The Challenge of ‘Nitrate Neutrality’

13 Nov 19

In Spring 2019, Natural England advised a number of local authorities in the Solent catchment area to halt the determination of all planning applications that result in an increase in residential dwellings unless they can demonstrate that they are ‘nitrate neutral’.

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Once again, the challenge of balancing the needs of the environment with planning and policy objectives has come to the fore. The issue? ‘Dutch Nitrogen’…

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling in the ‘Dutch Nitrogen’ case in November 2018 has meant greater scrutiny of the water quality of European designated sites across the UK. It looks like we’ll all be going Dutch in the future as the building of residential properties has been linked to the run off associated with excess nutrients entering nearby water sources.

Good news for salmon. Not so great for local authorities pushing ahead with delivering new homes.

In Spring 2019, Natural England advised a number of local authorities in the Solent catchment area to halt the determination of all planning applications that result in an increase in residential dwellings unless they can demonstrate that they are ‘nitrate neutral’. Far from being a hot contender for Farrow & Ball’s latest paint colour, efforts to prove nitrate neutrality has come at a cost. It is estimated that hundreds of applications are in limbo, with thousands of much-needed homes delayed. Similarly, councils in Hertfordshire have reported that 130 applications, for over 1000 homes, have been left hanging.

So how have local authorities risen to the challenge? Havant Borough Council have developed a ‘Nutrient Budget’ based on methodology and advice from Natural England to kick start their new Local Plan, which is due to be submitted for Examination in Autumn 2019. The Budget quantifies the impact of all the proposed sites within the emerging Local Plan on European designated sites to enable sufficient mitigation measures to be secured, without which, the Plan may not be considered sound.

Clearly this is a complex and widespread issue that transcends administrative boundaries – so what can be done? Whilst local authorities, statutory bodies and industry leaders are developing strategic mitigation approaches, some applicants are tackling this head on and proving their developments are ‘nutrient neutral’. With varied success, this approach largely depends on the local authority in question. For example, Buckland Developers recently received planning permission for Welborne Garden Village, a new settlement comprising 6,000 homes in Fareham and yet smaller-scale schemes elsewhere in the region await determination.

We can’t forget mitigation of course, but this does not provide a permanent, long-term solution. Councillors in South Hampshire for example, have called on the Government to introduce tighter permit levels for nutrients at wastewater treatment works in the region, many of which are currently unregulated. An important reminder therefore, that solutions must also lie outside of planning.

Iceni are currently advising on a number of schemes across the UK which are affected by this issue. If you are also affected, please do not hesitate to get in touch!

Eilish Smeaton Director,Impact Management,Planning

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