainable drainage in relation to the development of land in England. Rather than just leaving it there, perhaps I can provide some reassurance on where we are with all that.

My Department has formally commenced work on the review and that section of the 2016 Act. The review’s primary purpose is to examine the extent to which planning has been successful in encouraging the take-up of such drainage systems in new developments. More specifically, it will look at how national planning policies for SUDS are being reflected in local plans; the uptake of SUDS in major new housing developments, including the type of systems employed; the use of SUDS in smaller developments below the major threshold; the use of SUDS in commercial and mixed-use developments, including the type of systems employed; and how successful local plans and national policies have been in encouraging the take-up of SUDS in housing developments. It will engage with a wide range of stakeholders to gauge how the new policy and arrangements are bedding in and to analyse options for further action to improve take-up.

My officials are working on gathering evidence for the review, in collaboration with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency. We aim to substantially complete our evidence gathering by spring 2017 to ensure that the findings of the review are available to inform the Committee on Climate Change’s adaptation sub-committee’s progress report on the national adaptation programme, to be published in summer 2017.

It might be worth saying a brief word about the substantive policy issue. The background to the review relates to a non-Government amendment that sought to remove the automatic right to connect to a public sewer for surface water, in a bid to push people into adopting SUDS. Even before the changes to planning in major developments that came into effect in April last year, the NPPF set out some strict tests, which all local planning authorities are expected to follow, to protect people and property from flooding. As part of that policy, priority should be given to SUDS in all developments—except very minor ones—in areas at risk of flooding. The policy has now been strengthened to make clear our expectation that SUDS will be provided in all major new developments, whether or not in a flood risk area, unless they can be demonstrated to be inappropriate.

As well as strengthening policy expectations, we have extended national guidance to set out considerations and options for sustainable drainage systems, including in relation to their operation and maintenance. Lead local flood authorities have been made statutory consultees for planning applications for major developments, to ensure that local planning authorities have access to appropriate technical expertise and advice.

I hope I have reassured the hon. Member for City of Durham that there has already been a significant policy shift in the right direction and that good progress is being made on the review and on meeting our undertakings in the Housing and Planning Act 2016. On that basis, I ask her to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

The Minister is right that I tabled the new clause primarily to get an update on the availability and use of SUDS. There is cross-party agreement that they should be employed when new developments are at risk of flooding, and indeed in wider circumstances. We look forward to seeing the report on the climate change adaptation programme in summer 2017. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 12