19 August 2015

Ecobuild 2015 - Interview with Sue Illman Part 2


As part of our ‘Experts with water’ vlog series, we caught up with Sue Illman of Illman Young Landscape Design at Ecobuild 2015.

Is there a place for engineered solutions?

I’ve never, ever denied that, the fact that I’m promoting an approach, and we use what’s appropriate. And I have to say that when it comes to retrofitting, I think there is absolutely, in dense urban environments, much more need for engineered solutions because the problems are much more complex. And rather than looking at a site as a whole and determining where the development goes, when you’re retrofitting, you’re working around what’s already there. And the constraints that you get in the urban environment are really quite severe in many instances. So, you really have to work hard to get the right solutions and to get them to be effective. Particularly if you’re trying to really make a significant change. Whether you’re going to nibble at the problem and just try and make it a bit better, or whether you’ve got real water quantity volumes that you’re trying to achieve, in terms of improving that circumstance. So that’s when you start to mix it up with flood alleviation schemes and large scale projects. But no, we absolutely need engineered solutions and we need more and we need more creativity. So I think that there’s a big market out there and it’s only going to increase.

What is ‘Nibbling’?

Ah, well, nibbling is a really important thing that we need to do, and it is something that I talk about in particular, not just with regards with SUDS but particularly in connection with retrofitting. Because what we know is that the problems of flooding are only going to get worse. We know that. Now, we’re not going to reduce that curve, that line, in terms of how much they get worse by very much, even if we put SUDS into all new developments from here on in. All we do is flatten that graph off a little bit. Because we have such a problem already and because of urban creep it continues to get worse, and because of climate change it continues to get worse. So it’s only if we start seriously retrofitting what happens in our towns and cities, that we can actually make any significant improvements. But you can’t do that comprehensively all the time, but what we have to do is nibble. We just need to keep biting away at that problem all the time, everywhere, wherever we can, to try and improve the situation.

So, it’s about incremental change and, actually, it doesn’t matter how small that intervention is that you make, it will contribute. So, it’s something that everybody can participate in and there’s some fantastic examples. It’s horrible when you have to use examples from abroad because everyone then says, “But, can we do it over here?” And, yes we can. But if you go to Portland, they’ve disconnected 56,000 downpipes from houses. And millions of gallons of water that they’ve managed to attenuate. And that was done by doing one downspout, as they call them, at a time. City of Philadelphia is using a downspout disconnection program as part of a 25-year strategy to manage water. We can do it here. It rains. We’ve been working on a small scale demonstration project in Cheltenham, similar sort of thing, building rain gardens in people’s front gardens, disconnecting their downpipes, improving the flooding situation locally. We can all do it. Let’s get nibbling.

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