Background to Phosphates
The quality of the natural environment in our area is of a particularly high standard. Parts of the county fall within either the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar catchment whilst a smaller part falls within the River Axe Special Area of Conservation (SAC) catchment.
These protected areas are currently at risk due to excessive levels of phosphates entering our water system.
On 17 August 2020 the former Somerset Councils received a letter from Natural England about the high levels of phosphates in the Somerset Levels and Moors. Later, in March 2022 the former Somerset West and Taunton Council, South Somerset District Council and Somerset County Council received similar letters relating to high levels of phosphates in the River Axe.
Following the court Judgement (known as Dutch N), Natural England advised the former councils that they must complete a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). This should be done before deciding on a planning application that may lead to additional phosphate within the catchment. This is following the unfavourable condition of the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Site and later the River Axe SAC.
The types of development affected by this advice from Natural England, and subject to an HRA to assess the impact of phosphates, include:
- New residential units – including tourist accommodation, gypsy sites /pitches
- Commercial developments – where overnight accommodation is provided
- Agricultural Development – additional barns, slurry stores etc. where it is likely to lead to an increase in herd size
- Anaerobic Digesters
- Possibly some tourism attractions
- Within the River Axe SAC catchment development undertaken through the “prior approval” decision-making process under the General Permitted Development Order (2015)
Since receipt of Natural England’s letter, Somerset Council is working hard to minimise delay and uncertainty in regards to planning applications.
This work includes a county-wide nutrient strategy. This is used to identify both short term solutions to help clear the current backlog of planning permissions and longer-term solutions to address the existing and future growth commitments.
Correspondence with Natural England and Central Government
The following documents include letters and correspondence that Somerset Council has received from central government and Natural England as the Statutory Nature Conservation Body. This includes the initial Nutrient Neutrality Advice letter received in August 2020 informing the Council of the unfavourable condition of the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar site and the requirement for Nutrient Neutrality.
- Letter to the Secretary of State regarding the Somerset Nutrient Mitigation Fund (September 2023)
- Letter to the Secretary of State regarding the Somerset Nutrient Mitigation Fund and 5 Year Housing Land Supply (August 2023)
- Steve Double MP Letter (1 September 2022)
- Letter from Rebecca Pow MP (28 March 2022)
- Natural England letter dated (16 March 2022)
- Letter to Rebecca Pow MP (29 October 2021)
- Letter from Rebecca Pow MP (5 October 2021)
- Letter to Secretaries of State from Somerset Authorities (23 July 2021)
- Letter of Response from Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP for MHCLG (26 January 2021)
- Letter to the Secretary of State from all Somerset Authorities (3 December 2020)
- Natural England Advice to LPAs on Nutrients in the Somerset Levels and Moors (17 August 2020)