The planning system in parts of Mid Wales is coming to a standstill, threatening the development of hundreds of new affordable and social homes, private and commercial developments.

This is the warning from one of the region’s architects and planning consultants who says measures to reduce high phosphate levels in some of the area’s rivers, including the River Wye, are seriously impacting on the planning system, particularly in south Powys and Ceredigion.

Planning applications for everything from small house extensions to large-scale housing scheme are now affected.

Doug Hughes, Managing Director and Principal Architect at Hughes Architects, which operates throughout Wales and the border areas, has warned that the consequences of not finding a solution to the problem soon will impact on the ability of local authorities and housing associations to deliver new social housing projects, in addition to affordable and private developments.

“It’s the perfect storm. We have high levels of demand for social, affordable and private housing in areas such as Powys and Ceredigion and yet we are at a virtual standstill in the ability to deliver planning approvals due to the current restrictions on all forms of development,” said Mr Hughes.

Impacting on everything from home extensions to large-scale developments

“It’s also impacting on private individuals who want to extend or convert properties. We fear the whole planning system is on the cusp of coming to a standstill.”

According to reports, phosphate levels in the River Wye catchment area are four times higher in soils surrounding it, threatening its health and the wider ecosystem.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) introduced new planning advice in January this year for Special Areas of Conservation impacting rivers. It requires proof that any development, regardless of size, would not contribute to increased levels of phosphates in waterways.

The Welsh Government has said while housing of all types is a priority, resilience of river ecosystems cannot be compromised. The government plans to support the development of 20,000 new affordable homes in Wales over the next three years, but this advice means this is practically unachievable.

Clear and proportionate advice needed

Mr Hughes said “We recognise the causes of phosphate pollution in our rivers are complex and no single measure will solve the issue. We also recognise that our own developments and planning applications cannot compromise the health of our rich natural resources, which is why our team at Hughes Architects works so hard with planning departments and consultees to ensure this does not happen. All the same, advice from NRW and government needs to be clear and proportionate.”

He added: “In the case of most domestic developments, it is highly likely there would be no impact in terms of phosphate generation. But the additional planning advice impacts on everything from a simple house extension to a large housing scheme.

“We know discussions are ongoing between the range of stakeholders involved, but these need to be accelerated or we face a serious housing and property crisis. Delays now will impact on the ability to begin work on much needed homes in the coming years.”

Mr Hughes said his architectural practice had become multi-disciplinary in recent years in response to the increasing complexity of the planning system.

“We now employ a team of in- house specialist drainage engineers who have the experience and expertise to come up with solutions to tackle this issue. But this all takes time and as each planning application is judged on its own merits, then this invariably leads to delay in securing approvals.

We need urgent clear and decisive advice from NRW and Welsh Government to develop solutions to this complex issue.”

Civil and Structural Engineering Services Maes Corton by Hughes Architects 3 Civil and Structural Engineering Services