In this month’s article we provide an update on nutrient neutrality requirements for residential development, which is currently affecting a large number of areas, primarily in the south of England (a total of 74 local planning authorities, at the last count).

As a quick reminder of the issues relating to nutrient inputs and residential development, wastewater from water treatment works is released into rivers, that in turn flow into connected habitats and sites of international importance for nature conservation, such as wetlands, estuaries and marine environments.

Increased nutrient inputs can result in habitat degradation through processes such as eutrophication, which promotes the development of algal blooms by reducing oxygen content in waterbodies. This degradation has negative impacts for habitats and the species that rely on these habitats.

This means that new residential development in affected areas needs to achieve nutrient neutrality in order to have planning permission granted. Nutrient neutrality is achieved by mitigating for the additional wastewater that would be created by new houses and the additional nutrient load. Mitigation typically involves the creation of new wetlands or buffer zones that remove nutrients from water, either on site or off site.

Recent nutrient neutrality requirements

The current status with regards to achieving nutrient neutrality lies with the development project in terms of undertaking nutrient neutrality calculations to work out the level of mitigation required and, in most cases, finding the solution for this either on site or through offsetting, which can be difficult to achieve in many instances.

Updates to the nutrient neutrality issue

At the end of July 2022, the Secretary of State directed Natural England to “take the steps that they have proposed and that are within their control to prepare, facilitate and administer the operation of strategic mitigation schemes in any or all of the catchments where at the date of this direction there are restrictions on development because of concerns in relation to nutrient pollution. The objective of the strategic mitigation schemes is to allow developers the opportunity to purchase the benefit of off-site mitigation works from Natural England in order to provide information to local planning authorities to show that, in their and Natural England’s opinion, the proposed development has addressed nutrient pollution issues under the Habitats Regulations”[1].

Natural England have confirmed that the newly funded mitigation scheme will use nature-based solutions, such as creation of wetlands and woodlands, to buffer watercourses and fallow land. In addition, water companies will legally be required to reduce pollution significantly by 2030.

The new scheme will focus on the creation of new solutions and support mitigation schemes that are under development and need help to reach the implementation stage. Natural England has stated that under the strategic mitigation scheme:

  • “nutrient mitigation habitat will be the basis for nutrient credits;
  • Natural England will issue nutrient certificates to eligible developers who can use them for planning applications;
  • the certificates will give LPAs assurance that additional nutrients from new developments can be mitigated by the purchase of nutrient credits;
  • conditions attached to planning permissions will ensure that any necessary nutrient credits are bought before the new homes are occupied;
  • income from the sale of credits will be used to provide new mitigation and cover the costs of monitoring and maintaining the relevant mitigation”[2].

The scheme is scheduled to launch in the autumn.

If you would like to discuss your project in relation to Habitats Regulations Assessment and/or nutrient neutrality issues, please contact us.