In recent weeks, the topic of nutrient neutrality has again been in the news. Following on from the previous blog on nutrient neutrality and its effect on house building in recent years, developers will be interested to keep in mind the latest news in this contentious area.
Nutrient neutrality rules date back to regulations imposed in 2017, which originated from developments in EU law. The rules became headline news earlier in the year, following a report by the Home Builders Federation that they were preventing the building of over 145,000 new homes in England. This followed advice by Natural England in 2019, which recommended a moratorium on house building in 74 local authority areas unless developers could demonstrate nutrient neutrality. The aim was to ensure that the projected increase in nitrates and phosphate loads in the water table, due to increased sewage from housing, was offset by mitigation elsewhere. This included the purchase of credits from the owners of wetlands and other naturally protected areas, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds each.
The Natural England guidance has proved contentious, with suggestions that the methodology used was over-emphasizing the impact on watercourses made by housing development. There is verified evidence to show that pollution from farming, industry and sewage releases by water companies are the main contributors. Criticism was also levelled at the lack of mitigation schemes in place, with accusations that developers were being forced to purchase existing polluting farms and taking them out of use to reduce pollution and allow planning permission for housing to be granted.
Following similar reports in the media, the Government announced plans to reform nutrient neutrality by introducing an amendment into its Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to scrap the existing rules. These would be replaced by new environmental measures and the expansion of the Government’s existing Nutrient Mitigation Scheme run by Natural England. The plans were to speed up the creation of new wetlands and woodlands, creating extra credits for purchase by developers and unlocking housing development in the affected areas. It was projected that this would permit more than 100,000 new homes to be built.
The proposal proved contentious and the Government was accused of being reckless in its easing of the rules by the opposition Labour Party and the media. This led to the proposed amendment being blocked on 13 September following voting in the House of Lords. Now, unofficial comments from Government sources reported in The Daily Telegraph say that the Prime Minister intends to abandon his plans to amend nutrient neutrality rules due to lack of time before the next general election.
At its annual conference on 8-11 October, the Labour Party’s housing spokesman suggested that a Labour government would find alternative policy solutions to resolve the impasse, though details remain vague. It was previously suggested by the shadow housing secretary that the use of ‘Grampian’ planning conditions could resolve the matter. These would give conditional planning approval on the basis that homes are not occupied until pollution mitigation is delivered. How the Party proposes to address the lack of mitigation measures and credits available to satisfy these conditions remains to be seen.
Nutrient neutrality rules are highly likely to face further scrutiny and changes in the next Parliament to address the ongoing housing shortage in England. Developers will no doubt be watching closely and looking at any proposed reform with interest.
Our commercial property team here at Clarke & Son have expertise in helping developers realise their plans, from the acquisition of land by way of conditional contracts or the grant of option agreements through to planning obligations and then the sale of plots and houses on developments. If you have any concerns about the effect of nutrient neutrality on your plans, or are looking for more general guidance, contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 01256 320555 and ask how we can assist you.
Further information over the rules can be accessed from the below links:
- Home Builders Federation, Nutrient Neutrality: four years on https://www.hbf.co.uk/nutrient-neutrality-4-years-on/
- Home Builders Federation, ‘Nutrient neutrality’ – four years of government failure, 30 June 2023: https://www.hbf.co.uk/news/nutrient-neutrality-four-years-of-government-failure/
- uk, 100,000 more homes to be built via reform of defective EU laws, 29 August 2023 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/100000-more-homes-to-be-built-via-reform-of-defective-eu-laws
- Estimate of homes subject to nutrient neutrality requirements, 11 September 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/homes-subject-to-nutrient-neutrality-requirements-ad-hoc-analytical-release/estimate-of-homes-subject-to-nutrient-neutrality-requirements
- uk, Nutrient neutrality: update, 20 September 2023 https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nutrient-neutrality-update
- Housing Today, Labour: Nutrients solution ‘cannot be at the expense of the environment’, 10 October 2023 https://www.housingtoday.co.uk/news/labour-nutrients-solution-cannot-be-at-the-expense-of-the-environment/5125678.article
- Labour Party, ‘How’, not ‘if’: Labour will jump start planning to build 1.5 million homes and save the dream of homeownership, 10 October 2023 https://labour.org.uk/updates/press-releases/how-not-if-labour-will-jump-start-planning-to-build-1-5-million-homes-and-save-the-dream-of-homeownership/
- The Daily Telegraph, Rishi Sunak gives up on plans to scrap EU housebuilding rules, 20 October 2023 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/10/20/sunak-gives-up-plans-scrap-eu-housebuilding-rules/