SOMERSET MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has welcomed the first step towards resolving a deadlock over the provision of thousands of new homes in the county.
Natural England has imposed a temporary embargo on new development in areas on and around the Somerset Levels after measuring unacceptable concentrations of phosphates linked to sewage effluent in local waterways.
But Mr Liddell-Granger says local authorities and developers will need to adopt permanent and wide-ranging anti-pollution protocols to protect and preserve the Levels, one of Europe’s last great wetlands.
The Levels are an internationally-important area for wading and water fowl and are protected under the Ramsar Convention.
Planning authorities are now having to work with ecologists to identify ways of mitigating the adverse impact of future building schemes. They will also draw up guidelines to help developers make their proposals phosphate-neutral.
In the meantime, however, plans for some 11,000 new homes in the county remain in abeyance.
Mr Liddell-Grainger, Conservative member for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said he was aware the councils had asked Government for extra funding to develop a Somerset Nutrient Strategy as a first step towards resolving the issue.
But, he said, the problem was a serious one which would require a complete rethink of the criteria for new housing developments.
“What this means is that we simply cannot go on throwing up housing estate after housing estate with no regard to the impact on the environment,” he said.
“I am relieved Natural England has intervened because clearly if no action had been taken there would have been some extremely serious long-term consequences for the Levels.
“This is a world-ranking site and if any member of any of the local authorities wonders whether Natural England isn’t being too heavy- handed over this I would merely point out that an individual who was found to be polluting an environment such as this could be fined up to £250,000.
“The Levels are a special area, not merely for conservationists but for the thousands of visitors who travel there every year to enjoy the wildlife, the tranquillity and the totally unspoiled nature of the area.
“The local farming community has been severely constrained its activities there for the last 40 years precisely in order to retain the Levels’ special character.
“We must not allow all the good that has been achieved – at considerable pubic expense – by those who own and manage the land to be undone by the activities of the house-building sector.”