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Government accused of ‘hampering investment’ with river pollution rules

03 Mar 2022 3 minute read
The River Dee at Llangollen. Photo by Jim Roberts, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Liam Randall, local democracy reporter

Serious concerns have been raised as planning applications in Wrexham are said to be “standing still” due to targets to reduce phosphate pollution levels in Welsh rivers.

In January of last year, environmental regulator Natural Resources Wales (NRW) introduced phosphate control regulations to protect watercourses in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) across the country.

The Welsh Government said phosphate pollution poses a “serious risk” to health and must be addressed.

However, developers have expressed frustration as the measures have led to their proposals being delayed.

It comes as local authorities are reported to be struggling to find ways to allow schemes to move forward whilst tackling any potential increase in phosphates.

The situation has now been slammed by the leader of Wrexham Council, who believes it’s hampering investment into the county borough.

Standing still

Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind) said: “The Welsh Government and Natural Resource Wales have to resolve this because we can’t.

“They have to really roll their sleeves up and find a solution to this problem because we have planning applications in Wrexham standing still.

“It’s the same across Wales and it’s not good. If we’re not careful we’ll have serious issues with investments, developers and projects standing still, because we can’t mitigate the issue around phosphates through the planning process.

“It’s a serious issue, everybody’s aware of it and I think it needs to be resolved very quickly so we can all move on.”

Phosphates are naturally occurring minerals which can enter rivers via land management practices, sewerage and foul water, causing significant ecological damage.

Evidence published by NRW shows phosphorus breaches are widespread within Welsh SACs, including the River Dee, where target levels have not been met.

Both Wrexham and Flintshire Council have experienced delays in having their local development plans approved because of the tough new rules.

It has led the two authorities to create a draft strategy to address the issue of phosphates in the Dee catchment area.

Responding to Cllr Pritchard’s comments, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are working with partners to tackle phosphate pollution, which poses a serious risk to the health and wellbeing of our future generations if left unchecked.

“While we prioritise building affordable housing at pace in Wales, the resilience of our river ecosystems and the benefits they provide – including top quality drinking and bathing water to benefit our communities, our businesses and our wildlife – must not be jeopardised.

“We are in a climate and nature emergency, and must make sure that what we do today doesn’t lead to unintended consequences that prove damaging to communities and future generations further down the line.

“We are committed to building 20,000 low carbon and affordable homes for rent over the next five years, and are working closely with our partners to deliver this ambitious target.”

Natural Resources Wales has been approached for comment.

Members of Wrexham Council’s executive board will discuss measures to address the risk of phosphate pollution at their next meeting on Tuesday (March 8, 2022).

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