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Water: Somerset

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 60523, tabled on 21 October 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking with (a) the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (b) Natural England to help resolve the water quality issues caused by phosphates in the Somerset Levels and Moors so that residential applications in that area can proceed.

Answered on

29 October 2021

The departments principally responsible for government policy on water pollution and development are Defra and DLUHC respectively, which are both aware of the challenges facing housebuilding and environmental protection in the Somerset Levels and Moors. To address water quality issues arising from nutrient pollution, a cross-departmental Nutrient Taskforce has been created, which brings together Defra, Natural England, Environment Agency and DLUHC colleagues. Its remit is to discuss the causes of phosphate and wider nutrient pollution and ways we can support businesses to develop and protect the environment nationally.

Locally, the taskforce has assisted Natural England in developing several tools which enable local authorities to understand possible mitigations that can be put in place. In the Somerset Levels and Moors, this has materialised in the development of a phosphorus budget calculator which has helped to move forward planning applications. Furthermore, Somerset West & Taunton Council have approved a further £2M programme for interim mitigation projects as advised by Natural England. The Council will now seek NE sign-off in the next few weeks, after which it can begin to employ mitigation schemes to unlock delayed development in the area. Alongside this Natural England continues to support the piloting of a first-of-its-kind nutrient trading scheme in Somerset and expects to formally accredit the scheme in November. They report back regularly to the taskforce on progress.

More broadly, the taskforce has helped to inform and guide Defra’s wider approach to address nutrient pollution in our waterways. For example, how we utilise the newly expanded Catchment Sensitive Farming advice programme, which we have doubled funding for, alongside funding for 50 new Environment Agency inspectors to work with the farming sector to tackle nutrient pollution. Defra is committed to improving the water environment and will continue to work with Natural England and the Environment Agency on the wider issue of underlying sources of pollution, considering upgrades to wastewater treatment works and ways of reducing pollution from agriculture.