The social dimension of stormwater management practices including sustainable urban drainage systems and river management options

  • Stella Apostolaki

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Executive Summary
    The research programme was relevant to urban planning and in particular to the design of stormwater management schemes that are more environmentally and socially acceptable. It examined social and perception issues relating to stormwater management techniques within residential areas, and in particular to the application of SUDS, mainly ponds, and river management schemes.

    The thesis arose from a project funded by the Environment Agency of England and Wales through SNIFFER under a programme titled “Social impacts o f stormwater management techniques including river management and SUDS”, SNIFFER Code: SUDS01. 

    The public perception of construction is becoming a matter of increasing importance both in the UK and internationally since socio-economic parameters and public consultation both have to be taken into consideration in the planning and implementation of relevant projects. This research programme endeavoured to match the relevant legislative goals with society’s actual needs.

    The main aims of the research programme were to obtain an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the perceptions of popular stormwater management practices (SUDS and river management), and to evaluate these techniques from a social perspective. To satisfy these aims the following objectives were set:
    ■ To assess public awareness and perceptions of SUDS (particularly retention ponds) in the UK;
    ■ To assess professional perceptions of SUDS in the UK;
    ■ To assess perceptions of different stormwater management techniques, in three European cities;
    ■ To compare perceptions of different stormwater management techniques, SUDS and river management practices;
    ■ To link the research findings with trends in perceptions of nature and water.

    To meet the programme’s aims and to satisfy the objectives, the perceptions of SUDS in the UK (principally ponds) were investigated over a wide range of locations. In addition, the different river management approaches used in three heavily urbanised European cities, Glasgow, London, and Athens were investigated.

    The results of this research programme provide a means to understand perceptions of stormwater management and to appreciate what types of schemes will be more readily accepted by the public.

    The research has shown that members of the public hold strong views as to what they like or dislike about SUDS and water management installations in their local area, in spite of the fact that there were demonstrably low levels of public awareness of SUDS. The amenity, recreational value and aesthetics of new schemes seem to be of major importance for public acceptability, while function, efficiency, and maintenance are primarily important in areas facing flooding problems. Other key findings include the fact that there is a general preference for sustainable urban water management and for river restoration schemes compared with more conventional, ‘hard engineering’ approaches, such as culverting of rivers. This preference was expressed both by members of the public and by professionals involved in their planning and implementation. 

    Another important result was that although unfamiliarity can produce negativity, education can influence attitudes positively even in sensitive issues such as safety, and can be used by authorities and planners as a means of enhancing the acceptability of new schemes. Consequently, the results of the surveys can be used as arguments towards the application of informative campaigns which should be taken into account prior to scheme implementation. This information can be utilised not only for stormwater management design, but also for other environmentally friendly constructions which the public may have a low level of awareness.

    Recommendations are made with respect to public and professional attitudes for improving the public acceptability of new and modified stormwater management systems. Recommendations and barriers to the uptake outlined in this thesis mainly refer to the appearance of schemes rather than technical issues. They are therefore of most use as guidance for improving aesthetics and increasing public acceptability.

    The outcomes of this research will be of use to policy makers, water companies, local authorities, environment agencies, planners, developers, consultants active in urban development, and researchers in applying wider-accepted practices for the assessment of public perception.
    Some findings from this research have been presented at several stakeholders’ meetings, at 4 conferences, and are published in the form of papers and reports, including the DTI SR 622 report titled “An Assessment of the Social Impacts of Sustainable Drainage Systems in the UK”, and the Environment Agency & SNIFFER report, SUDS01, 2005, titled “Social Impacts of stormwater management techniques including river management and SUDS”. This publication also constitutes Environment Agency R&D Technical report P2-258.
    Date of AwardJan 2007
    Original languageEnglish
    Sponsors Scotland and Northern Ireland Frrum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER) & HR Wallingford Consultancy
    SupervisorChristopher Jefferies (Supervisor)


    • Stormwater management
    • SUDS
    • River management
    • Public perception
    • public involvement
    • Urban planning
    • Community engagement
    • Community planning
    • Green space
    • OPen space

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