Stodmarsh Photo Ashford Borough Council

Ashford Borough Council continues to respond to the various issues that have arisen from the need for new housing to achieve ‘nutrient neutrality’, due to the deterioration of Stodmarsh Lakes, a network of nationally and internationally protected lakes in the neighbouring Canterbury district.

This week Cabinet approved the next stage in the process as it actively works towards delivering new strategic wetlands within the borough as a means of providing nutrient mitigation, and therefore allow housing development to take place in the Stour catchment area, which makes up a significant part of the borough.

In July 2020 Natural England raised concerns over the long term impact of developments on the Stour catchment area, which has effectively meant that many housing applications across east Kent have been unable to be determined including parts of Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Hythe, and Maidstone boroughs.

This ‘hold’ on granting permissions continues. New strategic wetlands – which provide nutrient mitigation for affected schemes – will help alleviate this hold which is currently having a serious impact on national government house building targets given to local councils across the county.

As it stands within Ashford, many planning permissions for new housing in large parts of the borough have been on hold for over a year – including several areas which are earmarked for significant new development up to 2030 in the approved Local Plan.

Alongside the intention to deliver new strategic wetlands, the Council continues to look at other measures to deal with the wider Stodmarsh nutrient issue, including working with other local authorities to deliver a catchment wide strategy and lobbying Government to assist with the delivery of nutrient mitigation, including significantly upgrading wastewater treatment works in the Stour catchment in due course.

The wetland part of the solution is seen as complementary to this wider response.

All the East Kent councils are united in the need to deliver a range of strategic solutions that, in combination, will deal with the wider Stodmarsh nutrient issue and allow otherwise sustainably planned housing growth to progress, whilst also adhering to their respective environmental obligations.

A report set out the progress to date and sought Cabinet’s agreement that an Operational Statement is adopted to explain to the development industry, stakeholders and the public principles behind why progression of new wetlands, and how they are to be delivered, in the borough is so important.

The Statement has been prepared in partnership with the Environment Agency, Natural England and Kent County Council.

Cllr Neil Bell, portfolio holder for planning, said: “It should not be underestimated that the wider Stodmarsh issue remains a significant challenge for the Council. There continues to be a ‘hold’ to the granting of planning permissions for new housing in otherwise highly sustainable locations, as identified through our Local Plan.

“In response, the Council continues to take a proactive and pragmatic stance through our pursuit of new strategic wetlands within the borough, as a means of providing nutrient mitigation for development in the future. This response, alongside working with others on the catchment-wide strategy, demonstrates that we are doing all we can to remove this hold and move forward as swiftly as possible.

“Pursuing the creation of new strategic wetlands is not straight forward and it is welcomed that Natural England and the Environment Agency are working in partnership with the Council to help deliver the solution. All parties are united in what they want to achieve and how they intend to deliver the solution – and the sooner we can do this, the better.”

Further information about Stodmarsh mitigation can be found on the Council’s website:

https://www.ashford.gov.uk/planning-and-development/planning-applications/making-planning-applications/habitat-regulations-assessment/

Guidance on the use of Habitats Regulations Assessment:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/appropriate-assessment

By Ed

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