In response to challenges finding long-term solutions to nutrient neutrality, the Herefordshire Council have established a Cabinet Commission to progress the restoration of the Rivers Wye and Lugg.
Natural England first issued a letter to Herefordshire Council in July 2019 advising against reliance upon the Nutrient Management Plan to offset the phosphate load of development. This means that development in the River Lugg catchment is affected, as in order to sign off on a Habitat Regulations Assessment for development within the catchment you must demonstrate nutrient neutrality.
In January 2022 Council voted unanimously for a Water Protection Zone. Unfortunately, this call was rejected by Minister Pow, Secretary of State, DEFRA.
A Cabinet Commission was therefore proposed to undertake a more strategic and systems led review of river quality and to consider how Herefordshire Council can use all the powers and influence available to it to progress the restoration of the Wye and Lugg.
The council is creating a number of Integrated Wetlands specifically for the purpose of removing phosphates before they reach the rivers, which will enable the damaging ban on development in some areas to be lifted.
The new Phosphate Credits system will allow developers to buy credits generated by the operation of the wetlands to offset the phosphates that their new developments will create. In this way it is possible to ensure that the overall effect of new development is what’s called ‘nutrient neutral’, similar to the way companies can offset their carbon footprints by planting trees or sponsoring carbon negative projects.
Trading in Phosphate Credits will commence in August 2022 and will increase as further Wetlands arrive on stream. Credits will be allocated on the agreed first come first served policy.
How is the new approach being sustained?
As new wetlands are created, further phosphate credits will be generated. However, there is a limit to how many wetlands can be created.
However, the Commission aims to work as quickly as possible to consult and identify practical options to making a long-term difference to the Wye and Lugg.
Further investment into these solutions would allow these solutions to be reached faster. A clearer, more coordinated national strategy for achieving nutrient neutrality would also remove some of the burdens currently facing the council. The council currently relies on national bodies to engage and to enforce national measures, and so intervention from central government is needed to properly address the issue.