Nutrient Neutrality Impact on Housing Delivery

The adverse impact of over production of nutrients is something we have known about for a long time, unfortunately there has been little coordinated action to address the matter. As my grandmother would have said “A stitch in time saves nine”, I suspect there are some who feel that on this issue we long ago passed the point where nine stitches were going to do the job but to use another we worn phrase, better late than never.

The Local Government Advisory Service says: “A growing number of local planning authorities have learned from Natural England that development in some catchments cannot proceed if it increases levels of nutrients. Their advice is that development can only proceed if it is “nutrient neutral”. We’re starting a new programme of work to support the latest cohort of councils learn from the experience of councils before them.”

A DfERA policy paper, Nutrient pollution: reducing the impact on protected sites, Published 16 March 2022, notes: “Nutrient pollution is a particular problem for our freshwater habitats and estuaries. Increased levels of nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) can speed up the growth of certain plants, disrupting natural processes and impacting wildlife. This process damages water dependent sites, harming the plants and wildlife, and affects the oxygen carrying capacity of the water. In technical terms it can put sites in ‘unfavourable condition’. The sources of excess nutrients are site specific, but predominantly originate from wastewater treatment works and agricultural pollution.”

Clearly this is an issue that housebuilders must consider at the earliest stages of planning to ensure that it can be adequately address. It is likely that ever more areas of the country will find that they are impacted by this requirement to achieve nutrient neutrality. As of March 2022, a further 42 local authorities are now affected, making a total of 74 since 2020. In the context of housing need, this is an issue which could have significant and long-running implications. The Home Builders’ Federation (HBF) has published research suggesting that due to this issue up to 100,000 homes are currently delayed.