The report presented to the Committee highlighted the issues and implications on advice received by Natural England in respect of the River Axe that had a fundamental problem with excessive levels of phosphates entering the river from intensive agricultural activity and residential development and overnight accommodation.
The formal advice received from Natural England highlighted the need to cease granting planning consent to developments in the catchment area that cannot be nutrient neutral until mitigation measures have been put in place to avoid additional phosphates reaching the River Axe.
Options for mitigation included:
Ø The Triple Axe Project which was currently developing a range of projects to reduce phosphate levels.
Ø Working alongside the Environment Agency to secure mitigation measures with Government funding of £100k to assist with additional resources.
Ø Appointment of a District Ecologist
The Committee were directed to two maps, the first detailed a further 70 local authorities in the country that were affected by the same issue and the second detailed three further local planning authority areas that the River Axe catchment area fell within:
Ø South Somerset District Council
Ø West Somerset and Taunton Council
Ø Dorset Council
The Service Lead – Planning Strategy and Development Management emphasised the need to work with these planning authorities as well as the Environment Agency and Natural England to create a mitigation strategy and highlighted various options for mitigation which might include:
Ø On-development site mitigation
Ø Measures designed to reduce farming impacts
Ø Measures in or adjacent to the watercourse
Ø Improved sewage treatment
Ø The Triple Axe Project
He advised further reports would be brought back to Committee to outline works that can take place and options for delivering mitigation.
Members were advised about the immediate issues including 28 planning applications that were currently under consideration which would now be subject to a full assessment under the Habitats Regulations and Members were reminded about the requirement to provide 918 homes per year which was not helped by the removal of the urban extension of Axminster.
The Committee were supportive of the recommendations and comments included:
· Suggestion that almost every river was polluted with phosphates;
· Suggestion that 70% of pollution was caused by agriculture and the unfairness to stop residential development and little is done to penalise large scale agricultural discharge;
· Members supported EDDC as the lead authority;
· Clarification sought on how work across all authorities would be implemented.
· Farming mitigation would need to be negotiated as agriculture provides important food. The Service Lead – Planning Strategy and Development Management referred to the Triple Axe Project advising that a lot of work had already been done to help reduce phosphate run off by creating new silage storage facilities and covering cattle yards;
· There is a need to work with farmers to change farming methods;
· Concerns raised about the need for affordable housing in the catchment area and a suggestion to build houses outside of the area. It was agreed that the biggest challenge for this authority was going to be granting consent for new residential developments. There was a need to better understand what was happening in our rivers and implement mitigation with top priority to the River Axe.
· Clarification sought on the powers of Natural England. It was advised that although Natural England did not have enforcement powers they could legally challenge decisions of the Council if their advice was ignored;
· The Leader advised he would write to the local MPs to ask for immediate action for appropriate enforcement of large scale agricultural leakage;
Strategic Planning Committee noted the very recent advice from Natural England in respect of the River Axe and nutrient pollution matters that may place an embargo on granting planning permission for new housing in the catchment of the River Axe.
That Strategic Planning Committee delegate authority to the Service Lead – Planning Strategy and Development Management to liaise with Dorset Council, South Somerset District Council and West Somerset and Taunton Council with a view to this authority becoming the ‘lead authority’ to receive £100,000 to co-ordinate measures to secure nutrient neutrality,
and recommend that Senior Officers approve what is agreed.
The recommendation was approved by a Senior Officer. The Senior Officer Decision Notice is listed above under Additional Documents.