A plan to restart housebuilding in the north of Herefordshire, stalled for environmental reasons, has run into trouble.

Herefordshire Council intended that its new “integrated” wetlands at sewage treatment plants would absorb phosphates from waste water, enabling new developments in the river Lugg catchment, currently suspended due to a legal ruling, to demonstrate “nutrient neutrality” and so proceed.

But now the council has said it had been “notified indirectly” that regulator the Environment Agency had changed its requirements for one such wetland at Shobdon, intended to help bring forward over 400 houses in the area.

It is understood that the agency increased the environmental standards required of the sewage plant itself, meaning a downstream wetland would bring less benefit.

“Because of the permit review, the phosphorus reductions we hoped to achieve through the wetland to unblock stalled housing development would no longer be viable,” a council spokesperson said.

The council “is raising concerns with the Environment Agency, and will be reviewing what other schemes we might be able to bring forward to replace the lost site”, he added.


The council’s cabinet member for planning Cllr Liz Harvey said: “We are disappointed that those agencies we have been working in partnership with for many months did not think to discuss their planned permitting changes with us, when these will have a significant impact on the work we have been doing.

“We will renew our efforts to ensure that public and private mitigation schemes can come forward to enable much-needed development of housing and employment to progress.”

The first such wetland at Luston north of Leominster is nearing completion, and a further site at Titley near Kington “is in the planning process, and we hope to commence build early next year if permission is given”, the council’s spokesperson said, adding it is also “actively negotiating the purchase of other sites”.

Roger Phillips, councillor for Arrow ward which includes both Shobdon and Titley, said at a recent full council meeting that while the Shobdon wetland would have enabled over 400 new houses, “we are going ahead with the one at Titley with just 40 houses”.

He asked if the council would now work to bring forward “private solutions that could deliver phosphate reduction in the Lugg catchment area and provide credits which would allow the building of homes”.

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Coun Harvey replied that the council is working with local developers on such schemes, which the Government has recently given its backing to. Meanwhile, “we still hope a wetland solution will come forward at Shobdon to enable development”.

Council leader David Hitchiner added that “the rug has been pulled from under our feet” on the Shobdon project, “but we have plans for other sites which we are working on”.

By one estimate, the moratorium on development in the Lugg catchment has held up building of around 2,500 new homes since 2019, at a cost to the county of £316 million.

Herefordshire Construction Industry Lobby Group chair Merry Albright confirmed: “We still don't have access to wetland or private mitigation credits at the moment.”

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