Industry insights | 15 December 2022

Setting the WSUD process straight: Guidance for smaller subdivisions

As a required aspect of the planning scheme, WSUD serves a crucial role in keeping our waterways safe – and minimising environmental harm. While WSUD is recognised as necessary across Victoria, the clarity around approaching it is murky, with no industry consensus.

To dispel some of the common misconceptions, we caught up with our resident WSUD expert and Civil Engineer, Aaron Smith. This article outlines what you need to know to ensure a seamless WSUD process, typical pitfalls to avoid and our high-level advice.


Why WSUD is important

In urban development, increased rainfall runoff can end up in drains and waterways as polluted stormwater. This can occur quickly, with several negative impacts on our environment, including:

  • Reduced flows in waterways and higher, unnatural flows following heavy rain
  • Unsuitable swimming in beaches for 1-2 days after storms
  • Changes in habits of dolphins, platypus, fish and other aquatic animals, with impacts on their breeding habits
  • Erosion of stream banks and degradation of streams

WSUD was created to reduce these negative impacts across development. It performs an essential role in upholding the integrity and health of our waterways through clever urban planning and designs replicating the natural water cycle. This, in turn, prevents polluted stormwater from reaching our waterways.

WSUD also delivers social and economic value, including:

  • Reduced cost of treating polluted water
  • Low capital cost and construction costs
  • Increased value of new subdivisions by enhancing the appearance and amount of open public space
  • A more natural appearance to our neighbourhoods

From lot to street, to precinct to regional scales, WSUD works across all levels of development. It involves different treatment options, ranging from rainwater tanks, raingardens and sediment ponds to wetlands and swales.

Essential things to know about WSUD

If you’re leading a 2 to 6-lot subdivision, there are two vital things to know about the WSUD process that will make it easier and more efficient.

1. Every subdivision requires treatment

There are various WSUD systems to treat stormwater runoff from your development. These include rainwater tanks, permeable paving, raingardens and raingarden tree pits.

Every subdivision needs a WSUD treatment.

This is integral to achieving best practice water flow and treatment requirements. It’s also a legislated responsibility and a community expectation that these works will be suitably managed. Check out your council’s specific guidelines on WSUD to ensure you’re adhering to the right specifications.

2. There are different ways to pay (in lieu of doing substantial works)

Interestingly, one can perform their WSUD duties without carrying out the entire treatment on their subdivision. Some councils offer options to pay for part of the WSUD in lieu of works.

For example, Moonee Valley City Council has a Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) voluntary contribution scheme (VCS) for planning applicants that helps them meet their development’s onsite stormwater quality obligations. This includes applications choosing between achieving 100% stormwater treatment compliance onsite – or meeting a minimum 80% treatment onsite and paying a financial contribution in lieu of the remaining portion of the requirements. The council then uses this money to fund large-scale WSUD projects.

Head to your council’s website to see your payment options.


Clearing the air: Common WSUD misconceptions

The WSUD process is rife with confusion among developers. And with confusion comes frustration and extra work. That’s why we’re setting the record straight on these misunderstandings – to ensure your WSUD process is as seamless as possible.

Here are the main pitfalls to avoid in WSUD:

1. There are many available WSUD solutions

Contrary to popular belief, many of the WSUD treatment options aren’t viable for smaller subdivisions. For example, rain gardens, wetlands and ponds rarely work on 2-lot subdivisions. Councils don’t accept a mechanical product, which leaves one with few treatment options.

This bugbear arises on nearly every project, which is why it’s essential to consult a WSUD expert, such as Aaron, before launching into WSUD. They will be able to provide specific guidance on the best WSUD treatment option, saving you time, money and hassle in the long run.

2. Some councils are rejecting payment options at the moment

WSUD requirements and technicalities are in a state of constant flux. There are also discrepancies between councils. Currently, many councils are rejecting payment options, with some asking for all developers to do the entire treatment onsite.

While we don’t know when this will change, we are among the first to be in the know. Our consultants are in daily conversations with councils. This means that we are your first call on any questions concerning payment around WSUD.


Aaron’s WSUD advice for developers leading smaller subdivisions

The biggest piece of guidance that Aaron wants to share on the topic? That every council is different. While you might have gone through the WSUD process once – or even a dozen times – that doesn’t mean your next WSUD process will be the same.

The regulations that exist in one suburb are completely different in another. On top of this, every site is also different – each with its own distinct rules.

Therefore, you must have a trusted consultant you can turn to for the latest advice and knowledge. At Millar Merrigan, we are on the pulse of WSUD insights. Our experts chat with councils daily, allowing us to guide you through the WSUD process with accurate and reliable information.

If you need our advice or support on all WSUD matters, talk to us today.

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