Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Site
Following the release of additional national advice from Natural England on matters relating to nutrient neutrality on the 16th March 2022, a joint statement has been released by the Somerset planning authorities, Wessex Water, Natural England and the Environment Agency.
Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to access this statement and information regarding the Natural England Guidance for March 2022.In August 2020 this Council, along with the other Somerset Council’s as well as Dorset Council received a letter from Natural England concerning high levels of phosphates in the Somerset Levels and Moors and stressing the need to protect them from further phosphate pollution.
Parts of the district fall within the Somerset Levels and Moors which are designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Habitat Regulations 2017 and listed as a Ramsar Site under the Ramsar Convention.
In light of a court Judgement (known as Dutch N), Natural England have advised SSDC that, in light of the unfavourable condition of the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Site, before determining a planning application/submission that may give rise to additional phosphates within the catchment, competent authorities should undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA).
SSDC is taking measures to protect the Somerset Levels and Moors when determining planning submissions following advice from Natural England.
The types of development include:
- New residential units – including tourist accommodation, gypsy sites /pitches
- Agricultural Development – additional barns, slurry stores etc. where it is likely to lead to an increase in herd size
- Tourism attractions with over-night accommodation
This means the Council is currently unable to determine some applications until the impact the development would have on phosphate levels has been addressed.
We will update our website when the position changes and more information can be made available.
Guidance regarding the type of information that is required to accompany any planning application that would be impacted by phosphates (a Nutrient Neutrality and Mitigation Statement) can be found here.
Natural England Guidance – March 2022
Following the release of additional national advice from Natural England on matters relating to nutrient neutrality on the 16th March 2022 (see links below), this is a joint statement by the Somerset planning authorities, Wessex Water, Natural England and the Environment Agency.
With regard to nutrient neutrality for development proposals that could affect the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Site, the requirements of the Natural England advice issued on the 16th March 2022 apply to areas of risk identified in the recently updated catchment map published by the Somerset planning authorities on 16 March 2022. However, until advised otherwise: the Natural England generic Nutrient Neutrality Methodology and catchment calculator should not be used. They are provisional national tools and methodologies and will be reviewed locally before any changes are made to the existing approach. Accordingly, decisions on affected planning applications will continue to be based upon the use of the Somerset Phosphate Calculator.
Natural England Guidance - March 2022
- Natural England Letter and Advice
- National Generic Nutrient Neutrality Methodology
- Catchment Specific Nutrient Calculator
- Calculator Guidance Document
- Nutrient Neutrality – A Summary Guide, providing a non-technical summary
- Nutrient Neutrality Principles Document
- Natural England Letter (18th March 2022)
Phosphates Mitigation Solutions Document and Catchment Map – March 2022
The local planning authorities across Somerset have been working in partnership to address the phosphates issue affecting the condition of the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Site, using funding support provided by Homes England. We have now received a detailed report on potential mitigation solutions which would enable developments to come forward.
Further work with the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Somerset Internal Drainage Board Consortium has led to revisions being made to the catchment map showing the new reduced size of the area where the Natural England advice note applies, and identification of the sub-catchments for the Tone, Parrett and Brue rivers.
Due to work undertaken by Royal Haskoning in updating the Somerset Levels and Moors catchment Map, there are areas of slight inconsistency between the Somerset Levels and Moors catchment map boundary and that prepared by Natural England to define the extent of the River Axe catchment. Natural England are aware of this boundary inconsistency and are looking to revise their map. Where development is proposed at the boundary between the two catchments, or it is not clear which catchment is relevant you are advised to contact the development management team care of email@example.com with your query.
Somerset Levels and Moors Catchment Map – Wastewater Treatment Works Catchments
Communication with Government
On 20th July 2022, we received a letter from Natural England confirming that they would be setting out proposals for the delivery of strategic nutrient neutrality schemes across the impacted catchments which would enable the sale of credits to unlock development currently held up in the planning system. Natural England confirmed that it would provide further details in the Autumn. A copy of the Natural England letter can be read here.
On the 21st July The Chief Planner wrote to all council’s impacted by Nutrient Neutrality issues following on from the Secretary of State for the Environment’s Written Ministerial Statement of the previous day found here - https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2022-07-20/hcws258
The Chief Planner’s letter can be read here and confirmed:
- The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill would place a statutory duty on water and sewerage companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works to the highest technically achievable limits by 2030 in nutrient neutrality areas
- Details of the Natural England solutions scheme referred to above
- DLUHC will revise planning guidance over the summer to reflect that sites affected by nutrient pollution forming part of housing land supply calculations are capable of being considered deliverable for the purposes of housing land supply calculations, subject to relevant evidence to demonstrate deliverability.
- DLUHC will be providing further clarity within the Planning Practice Guidance to confirm that the need for a Habitats Regulations Assessment were relevant to applications for reserved matters as well as the discharge conditions
On 16th March 2022, the Chief Planner wrote to all Councils impacted by updated Natural England guidance issued on the same date relating to nutrient neutrality. The letter confirmed additional financial support within each catchment as well as setting out a position regarding national level responses to the issue of securing nutrient neutrality in the context of development. A copy of the Chief Planer letter can be found here
On the 28th March 2022, DEFRA Minister Rebecca Pow wrote to the Somerset Councils following up on a previous workshop and again providing advice on both short and long term solutions to securing nutrient neutrality. A copy of the minister’s letter can be found here
DECEMBER 2020: In December 2020 the Somerset Councils wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to set out their concerns relating to the halt in construction across the county resulting from the phosphate issue. A copy of the letter can be found here. The response from the Minister of State for Housing can be found here.
Along with the four District Councils, Somerset County Council and Natural England we have been working to find a solution to the phosphate issues as quickly as possible.
