New phosphate guidance in Wales – a red flag for developers

January saw the release of National Resources Wales (NRW)’s “Compliance Assessment of Welsh Rivers Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) against Phosphorus Targets”. The assessment, which reviewed water quality data from January 2017 to December 2019, showed that of the 9 SAC rivers in Wales, 61% of these were failing to meet their phosphate targets. RDP’s local river system, the Usk, showed particularly bad data with 88% of its assessed waterbodies failing the target.

As a consequence of this, NRW issued, on 21st January, an advisory note to planning authorities. This distinguished between those development schemes which would not create “pathways for impacts” (i.e. increase phosphate pollution) and those that might, with the latter schemes being subject to a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA).

Of particular concern to developers will be NRW’s comments, within this advisory, regarding connections from development schemes to public waste treatment plants. NRW states that treatment plants that have:

“the capacity and associated phosphate stripping to accommodate the additional wastewater and additional phosphate from the proposed development [are] unlikely to increase phosphate inputs into an SAC beyond what has already been assessed and permitted by NRW”.

Those that do not have such capacity / stripping resource will not be an acceptable means of foul treatment and NRW will respond to that effect, when consulted under any HRA.

Developers will need to check, as a preliminary to any development scheme being taken forward within the catchment areas of the Rivers Wye, Usk, Cleddau, Eden, Gwyrfai, Teifi, Tywi, Glaslyn and Dee, not merely capacity within the foul network, but also whether existing water treatment works are sufficiently resourced to address NRW requirements. Where they are not, an assessment will need to be carried out as to when they might be, the concern being that planning applications will become log jammed behind treatment plant improvement works.

Written by James Davies. For more information on James and the Real Estate team click here.