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

Please read our information on how we are supporting residents and businesses, as well as information on affected services.

This page gives notice of a significant issue about:

  • the levels of phosphate entering the River Camel and related advice from Natural England
  • 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. 

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 these links: River Camel Designated Area of Conservation

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

The reasons for this area being a Special Area of Conservation are the populations of:

  • Bullhead (Cottus gobio)
  • Otter (Lutra lutra)
  • Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).

Excessive phosphates in the River Camel SAC

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

Impacts and a temporary pausing of 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 are:

  • reviewing advice from Natural England
  • seeking legal advice.

What this means for current planning applications

The Council is taking precautions by pausing decision making in the River Camel catchment area.  We cannot approve new developments unless they can show they are nutrient neutral.    

Types of application affected

This will impact planning applications currently in the system and can include:

  • new residential units including:
    • barn conversions
    • tourist accommodation
    • gypsy sites or pitches
  • development that supports agricultural intensification
  • anaerobic digesters
  • prior notifications of:
    • agricultural development
    • change of use of office to dwellings
    • change of use of agricultural buildings to dwellings.

This is not a complete list.

Latest news

We are working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and South West Water to find a solution as quickly as possible. We need to further understand the implications of this issue and to explore possible options for future mitigation.  It is clear that we will need a calculator for applicants/agents to calculate the phosphate loading. This will be from the existing and proposed uses on their proposed development site. It will help inform applicants/agents whether suitable mitigation is possible.

We will progress this as a priority. A significant amount of local technical data will be required from other agencies to provide accurate phosphate calculations. We expect our calculator to be available in October.  Please note: timescale depends on us getting the data we need from partners.

The Council has appointed Royal Haskoning as consultants to work with us.  We will update further as work progresses.  There will a presentation from Royal Haskoning as part of our next Planning Agents Forum on 21 October.  You can use this link to access more information as it becomes available: Planning Agents Forums

Latest updates on these pages:
  • Calculator expected October
  • New interim guidelines on small scale thresholds and nutrient neutrality principles

Updated: 14 September 2021. We will provide further updates on these pages regularly.

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 pause 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

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

We will add additional information generated by the open Q&A session to these webpages.

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