An amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will require the upgrade of all sewerage treatment works serving more than 2,000 people. In the Poole Harbour catchment, this requirement would result in a significant reduction in phosphorus within the harbour but this reduction would not be sufficient to remove the need for phosphorus mitigation. If the threshold for sewerage treatment works was lowered to those that served more than 1,000 people, the need for phosphorus mitigation would be removed and wider environmental benefits would be realised.
The amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill makes provision for the Secretary of State to add further sewerage treatment works to the list of those requiring upgrade and the Leader of Dorset Council has written to the Secretary of State requesting this.
Working with Natural England, an approach had been developed which would have allowed planning applications to be granted in the Poole Harbour catchment. Natural England agreed that once the upgrade of all sewerage treatment works has been secured in legislation (currently passing through parliament) that the need for development to be phosphorus neutral in the Poole Harbour catchment, would no longer apply.
Recent detailed evaluation of the impact of the tabled amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which would require the upgrade of all sewerage treatment works serving more than 2,000 people, would not deliver sufficient reductions in phosphorus to enable the need for phosphorus mitigation to be removed. This creates uncertainty about when development within the catchment would be able to commence without phosphorus mitigation measures in place and therefore the use of a pre-commencement condition would not be appropriate. Dorset Council are working to resolve this issue.
As of 4 January, Dorset Council intended to start to grant consents for development in the Poole Harbour catchment with a condition preventing the development from starting until the legislation has passed through parliament. Should an applicant agree to the pre-commencement condition, decisions on planning applications would have been made following the normal decision making process.
The need for nitrogen neutrality still applies and Dorset Council have the Nitrogen Neutrality in Poole Harbour SPD in place to help with this.
The Council's Position Statement for the use of pre-commencement conditions in the Poole Harbour catchment set out the approach that was agreed but no longer applies.
On 26 August 2022 Dorset Council received a further letter from Natural England around the implications of the Written Ministerial Statement for nutrient neutrality in Poole Harbour. Natural England’s letter considers the implications of the tabled amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill around achieving Nitrogen and phosphorous neutrality.
Natural England have confirmed that, once the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is enacted (anticipated to be in April 2023), new development in the Poole Harbour catchment will no longer be required to implement phosphorous neutrality measures. In the interim period before the Bill is enacted, affected planning applications for development in the Poole Harbour catchment are still required to demonstrate through Appropriate Assessment that appropriate measures or safeguards are in place to ensure Phosphorus neutrality. We are continuing to work with Natural England with the aim of agreeing an approach to phosphorous neutrality in the Poole Harbour catchment in this interim period, to enable affected applications to be determined.
We will also be working with Natural England, and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, to review and update the ‘Nitrogen Reduction in Poole Harbour Supplementary Planning Document’. In terms of Nitrogen neutrality, Natural England have confirmed in their letter that the existing strategy for Nitrogen neutrality in the Poole Harbour catchment can be relied upon for determination of planning applications at the current time.
Pending completion of our review and enactment of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, all developments will need to demonstrate: Nitrogen neutrality in accordance with the adopted 'Nitrogen Reduction in Poole Harbour Supplementary Planning Document' and phosphorous neutrality.