Somerset's cricket ground could lose right to host international matches if phosphates crisis continues, warns council
By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
8th Sep 2022 | Local Sport
Somerset's cricket ground could lose the right to host international matches if the phosphates crisis is not solved quickly, councillors have warned.
Somerset County Cricket Club lies on the River Tone in Taunton, within the catchment area of the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar site, which is protected by international law.
The Dutch N court ruling, and the resulting legal advice from Natural England, is holding up the delivery of around 18,000 homes across Somerset, with local councils and developers struggling to put measures in place to prevent any increase in phosphate levels within the catchment area.
Somerset County Council has now warned that the county town could lose the right to host international cricket matches if new hotels planned for the local area are held up further by the phosphate crisis.
Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for development and assets, laid out her concerns in a letter to both Defra and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on Friday (September 2).
She said the council was committed to protecting the Somerset Levels and that the delivery of new homes was being "disproportionately" impacted, given that homes account for a relatively small amount of phosphate levels compared to agriculture or sewage processing.
She said: "We are acutely aware of the impact of pollution on our local environment and recently declared an ecological emergency in the county.
"We are also, however, aware of the impact of the current policy on the provision of new homes in the county. As you rightly point out, new housing is a minimal contributor to nutrient levels, but is being disproportionately impacted by the issue.
"Somerset has a particularly acute problems with housing for younger people. The last census shows our population growing, but growing older, as young people are pushed out of the county, in part because of the unavailability of affordable housing.
"Local construction companies, which are predominately small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are inevitably disproportionately hit by the slowing of permissions due to the current policy."
In addition to the delays in delivering new housing, Ms Wyke said the phosphates crisis was threatening Somerset's economy – including the viability of its cricket club, which has existed since 1882.
She said: ""Although you, rightly, emphasis the impact nutrient neutrality has on the development of new housing, I would also like to stress the impact on substantial parts of the regional economy.
"Somerset County Cricket Club, to give just one example, is currently concerned that the right to host international cricket may be removed
from the county due to the pause on the development of suitable hotels to host touring teams."
The cricket ground – known officially as the Cooper Associates County Ground – hosted three group matches in the 2019 men's cricket world cup, and most recently hosted a women's test against South Africa.
Somerset West and Taunton Council's plans to regenerate the neighbouring Firepool site – which has been vacant since 2008 – include a new hotel, along with more than 500 new homes, commercial space and possibly a multi-purpose venue.
To date, planning permission is in place to raise the Firepool site to reduce flood risk, to deliver a new access from the A3087 Trenchard Way, and to convert the former GWR building at the northern end into offices and a restaurant – but other elements of the site (such as the hotel) are being held up while phosphate mitigation is agreed.
The government had indicated in late-July that it would force water companies to reduce phosphate pollution "to acceptable levels" across the UK by 2030 – which Ms Wyke said was "far too late".
She added: "We agree that the issue of nutrient pollution from sewage is the responsibility of water and sewage companies.
"As the Environment Agency has recently emphasised, water companies have under-invested in sewage infrastructure, with annual investment dropping by almost a fifth since privatisation.
"Bringing this date forward is likely to involve changes to the regulatory framework water companies face, but the importance of this issue for county housing provision and rural economies should make this a priority."
Both George Eustice MP and Greg Clark MP were replaced as environment secretary and levelling up secretary respectively as new prime minister Liz Truss MP entered 10 Downing Street on Tuesday (September 7).
Both of their replacements – Ranil Jayawardena MP and Simon Clarke MP respectively – have yet to respond to Ms Wyke's letter.