Planning politics and pollution

Wales needs more homes. It also needs key infrastructure such as new cancer treatment centres, schools and other facilities. But confusion over planning, concerns about water pollution and the impact on the environment is slowing decision making and development. What do you do?

Construction processes can contribute to water pollution if they are not done correctly. It’s why Sustainable Urban Drainage (SuDs) has been an issue for some time. In July, at the Royal Welsh
Agricultural Show, the First Minister is bringing groups together to discuss the wider issues – obviously, looking at its impact on the rural and urban environment.

But our industry, despite having some insight, needs better context. So, with thanks to Mark Harris at the House Builders Federation we are publishing an excerpt from a Plenary session of the Senedd held on 18th May.

Plenary - Wednesday, 18th May 2022

Peter Fox MS

Thank you, Minister, for that response. Llywydd, I'm sure everybody across the Chamber here knows the importance of having a good quality stock of housing. Without them, the housing stock will come under even more pressure, pricing people out from being able to own their own home, and we've seen that, sadly, all over. However, a number of new developments in my constituency have stalled as a consequence of the current rules around phosphate levels, with developments close to river catchments required to show how the design will not contribute to increased phosphate levels. Of course, I completely agree that new developments should not have an adverse impact on the environment, however, the current rules seem to have caused a real log jam in the building of much-needed new homes. And in fact, there are concerns that these rules will impact on the potential development of a cancer treatment centre in Nevill Hall in Abergavenny. I note that you will be having a summit at the Royal Welsh Show, which will reflect on not only phosphates but flooding also, but, Minister, how is the Welsh Government balancing environmental considerations with the need to build new homes to tackle the housing crisis? How is the Government working with planning authorities and developers to better understand the current rules, as well as unlocking stalled sites? And we also know that farming isn't the only player in this situation—


Peter Fox

How is the Government working with Welsh Water to upgrade sewage systems in Monmouthshire to ensure that more systems are able to treat phosphates at source and ensuring that new developments can connect to these? Thank you.

Julie James MS

Yes, thank you, Peter Fox, for that series of questions, and, absolutely, we understand entirely that the phosphate issue is a really serious issue across Wales. It's affecting the delivery of our 20,000 social homes; it's affecting the delivery of a number of market housing that should have gone ahead for local development plan purposes and so on. It's also affecting a number of other developments across Wales. And, absolutely, there are a number of complexities. Each river catchment has a different set of players, who may or may not be contributing to the phosphate levels there. Phosphate is the headline issue, but we also have nitrates and ammonium, all kinds of other stuff that we've got going into our rivers for various reasons across Wales. We have a number of groups looking at the SAC rivers in particular, so, the Wye has a cross-border one, for example, that I know Peter's aware of.

But the reason for the summit at the Royal Welsh, chaired by the First Minister, is to bring the players together, because there's absolutely no doubt that everyone has to compromise here, because we just cannot have a situation where we can't have anything happening, but nor can we have a situation in which our rivers are visibly dying. What use is that to anyone, frankly? We allow the houses to be built, and then the river's an open sewer—that's clearly not acceptable either. So, this is all about reaching the best possible compromise for both the environment, the rivers and their catchments and the way they flow into the sea and affect our kelp and sea grass forests and all the rest of it, which is vital for climate and nature emergency action, but also the real problem that we have with insufficient housing, particularly in the social sector and so on.

There's a large number of pieces of work going on across the piece on this, it's a difficult and complicated problem, and the reason for the summit is to bring those players together in the spirit of, 'How can we, together, reach the best possible compromise to take this forward in Wales?' Because, let there be no mistake, no-one who comes to that summit is going to go away with their agenda fulfilled 100 per cent and everybody else's put to one side. It's about compromise and reaching that best solution for everyone so that we can go forward together as a set of communities.