Councils publish phosphates calculator

Press release on behalf of the five Somerset Councils

Somerset’s four districts councils and the county council have been working hard to minimise delay and uncertainty around planning applications following recent guidance over unacceptable amounts of phosphates in the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar site.

The local authorities are working in partnership to develop a way forward after Natural England advised that they should undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) before determining applications that may give rise to additional phosphates in the catchment area.

The remit includes work with the Somerset Ecology Service at the county council on a Somerset-wide nutrient strategy to identify both short term solutions to help clear the current backlog of planning permissions and longer-term solutions to address the existing and future growth commitments. 

The first stage of this work is now complete with an easy to use calculator set to help affected applicants understand the likely phosphate load associated with their scheme as well as the extent of compensatory measures required to ensure new development is phosphate neutral.

Somerset West and Taunton Council used funding from Homes England to lead the joint commissioning of consultants Royal Haskoning to prepare the phosphates calculator which has been signed off by Natural England.

Links to the calculator can be found on the district council websites at –

Whilst the publication of the phosphate calculator is a big step forward and will provide valuable information to applicants, the local authorities acknowledge that this is only a first step and further research and guidance is needed to understand what types of compensatory measures, and their design, are suitable for specific developments. 

Alongside this local authorities will also be relying on applicants to seek their own professional advice to understand the results of the calculator and, where possible, translate these into deliverable solutions.

A stakeholder briefing on the wider nutrients issue is being organised for all interested parties. The briefing from all of the Somerset Planning Authorities is proposed for Friday 12 March between 10 and 11:30am.  This will be available to anyone who is interested to learn about the work the Somerset Councils have achieved so far, as well as what is in the pipeline to deliver a Somerset-wide solution to the issue. You can join the live event here.

The requirement to demonstrate that proposed developments will be phosphate neutral has so far resulted in determination of hundreds of live planning applications in Somerset being halted, including developments that would deliver over 11,000 new homes.

The leaders of Somerset West and Taunton, Sedgemoor, Mendip and South Somerset district councils recently sent a joint letter to the Government warning that the requirement would adversely impact housing delivery in Somerset and the ability to meet national housing targets; calling for them to find a national solution to the issue which is affecting many areas in the country, not just Somerset.

The districts are still hopeful of Government support, including:

  • A commitment that current infrastructure and affordable housing funding programmes will not be placed at risk by the phosphates issue and that extensions to spend programmes will be permitted where necessary.
  • Additional revenue and capital funding be made available to implement the identified measures in the Somerset Nutrient Strategy and unlock the delivery of 11,000 new homes in Somerset.
  • A commitment that relevant Government regulators (OFWAT, Environment Agency and Natural England) will be addressing the major contributory polluters responsible for the discharge of nutrients into the water courses that feed into the protected sites in England.