AN MS has called for changes to environmental planning advice over phosphate that are “blocking” up to 10,000 homes being built.

MS for Aberconwy, Janet Finch-Saunders said planning guidelines introduced by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) for Special Areas of Conservation near rivers need to be reviewed if the Welsh Government wants to tackle the housing crisis across the country.

It follows a virtual James Evans, MS for Brecon and Radnorshire, held a virtual meeting over the issue, which was attended by Conwy County Borough Council, Wrexham Council and Snowdonia National Park, as well Powys, Monmouthshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire local authorities.

In January, NRW issued tighter guidance to planning authorities for applications affecting phosphorus-sensitive rivers in Special Areas of Conservation including the Cleddau, Eden, Gwyrfai, Teifi, Tywi, Glaslyn, Dee, Usk and Wye, which support wildlife including Atlantic salmon, freshwater pearl mussel and floating water-plantain.

The change advised councils to require any proposals for development within the river catchments to prove the design would not contribute to increased phosphate levels.

Phosphates are naturally occurring and are released slowly from natural sources, such as natural bankside erosion, however higher amounts can enter rivers from land management practices, sewerage and water polluted by detergents and food waste.

The Welsh Government said phosphate pollution “poses a serious risk to the health and wellbeing of our future generations if left unchecked”.

Mrs Finch-Saunders said: “At a time when house prices are spiralling, young people cannot get on the housing ladder, and pressure for social housing is piling, Welsh Government and NRW are essentially blocking as many as 10,000 new homes, including 1,700 affordable.

“On the one hand you have the Welsh Government pushing for new housing, but on the other planning authorities cannot progress with applications because of the phosphates guidance.

“Alongside new homes being hampered, we have heard that the future of a new school is in question, and an ambulance station cannot be built. Yet, all we get from the Welsh Government is talking shops instead of an urgent solution”.

The Welsh Government has established an Special Areas of Conservation Management Oversight Group and a Planning Sub Group, while NRW has a number of ongoing work-streams.

The government said it working with NRW to tackle phosphate solution and that health and environment “must not be jeopardised”.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are working with partners to tackle phosphate pollution, which poses a serious risk to the health and wellbeing of our future generations if left unchecked.

“While we prioritise building affordable housing at pace in Wales, the resilience of our river ecosystems and the benefits they provide – including top quality drinking and bathing water to benefit our communities, our businesses and our wildlife – must not be jeopardised.

“We are in a climate and nature emergency, and must make sure that what we do today doesn’t lead to unintended consequences that prove damaging to communities and future generations further down the line.

“We are committed to building 20,000 low carbon and affordable homes for rent over the next five years and are working closely with our partners to deliver this ambitious target.”

An NRW spokesperson said: "Planning decisions are a matter for local planning authorities and not NRW.

"We issued interim advice initially following the publication of our compliance assessment of Welsh River Special Areas of Conservation. We then developed this advice working with the Planning Officer Society for Wales - represented by most of the Local Planning Authorities affected, Welsh Government Planning Division, Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water, Home Builders Federation, Planning and Environment Decisions Wales and the Welsh Local Government Association who are members of the Planning sub group.

"Our rivers are one of our most important natural resources – they provide water to drink, homes for wildlife and sustain livelihoods. But the pressures upon them are great. Climate change, declining biodiversity and the way we all live today are all real challenges to the health of our rivers.

"It’s clear to us that we all have a role in improving the conditions of rivers across Wales. As a society, we need to change the way we live and work to protect our most environmentally important rivers. We all have a responsibility to care for our rivers and ensure that they are healthy for future generations."