Temporary pause on development in the River Camel Special Area of Conservation

This page gives notice of a significant issue about:

  • the levels of phosphate entering the River Camel and related advice from Natural England (NE)
  • the impact of this on development and some planning applications in the river's catchment area.

River Camel Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

The River Camel Special Area of Conservation  is designated under the Habitat Regulations 2017.   The SAC covers 69km and includes headwaters of the Camel and De Lank rivers and their joining with the River Allen.  You can view it using the Council's interactive map.  It is located in the Environment and Planning folder on the Maps layers legend.

The area extends from:

  • between Camelford and Tintagel in the north
  • following close to the A30 from Bolventor to Bodmin
  • and just south of the A30 from Bodmin to Roche
  • to parts of St Breock downs and between Wadebridge and Egloshayle in the west of the area.

You can view more information using this link: River Camel Designated Area of Conservation

You can view the area that is required to achieve nutrient neutrality as a constraint using the Council's interactive map.  It is located in the Environment and Planning folder on the Maps layers legend.

Excessive phosphates in the River Camel SAC

Cornwall Council received a letter from Natural England about the levels of phosphates in the River Camel in 2021.  NE considers the River Camel SAC to be at risk. Current mitigation measures will not reduce nutrient levels enough.

Impacts on development in the River Camel catchment area

A nutrient neutral approach to development is needed to avoid direct and indirect adverse impact on the River Camel SAC.  We have:

  • reviewed advice from Natural England
  • sought legal advice
  • produced a phosphate calculator
  • updated our local validation list
  • produced a draft solutions report.

We are: 

  • producing a strategic mitigation strategy 

What this means for current planning applications

The Council paused decision making for certain development types in the River Camel catchment area.  The phosphate calculator helps understand how much phosphates a proposed development will generate.  A planning application will only be able to proceed to a positive recommendation if:

  • the proposed development is phosphate neutral or
  • there is identified mitigation that can be secured.

There will however be some developments that will need to wait for the strategic mitigation strategy to come forward.

Our phosphate calculator went live on 21 October on our Nutrient neutrality in Cornwall page.  It contains:

  • the calculator and tutorial video
  • guidance and links to help you progress.

More information on submitting an application can found using this link: Considering an application in the River Camel area

Types of application affected

This impacts planning applications currently stalled in the system and new submissions.   

You can find more information using this link: Types of development and applications affected

Latest news

Draft Solutions Report

Cornwall Council has published its draft solutions report for the River Camel phosphates issue.  You can read the report using this link: River Camel Phosphate Mitigation Solutions Report

The draft River Camel Solutions Report sets out a range of potential mitigation solutions. If implemented they could help reduce the amount of phosphates entering the river.

Please note: The phosphate calculations used in this report to:

  • determine the likely phosphate removal of solutions and
  • estimate the phosphate loading from development

come from the Cornwall Council River Camel Phosphate Calculator (published November 2021).

Since doing this work NE have published further guidance (16 March 2022) for LPAs.  This included a new calculator for the River Camel catchment.   We will need to amend our calculator to align with the new NE guidance.  More information is provided in the next section.

We want to continue to progress our work on strategic mitigation.  The Solutions Report remains in draft as there may be some change in the phosphate figures.  This does not change the underlying analysis of the most appropriate mitigation in the River Camel catchment.  On that basis we are proceeding to:

  • publish this report and
  • continue to work on the next stage.

This will be developing an implementation strategy for the solutions taken forward by the Council.

New guidance from Natural England

We received a letter from Natural England (16 March 2022). This 25-page letter contains updated guidance on nutrient neutrality. New NE guidance includes:

Natural England also released a new calculator for completing a nutrient budget.  The Natural England advice on 16 March acknowledged that a transitional period would be required where existing tools and methodologies were in place.  We are discussing the calculator with NE and will update the Cornwall Council calculator shortly.  Applicants may then need to rerun their phosphate budget calculations. Until advised otherwise, please continue to use the Cornwall Council Calculator.  We will provide further updates on these pages.

Please note the March letter from NE only affects the River Camel.  There are no new areas affected by nutrient neutrality in Cornwall.

Related press releases

The Government published a statement on 16 March 2022: Nutrient pollution: reducing the impact on protected sites

South West Water and DEFRA have also made announcements:

We continue to work with Royal HaskoningDHV on a strategic mitigation strategy.  You can find more information on the strategy work in the River Camel Phosphate Strategy Literature Review.

We are working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and South West Water to find a solution.  We will update further as work progresses.  We held workshops with stakeholders in November 2021 and March 2022.  You can find event information on our River Camel stakeholder page.

Latest updates on these pages:
  • Further updated text and advice on using calculator

Latest update: 10.6.22. We will provide further updates on these pages. 

If you have any questions, please email positiveplanning@cornwall.gov.uk in the first instance.

Cornwall Council is the ‘competent authority’ under the Habitats Regulations, (The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017).  It is legally required to assess the potential impacts of projects and plans on internationally important sites which include the River Camel SAC.  Before determining planning applications that may result in additional  phosphates within the catchment, competent authorities should undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). 

This is when the environment becomes enriched with nutrients.  It can be a problem in marine habitats and can cause algal blooms.  Some algae produce toxins harmful to the animals that feed in that habitat.

The delay in determining applications will impact on delivery of new homes.  It could impact:

  • 5 year land supply
  • Housing Delivery Tests.

The current 5 year land supply is at 6.7 years so we have some 'buffer'.  Our initial view is that a 2 year delay will not impact supply significantly.

There have been two judicial reviews (JRs) that challenged the approach of Fareham Borough Council.  That Council granted permission for two small housing developments. 

The main grounds of the challenges were about how Fareham had tried to ensure the development didn't cause harm to the marine environment of The Solent. This applied to both cases.

After considering extensive evidence from all parties, the High Court made its judgement on 28 May 2021.  It concluded that Fareham's approach to mitigating the effects of nitrates on The Solent was legally sound.

The specific challenges were:

  • The 'Save Warash' JR - Save Warash and the Western Wards v Fareham Borough Council and Others: Case No CO/3397/2020 dated 28 May 2021
  • The 'Barad' JR - Wyatt v Fareham Borough Council and Others: Case No CO/4168/2020 dated 28 May 2021

We held a stakeholder event for agents on 4 November as part of wider engagement.  You can find information from these events using this link: Stakeholder workshops

The presentations from the Agents Forum on 21 October and 17 March are available on our Planning Agents Forum webpage.

The slides from the session on 20 July are available using this link: River Camel presentation to Agents 20.7.21

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