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Phosphate Update

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
  • Prior Notifications of agricultural development where, as a result of the development, the herd size may increase. Also, prior notifications for change of use of office to dwellings and agricultural buildings to dwellings
  • Anaerobic Digesters
  • 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.

  1. Newsletters

  2. Communication with Government

    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

  3. Phosphate Calculator

    The first step in understanding the implications of development on phosphate levels is the publication of a Phosphate Calculator. 

    Read the Council’s press release

    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:

    Phosphate Calculator

    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.

  4. Wessex Water Position Statement

  5. 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.

  6. Interim Somerset Levels Map

  7. Our position statement

    Phosphates Strategy Position Statement

    The position statement on the progress with the Phosphates Strategy is an informative to demonstrate that work on the various elements of the strategy is being progressed.

    Our position statement

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