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The Trouble with Phosphates’ Mate – Nitrates

If you haven’t already read Lawrence Turner’s post on phosphates it really is worth a read – as it is becoming abundantly clear, phosphates and nitrates are becoming great allies in the battle of preventing development from coming forward.

In June 2019 Natural England issued a note to all planning authorities in the Solent region advising that planning permission should not be granted unless it can be appropriately demonstrated that the relevant development is ‘nitrate neutral’. The concern relates to the increased impact developments are having on protected wildlife in the Solent’s Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation, which is transmitted via the water environment.

HBF have estimated that the consequence of this has already resulted in delays to around 30-40,000 homes, with a further planned 20,000 homes a year also at risk.

What started out as Natural England issuing advice to five local authorities, has now spread to twenty four Local Authorities across the UK. As Lawrence highlighted, the issues of both nitrates and phosphates are causing significant disruption to Local Authorities’ in their determination of applications for new homes, which fundamentally contradicts the government’s well-known moto of ‘Build Build Build’.

The issue around nitrates is now well known and documented, and some Local Planning Authorities have now started to present a number of mitigation options for developers, which include the option to purchase nutrient offset credits. However, if credits are not an option, developers are having to look to obtain additional farming land which can then be taken out of agricultural use in order to offset the nitrates impact of the development. Whilst for some housebuilders this is a viable option, appropriate additional land is not always available; and the continued use of this strategy will ultimately result in a significant reduction in the amount of agricultural land; as well as potentially impacting on the viability of the scheme being delivered, resulting in a potential reduction of other crucial elements of a scheme, such as affordable housing (see, it’s a fun vicious cycle!).

A lack of clear guidance from Natural England and real action from the Government means that there are significant areas of the UK still uncertain as to how to appropriately ensure that developments are nitrates neutral. Whilst we continue to try and navigate these muddy waters, the need for a strategic, joined up approach, which is capable of widespread mitigation and unlocking the housing blockade, is ever more pressing.

So in a similar respect to phosphates, nitrates are still very much an on-going barrier to development and we are still trying to navigate these issues in the Solent.

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