Nutrient Neutrality: Understanding Nutrient Neutrality

Rivers and water bodies in the UK are currently being contaminated by rising nutrient levels at an alarming rate. Sewage, road, and agricultural pollution all contribute to this. However, new residential developments can also put additional pressure on these water sources by increasing wastewater production in the area.

In response to this, following Natural England’s advice, local planning authorities are now requesting proposed housing developments to demonstrate nutrient neutrality as part of a planning application before they can be granted planning permission.  

Nutrient neutrality is achieved when a specific development, within catchment areas of vulnerable water sources, does not contribute to an increase in nitrate and phosphate nutrient levels and does not affect water quality in those water sources.

A large proportion of local planning authorities in the UK have already adopted these changes to address nutrient pollution. As a result, many existing planning proposals that have already been submitted have been affected by nutrient neutrality requirements. This also includes any future plans or development projects within these affected catchments.

nutrient neutrality

Why is nutrient neutrality important?


Nutrient neutrality is essential as excess nitrates and phosphates in bodies of water can contribute to ‘nutrient loading’ and water pollution. This can cause an increase in algal blooms and plant growth, which can then lead to eutrophication.

Eutrophication and nutrient pollution cause oxygen levels for fish and other aquatic life to be reduced significantly and can make it much more difficult for them to survive. Eutrophication can have a critical long-term impact on special protection areas that are essential for maintaining UK biodiversity.

Following a 2018 EU Court of Justice ruling, Natural England issued advice that stated no developments should be permitted near these protected sites and special areas of conservation (SAC) unless they are ‘nutrient neutral’ as they have been left in an ‘unfavourable condition’.


Nutrient neutrality assessments


For any affected developments and applications, a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) alongside a nutrient neutrality assessment may be required. A HRA confirming that a development will have no adverse impacts on the integrity of the affected catchments may be necessary in order for the local planning authority to grant planning permission.

If this cannot be achieved, developers must provide a mitigation statement detailing mitigation measures that will be taken to rectify this in order to achieve nutrient neutrality on their development sites. A checklist must also be completed and submitted in order to confirm that all relevant information has been provided.


Implementing Nutrient Neutrality


If you are unsure of how this policy may affect your planning application, you should contact your local planning authority immediately. They can discuss your development plans in detail and whether they align with the required standards. If they indicate that your development could be impacted, we recommend that you consult an experienced ecologist as soon as possible. Ecologists can discuss potential measures you may need to take in order to meet the required standards.

At Collington Winter, our ecologists have strong experience completing nutrient neutrality and can provide guidance throughout the planning process. We can ensure that our team will visit your development site to create and develop any necessary plans.


How can Collington Winter assist?


Our team of ecologists and landscape architects have helped numerous clients with ecological matters over the years, including guidance for nutrient neutrality in England. It is important to note that this guidance varies across each local planning authority. Nutrient neutrality is a matter that we are qualified in, and we can offer advice on your development project. We are determined to offer you the support you require in order to reach the required bracket.

Please get in touch if you would like further information regarding these policies or assessments. Our Ecology director, Olivia Collington, holds a Natural England Licence. If you would like to find out more about the ecological services we provide, feel free to contact us using the information below.

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