THE LEADER of the council fears potential investors and developers could turn their backs on Wrexham unless a key environmental issue is resolved.
Speaking at a council media briefing ahead of a ‘phosphates summit’ with the Welsh Government next week, Cllr Mark Pritchard said a clear way past the problem needs to be plotted so investors and developers can carry forward plans for the city.
Cllr Pritchard claims there are proposals in the pipeline from housing developers, and businesses ready to take up empty sites across the county borough but they are currently being prevented from progressing due to a Wales-wide block on developments which could increase phosphate levels.
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, planning applications locally have had to be rejected on phosphate reasons alone – due to proximity to nearby rivers.
One of the conditions on Wrexham AFC’s permission to build the new Kop stand at the Racecourse is that only 4,900 seats can be used out of the 5,500 capacity until the impact of its phosphates output can be accurately quantified, and the club has 12 months to achieve this.
“Nobody disagrees with what needs to be done here with regards to mitigating the issues around phosphates”, Cllr Pritchard said.
“But there is a blanket ban and we’re standing still. There has to be a stepping stone approach to mitigate the problems so we can move forward.
“You just can’t stop development or investment across Wales overnight and this is what this is doing.
“There are sites sitting empty in Wrexham which developers want to move forward and they can’t.
“They won’t wait forever and if I was an investor I would go 12 miles down the road. Why would you come here to sit waiting in hope and anticipation that you’ll be able to invest, and that’s what the government has to understand here.”
He added: “It does worry me at a local level. When you get investors openly saying they’re not sure they want to invest now because of the phosphates, they can go over the border and spend their money somewhere else, people need to sit up and think what’s happening here.
“I think there has to be a coming together now of businesses, investors, everybody to try and find a way forward on this.
“You only have to look at the amount of planning applications which are refused or put on hold, not being processed, because of phosphates.
“There’s a lot of money there sitting and waiting to be invested. There’s a knock-on effect in industry.
“Wales has come to a stand-still.”
The council’s chief executive Ian Bancroft added: “Any planning application which is not able to mitigate its added phosphates into the water course, we cannot take forward through planning committee.
“What we hope for is movement at a national level to find a staged approach because we’re absolutely committed to the green and decarbonisation agenda which phosphates is a part.
“But there has to be an approach as to how that is addressed to enable development and growth to take place in a planned way as well.
“We’re working with Welsh Water, with Welsh Government, and Natural Resources Wales to look at the implementation and increased filtration. There is a plan to make sure those improvements take place.
“However, if we have to wait until all that has taken place, that is too long a time in terms of development and growth for Wrexham.”