Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

Current planning challenges due to rising phosphates

26/07/22Current planning challenges due to rising phosphates

One of our biggest challenges when it comes to planning applications is coping with legislation and managing clients’ expectations of timescales. There’s no definitive answer as to how long a planning application will take, but there are a number of issues that can cause problems throughout the process. These are usually surmountable and eventually resolved, but they can cause delays to building projects.

One such hurdle we’re facing with our current planning applications is regarding the phosphate levels from drainage systems. We have a number of applications that are being held up due to concerns over reducing river phosphate levels in special areas of conservation (SACs) across Wales – which includes the entire River Dee catchment area.

Rising levels and greater damage from phosphates

Phosphorous is a nutrient which occurs naturally in low levels. At these ‘safe’ levels it’s necessary for the healthy functioning of rivers and watercourses. Natural phosphorous is released slowly from various sources – from the erosion of the riverbank, for example. However, if it occurs in higher levels, it is the most harmful nutrient in freshwater and can lead to eutrophication. Eutrophication happens when an excess of nutrients causes a dense growth of plant life and subsequently the death of animal life, due to lack of oxygen.

As a contaminant, the main sources of phosphorous are agricultural practices and sewage. In farming, phosphorus is found in fertilisers and the runoff from manure. In sewage, phosphorus accumulation can be due to homes and other developments that generate wastewater, which contains sewage, food waste and cleaning products. The fact that rivers tend to run drier and lower in the summer thereby leads to greater concentrations of phosphorus in the summer months too. This causes greater damage to plant life, water ecosystems and species. At present, 60% of water areas in Wales fail against the new, tighter targets.  

Delays and decisions

The issue does not just affect private sewerage, but also mains sewers. As an example, we have two applications with the same local authority, and both are on hold due to this issue. One is proposed to have its own sewerage in the form of a treatment plant, while the other is waiting to connect to a mains sewer. On the first project, we have investigated several options, including installing as an addition a phosphate reducer to the treatment plant and not discharging into a ditch – but instead creating a drainage field or drainage mound. No decision has yet been made. The mains connection is also in the same situation, as there is no alternative but to connect to the main sewer at this point, due to the project’s location.

Dave Bates, our senior building surveyor, explains: “We’re currently waiting for Natural Resources Wales to carry out their appropriate assessments regarding the levels of phosphates involved. We have been experiencing problems with this issue since October 2021 and at the moment there appears to be no end in sight – which is frustrating and time-consuming for everyone concerned.”

There’s more information on phosphate level targets here:

If you think your planning application or building development project may be affected by phosphate levels and these new measures, then get in touch with our experts. We can offer advice on what you can do to address the issue and the options available to you.

Call us today on 01691 610317  
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