Are there green gardening solutions for the borough’s drainage issues?

New buzzword “SuDS”, not soap bubbles but “sustainable urban drainage systems” might be the answer.

Our borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has a drainage problem. The Victorian sewer system was built for many fewer residents and in a different age when this truly was a garden suburb. Now, with paved gardens, streets and pavements, rainwater, and we have had a right deluge over the last few months, has less and less opportunity to drain away naturally. Our drains, based on old London waterways, are full to capacity and that is where SuDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) could come into play.

Green space has shrunk by 17 per cent and residents are now more susceptible to flooding than ever before. The Counters Creek catchment area (which runs from Kensal Green through Fulham to the Thames) has lost 37 per cent of its permeable area in the past 30-40 years and this is a major contributor to flood risk.

Joseph Bazalgette was the civil engineer charged with sorting out London's sewage problem in 1860's and he designed a system of interconnecting pipes to divert most of the city’s waste away from the Thames, with overflows into the Thames only during major storms. These overflows operate now on a weekly basis, sending 39 millon tonnes of sewage a year into the River Thames.

The significance and relevance of water could not be higher in our borough today. We all need to take seriously the lack of drainage and where possible make changes. But are SuDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) enough and what else is happening to address these drainage issues?

On a macro-scale, the Thames Tideway Tunnel Improvement programme is a crucial piece of infrastructure planned to help end 39m tonnes of untreated sewage being flushed into the river annually. At a wopping cost of £4.2bn, this plan is controversial. More information on the progress of this initiative is available on this website:

On a more local level, Hammersmith primary school, Y6 children at Miles Coverdale are currently doing a project on SuDS and water use which they are to present to the Children’s Parliament at the Urban Studies Centre in Hammersmith on 12th March 2013 with aim of raising awareness of SuDS among the younger generation.

But what can residents really do to improve drainage? It is easy to say, this is not our problem and certainly take the N.I.M.B.Y approach (Not In My Back Yard). However, perhaps it is just our backyards where some solutions lie.

What are SuDS? Here are five simple SuDS ideas:

Install a water butt to catch rainwater, save and use later.

Un-pave your garden! Change outdoor surfaces to permeable ones.

Use grass which is visually appealing and allows water to soak away naturally or gravel and have bigger flower beds. Introduce permeable paving on driveways and paths, rather than concrete.

Seriously consider green roofs on extensions and sheds or garden rooms. These are attractive and most importantly absorb rainfall. A green roof using sedum plants for example is good for biodiversity and wildlife and will remove pollutants from the air. Green roofs can prevent degradation of roof membrane from UV exposure, reduce sound transmission and significantly contribute to insulation. They are popular with planners!

Include rain gardens and filter belts in new developments. I think this is new jargon for ponds and flower-beds.

Rainwater harvesting which allows rainwater to drain into underground tanks and be used as “grey water” to flush WCs, clean the car and water the garden etc.

A pilot scheme funded by Thames Water and called “Greenstreets” is currently underway to trial the effectiveness of SuDS in Melina Road, W12, Mendora Road, SW6 and Arundel Gardens, W11. Residents in these streets can have a consultation and free installation of a sustainable urban drainage system of their choice.

For more information on SuDS : and

From super sewer to lost rivers

There has been much negative publicity concerning the super sewer ruining our river front view and huge conglomerates up to dastardly schemes. And when I saw on the internet that Thames Water wanted to purchase Emlyn Gardens Estate, alarm bells started to ring. This housing estate is located very close to one of only two allotment areas in the borough and Acton Storm tanks. My fear was it could be bulldozed.

A friend in Emlyn Road said, it all looks fine. But I decided to contact our local councillor, Rory Vaughan and see what information he had. He contacted Thames Water and swiftly a reassuring reply came to say that this allotment was safe. A little above ground work will be undertaken near Action Storm Tanks and a tunnel 30 metres below ground will run under the allotment!

A little snooping around and I found all the courts in Emlyn Gardens are named after numerous London waterways and rivers. There is Fleet Court, Lea Court, Longford Court and Colnebrook Court among many more. The Fleet ran under Fleet Street and was a well-known tributary of the Thames, the River Lea now meanders charmingly around the Olympic site. Londford River is near Hampton Hill and the River Colne is another tributary of the Thames.

As we walked up to the Acton Storm Tanks just behind Emlyn Gardens, we heard much water slewshing through them and thought about this site of water on the outer edges of the borough and the importance of water in our urban landscape.

For advice on city gardens, vegetable gardens, community gardens and children’s garden, please contact: Sarah Heaton at Sarah Heaton Gardens or follow on twitter @SarahHeaton4

Hammersmith-based Sarah Heaton is a trained horticulturalist and gardener. She specialises in designing city gardens, vegetables gardens and family and children’s gardens. She likes to bring nature to the city and runs a gardening club at a local primary school and supports number of local community gardens and projects. Please contact her if you need garden design advice.