Managing The Risk of Water Scarcity and The Potential of Local Plans

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This #TechnicalTuesday, Water Supply Consultant Fiona Thompson considers why local plans are not used for water scarcity management when they are used to manage flood risk.

Water is important for communities to thrive. We drink it, wash in it, use it for leisure activities, and enjoy the different environments that water supports. If water demand is not met (both ours and the environment’s) and there is water scarcity, it has a significant negative impact on us and nature. Therefore, it is important to manage the risk of water scarcity, such as that seen in the east of England - an area considered to be water stressed.

With population growth and new developments required to support growing and new communities, additional pressure is put upon water resources, and the risk of water scarcity increases if no management action is taken. Add in the changes in weather patterns expected from climate change and it is clear that we need to all work together and identify every opportunity for managing the risk of water scarcity. One such opportunity in England is the use of local plans to reduce the water demand of a new development. This is based on the English Local Planning system where a local plan sets out the requirements a development must meet to be given planning permission in the relevant local area. They follow the National Planning Policy Framework1 and are tailored to reflect the needs and opportunities of the local area.

Local plans are already used to manage flood risk, so why not use them for risk of water scarcity?

Sustainable water management is commonly used in local plans to manage flood risk, but it could also be used to manage the risk of water scarcity. There are many sustainable water management concepts across the globe, including Urban Planning Sustainability Framework (UPSuF), Sustainable Urban Water Management (SUWM), Water Neutrality, Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), and Sponge Cities. They all tend to have a slightly different focus depending on the primary issues of the region they were developed in, but they all share a general objective: to plan, design and develop areas that work with the natural water management of an area as much as possible while creating a safe, pleasant, and sustainable built environment. Across the world these concepts are used, yet it remains unclear how to apply the concepts to a development of any scale, with most case studies assessing the implementation of concepts on large urban areas such as London or Melbourne. In addition, it is unclear how to monitor and measure the impact of using sustainable water management concepts during the design process.

Lack Of Consistent Sustainable Water Management May Hinder Optimal Housing Development

I recently found that local plans in England are much more likely to include sustainable water management concepts as individual elements, rather than as entire concepts. My research2 found that there was a lack of consistent approach to the inclusion of sustainable water management elements across local plans, which may limit any future research in this area. In addition, it may limit how to monitor and measure the impact of the inclusion of these elements in local plans in a manner that allows comparison. I found that there was some significant variation in the structure and format of the local plans, which likely contributed towards the lack of a consistent inclusion approach. With these variations between plans, it can be difficult for developers to correctly interpret the requirements of a development design, especially when developing multiple sites across multiple areas with different local plans, and this can increase the amount of time taken for the planning process. It may also hinder a developer’s ability to design the most optimal development, especially if they are not entirely clear on the requirements.

The risk of water scarcity should not be left to one individual, one company or one industry to manage. Instead, communities and industries should work together to manage the risk. My research2 indicated significant potential for using local plans to assist with managing the risk of water scarcity. Further research and liaison with Local Planning Authorities and developers is required to identify how best to use local plans in the application of sustainable water management, as well as how to assess the impact of different inclusion approaches and elements.

1 Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (2023) National Planning Policy Framework

2 Thompson, F. (2023) Implementing Sustainable Water Management Concepts for Managing the Risk of Water Scarcity: the use of Local Plans, [Unpublished MSc. dissertation], Cranfield University.

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Fiona Thompson

Water Supply Consultant

Fiona has experience in a range of water supply areas including water quality - customer complaints, water fittings regulations, flow and pressure surveys, and asset resilience. Her primary area is water resources modelling, with both water company and consultancy experience. This aids Fiona's strong ability to understand the needs of clients, and design project ,methodology and outputs that are practically useful. Fiona appreciates how water provides multiple services for communities beyond water supply, and enjoys working with clients to identify and deliver optimal solutions. While working at WRc, Fiona was part of the core team exploring how to account for water quality limitations during water resources planning, which resulted in an UKWIR project. Fiona was seconded to Anglian Water for water resources modelling support, supported Pywr model development, and supported the development of Pywr-WQ.

2023-11-07 11:17:00