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Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change

First published:
8 December 2023
Last updated:

On 30 November, I chaired the third River Pollution Summit to discuss river water quality and the impact this is having on development. This is the continuation of a series of Summits led by myself, the First Minister and the Minister for Rural Affairs, North Wales and Trefnydd, designed to drive our approach to addressing phosphorus pollution in failing Special Area of Conservation (SAC) rivers in Wales.

I continue to be extremely concerned about the impact of phosphorus pollution both on the quality of our water environment, and our ability to unlock much-needed housing development. The causes of pollution are multiple and complex, and no single measure will resolve the issue.

Once again the summit, like its predecessors, brought together senior representatives from regulators, water companies, housing developers, local government, farming unions, academia, and environmental bodies to discuss the progress being made against the Relieving pressures on Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) river catchments to support delivery of affordable housing: action plan.

I have been delighted to see our stakeholders working so hard to take forward respective actions in the Plan. We have made great strides to date in driving forward our ambition to unlocking development in our failing SAC rivers whilst laying some of the groundwork for longer term improvements within our rivers.

The Welsh Government has been playing its part too including:

  • Implementing structures to oversee and monitor delivery of the Action Plan;
  • Providing Nutrient Management Boards with nearly £1.5m funding to date to support the delivery of priority actions in failing SAC catchments;
  • Providing funding to NRW to help accelerate their work on review of permits. A new permit for Five fords Water treatment works will allow the Local Planning Authority to make decisions on just under 3000 dwellings which is a major proportion of the applications held in abeyance in the Dee;
  • Established several Task and Finish Groups including to report on the feasibility of nutrient offsetting and trading. The Nutrient Trading task and finish group have produced a report which we’ll hear more about later in the Summit.

We have clearly made significant progress, but there is of course much still to do. Thursday’s Summit was a great opportunity to hear from all sectors.

Sir David Henshaw, Chair of NRW gave a presentation on the ‘Teifi Demonstrator Catchment’ Project, which led to discussions on thinking and doing things differently and using innovative solutions to make things happen with this Project offering an exciting opportunity for all parties to try a different approach. Sir David reinforced our vision for citizen science being an integral part of the project, helping to drive solutions and contribute to evidence-based catchment management.

The Minister for Rural Affairs North Wales and Trefnydd introduced Mr. Richard Roderick of Newton Farm who presented a case study on targeted soil and nutrient management. It was truly insightful and wonderful to hear first hand the tangible benefits of changing practices on Newton farm, and the  challenges that need to be addressed.

Craig Sparrow from Clwyd Alyn Housing Association provided a Registered Social Landlord perspective; Craig highlighted the importance of a Team Wales approach and how the review of permits was helping to  unlock vital housing developments to provide good quality, sustainable homes for people most in need.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in the summit and for their contributions to the progress made with delivery of the Action Plan.  We have achieved a lot since the last summit, and I’m pleased that we have seen positive outcomes in our movement towards improving overall river health and bringing failing SAC rivers back into favourable condition. 

We still have a long way to go and achieving river nutrient neutrality alone will not improve river health in the long term.  To this end we need everyone to continue their hard work and positive collaborative approach to facilitate long term improvements and I look forward to hearing of progress made against the action plan.

The next summit will be held on 18 March and will be chaired by Sir David Henshaw.

It is only by working together and taking a Team Wales approach that we can tackle the multiple risks impacting our lakes, rivers, and streams.  We must act to protect our environment for today and for future generations. The Welsh Government will continue to work with stakeholders across Wales to address these challenges.