Pioneering green drainage scheme could save Manchester millions

Jumping in puddles has taken on new meaning at one Manchester primary school after experts stepped in to help stop rain being a drain on school budgets.

In a scheme which could save millions if replicated across Manchester, a team headed by Business in the Community (BITC) has built a rain garden and transformed a large area of parking and pathways at Moorlands Junior School in Sale to demonstrate the benefits of sustainable drainage.

North West water firm United Utilities estimates that sustainable drainage schemes like Moorlands’ could save up to £1.75m a year for education budgets if all the city’s 1,300 schools adopted similar measures, with the potential savings at other public buildings and spaces even higher. A similar demonstration scheme is now being planned for an NHS health centre elsewhere in the city.

Sustainable drainage schemes (SuDS) divert the rain which falls on playgrounds, roofs and car parks away from the public sewer, potentially slashing hundreds of pounds a year off the water bills of organisations like schools, other public bodies and businesses.

They also reduce flood risk, improve river water quality and increase community engagement, biodiversity and green space while protecting society at large from the cost and disruption associated with constantly upgrading and expanding sewer networks.

Head of Water at BITC, Katie Spooner said research carried out as part of the Water Resilient Cities project had established that a programme of sustainable drainage in schools and other public buildings across Manchester could free up money for public services and help Manchester meet its Mayor Andy Burnham’s aim to be one of Europe’s leading green cities.

“The work at Moorlands School is the exciting culmination of two years of work led by BITC’s Water Taskforce and supported by the Environment Agency, GMCA the British Geological Survey and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. The idea was, using Greater Manchester as a test bed, to help UK cities build their resilience in the face of climate change, population growth and increased urbanisation. Sustainable drainage schemes work by mimicking the way nature manages water, slowing its flow so that the environment has time to deal with it.”

The work at Moorlands Junior School includes a new rain garden filled with thirsty plants, which holds on to surface water during heavy downpours, allowing it to soak away slowly, and replacing tarmac and paths with permeable surfaces which water passes straight through instead of running into a drain.

It was managed and carried out by a collaborative partnership including United Utilities, Arup, Costain, Marshalls, Atkins, CLASP and Stantec who also provided data, technical expertise and materials for free.

Additional funding came via Natural Course, an EU LIFE integrated project to build capacity to protect and improve the water environment.

Added Katie: “One of the most important aspects of the project has been to establish that investing in SuDs can be cost effective, not just for schools, but for properties across Greater Manchester and beyond. The benefits go beyond direct financial savings and environmental resilience, the green and blue spaces that SuDS can create education opportunities, health and well-being benefits and improved air quality. We’re now actively working on funding streams to help cash-restricted public services like schools and the NHS reap the advantages of these measures without dipping into their own reserves.”

United Utilities’ Head of Sustainability Chris Matthews said: “Traditionally, managing the flow of surface water has been seen as the responsibility of water companies and local authorities, but investing bill payers’ money in ever more pipes and treatment works is not always the best way. We need to work more broadly as a community to find a solution, and involving the children of Moorlands in planting up their new rain garden means, as future water bill payers, they are more in tune with the environment and are seeing the positives for themselves.”

Headteacher of Moorlands Junior School Alison Kelly said: “A substantial area in our car park has been replaced by a permeable surface so the main drain there is no longer used. A new footpath has been installed at the front of the school and the water from the gutters from one half of our roof now runs through special new channels into five separate rain gardens, which our children have helped design and plant, at the front of the school. It looks lovely and the children are very excited that they will be called upon to talk to other people about the project and that they can leave a legacy for years to come. Our school Eco Council are very passionate about the environment. The project is a perfect working example of the water cycle and we are looking forward to seeing how many more insects and wildlife we get as a result.

“From my perspective as a head, there were two driving forces for getting involved with this project, the environmental impact as a school and also, with the way school budgets are getting tighter and tighter, the monetary savings on water bills. This is something we have investigated before because we are lucky enough to have a school governor who is very knowledgeable but this is something that financially we could not afford without support.”

For more information please contact the United Utilities press office on 0345 072 0822