A council is going to borrow £2m to reduce phosphate water pollution on the Somerset Levels and Moors.
Somerset West and Taunton Council’s plans will help to deliver hundreds of new homes currently held up by high local water pollution.
The levels were so high Natural England ordered all Somerset district councils to carry out additional assessment on any new developments.
It meant plans for up to 11,000 new homes in the county were delayed.
Mike Rigby, portfolio holder for planning policy and transport, said: “This has had a major impact on our ability to deliver housing in the district, including affordable housing. It’s having a significant impact on developers, particularly local small and medium-sized developers.
“This will allow some of the planning applications held in abeyance at the moment to be determined.
“We have set out a way of unlocking between 700 and 1,350 of those homes in the River Tone catchment area.”
The proposed plans, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said, are:
- acquiring land within the catchment area and repurpose it as wetlands, allowing phosphates to be naturally absorbed
- establishing a Phosphate Planning Sub Committee to oversee the delivery
- appointing dedicated officers to support the unlocking of development in the catchment of the River Tone
- ensuring all new housing developments include water efficiency measures to mitigate phosphates entering existing rivers and streams
- retrofitting council’s own housing stock of 5,766 houses to reduce the amount of water being used
The full council meeting on Tuesday also heard calls for the government to put more pressure on water companies.
Councillor Gwilym Wren said: “What we’re doing here in terms of buying up land and creating wetlands is only going to be a patch.
“What we need to do is lobby the government very, very hard to get the water companies to do what they should be doing – which is stripping the phosphates out of the water and getting rid of it.
“The long-term fix is very heavily dependent on putting the screws on the water companies – and there is no evidence that they’re prepared to do this.”
Wessex Water has committed to upgrading its treatment plants across Somerset over the next five years, committing to spend around £150m on the problem by 2025.