Planners and developers have a responsibility to ensure future developments are sustainable and do not increase flood risk to the site or surrounding area. This is steered by national and local policy, and developers are required to consider all types of flooding and use sustainable drainage systems to manage surface water.
Planning policy aims to provide sustainable development in the right places, taking full account of flood risks and climate change. This is implemented through national and local planning policy and is supported by accompanying guidance (see table below).
|National Planning Policy||Local Planning Policy|
|National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)||Planning Practice Guidance (PPG)||Local Plan||Supplementary Planning Documents|
|Neighbourhood Plan (where available, not a legal requirement)||Other guidance notes as available|
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied by Local Planning Authorities (LPA) and decision-makers, both in drawing up plans and making decisions about planning applications. Section 14 of the NPPF sets out how the challenges of climate change, flooding and coastal change will be approached through planning and development.
The interpretation of the NPPF is supported by the Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). This is a web-based resource which sets out how the government’s planning policies are expected to be applied in England. The flood risk and coastal change section of the PPG advises how to take account of and address the risks associated with flooding and coastal change in the planning process.
In broad terms, this national framework requires plans and developments to:
The Local Plan is a plan drawn up by the Local Planning Authority (LPA) which is the Unitary or District Council, not the County Council. The plan addresses the needs and opportunities for future development within the local area as well as providing the opportunity to safeguard the environment and adapt to climate change.
The LPA should seek advice from the relevant flood Risk Management Authorities (RMAs) when preparing the Local Plan, particularly from the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA), to ensure the plan is compatible with the Local Flood Risk Management Strategy.
Local Plans should be informed by a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) and should include policies to manage flood risk from all sources. A risk based approach should be adopted to decide the location of development site allocations and should manage and avoid flood risk to people and property, as well as taking climate change into account. Click here to download ‘Strategic Flood Risk Assessments A Good Practice Guide’ for more information.
The LPA should carry out a sustainability appraisal on each proposal within a Local Plan during its preparation; this is a systematic process which aims to promote sustainable development.
National planning policy sets clear guidance on how a Local Plan should be developed in the ‘plan making’ section. For further guidance on considering flood risk in local plans, see the ‘taking flood risk into account in the preparation of Local Plans’ section.
Once the Local Plan has been examined and adopted by the LPA, the plan, an adoption statement, and the sustainability appraisal must be made publicly available. The Local Plan, together with neighbourhood plans, guides decisions on whether or not a planning application will be accepted, and steers the future development within a local area.
The community will have the opportunity to consult and influence the Local Plan at various stages and again during the examination of the plan before it is adopted by the Council. This allows for the needs and priorities of the community to be reflected.
To view the Local Plan for your area, visit your LPA’s website.
Neighbourhood Plans are a way for communities to decide the future of the places where they live and work, giving them the power to shape the development of their local area through choosing where they want development to occur and what this should look like. It is not a legal requirement to complete a Neighbourhood Plan, but a right which communities in England can choose to use.
As a community you can provide evidence and local knowledge about historic local flooding within the plan to support the Strategic Flood Risk Assessments when considering whether areas would be appropriate for development.
Once approved, a Neighbourhood Plan has the same legal status as the Local Plan and becomes part of the statutory development plan, against which the outcome of planning permission applications are determined. Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders allow communities to grant planning permission either in full or in outline for the types of development they want to see in their areas.
The plan can highlight local problems such as flood risk and develop policies for land use to allow communities to manage this risk. This could be by steering development away from at risk areas or promoting the use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) or water storage within the community. Policies that are produced cannot block development that is already part of the Local Plan, but what they can do is shape where that development will go and what it will look like.
Not all areas have a Neighbourhood Plan, but you can check your Local Planning Authority’s website to see if there is one in your local area.
Policies for managing flood risk in Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans are informed by a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) which is undertaken by the Local Planning Authority.
SFRA’s assess the risk of flooding within the local area by:
There are two levels of SFRA. All LPAs must carry out a Level 1 assessment and apply the Sequential Test. It may be necessary to expand the scope of this assessment to a more detailed Level 2 assessment and an Exception Test if the necessary development cannot be accommodated outside of the flood risk area.
The LPA should use the SFRA to:
You can find out more on this GOV.UK webpage here.
The Strategic Flood Risk Assessment for your area can be found on your LPA’s website.
Flood zones are used to classify the probability of flooding from rivers, the sea and tidal sources in reference to planning and development. There are three flood zones, ranging from flood zone 1 to 3, with 1 being at the lowest risk. The zones ignore the presence of existing defences because these can be breached, overtopped and may not be in existence for the lifetime of the development.
