Weathering the storm
Polypipe Civils is investing heavily in advanced stormwater management systems. Natasha Wiseman spoke to marketing and development director Jason Shingleton to find out what is happening in the sector
"We changed the hierarchy," he tells me, "to include rainwater harvesting with soakaways, discharge to river with some form of attenuation, as priorities before the building of a conventional sewer system. We started to work on water-management solutions from that time."
The company immediately found the market for its Polystorm cell-storage products, which sold out rapidly. Capacity was doubled in 2006, and again in 2008, with £2M investment.
"Demand from the market was just exponential - we couldn't make enough product," says Shingleton.
The company expects growth to continue, not only in modular cell systems but also in large-diameter pipes and water-control products such as chambers. But Polypipe is also making a move further into water quality - especially petrol and oil interception.
"We've just launched a product called Storm X4," says Shingleton, "which is a filtration-type system that takes surface water and removes oil, heavy metals, lead, cadmium, phosphates. We've been using it in Germany at heavily contaminated road intersections - the water is going in black and coming out clear."
Shingleton says systems like these are being heavily specified in America too, but agreed the uptake and management of sustainable drainage in the UK is being hampered by governmental inertia on SUDS adoption. He believes the government is blinkered in not recognising that below-ground systems have been going in for the past five years. The problem now, he says, is that of ownership and responsibility.
"We have some statistics from the British Plastics Association's Pipes Group, where we have a SUDS group. We estimate that 2,600 projects were undertaken by members in 2007, where either large-diameter pipe or engineered SUDS solutions were installed to control and alleviate flood risk.
"What we need, and what government has said, is that they will address the adoption issue," Shingleton stressed. "The systems are going in the ground, but there is no formal adoption procedure for SUDS. We don't know whether the water companies are going to adopt them, or the local authorities.
Shingleton points out the anomaly of the transfer of private sewers to the water companies, while simultaneously storing up a similar problem for the future by failing to put a SUDS-adoption policy in place early on. But he believes the government is moving in the right direction.
"In fairness, Future Water does say they are going to improve the use of sustainable drainage systems and deal with the adoption issue. I welcome that commitment, because it is needed."
When pressed, Shingleton says he thinks it looks as if SUDS will be adopted by local authorities, but he insists that better interaction between the water companies and the local authorities and the Environment Agency is needed. Shingleton also sees industry standards for new SUDS technology as an important measure.
"If the water companies are likely to be adopting these systems, then they would drive standardisation. We've gone down the route of getting British Board of Agreement assessment," Shingleton explains.
"We're on the road to developing a standard for rainwater harvesting with British Standards."
He adds: "We tried to combine rainwater harvesting with attenuation very early on and I think this is something which is going to come next. We want to see holistic solutions where we have tanks that attenuate water and control it, but actually allow some to be fed back into the building for reuse."
The Water Framework Directive is also expected to be a key driver as Polypipe moves onto the process of treating water and improving the quality of discharges to rivers.
"Against a depressed market, we have a greater increase in environmental technology. We are very lucky to have had the investment and commitment from Polypipe to make large-diameter pipes and modular cells - and to be able to package it all together. We've just got to drive forward through that now."