Nutrient Neutrality turmoil – where are we now?

September 2023

As developers across the country are only too aware, the issue of Nutrient Neutrality has been delaying or preventing residential development coming forward for some time now. The issue began as a localised concern on the south coast over the effects of nutrient enrichment within European designations (SPAs/SACs), but soon spread to many other regions of the country as we reported in our news item in May 2020 ‘Is Your Development Nutrient Neutral? How water quality issues are delaying development sites across the country’.

Some two years later the issue was affecting 74 local authorities and had progressed little with development still at a stand still in many regions and with little hope of an immediate solution arising. To address this issue, in a somewhat unprecedented move, the government issued a ‘direction’ to Natural England to bring forward strategic mitigation schemes (such as in the form of strategic wetland construction or land use change e.g. from arable to forestry) in the affected catchments. The aim was to enable developers to purchase credits from Natural England (or other providers) to offset additional nutrient outputs. The details were reported in our August 2022 news article ‘Developers breathe a sigh of relief as a future solution to nutrient neutrality issues is announced by government’.

Unfortunately, despite the hope provided by this ‘direction’, a year later the issue of nutrient neutrality remains overriding in many regions with the construction of over 100,000 homes still on hold. In a further intervention seeking to unlock the issue, the government announced on 29 August 2023 that:

“Through an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the government will do away with this red tape and allow for the delivery of more than 100,000 new homes desperately needed by local communities. Thanks to the government’s action, it is expected that developers could begin construction on these homes in a matter of months”.

This change was to be accompanied by new environmental measures that will tackle pollution at source and restore habitats, through a further investment of £280 million into Natural England’s Nutrient Mitigation Scheme to ensure it is sufficient to offset the very small amount of additional nutrient discharge attributable to up to 100,000 homes between now and 2030.

The government announcement was however met by a sea of backlash from environmental bodies as well as the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). As a result the government’s proposed amendment to the Bill met a hostile reception when it returned to the House of Lords who voted on 13 September 2023 to reject the amendment. Accordingly, the situation has now reverted to as it was prior to the government’s announcement on 29 August 2023, and a standard approach to addressing Nutrient Neutrality is still required.

In the latest turn of the wheel, it has been reported that the government intends to persist with its intentions and is now seeking to draw up a new Bill to unlock the issue and allow Nutrient Neutrality to be addressed more centrally as originally proposed.

Follow Aspect Ecology on LinkedIn for all our latest news LinkedIn Page