Nutrient Neutrality

Nutrient Neutrality is a mitigation strategy that allows Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to approve development projects without negatively impacting Habitat Sites as a result of increasing nutrient levels.

FPS Environmental can help calculate the nutrient budget (phosphorus/nitrogen loads) for your development and create mitigation options.

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Nutrient Neutrality requires that new housing developments in certain areas should not add more ‘nutrient pollution’ to the catchment.

There is an urgent need to prevent further damage to habitats and wildlife. As such any development plans or projects that cannot rule out additional nutrient impacts would fail an appropriate assessment under the Habitats Regulations, and as such would not obtain planning consent.

In August 2023 the Government announced plans to alter the Habitats Regulations which underpin Nutrient Neutrality, however the House of Lords rejected this proposal as it may have negatively impacted the environment. Nutrient Neutrality is therefore still an important aspect for developers, and required for planning permission in certain areas.

The policy impacts new housing developments in areas with protected habitat sites, that are already classed as being in an ‘unfavourable condition’. The policy is there to ensure that any developments do not negatively impact the environment by increasing nutrient pollution.

The Issue

Increased and excess nutrient release can lead to harmful algal blooms, loss of aquatic life, and degradation of water quality. This is due to a process called eutrophication.

The main sources of phosphorus and nitrates in rivers and lakes in the UK are sewage effluent and run-off from agricultural land.
Natural England has identified protected sites, which are in an ‘unfavourable condition’ as a result of nutrient pollution. The Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) are under instruction that any development should only go ahead if it the development is ‘nutrient neutral’.

This is similar to some Flood Risk Assessments which require compensatory storage to ensure flood risk is not exacerbated elsewhere due to the development.

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A Strategic Solution

To ensure that a development does not increase nutrient loads on the environment, developers may be required to implement measures which can reduce of offset the impact from their projects.
This may include examples such as:

  • Creating or restoring natural habitats like wetlands, which can absorb and filter out nutrients before they reach water bodies.
  • Wastewater treatment systems.
  • Implementing sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) that reduce runoff and, consequently, the amount of nutrients entering watercourses.
  • Applying agricultural best practices to reduce nutrient runoff from land that is being developed.
  • There may also be the option to develop a bespoke off-site mitigation strategy with the LPA, which could involve upgrading the septic tanks on existing properties.

The policy is particularly relevant in areas sensitive to nutrient enrichment, such as rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
Nutrient Neutrality is increasingly becoming a requirement for planning permission in sensitive areas, as it helps to protect ecosystems from further degradation while allowing for sustainable development. The approach aligns with broader environmental goals such as biodiversity conservation, water quality improvement, and compliance with legal water quality standards and directives.

FPS Environmental can help calculate the nutrient budget (phosphorus/nitrogen loads) for your development and create mitigation options.

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If you’d like to raise an initial enquiry or ask us a question, please feel free to drop us an email via the form below.