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South Somerset District Council calls for urgent Government action on phosphates to help bring an end to planning delays

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Councillors in South Somerset have unanimously called for Government action to resolve an issue which is causing long delays in the consideration of planning applications.

Somerset’s four district councils and the county council have been working hard to minimise delay and uncertainty around planning applications following recent guidance over unacceptable amounts of phosphates in an area of the Somerset Levels and Moors.

The local authorities are working in partnership to develop a way forward after Natural England advised that they should undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) before determining applications that may give rise to additional phosphates in the catchment area.

At a meeting of South Somerset District Council this week, councillors from all parties unanimously resolved to call on the Government to urgently intervene.

The motion was put forward by Cllr Mike Stanton (Burrow Hill ward), who said: “We are exasperated at having to explain to our constituents the recent and continuing long delays in consideration of most residential applications. This is not a problem of our making and one which we cannot as a council resolve.  

"It arises from Natural England’s understandable requirement on us to scrutinise housing development applications, plans or projects that may increase discharge of phosphates into the river catchment of internationally important sites like our wetlands in the Somerset Levels. This would damage these lovely places and their wildlife unacceptably for a long time to come, so a way of stopping or mitigating it must be found.   

“The phosphates are in our clothes washing products and our food, and thus our sewage. Local sewage company Wessex Water has been aware of this issue for many years but in my view they have not dealt with it adequately. It now appears they now plan to solve the problem over the next ten years, which in our view is obviously unacceptable."

The resolution calls on the Government to accelerate adoption of The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which will limit discharge of raw sewage, and to add a requirement for biological or nature-based phosphate removal treatments to be installed in all sizes of sewage works by water authorities as a matter of urgency.

Cllr Stanton added: “It was introduced as a Private Members’ Bill by Philip Dunne MP on 26 February 2020. It is an important, albeit limited, step in the right direction but it has been awaiting its second reading in the House of Commons for a year.

“We recognise the need to clean up our wetlands and to move quickly on environment protection, as our Environment Strategy and actions show.

“But we need action from others. At present we cannot do one of the main jobs we are elected to do. We are being forced to hold up housing development when more housing is desperately needed, just at a time when we have established a Five-Year Housing Land Supply and can therefore make appropriate decisions about proposed developments.”


Councillors voted (50 for, zero against) to:

  1. Write to Philip Dunne MP to express support for his bill and ask him to add a requirement for biological or nature-based treatments to be installed by water authorities as a matter of urgency.
  2. Request our local MPs in writing to support the bill and press for its urgent advance to second reading, adoption as a Government Bill and add the above treatment requirements.
  3. Advise the appropriate person at Defra of Somerset’s phosphates issue as an indicator of the consequences of failing to take the necessary action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.

Thank you. You response is appreciated.

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