Nutrient Neutrality continues to delay housing permissions in the Solent region

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.

Full details here: https://democracy.testvalley.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=137&MId=2933&Ver=4

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]

The Environment Act 2021 – What you need to know

Last week, when climate change was high on the Government’s agenda through COP26, the long-awaited Environment Bill was given Royal Assent and has now become the Environment Act 2021. This Act requires, by late 2022, the Secretary of State for DEFRA to set long-term legally binding targets on air quality, biodiversity, water, recourse efficiency and waste reduction within the UK which will be overseen by a largely independent body. The Act is a landmark piece of legislation for nature conservation, and whilst it was over 1000 days in the making, it aims to halt the declines in nature by 2030, with the Government required to publish a 25-Year Environmental Improvement Plan setting interim targets for each 5-year period.

The Act provides the basis for the legal creation of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). This will be a new independent public body which will monitor and report on environmental law and advise the Government on environmental matters. On its website, the OEP states that it will “protect and improve the environment by holding government and public authorities to account against their commitments and environmental law”. It is anticipated that the OEP will be legally formed in the next few days with an interim non-statutory form in place since July 2021. The OEP will seek functional independence by early 2022.

The Act has been promoted as a tool to implement changes across all environmental sectors including air quality, biodiversity, water, and waste reduction and resource efficiency. At Pro Vision, our team of planning consultants and ecologists have been monitoring progress of the draft Bill since its introduction in 2018. Richard Osborn, an Associate Director Town Planner, and Louisa Jones our Ecology Director, look at the headlines of the Environment Act 2021 in relation to development:

Local Nature Recovery Strategies

  • Local Planning Authorities (LPA) will be required to assimilate new Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) for the environment and nature’s recovery into their local planning system – we can expect this to feature in the preparation of emerging Local Plans and we are already seeing a ‘Green’ call for sites in some Local Planning Authority areas. LNRS will map the most valuable sites and habitats for wildlife and identify where nature can be restored through, for example, the creation of wildflower habitat, green spaces, or new woodlands and wetlands. This creates opportunities for land owning clients to put forward land which might not otherwise be developable for nature conservation and/or open space.

Biodiversity Net Gain

  • All new development will be obliged to demonstrate a 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG). On sites where BNG is secured, it would have to be managed for at least 30 years. This will most likely need to be secured by a legal agreement and hence early discussions with legal professionals are recommended. A two-year transition period was set out in the consultation documents so it is anticipated the 10% BNG requirement will be a legally mandatory requirement by 2023, however some LPAs already require net gain.  BNG is already posing a challenge on existing sites and allocations where mitigation is sought now, but we can now expect BNG to be a key consideration in assessing planning applications, and it will play a significant role in the allocation of new sites through Local Plans. Developers will need to ensure they can demonstrate a net gain on site or have a mitigation strategy such as purchasing credits to off-set the impact through a District or County-wide scheme where available.
  • A publicly available “biodiversity gain site register” must be set up for each development site and maintained for at least 30 years after the scheme has completed. The register must be kept under review by the Secretary of State who will also have the power to increase the period for which habitat enhancement must be maintained.

Ancient Woodland

  • Whilst the suggested 50m buffer to Ancient Woodland proposed by the Lords failed to gain traction, the Government has made a commitment to review the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it is being correctly implemented in relation to ancient woodlands. The Act will strengthen the current woodland protection enforcement measures.

In anticipation of the Environment Bill becoming law, Pro Vision’s ecology team has already been applying the principles of BNG to development proposals over the last 12 months and is well placed to advise on all aspects of this new requirement.

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 Louisa Jones (Director of Ecology) on 01962 677 044 or 07502 300 503 or email
[email protected]

Ecology News 2021

You might be starting to think about potential new projects. Many planning applications require ecological input prior to approval, this is becoming more relevant with the requirement for Biodiversity Net Gain in some council areas. Arranging for an initial ecology survey at the start of a project will help inform the timeline for submission of your planning application.

News

  • The long-awaited Environment Bill has been delayed for the third time due to the current pandemic. While this will delay the national requirement for biodiversity net gain, many local councils are already preparing policies and/or seeking a net gain from developments. Our ecologists are experienced at using the required metrics and have been re-training to use the new UK habitat classification system that forms part of the metric.
  • Although the UK has left the European Union, all wildlife laws and protections are still in place and remain largely unchanged.

Surveys

  • During the current pandemic, our ecologists are conducting survey work in line with government advice and are still able to complete the initial survey work. Many ecology surveys are highly seasonal so knowing if these are required early in the process will help with a smoother planning application. This time of year is a great time to get initial survey work completed.

Get in touch with one of our ecology team to learn more.

Pro Vision can assist on any ecological issues relating to your project. Don’t leave it too late. Contact our head of ecology Louisa Jones ([email protected]) T: 07502 300503