I'm acutely aware of the phosphates neutrality crisis which is currently preventing planning permissions from being granted across much of Somerset and finding a solution to this issue is vital. I have been in touch with the District Councils, Wessex Water, Natural England and the Environment Agency for some months, since the issue of phosphates first arose. I have also spoken to my colleagues in Government, explaining the impact this is having on development across the majority of Somerset.
Recently, I asked Written Parliamentary Questions on this topic to both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I'm delighted to have recieved the following responses from Government ministers, and will continue to push for an urgent solution to this issue.
Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government
Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of nutrient neutrality requirements on levels of approval of planning applications in Somerset.
Answer (Chris Pincher): We do not collect information on the number of planning applications that are delayed or not approved due to the nutrient pollution issue, but this data may be held at a local level by Local Planning Authorities. As such as we have not made a direct assessment of the number of planning applications that have not been approved due to the nutrient pollution issue in the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar. The Government is working to tackle nutrients pollution. Together with DEFRA, we have set up a monthly Government task force involving Natural England and the Environment Agency to ensure a clear action plan is in place, focusing on solutions for both permitting housebuilding to resume while not compromising the condition of Protected Sites. Alongside this, we are continuing to support Local Planning Authorities through the work of the Planning Advisory Service.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of potential measures to reduce phosphorous discharge into the surface water catchment area for the Somerset Levels and Moors Special Protection Area.
Answer (Rebecca Pow): There are a range of potential measures that can be deployed to reduce phosphorous discharge in the Somerset Levels and Moors catchment. Natural England and the Environment Agency are working with all the relevant parties, including local planning authorities (LPAs) and Wessex Water as well as landowners and developers to evaluate and implement the various options.
To prevent additional phosphorous loading from new development, mitigation measures such as wetland and woodland creation will need to demonstrate that they will be effective in the long term. It is clear from other catchments facing nutrient loading that they have a key role to play in removing nutrients, enabling nutrient-neutral development. Several mitigation schemes for specific developments have been assessed and approved and the LPAs in Somerset are developing a strategy to support wider rollout of these mitigation schemes. There will be significant further investment of up to £57 million over the next three years by Wessex Water to reduce phosphorous discharge from water treatment works.
In the farming sector there are many joint projects underway and more is likely to be needed. The current approach is to encourage the uptake of voluntary measures to reduce the amount of phosphorous entering the system, including Catchment Sensitive Farming. These include a focus on river and habitat improvements, better farming infrastructure, and enforcement by the Environment Agency where necessary.