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.


The following are recommendations of what we should do to improve surface water management in Scotland. They are structured around the six key elements from Figure 2 above and are presented here in the context of:

  • Facing up to the climate emergency;
  • Delivering great blue-green places to live (at all scales) that are adaptable to future conditions;
  • Tackling surface water flooding.

Decision makers in all sectors contribute to water resilience

Our water resilience in Scotland will be improved by making it a core consideration for a broader range of decision makers. Many decisions are currently made without reference to flood risk management or drainage often resulting in an increase in the  "total asset" requiring to be water resilient, more problems that need to be overcome or missed opportunities to make improvements in this space. Few decision-makers understand the impact they can have on their water resilience or on the water resilience of others. The transition to water resilient places would be helped if decision makers accounted for their activity in terms of how it contributed to tackling the climate emergency and how it impacted on flooding and drainage.

Recommendation 1.

A vision for blue-green cities for Scotland should be established.

Recommendation 2.

A strategy and route map should be set out supported by the key policy changes that are required to drive the transition to blue-green cities and water resilience.

Recommendation 3.

Scotland should channel support towards actions that contribute to creating great places that are resilient to future flooding and drainage challenges, and away from activities that add to our future flooding and drainage burden.

Recommendation 4.

We should take a placemaking approach to achieving blue-green cities and water resilience involving partners in the public and private sectors, the third sector, individuals and communities.[15]

Recommendation 5.

Relevant decision makers, including public bodies as part of their climate adaptation duties, should take account of flooding and drainage within their climate planning. (Public sector bodies are legally required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support Scotland's adaptation to a changing climate.)

Recommendation 6.

Climate impact assessments applying to public policies/activities should include assessing the impact of the proposed policy/activity on water resilience. i.e. Considering if the activity adds to flooding and drainage issues, helps manage flooding and drainage or has no effect on flooding and drainage.

Recommendation 7.

A guidance and support package should be made available to policy makers and investment decision makers to give them the tools to maximise water resilience and success for their activities. This should include a tool to assess whether their activity has a negative, positive or neutral effect on our water resilience.

Recommendation 8.

The land-use planning process (development planning and development management) should, where appropriate, include a requirement for all sites/development proposals to be assessed and report on how they will contribute positively to the climate emergency[16] and water resilience.

Integrated FRM and drainage approach

The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 established the framework for the integrated delivery of flood risk management. Progressing the joint delivery approach required by the Act has presented some strategic, tactical and operational challenges particularly around surface water management planning. Integrating drainage system requirements with surface water flood risk reduction across organisations and Scottish Government policy areas continues to challenge and requires improvement. An outcome-based approach where "who decides", "who pays" and "who delivers" is established up-front is at the heart of this.

Recommendation 9.

Surface water flooding issues should be solution-focused and addressed by coordinating across organisations and implementing the best integrated sustainable solution. (Overcoming current legislative responsibilities and debates about ownership and on-going maintenance.)

Recommendation 10.

Working links between the flooding, water industry and climate policy teams in Scottish Government should be strengthened to improve coordination and encourage delivery of more and better blue-green actions.

Recommendation 11.

Guidance and support should be produced to allow flood risk management prioritisation to factor in the wider benefits of blue-green actions such that progress can be made across all sources of flooding. Current benefit/cost analysis techniques do not adequately account for "other" benefits and favour fluvial and coastal actions.

Recommendation 12.

How we measure our success in terms of reducing the impacts of flooding should be reviewed to encourage a wider range of actions. The current approach (Counting properties at risk and damages avoided) often favours fluvial and coastal protection schemes over surface water flooding management actions. This should include introducing new ways of accounting for the wider benefits that blue-green actions bring to health, wellbeing, economic prosperity and our natural environment.

Blue-Green Infrastructure – first approach and retrofit

Understanding blue-green and natural infrastructure and how this can be optimised to support sustainable flood risk management and drainage is fundamental to creating great places that are resilient to climate change. Our transition to water resilient places will require a multi-layered approach where sustainable drainage at the plot scale is supported by integrated regional blue-green infrastructure. Infrastructure needs to be there first to enable sustainable design and delivery at the plot scale and developed areas require mechanisms for disconnection and retrofit.

Recommendation 13.

Place-making (and masterplanning) should establish blue-green infrastructure needs from the outset where planning authorities’ decisions are informed by a comprehensive water strategy[17] where:

  • The natural infrastructure is defined;
  • Strategic flood risk and drainage assessments are carried out;
  • A blue-green BG infrastructure plan is defined.

Recommendation 14.

The drainage of surface water from all new sites wherever practicable should be by blue-green infrastructure. Land for blue-green infrastructure should be a site pre-requisite and all designs should presume no rainwater connection to sewer.[18]

Recommendation 15.

It should be a priority for existing developed areas to remove as much surface water from sewers as possible through disconnection, retrofitting and diversion to blue green infrastructure. (Incentives and guidance should be put in place to support this).

Coordination of policy, standards, advice and support

Unifying our approach to surface water management and guiding the many organisations involved in this complex space requires coordination of policy, standards, advice and support. A focal point for surface water management is required where surface water flooding, drainage and blue-green infrastructure can be considered in-the-round. Such a hub would ensure that all legislative requirements are met, set the strategic direction to optimise resources and outcomes and promote and safeguard best practice.

Recommendation 16.

Scottish Government should establish a strategic stakeholder group dedicated to promoting and supporting the transition towards blue-green places and water resilience.

Recommendation 17.

To support Recommendation 18 of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland Key Findings Report[19], Scottish Government should consider how to bring together the quality, standards and value for money elements of flood risk management, coastal erosion and drainage actions, including how they are determined and regulated.

Strategic drainage partnerships for towns and cities

The Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Partnership has successfully brought partners together behind their vision 'to transform how the city region thinks about and manages rainfall to end uncontrolled flooding and improve (environmental) water quality.' We are still learning from this approach but there are clear benefits that could be realised in other towns and cities across Scotland if this approach was adopted elsewhere. The recent establishment of the Edinburgh and Lothians Strategic Drainage Partnership shows growing interest in this sort of grouping.

Recommendation 18.

Larger towns and cities should be encouraged to establish drainage partnerships to lead a coordinated drive towards blue-green cities and water resilience. Membership of the drainage partnerships should include senior leaders of relevant organisations empowered to make cross-sector strategic commitments.[20]


A financial framework is required to support the transition to blue-green cities and water resilience. This will need to identify the sources of funding and establish funding streams (e.g. from a hybrid of flood risk management funds, water charges and private finance.)

This will include understanding and managing established funding sources, seeking new sources of finance and establishing mechanisms to coordinate and direct funding to support the delivery of multiple benefits including optimal improvements to flooding, drainage and blue-green infrastructure. This would not only contribute to meeting our surface water management objectives but also green space, well-being and connectivity objectives for our towns, cities and smaller settlements.

Recommendation 19.

Scottish Government should consider how our transition to blue-green places will be funded and where new sources of sustainable finance from a wider range of beneficiaries can be accessed to support the vision.

Recommendation 20.

Funding of blue-green infrastructure and water resilience should come from a broader base of public and private contributors reflecting the wide-ranging benefits it provides.

Recommendation 21.

Public expenditure should always take into account how to make investments climate positive and water resilient positive.[21]

For enquiries relating to this paper please contact:


Phone: 0131 244 4763


Scottish Government
Flood Risk Management Team
Area 3H South
Victoria Quay



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