What does Net Gains mean for the water industry?

The government has recently published new planning guidance for local authorities on new developments requiring greater focus on improving biodiversity. What’s this got to do with the water industry? Quite a lot actually…

SuDS Swale in Buckshaw Village

The headlines have been about hedgehog highways and hollow bricks for roosting birds but what does increasing biodiversity mean for the water industry? It makes it an ideal opportunity for developers to rethink their approach to water management based on a full understanding of how it can effectively contribute to biodiversity as well as reducing the pressure it puts on existing infrastructure.

Sustainable Drainage Systems or SuDS are widely regarded as an innovative and green way of managing water. However without effective legislation, developers have been slow to adopt it. The new guidelines mandate increased biodiversity, meaning that the creation of SuDS features such as swales and drainage ponds could become some of the most effective methods for increasing it in a limited area.

Why is this?

Swales and drainage ponds provide habitats for a variety of wildlife, insects and different varieties of plants. They can even provide sources of food and resting places for migratory birds. The key to all of this is that they utilise the so called ‘Edge Effect’ whereby two areas of different habitats interact, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, an area of open ground by itself has a limited amount of biodiversity; however by introducing a drainage pond, you are not only increasing the variety of plants, insects, and wildlife that can utilise the drainage pond directly, but encouraging more biodiversity within the open ground species by increasing sources of food.

The benefits for developers and communities

SuDS have a variety of benefits for customers and local human inhabitants too though. To start they can provide attractive aesthetic elements, bringing an array of new plants and animals to the area from dragon flies to water lilies. These can become anything from features for a property, to an outdoors classroom for local schools, teaching children about ecology.

For developers, local authorities, and the water industry however they limit the impact of new developments on existing surface water systems. Unsustainable impact on local infrastructure can be a key element in refusing new planning permission, so reducing the impact of new builds on this should be a focus of any developers.

They can also provide a new layer to local flood defences, which as weather patterns become more extreme should be a key element of design for future proofing.

In January 2019 the Welsh government introduced new legislation mandating any new developments of more than one dwelling incorporated SuDS as part of their flood defences

Lastly as the UK moves towards a greener, carbon neutral future and issues such as re-wilding and biodiversity become more important to local authorities and the public; small changes such as introducing SuDS into a development can be a major asset to gaining support for new developments.

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