JULY 2021: On the 23rd July 2021 the Somerset Councils issued a joint letter to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick and the Rt Hon George Eustice respectively the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The letter set out the work that has been undertaken to develop mitigation strategies to allow the release of development proposals currently caught up in the planning system and notes that the issue is affecting an increasingly large part of the UK.
The letter confirmed that the Somerset Councils consider the most cost effective and sustainable long term solution is the investment and upgrades to the waste water treatment works across England and to this end would welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with DEFRA, OFWAT and Wessex Water to explore the potential to deliver accelerated improvements to the waste-water treatment works in Somerset.
The letter also sought assurances from Government on a number of issues including increased funding for infrastructure upgrades, support to deliver an investment strategy to address water quality issue including funding and support for other programmes that may be impacted by phosphates.
The letter can be read here
The first step in understanding the implications of development on phosphate levels is the publication of a Phosphate Calculator.
The phosphate budget calculator can be used on proposed developments across Somerset. It will provide a transparent and rapid calculation of net phosphate loading from developments, including phosphate offsetting calculations for on or off site locations. The calculator has been approved by Natural England and it can therefore be used to provide a standardised and transparent decision making tool for the Local Planning Authority and Developers.
It is requested that developers use the calculator to calculate the level of phosphates a proposed development will generate and for this information to be submitted as part of a package of information to support the planning application as it will need to form part of the HRA. A planning application will only be able to proceed to a positive recommendation if the proposed development is phosphate neutral or there is identified mitigation that can be secured. The calculator will remain under constant review and updated to ensure that it reflects any data changes.
The calculator will also be updated in due course to take into account planned upgrades to Waste Water Treatment Works (WwTw) within Somerset by Wessex Water.
The calculator was updated on 8 March 2021 with the following amendments:
- Correction of a glitch relating to the runoff coefficients of meadow / natural grassland
- Removed wetland land use from the proposed land use options in stage 3 and replaced with an option to input bespoke values for wetland or SuDS following guidance by natural England that the previous value is no longer endorsed by them due to uncertainties.
- Definitions have been added for all of the land uses
- Land uses with the same coefficients have been collated where possible
- The runoff coefficient for a bog changed from 0.00 to 0.02 kg/ha/yr
- Permit limits for some Wastewater Treatments Works were updated following advice from the Environment Agency
- Various dwelling types and the appropriate occupancy rates have been added
Note: Calculator was further updated on the 19 March to correct an error in stage 7
The phosphate calculator can be accessed by following this link:
Note: Calculator updated on the 19 March to correct an error in stage 7.
The calculator is subject to ongoing review and revision. When the document is updated a new link is provided to the calculator. As such any saved versions of the previous link will no longer take you to the calculator. You should always use the embedded link in our website to access the most up to date version.
Following the publication of this calculator, some applicants for development will be able to clarify whether they have the capacity to deliver on site mitigation and therefore be able to present suitable land management proposals to allow their proposals to make progress.
For small scale schemes that can use Septic Tanks or Package Treatment Plants Somerset Ecology Services together with Natural England have prepared Interim Guidelines about the scope to achieve drainage solutions that do not trigger the significant effect test. View the Guidelines here.
Please note the original guidance issued in February 2021 has been replaced by updated guidance dated May 2021. The key impact of this change is to reduce the discharge threshold to 2 cubic metres per day.
For those applications where applicants do not have the capacity to provide an on-site solution the next step for the Somerset Council’s to develop an off-site mitigation strategy to include costed projects that can deliver the necessary mitigation and to apply a cost per dwelling (or alternative, impacted development type) that can allow new development to progress without resulting in a significant impact upon the protected site.
Prior Approvals and Regulation 77
Natural England in conjunction with the Somerset Planning Authorities has reviewed the role of the Regulation 77 submission as a measure to secure nutrient neutrality mitigation by way of the application of a Habitat Regulations Assessment.
The guidance upon the relationship between “permitted development”, i.e. development approved by the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015 (as amended) and biodiversity is dealt with by ODPM Circular 06/2005 / Defra Circular 01/2005 “Biodiversity and geological conservation – statutory obligations and their impact within the planning system.”
The Circular applies to candidate Special Areas of Conservation (cSAC’s) Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s), and Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) as a matter of law and to Ramsar sites and potential Special Protection Areas (pSPA’s) as a matter of policy.
Paragraph 5 of the circular confirms that:
“As a matter of policy, the Government has chosen to apply the procedures described below, unless otherwise specified, in respect of Ramsar sites and potential SPA’s (pSPA’s), even though these are not European sites as a matter of law. This will assist the UK Government in fully meeting its obligations under the Birds Directive and Ramsar Convention.”
However, in relation to permitted development, Paragraph 43 goes on to state:
“Regulation 60 imposes controls on all permissions granted under the GPDO to ensure that any permitted development is not in breach of the terms of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. This regulation prevents any development which is likely significantly to affect a European site, alone or in combination with other plans or projects, and is not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site, from commencing unless the local planning authority has ascertained, after consulting English Nature, that such development would not adversely affect the integrity of the site. It should be emphasised that the condition does not automatically withdraw permitted development rights for such developments, but instead requires them to be subject to a prior approval process. This regulation does not apply to pSPA’s and Ramsar sites as a matter of policy.”
Regulation 60 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats & c) Regulations 1994 (and its requirement for further submissions under Regulation 62) referred to in the Circular has been replaced by Regulations 75 and 77 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.
Having taken advice on the matter the Planning Authorities position is that there is no requirement to assess the Likely Significant Effects of development approved under the GPDO upon the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar site and therefore submissions under Regulation 77 will not be sought as part of any decision notice and there will be no requirement for prior approvals within the risk area to be subject to a Habitats Regulation Assessment.