Water sensitive urban design (WSUD): The newly emerging international approach of water sensitive urban design (WSUD) has been identified as a more integrated approach placing the management of surface water at the centre of urban planning and design. It effectively captures Nature based Surface Water Management (SuDS/Sustainable urban Drainage Systems) in a holistic approach to urban planning and design, putting water concerns front and centre of planning, and looking at the benefits that water provides in addition to planning resilience etc.

Nature Based Surface Water Management: Nature Based SuDS work with nature (rather than trying to control it) and are now being mainstreamed across the globe. The benefits of taking a nature-based approach includes not just flood risk management benefits, but also improved water quality (e.g. can filter out >80% heavy metal pollutants), biodiversity (e.g., provide habitat for range of species) and Climate adaptation and mitigation (resilience, micro-climate cooling, carbon sequestration etc.).

The issue of climate change and the resultant need to adapt our cities and towns to be more resilient to increasingly frequent and intensive rainfall events have also brought sustainable water management in the urban context to the fore.

Therefore, the DHLGH, LAWPRO and the CCMA have established a project to actively promote the implementation of nature-based surface water management solutions to our cities and towns through new developments (greenfield and brownfield), as well as urban regeneration and, indeed, all projects that intervene in the urban fabric, using an urban design and plan led approach.

The project will develop an implementation strategy for the development of Water Sensitive Urban Design for the Irish context, which includes Nature Based SuDS. The project is currently engaging with all Local Authorities, state agencies including EPA, IFI, NPWS and OPW, Government Departments, TII and DMURS and the private sector to better understand how Water Sensitive Urban Design can be implemented more coherently in Ireland. The project will run for 6 months and report on its findings in time for the 3rd WFD Cycle. More information on the background leading up to the project is provided below including presentations given at the November 9th 2020 Webinar on Urban Planning and Nature Based Surface Water Management: From Theory to Practice organised in partnership with the Irish Planning Institute and Engineers Ireland.

For more information contact naturebasedsuds@lawaters.ie


The importance of managing urban rainfall and surface water is increasingly being recognised in terms of environmental impact. This and the increased risk of flooding due to climate change, means that we need to adapt our approach to urban planning and design in Ireland and plan for greater resilience, environmental protection and sustainable living.

This Webinar is focussing on how we move to a nature-based approach to urban rainwater management. Following the URBAN PLANNING AND NATURE-BASED SURFACE WATER MANAGEMENT Webinar in November 2020 which was attended by approx 500 people, and the Significant Water Management Issues Report, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) engaged in an intensive round of consultations across Local Authorities, Government Departments and Agencies, professional bodies and other stakeholders during 2021 to produce:
1. A Scoping Report with a roadmap of proposed steps towards the implementation of nature-based solutions.
2. Produce an Interim Guidance Document.

The Webinar will outline the progress made since November 2020 and, as well as launching the outputs of this scoping stage, the webinar will hear from a number of speakers from Ireland and from Wales who will outline their experiences in this area

Recorded Webinar Tuesday Nov 30th 2021

Urban Planning And Nature Based Surface Water Management. From Theory To Practice Nov 9th 2020 Webinar Outputs

Surface water management should form an integral part of urban planning, regardless of scale. As we know, climate change is already resulting in more frequent and intense rainfall. The impact of this on urban areas is greatly increased as infiltration rates are significantly less through hard surface areas compared to greenfield sites. This brings challenges in terms of drainage, traditionally addressed by hard engineering options (concrete gullies, pipes, drains etc) resulting in increasing flood and pollution risk. Sustainable urban Drainage Systems (SuDS) is not new and was introduced to address flood risk several decades ago and are promoted in the OPW’s (2009) Guidelines for Planning Authorities “The Planning System and Flood Risk Management”. Implementation has been variable across the country and there is an emerging consensus that overground nature-based solutions should be the preferred option in inline Water Sensitive Urban Design.

A Nature Based approach has come more into prominence, especially in response to the water, climate and biodiversity crisis facing the planet. This approach is promoted internationally by organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and supported by the EU’s Green Deal.

In response to requests from local authority staff consulted by LAWPRO during Water Framework Directive meetings held across the country, a webinar was organised on November 9th 2020 to explore, discuss and learn about the potential of Nature Based Surface Water Management in Ireland.

Organised in association with the Irish Planning Institute, Engineers Ireland and the Department Housing Local Government and Heritage and launched by Minister of State Malcom Noonan, the webinar approached the above referenced areas of nature-based solutions and how best to implement them, having canvassed planners and engineers in particular. The webinar also looked at key overlapping areas such as the Water Framework Directive, and wider Statutory agency objectives (e.g. OPW and Inland Fisheries Ireland). The webinar also included the launch by Inland Fisheries Ireland of their revised “Guidelines for Urban planning along watercourses” – making the case for sustainable development by making space for water and amenity use: https://www.fisheriesireland.ie/extranet/fisheries-management-1/1756-ifi-urban-watercourses-planning-guide-2020-update.html

The event culminated in a discussion moderated by Adrian Conway (former executive manager with Dublin City Council) with Water and Planning representatives from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the OPW.
A subsequent poll of attendees (almost 500) showed a significant percentage of attendees were planners and engineers, mostly from local authorities but also the private sector. Other attending disciplines including architects, landscape architects, environmental, climate action, heritage, biodiversity, community and enterprise.

Feedback from the attendees at the webinar confirmed that Nature Based SuDS would significantly benefit water, climate adaptation, biodiversity and human well-being objectives. However, 81% of respondents believed that Nature Based SuDS were not being adequately implemented in Ireland. Improvements in factors such as policies, legislation, leadership, governance, technical guidance, training, local government capacity and funding were considered necessary by the majority of respondents. The engagement of other state agencies, Inland Fisheries, Office of Public Works, National Parks and Wildlife and the EPA as well as the private sector was further emphasised. The need for a cross agency and multi-disciplinary integrated approach was also highlighted, incorporating all aspects of urban planning and design, from strategic and planning phases to the more detailed preparation or assessment of plans and projects.

Next steps

A key objective of the workshop was to explore the relevance Nature Based SuDS in the Irish context. This was roundly supported by the attendees. The next steps (as recommended from the post webinar online poll) will be to scope out the needs for developing a comprehensive national implementation strategy for SuDS. This may culminate in the development of guidance, training and case studies. The Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage will work with local authorities and other relevant authorities to organise the development of guidance with LAWPRO and partners. Training can then be organised using best practice examples. Complimentary to this is the Climate Action training being organised by the CAROs which will include some focus on Nature Based SuDS. The Southern Regional Assembly are also coordinating a project with 5 Local Authorities working on best practice case studies for Green and Blue Infrastructure in the Urban environment.
The survey poll will form the basis of an outputs report, which will be available on the LAWPRO website together with the webinar presentations.

Interestingly, it is widely reported that the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought people closer to nature. This offers an opportunity for us all to promote Nature Based SuDS in a changing climate environment. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

We would like to thank all who contributed to the lead up to the event and post event analysis for their support.


  • Fran Igoe, Southern Regional Coordinator, Local Authority Waters Programme.
  • John Stack, Executive Engineer, Dublin City Council.
  • Adrian Conway, former Executive Manager, Dublin City Council.
  • Colin Byrne, Senior Advisor, Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage