Water-resilient places - surface water management and blue-green infrastructure: policy framework

This paper outlines how surface water is currently managed in Scotland, sets out a vision for the future and describes the components that should be brought together to form a coherent framework that will support delivery of water resilient places.

Managing surface water in Scotland in 2020

In Scotland, the management of surface water, including flooding, is a significant and well known challenge[8] for responsible authorities[9]. Surface water flooding by its nature is complex as it is often caused by a combination of factors. Resolving surface water flooding issues requires a coordinated effort across organisations and this can be difficult to achieve given the current policy and legislative framework. Activities and actions in this space are predominantly "issue-driven" with responsibility for resolving particular issues sitting with different organisations.

Optimal delivery is rarely achieved due to the small number of organisations that we depend on to carry out the specific (issue-driven) actions and the range of legislation, policy, practice, deadlines, competing priorities and resources at play in this space. This has been well recognised by responsible authorities for some time and is reflected in their enthusiasm for a reform to how we manage our surface water issues.[10]

Current responsibilities for managing surface water in Scotland are outlined in Annex 1 and a list of the main relevant legislation and associated documents in Annex 2.

Responsible authorities generally understand and agree what solutions are required to address specific identified issues, but a nationally consistent approach is lacking and organisations can struggle to achieve multiple benefits or align priorities, resources and finances into truly joined-up services without taking a more outcome-based approach.

There are exceptions to this with some excellent examples of where organisations have come together to deliver joint outcomes including the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership, the Edinburgh and Lothians Strategic Drainage Partnership and the Sustainable Growth Agreement between SEPA and Scottish Water. There are also the integrated catchment studies and surface water management plans that are being taken forward jointly by local authorities and Scottish Water as prioritised in our Flood Risk Management Plans[11].

Notably in 2020 the City of Edinburgh completed their Water Management Vision which focuses on integrating design for water and flooding with the urban landscape (blue-green infrastructure). This has been developed in direct response to the climate emergency and its aims include providing greener and more attractive places for people, improving biodiversity, reducing exposure to floods and improving environmental water quality. Edinburgh see this strategy as being at the heart of Edinburgh’s future success.

Despite these positive examples, a fully unified approach to the management of surface water in Scotland encompassing existing-retrofit and new-build challenges is yet to be achieved.

This is not surprising considering:

  • the number and dispersed nature of surface water management issues[12];
  • the range of factors that contribute to surface water flooding;
  • the distributed responsibilities for surface water management;
  • the diversity of actions that can contribute to surface water management; and
  • the fact that many of the current problems and potential solutions are within areas that are already highly developed, making retrofit a complex and challenging issue.


Email: waterindustry@gov.scot

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