Understanding Nutrient Neutrality in the UK Planning System

You may have seen lots of dramatic headlines in the last few days about proposed Government changes to nutrient neutrality rules in the UK. Depending on your viewpoint this is either a positive “100,00 new homes to be built via reform of defective EU laws” or a negative “UK to scrap rules protecting waterways to boost housebuilding”

But what is nutrient neutrality and how does it affect planning?

The impact of nutrients on protected areas, such as national parks, wildlife reserves, and other ecologically sensitive regions, is a significant concern due to its potential to disrupt natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Nutrient inputs, primarily from activities like agriculture and wastewater from existing and new development can lead to several adverse effects.

While new housing is only a very small contributor, in several parts of the country ecologically sensitive sites are being affected by nutrients to such a level that is has led to a moratorium on housebuilding in those areas unless those developments can demonstrate nutrient neutrality. This involves calculating the existing and proposed nutrients from a site and development and if there is an increase, setting out a scheme for how that excess can be mitigated. There are a number of ways this can be done – building a wetland, tree planting, fallowing agricultural land, upgrading existing septic tanks – but it can be costly and time consuming. For sites not able to mitigate directly, a credit market is slowly developing but again the credits can be expensive.

The recent announcement would appear to do away with all this but as with all bold Government announcements we must exercise caution. The proposals hinge on quite radical amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which is due to go back to the House of Lords on the 4th September. The bill will have to get through both the Lords and Commons, then be enacted and take effect before anything changes in practice. It would also not be farfetched to expect some legal challenges or possible back bench rebellions to the changes. Finally, even if passed it is not clear if nutrient impacts will still be a consideration in planning as with any ecological impact.

We all have to wait and see what happens in the next few weeks and months but for now our advice to anyone currently trying to secure mitigation is to carry on. 

If you have a development where nutrient neutrality is an issue, we would be happy to help so do get in touch.

Samantha Thomas

Associate Director

 Tel:               07821 679721

Email:          samantha.thomas@carneysweeney.co.uk  

Address:     Broadwalk House, Southernhay West, Exeter, EX1 1TS

CarneySweeney website



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