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Publish date

28 March 2024

What is the latest on nutrient neutrality?

Despite the House of Lords’ resistance to  proposed amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill dealing with nutrient neutrality, the Government recognises that we need certainty  to make progress on planning consents and to unlock the delivery of homes.

The Nutrient Mitigation Scheme

In the immediate term, Natural England will continue to deliver the £30m Nutrient Mitigation Scheme in line with the Environment Secretary’s direction of 28 July 2022.

The Chancellor confirmed in his Autumn Statement that the Local Nutrient Mitigation Fund will spend £110m over the next two years to enable local authorities to boost the supply of mitigation, by bringing forward innovative mitigation schemes and providing mitigation credits.

The funding is to be recycled locally until nutrient mitigation is no longer needed.  It will then be invested in measures to help restore the relevant habitat sites. This should enable sustainable development and unlock stalled housing delivery, with secondary benefits of enhancing public access to nature and maintaining  the environment.

Nutrient removal standards for wastewater

To address pollution at source, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 created a new duty for water companies in designated catchments, to ensure wastewater treatment works serving a population over 2,000 meet specified nutrient removal standards. When considering planning proposals for development (which will drain via a sewer to a wastewater works) local authorities are required to consider that the nutrient pollution standard will be met by April 2030 for the purposes of Habitats Regulations Assessments.

On 25 January 2024, the Secretary of State designated 16 catchments in which water companies are required to upgrade wastewater treatment works before 1 April 2030.

Wastewater treatment works exemptions are due to be confirmed on 1 April 2024, which may affect the levels of nutrient mitigation that development must secure when connecting to a specific wastewater treatment works.  It is important that planning decisions continue to be taken based on material planning considerations.

What else is the Government proposing to tackle nutrient pollution?

The Government remains committed to tackling nutrient pollution at source and reiterates that the following measures are to be progressed:

  • Exploring further work on developing Protected Sites Strategies in nutrient neutrality catchments where these can help deliver site restoration and unlock housing delivery
  • Investing £200m in grants for improved slurry storage infrastructure and equipment
  • Committing £25m to a new nutrient management scheme within the Farming Innovation Programme, to help farmers manage plant and soil nutrients
  • Consulting early next year on modernising fertiliser product standards to support increased use of organic and recycled nutrients
  • Introducing payment premiums into environmental land management schemes in 2024
  • Continuing to conduct at least 4,000 risk-based inspections on farms each year
  • Consulting on mandating Sustainable Drainage Solutions for relevant new developments .

Defra has launched an additional round of the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund, which opened for applications on 11 December 2023, to help farmers address barriers to accessing private investment to aid nature’s recovery – including through nutrient mitigation projects.

These measures will make a difference but may not be sufficient to unblock all of the housing stifled by nutrient neutrality, and certainly not at the speed these homes are needed by local communities.  Primary legislation is the only way to quickly aid the process. The Government has said it wants to do more, working with Natural England, developers, local planning authorities and others to explore and develop further measures.

We are watching this space! In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of the topics raised in this article, please get in touch.

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