Review of wastewater permits to reduce phosphorus and support the delivery of affordable housing

River Dee

A project is underway by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to review 171 water company environmental permits of wastewater treatment works in Special Area of Conservation (SAC) rivers to reduce phosphorus pollution.

The review focuses on larger discharges (20m3/day or more) to ensure that permit holders play their part in driving the reduction in phosphorus levels required to avoid further deterioration of Wales’ nine SAC rivers.

It supports the First Minister’s action plan Relieving Pressures on SAC River Catchments to Support Delivery of Affordable Housing which sets out clear actions, timescales, and responsibilities to tackle pollution in SAC river catchments and address planning constraints. 

It is one of a number of actions resulting from recent River Pollution Summits, whereby all industries have pledged to take action to drive down phosphorus in Welsh rivers.

The project is being undertaken using evidence from joint research between NRW and DCWW which breaks down the sources of phosphorus in each SAC catchment.  The source apportionment data allows water companies and regulators to better understand areas where wastewater treatment is having the biggest impact, and where further investment and improvement is required.

Revised permits, with new phosphorus limits will be published in stages on the NRW website. 

Rhian Jardine, Head of NRW’s Development Planning Advice Services said:
“Our SAC rivers support some of Wales’s most special and iconic wildlife, and we must take action to drive down nutrient levels which are causing serious ecological harm.
“While it’s our role to protect and conserve these rivers, we also acknowledge the pressing need for development and affordable housing to support communities.
“There are many contributors to phosphate pollution in our rivers, but this work to review wastewater treatment permits is to make sure that water companies contribute their fair share to phosphorus reduction.
“There is still much work to do – and other industries such as agriculture will also need to step up to the challenge – but this is a crucial step in enabling planning authorities to make decisions on applications and allow development in the right places.” 

Development within many SAC river catchments has been on hold following a report in 2021 which found that 60% of our SAC rivers were failing phosphate targets. 

Planning Authorities by law need to be satisfied that any new development proposals for which they grant consent will not result in damage to a SAC. This is not a new requirement, but they must consider the sources of phosphorus in the affected catchments. 

As permit data is reviewed, and new limits set, there will be a requirement for planning authorities and for Dŵr Cymru to determine whether wastewater treatment works have capacity for new connections within the permitted limit for phosphorus.

Existing advice to planning authorities for planning applications affecting phosphorus sensitive river Special Areas of Conservation has been updated.