Reducing the Impact of Nutrient Pollution on Housing Developments
Too many local planning authorities have development sites that are in a ‘unfavourable condition’ due to excess nutrient pollution. Housing Industry Leaders looks at what is being done to tackle nutrient pollution.

Pollution is impacting permissions for development and slowing down housing delivery across 74 local planning authorities. This needs to be addressed to support sustainable development and achieve the government’s ambition of building 30,000 new homes each year by the mid-2020s.

The UK Government has recently published a policy paper on its plans to support nutrient neutrality and reduce water pollution at its source.

These plans include measures to speed up the process for developers to acquire mitigation through a national mitigation scheme, reduce pollution and the cost of mitigation through introducing a new duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works, provide clarity for developers and local planning authorities, and restore protected sites.

The nutrient mitigation scheme will ease the process for developers

Achieving nutrient neutrality through mitigation will enable local planning authorities to grant permission for new residential development, although it may potentially involve greater costs and delays on some developments.

To support this, the government is introducing measures to ease the process for both developers and local planning authorities.

The first of the three pillars to support nutrient neutrality is the nutrient mitigation scheme. Established by Natural England, the scheme has £30 million of funding from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

Selling ‘nutrient credits’ to housebuilders will then recover this funding. This will allow developers to meet their nutrient mitigation obligations and enable local planning authorities to grant planning permission.

It will help thousands of new homes to be built plus create new wetland and woodland habitats where nutrient neutrality guidance is in place.

These mitigation measures will be designed in a way that promotes nature recovery, improves access to green space, and maximises other benefits such as biodiversity.

The government will work with water companies to speed up upgrades

Reducing pollution and mitigation burden on new housing is the next pillar. Tackling nutrient pollution at the source will help to reduce pressure on protected sites and reduce mitigation burdens for new housing.

Funding will continue to be targeted on improving wastewater treatment works, with the stated aim to reduce wastewater pollution by 80 per cent by 2038. The new duty on water companies introduced through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will work to upgrade wastewater treatment works in particularly badly affected areas.

Wherever possible, the government has outlined that it wants to see nature-based solutions forming part of upgrades. For example, water companies can use wetlands and reedbeds in combination with conventional techniques such as adding metal salts to wastewater to remove more nutrients from wastewater.

Where possible, and where it provides good value for public money, the government will also work with water companies to see where these upgrades could be sped up and created sooner.

Natural England to publish framework on mitigation projects

Finally, providing certainly is crucial to support nutrient neutrality. This is because the technical aspect of the work can create uncertainty around developer investment in nutrient neutrality.

The government is addressing this through catchment specific nutrient calculators which allow developers to calculate exactly the amount of mitigation required, tailored to specific local needs.

In addition, the UK Government have published a tool for assisting in the design of wetlands for nutrient mitigation, published guidance for mitigation providers on how environmental payments from biodiversity net gain and nutrient mitigation can be combined, and provided advice about nutrient neutrality and support in accessing the suitability of mitigation projects, through increased capacity in Natural England.

By the end of May, Natural England will be publishing a framework for assessing the effectiveness of mitigation projects with an associated reference tool.

Also, it will produce best practice guidance, supported by new guidance from the Environment Agency on wetland permitting, and from DLUHC, on clarifying planning practice in response to feedback from developers and local planning authorities.