Phosphate issues causing development delays in Somerset

Katie Tregay
By Katie Tregay

February 2021

Katie Tregay MPlan MRTPI is a Town Planner, who has recently joined Symonds & Sampson, bringing a wealth and expertise to add to the already comprehensive planning services provided by the firm. Here, she explains an issue impacting on the planning process in Somerset.

Phosphate issues causing development delays in Somerset

A landmark ruling known as the “Dutch N Case” has resulted in greater scrutiny of the effects of pollutants on internationally important sites. 

Following this court case, Natural England have written to all four district councils in Somerset raising concerns over the high levels of pollutants detected on the Somerset Levels and Moors.  The Somerset Levels and Moors are protected by both the Habitat Regulations Act 2017 and the Ramsar Convention which recognises and protects these areas of wetlands. 

Natural England have advised council’s that additional development within the Ramsar site’s catchment area could contribute to its unfavourable and declining condition contrary to conservation objectives.  Councils are therefore required to carry out Habitat Regulations Assessments on applications within the catchment area, which covers a significant proportion of the County.  Unsurprisingly, this affects a wide range of planning applications although most notably additional residential dwellings, new livestock housing and anaerobic digesters.

So, what does this mean for future development in the County?  Whilst the district councils are working with ecology services and Natural England to find a solution as quickly as possible,  district councils have already experienced a significant delay in determining applications with “4,277 dwellings in SSDC [South Somerset District Council] and 11,000 across Somerset… caught up in the planning system.” 

The good news is that the four councils are working on a joint Nutrient Strategy including strategic mitigation measures to ensure the backlog of applications can be dealt with.  The bad news is that the strategy is unlikely to be commissioned and produced until the Autumn.  On top of this, Covid-19 has presented numerous challenges for councils and together these issues are likely to have a long-term impact on the development industry and housing supply in the County.  Both these issues could also lead to a fall in many of the district council’s five year housing land supply, which may bring about development opportunities.   

Katie Tregay MPlan MRTPI is a Town Planner, who has recently joined Symonds & Sampson, bringing a wealth and expertise to add to the already comprehensive planning services provided by the firm.  Based in the Sturminster Newton office with Partner Edward Dyke, Katie can be contacted on 01258 472244

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