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How landscape architecture can add value to SuDS projects

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) present valuable opportunities to enhance developments for people, places, and the environment. Landscape architects are key to maximising the benefits SuDS can provide through best practice and early integration in the design process including: placemaking, air quality improvements for community health, social value, reducing the cumulative heat island impact and Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).

Creating sustainable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing spaces is central to landscape architecture. Here are six ways that Sweco landscape architects can add value to the design of SuDS features.

SuDS as part of landscape architecture & water management proposals at Queensland Gardens in Glasgow – find out more

1. Adding value to the overall vision

Landscape architects contribute to the overall vision of both urban and rural developments by taking a holistic approach and collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams. Their early involvement in the design process of SuDS is essential to ensure that these features align with and enhance the development’s broader vision, benefiting the place, its users, and the environment through a blue-green infrastructure approach to design.

2. Adding value to place

Landscape architecture plays a pivotal role in place-making by shaping spaces with a deep understanding of cultural history, biodiversity, and the physical landscape, while also fostering social interaction. By collaborating with drainage engineers, landscape architects can enhance Placemaking with SuDS through thoughtful material selection, planting design, and the incorporation of public art, thereby maximising value to the public realm. Enhancing the amenity value of developments improves the perceived and actual value of a public realm space and properties.

A placemaking approach to design resonates with potential buyers and clients, who value the narrative and careful consideration that go into a project, reinforcing the argument for its existence in that particular place, which can be advantageous during the planning process.

3. Adding value for people

Landscape architects focus on designing spaces that enrich the lives of people. By incorporating creative solutions, SuDS can be transformed into multifunctional features that promote health and well-being. Examples include SuDS basins doubling as amphitheaters, sports pitches, or play areas when dry.

Additionally, integrating footpaths and stepping stones within rain gardens and swales encourages playful interaction with the environment and fosters social engagement. These design strategies enhance community spaces by connecting people with nature and each other through biophilic design.

4. Adding value for the environment

Landscape architects are committed to enhancing the natural environment. SuDS can significantly contribute to ecology, supporting the aim of achieving a biodiversity net gain through bespoke species rich, palettes of carefully selected plants. By collaborating with ecologists and drainage engineers, landscape architects can design SuDS that offer diverse habitats and create optimal growing conditions to ensure establishment.

Where space is limited innovative green features such as SuDS tree pits can be incorporated through the careful selection of appropriate species. These features not only maximise biodiversity but also contribute to urban cooling, carbon sequestration and improved air quality, tailored to the specific conditions of each site.

5. Adding value for longevity

Effective SuDS are designed with the foresight to adapt and improve as time progresses. Landscape architects possess the expertise to anticipate the future dynamics of these natural features, ensuring that SuDS are both sustainable and manageable over the long term. By involving landscape architects early in the design phase, the right plant species can be selected to align with the client’s maintenance budget, and layouts can be planned to safely accommodate maintenance vehicles and operations.

Considering management strategies from the start is crucial to ensure that SuDS remain functional and continue to meet their environmental and social objectives into the future. Early collaboration with landscape architects allows for the prompt development of detailed planting and landscape management plans which can avoid delays in discharging planning.

6. Adding Value for stakeholder buy-in

Engaging with stakeholders, including the local community, local planning authority and statutory undertakers early in the process—preferably before any formal application—is highly beneficial for the success of SuDS schemes. Successful projects often emerge from plans that incorporate feedback from the end users, reflecting a collaborative approach. Landscape architects are adept at working with stakeholders to devise design solutions that resonate with their needs and aspirations.

They also possess the skills to effectively communicate SuDS proposals through graphic presentations and visualisations, helping to secure stakeholder buy-in by clearly illustrating the appearance, potential benefits and functionality of the planned features.

In summary, engaging with landscape architects early in the development process is key to fully capitalising on the advantages of SuDS as Nature-based Solutions. Without this proactive approach, there’s a risk of missing valuable opportunities, leading to poor outcomes like unattractive, isolated and fenced-off elements that fail to fully contribute towards climate change mitigation, social value, and the enhancement of the urban landscape.