See the ‘Flood Zone and flood risk tables’ section of this guidance here to find out more about what the different flood zones mean.
Use this flood map for planning to find out what flood zone a location is in.
Flood zones can be used to inform initial decisions on potential areas for development. However, flood zones do not take into consideration the risk of flooding from surface water and groundwater which are covered by separate mapping. Also, flood zones do not consider the possible impacts of climate change on future flood risk, and therefore planners and developers should make reference to the SFRA when considering potential future flood risk.
The basic principle is that development should be steered towards flood zone 1. Where no reasonably available sites exist in flood zone 1, a Sequential Test should be applied to guide development to available sites in flood zone 2 and then flood zone 3.
There are five different categories of flood risk vulnerabilities. For example, residential properties fall within ‘more vulnerable’, whereas buildings used for shops are classified as ‘less vulnerable’. The land use vulnerability of the development must also be considered in the context of flood zones.
Local Authorities and developers should seek opportunities to reduce the overall level of flood risk in the area and beyond. This can be achieved through the layout and form of development, by safeguarding land for flood risk management, and through the appropriate application of sustainable drainage systems.
When considering a planning application the Local Planning Authority (LPA) must be satisfied that a development has been made safe from flooding. They can demonstrate this through submitting the following documents in support of their planning application:
Before granting planning permission, where required, the LPA must consult with the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) and the Environment Agency regarding drainage proposals taking account of technical advice. For more information on conditions that the LPA are required to secure, see our ‘Sustainable Surface Water Management’ section. The Water and Sewerage Company (United Utilities for the North West) may also offer comments on the development proposal but the LPA is not required to consult them.
When submitting a planning application for a new development or re-development, the developer must consider flood risk to and from the development site and, ultimately, satisfy the LPA that the development can be made safe from flooding and can be drained to the required standard.
Flood risk should be considered as early as possible to reduce the risk of significant additional costs being incurred and to maximise the potential multi-benefits of sustainable drainage techniques.
Flood risks are typically assessed through the submission of a site specific flood risk assessment and a Sustainable Drainage Strategy, as detailed above.
Under paragraph 167, footnote 55 of the NPPF, developers are required to assess the flood risk from a new development through a site specific flood risk assessment (FRA). This must show how flood risk will be managed now and over the lifetime of the development, taking climate change and the vulnerability of the developments users into account, and ensure that flood risk is not increased elsewhere as a result of the development.
For information on when a site specific FRA is required, click here. The site specific FRA should be proportionate to the degree of flood risk, scale, nature and location of the development, and effectively use the information available.
The site specific FRA should identify if the proposed development will:
Where there remains a residual flood risk, the developer should satisfy requirements to make the development flood resistant and resilient.
Climate change is taken into account by providing an ‘allowance’ in a number of ways:
The Environment Agency and Town & Country Planning Association have partnered to produce an introductory video on addressing flood risk through the planning system in England. This video explains how and why planning must consider flood risk and explores different options and opportunities.
Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is developing land whilst contributing to the improvement and recovery of nature. BNG ensures that habitats are in a better condition after development than before it took place.
If you’re a land manager, developer and/or the local planning authority, it’s important to be aware of and understand BNG and how it will apply to you.
To be classed as a land manager and to benefit from BNG, you must:
You can get paid by selling biodiversity units.
If you’re a developer it’s important to try and prevent habitat loss on the land where you are undertaking development and if this is not possible, you must create on-site or off-site habitat.
For more information on what you can do if you are unable to create habitat either on-site or off-site, click here.
Before development can commence on a piece of land, the Local Planning Authority must approve your biodiversity net gain plan.
For more information on BNG, please click here.
A sustainable drainage strategy shows how surface water affects the potential development site and the surrounding area, assesses how surface water behaves on the site to set out surface water runoff rates and flow paths, and assesses the infiltration rates of water being soaked into the ground. The effect of the development on this and the measures that can be taken to meet requirements for surface water runoff from national and local policy should also be included.
Under the National Planning Policy Framework, developers should incorporate sustainable drainage systems to manage surface water; the sustainable drainage strategy should set out how they intend to do this.
This video from susdrain explains where rain water goes in an urban environment, and how this type of environment can be adjusted and retrofitted with SuDS:
Sustainable drainage systems or ‘SuDS’ are designed to control surface water runoff close to where it falls and mimic natural drainage as closely as possible. SuDS provide opportunities to:
For more information, on SuDS, the types of SuDS and the multiple benefits of them, take a look at our ‘Sustainable Drainage Systems’ page here.
