HOUSEBUILDING across Somerset may be delayed after a landmark court case on water pollution.

A Taunton councillor has warned it “will have a significant impact on the near-term development of the district” and two other councils have indicated plans in their areas could be affected.

One development of 70 homes in Taunton has already had a planning decision delayed and many more across the county could be affected.

The Somerset Levels and Moors are protected by both the Habitat Regulations Act 2017 and the Ramsar Convention, an international law which recognises and protects areas of wetlands for future generations.

Following a recent court case (known as Dutch N), Somerset’s local authorities have been urged to carry out tests to protect the area from further pollution.

Following the court case, Natural England wrote to Somerset’s four district councils, raising concerns over the high levels of phosphates detected on the Levels and Moors.

The four councils have been urged to undertake a habitat regulations assessment (HRA) before making a decision on any planning applications which may lead to an increase in phosphates.

This means the four councils are unable to make immediate decisions on significant applications – including developments involving large numbers of homes, commercial units, and agricultural facilities such as barns and anaerobic digesters.

This chain of events has already delayed a decision on the next phase of the Comeytrowe urban extension in Taunton, which will eventually deliver 2,000 new homes and a new primary school between the A38 Wellington Road and Honiton Road.

Detailed plans for the first 70 homes were approved by the council in July, with construction beginning on-site in September.

Plans for the next phase of the development, comprising 76 homes, were due to be discussed by the council’s planning committee when it met virtually on Thursday afternoon (October 8).

However, these plans were withdrawn from the agenda following the court case and letter from Natural England.

READ NEXT: Sale of Somerset solar farm generates national interest​

Councillor Mike Rigby, portfolio holder for planning policy and transport, said: “This new advice from Natural England, following the Dutch N court case, will have a significant impact on the near-term development of the district.

“We are working closely with other councils in Somerset to address the potential impact of new development on the internationally recognised nature

conservation value of the Somerset Levels and Moors.

“We recently declared an ecological emergency, complementing the climate emergency declaration made in February 2019, and are committed to sustainable development that includes relevant environmental protections.

“Implementing this new procedure is likely to take some time and will inevitably lead to delays in determining applications, as it has elsewhere in the country.

“However, the quality of the natural environment in our area is of particular

importance and we are responsible for protecting this site of national and

international significance for future generations.”

Mendip District Council has confirmed it is taking similar steps, but could not confirm how many homes would be delayed or affected.

Councillor Garfield Kennedy, portfolio holder for the Local Plan and policy, said: “We are committed to sustainable development and the new advice received from Natural England is of great concern. We know this will have significant impacts in the near future on developments in our area.

“The quality of the natural environment in the Somerset Levels and Moors must be of paramount importance if we are to deliver the commitments we made in February 2019 to tackle the climate emergency in our district.

“We must do everything within our power to protect those sites of national and international importance – for all our futures.”

A spokeswoman for Sedgemoor District Council added: “We, like a number of authorities, are engaging with Natural England regarding the implications of the Dutch nutrients case and are considering the spatial implications and potential impact on housing development and other related development.

“The urban areas of Sedgemoor – in terms of Bridgwater, Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge, are not linked to the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar catchment via any hydrological pathways, and therefore it is not expected that there will be an immediate issue in terms of our strategic growth in these locations.

“Discussions are continuing with Wessex Water, Natural England and our ecologists to better define the impact area and to consider the implications in other parts of the district.

“In addition the authorities across Somerset are undertaking joint working to fully explore the issue, its implications and to consider the need for a joint strategy.”

South Somerset District Council has yet to comment publicly on Natural England’s letter or the Dutch N case.