The Department for Infrastructure sought comments on Living with Water in Belfast – An Integrated Plan for Drainage and Wastewater Management in Greater Belfast – and RSUA has responded to the consultation.
RSUA is strongly supportive of the DfI Living with Water Programme (LWWP), and recognises that Belfast is facing significant drainage and wastewater management issues, with current systems already under severe pressure and operating at over-capacity. Extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and will only exacerbate ongoing drainage and wastewater management issues that are leading to unacceptable levels of flooding and pollution.
Due to historic underinvestment in Belfast’s sewerage infrastructure there is now an urgent need for ‘hard infrastructure’ investment which has a necessary but unfortunate impact on blue/green infrastructure – just as the benefits of the latter have become better understood. RSUA noted that ‘hard infrastructure’ tends to be carbon-intense and suggests that whole life carbon assessments be carried out. RSUA hopes that the required funding will be provided and will be sufficient for implementing all opportunity-based solutions outlined in the LWWP.
RSUA encourages the use of green spaces such as parks, pitches, golf courses, fields, and gardens as drainage infrastructure in addition to more traditional approaches and notes the linkage between flood defence investment and urban regeneration and development. Moreover, a stronger relationship between strategic planning policy and the LWWP would be helpful.
Existing green spaces, both public and private, are valuable in the collection and attenuation of temporary flood waters and should be protected by planning policy. Planning policy could be altered to permit and encourage innovative solutions (including increased use of sustainable urban drainage schemes (SUDS)) to help prevent the flooding of homes and businesses. RSUA felt that a change to section 163 of the Water and Sewerage Service (NI) Order (which provides for an automatic right to connect to public sewers) could help increase uptake of SUDS.
RSUA was very supportive of adopting a catchment-based approach to address drainage and wastewater management problems and acknowledges such an approach will be dependent on the co-operation of public and private landowners as well as across different layers of public administration.
Finally, RSUA agreed that the LWWP should be a high priority for the NI Executive, not least to avoid further pollution of our waterways. Adopting the LWWP would enhance resilience, protecting homes and businesses from draining and flooding issues and also put in place social and economic safeguard which will help alleviate climate change related pressures.