Nutrient Neutrality - a changing landscape for the planning system?

Together we are Forbes


26 September, 2022

Joseph Monk

There has been a growing consensus of late, coming from local planning authorities on the peculiarities surrounding Natural England, stating that development in a variety of catchment areas is unable to proceed if it increases its levels of nutrients. Rather, in order for a development to proceed, it must be nutrient neutral. Essentially, nutrient neutrality aims to offset the rising nutrient levels that cause rivers, estuaries, and wetlands to become polluted.

Concern has been expressed that following recent announcements, more than 100,000 homes are now being delayed across 74 local authorities, due to the impact that developments have on rivers, estuaries and wetlands. The local authority areas that fall within the catchment include much of the North-East, Norfolk, parts of Kent, and a significant portion of the South-West.

This will have major implications for housing developments and, ultimately, how planning law operates, in tandem with the drive to focus on making a concerted effort to tackle climate change: housing developments increase the burden with extra wastewater and sewage from new homes as well as run-off from construction sites. This pollution raises levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen which can speed up the growth of algae in water. Consequently, this degrades the quality of the water and harms wildlife, in a further blow to the climate emergency.

This conundrum brings with it the tension between ensuring we meet the desperate housing need of the population, whilst also ensuring we all play a role in reducing the harmful effects we contribute to the environment, with developments being at the higher end of the spectrum of major contributors.

In order to achieve nutrient neutrality, real innovation is needed to ensure that the balance can be met between providing enough homes and removing delays in the planning system, but also that those homes are not of a detrimental effect to the environment. There is still a knowledge gap with many local authorities as to the best way to tackle this issue. Innovative strategies include the implementation of new wetlands, putting in place sustainable drainage systems, and making it more cost effective to mitigate phosphate.

Nutrient neutrality is very much here to stay and going forward there will be much discussion as to what lies ahead. The government will need to look at the long-term solutions and entice developers, construction companies and water companies to invest in measures that reduce pollution, yet provide means for meeting the housing demand.

For more information contact Joseph Monk in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 01772 202040. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Housing & Regeneration department here

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