Somerset County Council is calling on the Government to urgently bring forward plans for water companies to upgrade their treatment plants to improve the removal of phosphates from sewage in rural areas – the so called “nutrient neutrality” policy.
Councillor Ros Wyke, Somerset County Council’s Lead Member for Development and Assets has written to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of the Council.
Cllr Wyke writes in her letter: “We believe that the date of 2030 by which water companies must reduce phosphate pollution to acceptable levels is far too late… the 2030 deadline should be brought forward.”
Cllr Wyke added: “The issue of nutrient pollution from sewage is the responsibility of water and sewage companies. As the Environment Agency has recently emphasised, water companies have under-invested in sewage infrastructure with annual investment dropping by almost a fifth since privatisation.“
The issue of nutrient neutrality (following a decision in a European legal case) has led to many housing and business developments in Somerset being held up as planning permissions cannot be granted because of the resulting increased pollution into sensitive environments.
In the letter to the two Secretaries of State Cllr Wyke makes clear the council’s support for the protection of the unique environment of the Somerset Levels: “Somerset County Council is acutely aware of the impact of pollution on our local environment and recently declared an ecological emergency in the county.
“We are also, however, aware of the devastating impact of the current lack of investment by water and sewage companies on the provision of new homes in the county… new housing is a minimal contributor to nutrient levels but is being disproportionately impacted by the issue.”
The council is also concerned that local companies are being hit hardest by the restrictions on new homes. “Local construction companies, which are predominately SMEs, are inevitably disproportionately hit by the slowing of permissions due to the current policy. Larger nationwide housebuilders can landbank and concentrate on building on sites where permissions are deliverable. Local companies do not have the cash flow or land resources to follow suit,” writes Cllr Wyke.
Publishing the letter to Ministers, Cllr Wyke said: “Ultimately, we must be clear that the responsibility of limiting all types of water and sewage pollution in rural areas must be the responsibility of water and sewage companies accompanied by a change in farming practices. The government must bring forward the deadline if it is serious about supporting both economic development and new homes in rural areas.”