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Review of wastewater permits launched by National Resources Wales

17 Dec 2023 3 minute read
The River Dee at Llangollen. Photo by Jim Roberts, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has launched a review into environmental permits of wastewater treatment works in Special Area of Conservation (SAC) rivers to reduce phosphorus pollution.

The review of 171 water company permits focuses on larger discharges (of 20m3/day or more) to ensure that permit holders play their part in the drive to reduce phosphorus levels in Wales’ nine SAC rivers.

The move follows the publication of an action plan from the First Minister’s which sets out strategies, timescales, and responsibilities to tackle pollution in SAC river catchments and address current planning constraints.

The action plan is one of a number of initiatives to come out of recent River Pollution Summits, which saw industries pledge to take action to drive down phosphorus levels in Welsh rivers.


The project is using evidence from joint research between NRW and Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water) which breaks down the sources of phosphorus in each SAC catchment.

The data allows water companies and regulators to better understand areas where wastewater treatment is having the biggest impact, and where further investment and improvement is required.

Revised permits, with new phosphorus limits will subsequently be published in stages on the NRW website.

Rhian Jardine, Head of NRW’s Development Planning Advice Services said: “Our SAC rivers support some of Wales’s most special and iconic wildlife, and we must take action to drive down nutrient levels which are causing serious ecological harm.

“While it’s our role to protect and conserve these rivers, we also acknowledge the pressing need for development and affordable housing to support communities.

“There are many contributors to phosphate pollution in our rivers, but this work to review wastewater treatment permits is to make sure that water companies contribute their fair share to phosphorus reduction.

“There is still much work to do – and other industries such as agriculture will also need to step up to the challenge – but this is a crucial step in enabling planning authorities to make decisions on applications and allow development in the right places.”

On hold

Development within many of Wales’ SAC river catchments has been on hold following a report in 2021 which found that 60% of SAC rivers were failing phosphate targets.

Planning Authorities by law need to be satisfied that any new development proposals for which they grant consent will not result in damage to a SAC.

This is not a new requirement, but they must consider the sources of phosphorus in the affected catchments.

As permit data is reviewed, and new limits set, there will be a requirement for planning authorities and for Dŵr Cymru to determine whether wastewater treatment works have capacity for new connections within the permitted limit for phosphorus.

Existing advice to planning authorities for planning applications affecting phosphorus sensitive river Special Areas of Conservation has also been updated.

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