To provide some background, following European Court of Justice Judgements issued in late 2018, Natural England advised that nutrients arising from new development, particularly nitrates, were adversely impacting upon protected habitats and species in the Solent. The high levels of nitrates and phosphates entering the water environment was creating green algae, impacting on certain bird species and marine life.
Due to uncertainty over the potential future impacts, Natural England recommended that new development should achieve nutrient neutrality. A ‘nutrient budget’ must therefore be calculated to determine whether a development needs to provide mitigation. This applies to development with the catchment of a river that flows into the Solent (other areas in England have similar issues i.e., parts of Dorset within the catchment of Poole Harbour).
Since August 2019, LPAs in the Solent region have been working together – alongside Central Government and other stakeholders including Natural England – to develop a long-term strategic solution. The Government has also recently announced its intention to create an online ‘nitrate trading’ auction to enable developers to purchase ‘credits’ to turn land with high levels of nitrates into more eco-friendly habitats.
Meanwhile, some individual LPAs have developed local solutions, which has enabled some new housing to be permitted in the interim.
Provisional solutions include use of ‘Grampian conditions’, which allow development to be approved subject to securing mitigation off-site, usually before occupation. The legality of this approach is however being challenged given that it involves the protection of internationally protected habitats, and we understand there are some cases being tested through the courts at the moment.
Other possible solutions include site specific mitigation such as installing reed beds on site or offering up additional land as part of the development which can be planted as woodland planting or used as Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG).
Most recently, Test Valley Borough Council’s Cabinet resolved to recommend to Full Council that it approves an ‘Off Site Mitigation Financial Contributions Framework’, following similar initiatives elsewhere in the region, such as in Winchester. If implemented, this will seek a financial contribution of £3,000 per 1kg of total nitrogen (subject to indexation), which will go towards purchasing land elsewhere to provide off site mitigation solutions.
While progress is therefore being made, the impacts of nutrient neutrality is still a constraint on development and how it is addressed varies by LPA.
If you would like to know more about these issues or you want to discuss how these changes might affect a specific project, please contact us on: 01794 368 698 or [email protected]