The Lead Specialist, Built Environment explained that he was attending Area East on members request to give a brief summary of where the five Somerset Councils are in terms of managing phosphates but also to explain what work was being done to engage other national parties to be involved with the increasing problem of the phosphate impacts on development across Somerset and beyond.
Some of the key points he raised included;
· The history of the phosphate situation and how the phosphate calculator had been created.
· The phosphate calculator was a tool that allowed applicants and agents to understand the likely phosphates emissions before and after development to create a differential which was the level of phosphate mitigation they would need to deliver.
· This process has allowed some developers to use existing land, upgrade existing cesspits and other small scale solutions to allow smaller housing developments but not currently strategic scale development.
· One significant project delivered 110 house in Crewkerne where the applicants were able to fallow a large amount of land to provide an offsetting through not spreading phosphate fertilizer on that land.
· Working with Royal Haskoning to produce a follow up report that would be an interim measure that would set out where the most effective land management solutions would come from in terms of wetlands etc.
· The aspiration was to produce a supplementary planning document that set out how phosphate mitigation could be delivered so that applicants would not have to produce individual mitigation solutions.
· Land based mitigation would require either Local Government or 3rd party bodies to identify and deliver land management based solutions.
· The level of mitigation required is dependent on the efficiency of local sewage treatment works. This creates an inequality in terms of planning.
· Habitat Regulation Assessments require Natural England’s sign off.
· The five Somerset councils wrote to Defra and what was the ministry for housing, communities and local government last year requesting they consider funding infrastructure improvements.
· Additionally, the council’s requested that central government should apply pressure to Ofwat (Water Services Regulation Authority), who sign off on the improvement plans of Wessex Water and others to improve their programmes for phosphate stripping where this is not currently programmed.
· The solutions that have been put into place so far generally comprise interim measures.
· There was currently a lack of coordination and focus in terms of the national bodies involved in the process. The solutions need a coordinated approach at government, non-governmental organisation level, and those associations that represent the various interests involved.
· The Council is working with housing associations to see if they can free up development opportunities by retro fitting current housing stock. This again was only a short term solution.
· From an operational perspective, the phosphates mitigation work has doubled the workload for each impacted application.
· More guidance in relation to land management solutions will be online, likely in March
· Land management solutions are unlikely to be the long term primary solution given the likely land take involved. There needs to be a recognition that engineered solutions need to come forward more quickly with a common priority.
In response to question from members, the Lead Specialist, Built Environment gave the following responses;
· Wessex Water are the company that services South Somerset.
· EnTrade (a Wessex Water derivative) are the company organising a mitigation scheme that developers can pay to use.
· The communication to central government is coordinated through all five Somerset councils. There was also District representation at bodies such as homebuilder’s federation to ensure a joint view it given.
· The Wessex Water five year asset management plan was signed off a few months before Natural England informed the council of the condition of the Ramsar site. Ofwat need to be empowered to address the need for the major contributors to the phosphate release to set higher standards.
There were no further questions and the chairman thanked the Lead Specialist for attending Area East to give an update.