Water Quality (Phosphate) in Riverine Special Areas of Conservation and implications for Planning and Development

Following new evidence about the environmental impacts of phosphate in watercourses Natural Resources Wales have adopted tighter targets for the water quality of watercourses and have conducted an assessment of the 9 riverine Special Areas of Conservation in Wales.   
This assessment has established that phosphorus breaches are widespread within Welsh Special Areas of Conservation rivers with over 60% of waterbodies failing against the challenging targets set. 

The assessment has identified that within the River Usk 88% of the river’s water bodies failed to meet the required target and within the River Wye 67% failed to meet the required target.  As a result of this failure Natural Resources Wales have issued detailed planning guidance to ensure that the environmental capacity of the rivers does not deteriorate any further.  Any proposed development within the catchment areas of the rivers that might increase phosphate levels need to clearly evidence within a planning application that the development can demonstrate phosphate neutrality or betterment in its design and/or its contribution to the water body.  In most cases there will be limited capacity to connect to the public sewerage system and an alternative solution will have to be found.  This will impact on all development that increases the volume or concentration of wastewater. 

Development proposals need to be given significant consideration within these catchment areas and prior to an application being submitted to the Local Planning Authority and it is encouraged that customers engage with our pre-application advice service to discuss the acceptability of proposals.

Catchment area of the rivers map: Phosphates

Natural Resources Wales has prepared guidance which outlines what type of development is unlikely to have an impact on phosphate levels in the watercourses.  This advice is periodically updated and the latest version of this is available hereAdvice to planning authorities for planning applications affecting phosphorus sensitive river Special Areas of Conservation

The guidelines will have significant implications on development proposals and we are working with Natural Resources Wales and other partners to find solutions that enable development proposals to progress  and that do not harm the environmental capacity of our watercourses.  As you can appreciate we are absorbing the implications for current and future planning applications as well as the review of the Local Development Plan. 
We will update this page with further information as soon as we are able.

Running and maintaining a septic tank or small sewage plant

Following sessions at the recent Wrexham LDP Audit it has come to light that LPAs may not be able to rely solely on the presence of Phosphate stripping to guarantee nutrient neutrality. Previously we had understood that Phosphate stripping, in Talgarth, was sufficient to avoid adverse effects on the River Wye Special Areas of Conservation. This is no longer the case.  

To this end we are investigating with Natural Resources Wales the permitting arrangements for Talgarth Wastewater Treatment Works and will update once we are satisfied that the Phosphate stripping is sufficient to meet obligations under the Habitats Regulations.

This advice will be updated as and when this issue is resolved.