Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) is taking measures to protect the Somerset Levels and Moors when determining planning applications following advice from Natural England.
Parts of the district fall within the Somerset Levels and Moors which are designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Habitat Regulations 2017 and listed as a Ramsar Site under the Ramsar Convention.
The Council has received a letter from Natural England concerning high levels of phosphates in the Somerset Levels and Moors and stressing the need to protect them from further phosphate pollution.
Following a court judgement known as Dutch N, Natural England have advised that in light of the unfavourable condition of the Somerset Levels and Moors, authorities should undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) before determining planning applications that may give rise to additional phosphates within the catchment.
This means the Council is currently unable to determine some applications until the impact the development would have on phosphate levels has been addressed and where necessary, compensation secured.
The Council has written to those it believes may be affected and is now in the process of developing a method to assess the impact of developments on phosphate levels and where appropriate a package of measures that may be required to offset that impact.
Cllr Mike Rigby, Executive Member for Planning and Transport, said: “This new advice from Natural England, following the Dutch N court case, will have a significant impact on the near-term development of the district.
“We are working closely with other councils in Somerset to address the potential impact of new development on the internationally-recognised nature conservation value of the Somerset Levels & Moors.
“The Council has recently declared an ecological emergency complementing the climate emergency declaration made in February 2019, and is committed to sustainable development that includes relevant environmental protections.
“Implementing this new procedure is likely to take some time and will inevitably lead to delays in determining applications, as it has elsewhere in the country.
However, the quality of the natural environment in our area is of particular importance and we are responsible for protecting this site of national and international significance for future generations.”
Further information is available on the website www.somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk/planning/phosphates-on-the-somerset-levels-and-moors/