Hopes of breakthrough as phosphates issue causes Wrexham planning backlog
Hopes have been raised there may be a solution in sight to the environmental concerns causing Wrexham’s planning application backlog.
This week Wrexham’s MP Sarah Atherton met with Dŵr Cyrmu (Welsh Water) to discuss the issues holding up potential developments.
Two years ago Natural Resources Wales (NRW) published new targets to reduce river phosphate levels in special areas of conservation (SAC) across Wales.
It followed concerns about an increase in phosphate concentrations – which can cause water pollution in rivers.
While Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government and local authorities have been working together to try and find a solution to the issue, progress on developments locally and nationally has slowed, and in some cases stalled.
In 2021-22, a total of 5,273 council houses were built in Wales, 24 per cent fewer than in 2015-16.
For two years, Mrs Atherton has corresponded with the UK Government, Wrexham Council, developers, the Welsh Government, Dŵr Cymru and its subsidiary – NRW, to resolve this issue.
Speaking earlier this year, Wrexham Council leader Esclusham Cllr Mark Pritchard spelled out how phosphates concerns were hampering progress in the county borough.
He said: “We have 3,500 planning applications sitting on our desks in planning to be taken forward, and we can’t, because of the phosphates issue.
“All authorities are sitting on thousands of planning applications ready to be processed and they can’t because of the phosphates issue.
“This is bigger than Wrexham, it’s bigger than North Wales.”
He added: “I’m inundated with complaints from people in Wrexham and further afield who are frustrated that their planning application is sitting on the desk, waiting to be processed because we can’t move forward with it.”
Last month, Mrs Atherton wrote to Wrexham Council to explore alternative means of tackling the phosphates issue by looking at the use of Section 106 orders.
In the same month, Mrs Atherton wrote to Natural Resources Wales to ensure that the permit which will allow progress to be made on the phosphates issue is granted to Wrexham as soon as possible.
The Wrexham constituency is covered by two treatment plants, Gresford (which currently does not hold a permit and sits in tranche two for consideration) and the main plant, Five Fords which covers the city centre and industrial estate.
According to Mrs Atherton, Dŵr Cymru confirmed that the Five Fords treatment plant’s existing permit meets NRW’s new requirements potentially unblocking the building development backlog.
After this meeting, Mrs Atherton wrote a letter to the Chief Executive of NRW stating that Dŵr Cymru has recommended that Five Fords’ existing permit is sufficient to allow the recommencement of building development (equating to 3,000 housing units) in the Five Fords catchment area, for example the building of the new Kop Stand at the Racecourse.
Mrs Atherton says the decision to grant the permit is now in the gift of NRW and now falls within an administrative task rather than environmental challenge.
Sarah Atherton MP said: “Whilst the aim to reduce phosphates levels in the River Dee is laudable, the way that the Welsh Labour Government has introduced this policy has been detrimental to Wrexham.
“At a time when Wrexham has never been more prepared and ready for growth, Wales’ newest City has been deprived of vast investment, jobs, and prosperity.
“The recent meeting with Dŵr Cymru has not only instilled hope, but has shown after a long phosphates journey, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“If NRW grant building developments to commence, not only will Wrexham benefit from more housing, but this will allow the redevelopment of the historic Kop Stand at the Racecourse Ground to commence.”
She added: “I would like to thank Dŵr Cyrmu for supporting, in principle, the number of strategies discussed to work around the problem with having to wait further delays in what is now an administrative process, rather than environmental.
“Hopefully, this gives Wrexham Council’s planning department time to prepare and start dealing with the backlog after a two-year embargo. Most importantly, Wrexham can now start acting and developing like a city.”
By BBC LDRS
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