Across England and Wales, due to the current economic climate, there is a rise in first-time homebuyers needing help finding new homes or even finding a vacant tenanted property. As a result, there has been a drive to create more properties to rent, and in England, there are plans for 380,000 new buildings for rent.
However, this year, plans for 100,000 new homes have been delayed or scrapped altogether in 74 regions in England and Wales. The new dwelling plans have been postponed due to rising river pollution caused by phosphate, which could cost the economy £16 Billion.
Phosphate is an organic nutrient that farmers use, like nitrate, in fertilisers to promote healthy plant growth. However, unlike nitrate, phosphate binds strongly to the soil particles, not the plant roots. Phosphatase is often used inefficiently, and farmers compensate by using excessive amounts. This, in turn, raises the phosphate levels of the soil further.
Phosphate enters the ecological system in three main ways: water runoff, sewage, and ingestion.
When it rains, the soil binds to the water and flows into our streams, rivers and wetlands. Similarly, sewage from housing and commercial developments containing food waste and chemical products enters the UK’s river system daily.
Animals or humans that eat a plant sprayed with phosphate ingest the nutrient into our bodies and then exit them, eventually making their way to the rivers and damaging the water quality and ecosystems. The BBC partly blames the rise of phosphate levels on our increased use of cheap food produced in agriculture with excessive phosphate use.
Campaigners have been calling for urgent action by the government to save the UK’s rivers before it’s too late. When phosphate builds up in algae pools in our rivers, it can starve the fauna and flora of oxygen, damaging river ecosystems and the broader areas. Natural England says that phosphate pollution causes severe damage to rivers, wetlands and the species that thrive within.
In response to this campaigning, the government, in March 2022, introduced stricter regulations on agriculture and other phosphate-using industries to tackle the growing pollution levels.
Developers and landowners have been prohibited from adding the nutrient into local ecosystems at Special Areas of Conservation, and in areas where phosphate levels are increasingly high, planning for new build homes has been banned.
According to The Home Builders Federation (HBF), 100,000 new homes are at risk of being delayed or scrapped due to restrictions imposed by the government’s phosphate pollution targets. This move, in turn, will cost the United Kingdom around £16 Billion in housing developments, infrastructure improvements, jobs, and local growth.
In Wales, 5,000 planned homes have been delayed due to the tighter phosphate pollution targets, which were adopted in 2020 and are expected to cost the local economy £700 million in growth.
The government has organised river clean-up teams to break down the phosphate levels in our rivers by adding chemicals such as ferric sulphate to sewage to reduce phosphate levels at the beginning of water processing. Another option they have adopted is sand filtration, which again uses chemicals to Britain’s wastewater, breaking it down before being filtered by sand which easily removes phosphates. However, these tactics are only effective in contained areas like water treatment plants.
Some environmental activist groups have started working with developers to introduce ‘nutrient credit’ schemes to offset the rules and allow the pollution to manifest. One example of this is the Wetlands Initiative. This scheme is building artificial wetlands (the first of its kind) near the town of Leominster, which will build up phosphate runoff and prevent 200kg of phosphate from entering our rivers each year.
We asked Karl McArdle and Jonny Christie, Co-CEOs of The Property Buying Company, about their thoughts on how developers, campaigners and the general public could help lower phosphate levels in our rivers.
Jonny said, “It’s great that developers and campaigners have already started working together to create environmental balance in areas. But there is a long way to go, especially if housing developments are prohibited in areas that desperately need local economic growth.”
Karl said, “Sometimes property developments can kickstart a local economy through the improved infrastructure and demand for jobs, which also fuels the importance of environmental sustainability. So the new housing developments must go ahead.”
“Carrying on with what the BBC said, the increased use of cheap food will only increase over the looming cost of living crisis, and there will be a gradual increase in phosphate entering our water systems. People must begin to lower phosphate levels as much as possible.”
Jonny said, “If you want to reduce or prevent phosphorus in your local area, there are ways of helping; choose organic sources of food and support organic farmers. If you are a gardener, you can use less fertiliser or phosphorus-free fertilisers in your garden and try to avert runoff through proper drainage.”
If you have any questions about rising river pollution levels or anything else, don’t hesitate to contact us!