Under the National Planning Policy Framework, SuDS should be provided on all major developments (these include ten or more homes, or on areas of 0.5 hectares or more), and in areas at risk of flooding unless demonstrated to be inappropriate (for example, mineral extraction development), and the techniques used will depend on site-specific characteristics.
This video on Water Sensitive Urban Design explains the importance of designing new developments with sustainable drainage included:
The legislative changes in 2015 made Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) one of the statutory consultees on major planning applications, with the responsibility for assessing surface water drainage proposals. It is recommended that developers contact the LLFA and appropriate statutory consultees before submitting planning applications to the LPA, to help identify the most suitable SuDS design options.
Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) are required to take account of technical advice from the LLFA with regards to surface water drainage proposals. Having taken account of the LLFA’s advice, the LPA must then secure that:
The Government have produced clear, non-statutory technical standards for SuDS, to ensure that the proposed sustainable drainage system meets minimum standards of design, maintenance and operation. Developers are advised to design individual SuDS features to the standards set out in The SuDS Manual (C753).
LPAs should use appropriate planning conditions and/or planning obligations, taking account of Paragraphs 165 and 54 of the NPPF, as to which is the most appropriate mechanism to ensure an acceptable standard of operation for the lifetime of the development.
Where possible, developers are encouraged to deliver high quality ‘green’ SuDS which incorporate multiple benefits such as improving health, adding amenity value, improving water quality, and creating a habitat to enhance biodiversity. You can visit the susdrain website for an overview of the benefits of SuDS here.
This ‘Bricks & Water’ report from the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum highlights some of the issues that are faced when considering flood resilience whilst building new homes, and suggests recommendations that could be addressed and action that could be taken to manage water in a more efficient and effective way in new developments. Click here to visit their website or download the report.
Blue-green infrastructure aims to manage the risk of flooding whilst introducing a more natural water cycle into urban environments and allowing multi-functional land use to generate benefits for the environment, society and the economy. For more information on Blue-green infrastructure, click here.
A new sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) pro-forma and accompanying guidance have been created for Local Planning Authorities to consider adopting as part of their planning documentation.
This has been created for the North West, sponsored and endorsed by the North West Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, and has been developed by a task group of representatives from United Utilities, North West Local Authorities and the Environment Agency, all of whom Planning Authorities may need to consult on surface water drainage matters. The pro-forma has then been widely consulted on and developed further based on the feedback received.
The guidance and the pro-forma encourage the creation of high quality SuDS by allowing water quality, amenity and biodiversity as well as water quantity to be properly considered during the design stage and allowing it to be fully integrated into the surface water management and development design process.
When appropriately designed, eligible SuDS can then be offered for adoption by United Utilities, securing their future maintenance and sustainability.
The new pro-forma supports and encourages SuDS design in line with The SuDS Manual C753 and the Design and Construction Guidance (DCG) for sewers which became the new regulated sewerage sector guidance on 1 April 2020.
“The RFCC would like to see consistency in the approach applied to SuDS requirements across the North West including adherence to the hierarchy for sustainable drainage set out in national planning policy. We, as a Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, endorse this pro-forma as best practice and ask all Local Planning Authorities across the North West to consider implementing it. Our primary objective has been to increase the effectiveness of SuDS as a tool to reduce surface water flood risk associated with development as well as more generally promoting quality blue-green infrastructure.
We are grateful to all those who have been part of the group and to those who provided feedback to the consultation in helping to shape these important products.”
Adrian Lythgo, North West RFCC Chair
The pro-forma and supporting guidance act as templates for Local Planning Authorities to adopt and make their own. This is likely to include adding branding, contact details and, if required, any local planning requirements. The pro-forma is designed to be a consistent standard product. Local Planning Authorities are encouraged to retain this consistency, clearly identifying any local requirements within each section.
It is recommended the pro-forma is implemented through the Planning Validation Checklist for major development. This will ensure the pro-forma is submitted for all major planning applications.
The task group, sponsored by the North West RFCC, remain committed to keeping the pro-forma and supporting guidance under review, taking account of learning and experience from its implementation, and to ensure changes in national approaches are incorporated. All feedback is valuable and welcome. Please send feedback to NW-RFCC@environment-agency.gov.uk.
To maintain version control, the versions of the pro-forma and supporting guidance downloadable below are provided in PDF format. Editable Microsoft Word versions were emailed to all North West Local Planning Authorities in early May 2020. Microsoft Word versions are also available on request by contacting NW-RFCC@environment-agency.gov.uk.
There was a consultation on the draft pro-forma from 27th January to Friday 21st February 2020.
Click here to view a summary of the responses received and how these have been addressed.
For any queries, please contact NW-RFCC@environment-agency.gov.uk.