Much of the Government’s most recent policy has been shaped by both the Environment Act and the 25 Year Environment Plan, the aims of which are to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”. As a result, last week (16th March) new guidance was released by Natural England, announcing that a further 42 Local Planning Authorities are to be subject to “nutrient neutrality” legislation, taking the total number to 74 authorities who are deemed to be in “unfavourable condition” due to nutrient pollution. Those already subject to the regulations include the Solent region, as well as in Herefordshire, Kent, Somerset and Cornwall. A full list of those authorities affected is available from DEFRA.
These new rules mean that any proposed residential developments will now also be assessed on the nutrient load created as a result of the construction. Natural England aims to safeguard England’s protected sites from raised levels of nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates in order to preserve sensitive habitats. As a result of these impending regulations, we could see a negative impact on the number of planning permissions granted by Local Authorities and the pace at which applications can be processed. Furthermore, the added complexities could result in increased failure to meet housing targets in those authority areas.
The Government has released a support package consisting of a number of measures including £100,000 of funding per affected authority to assist with the extra admin required as well as a ‘nutrient calculator’ to gauge site viability for developers. Mitigation typically involves creating new wetlands to strip nutrients from water or creating buffer zones to revert to nature. Each Local Authority area will be affected to a varying degree due to the river catchment boundaries for wastewater treatment works.
The Government’s overall aim is to promote sustainable development, however they do acknowledge that “nutrient neutrality” can only be an interim measure and therefore in the long term the sources of pollution themselves must be tackled too.