THERE is ‘light at end of the tunnel’ to the river pollution issue which has held up planning applications across Wrexham in the last few years.
At this month’s meeting of Wrexham Council’s planning committee senior officers gave an update to councillors on the department’s performance, including progress towards resolving phosphates concerns.
In 2021 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 slowed, and in some cases stalled.
Planning applications were rejected on phosphate reasons alone while other applications have been held up in the system.
Speaking at the committee meeting, Wrexham Council’s senior planning officer Matthew Phillips said: “There are a number of pressures on the team at the moment from the phosphorous situation or the easing of that.
“Overall there is a lot to be positive about it’s just something to be mindful that for the next couple of quarters the team will be under some quite considerable pressure and that is likely to be reflected in performance.”
Chief planning officer David Fitzsimon added: “All officers are running high caseloads.
“We’ve now got the phosphates issue hopefully at least partially resolved which will result in officers dealing with some of the backlog, so there is an ongoing pressure there.”
Signs of progress have been welcomed by Wrexham’s MP Sarah Atherton.
Last week Mrs Atherton visited the Five Fords Wastewater Treatment Works in Wrexham – which has recently been granted an environmental permit by NRW. This means that the council can now start determining planning applications served by these treatment works.
The Wrexham constituency is covered by two treatment plants, Gresford, and the primary plant, Five Fords which covers the City Centre and Industrial Estate.
Mrs Atherton has previously spoken with the Welsh Government, Wrexham Council, Welsh Water, NRW, and developers to try and resolve the issue.
In November 2021, Mrs Atherton wrote to the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales asking for clarification on steps taken by the Welsh Government to ensure local planning authorities have the information required to allow planning applications to progress.
Unsatisfied with the response and amount of information shared, Mrs Atherton wrote to the Minister for Climate Change explaining that the phosphates policy was severely impacting planning developments in Wrexham – hampering growth.
In May, Mrs Atherton wrote to Wrexham Council to explore alternative means of tackling the phosphates issue by looking at the use of section 106 orders. She also wrote to NRW to ensure that the permit, which will allow progress to be made on the phosphates issue, was granted to Wrexham as soon as possible.
Mrs Atherton then met with Welsh Water representatives to discuss Wrexham’s planning application backlog. During this meeting, they confirmed that the Five Fords treatment plant’s existing permit met NRW’s new requirements.
After Mrs Atherton’s meeting with Welsh Water, she wrote to the Chief Executive of NRW stating that Welsh Water had recommended the existing Five Fords permit was sufficient to allow the recommencement of building development (equating to 3,000 housing units) in the Five Fords catchment area. Each planning application will now be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Mrs Atherton said: “Since the Welsh Labour Government introduced its phosphates policy, I have been contacted by constituents, developers, businesses, and agencies, including the Wrexham Council Housing team, about the planning process chaos caused by short-sightedness in Cardiff Bay.
“Most recently, there have been around 3,500 housing units, within around 100 planning applications, ‘sitting on desks’ and waiting to be processed by Wrexham Council because of the failure to resolve this issue.
“My concern as the local MP, throughout my time dealing with this issue, is that the excruciating planning delays have meant that Wales’ newest city – and its residents – have been held back in terms of prosperity, growth, investment, jobs, and lifestyle improvements.
“I am therefore extremely pleased to see what looks like the light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is that, after a two-year slowdown, Wrexham Council’s planning department will work quickly to unblock the planning backlog and get up to speed so that Wrexham can start acting like a city.”