Nutrient neutrality requirements to be scrapped

Picture of Harry Quartermain

Harry Quartermain
August 30, 2023
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Nothing gets people in the development industry talking quite like an unexpected government announcement. Especially when it relates to an issue that’s been dragging on the ability of housebuilders to deliver homes for years. 

To welcome us all back from the August Bank Holiday Weekend, the government announced that nutrient neutrality rules would be scrapped. The Government’s own statement was full of references to ‘defective EU laws’ and blockers to development that ‘originate from Brussels’. 

To get into the nuts and bolts of why neither of these things are actually true, you’ll have to watch our webinar on this subject

The long and the short of it is that nutrient neutrality requirements currently affect 1,845,321 ha of England and prevent new housing coming forward unless it can be demonstrated to be ‘nutrient neutral’. 

Supporters of the current nutrient restrictions say that the rules help prevent nutrient pollution entering our waterways, and that easing the rules is effectively providing a public subsidy to a private polluter. 

Supporters of the Government’s decision to make a change point out that most of the nutrients currently entering the waterways come from existing housing, via ageing water treatment plants, and from farming. Neither of which are effectively monitored or controlled. New housing makes up a tiny contribution to the nutrient problem, but is being disproportionately affected by this issue. 

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How big is the problem?

Nutrient neutrality requirements currently affect 1,845,321 ha of England, accounting for just over 14% of the country. 

Based on the data from LandInsight users, we can see how much interest there has been in areas affected by nutrient neutrality by looking at how many individual sites have been saved into users’ work pipelines. 

Over the last year nearly 9% of all sites saved by users were located in areas affected by nutrient neutrality, most of these (nearly 40%) were in the solent catchment. 

This shows that despite the well-publicised hurdles to overcome when developing within affected catchments, interest in these areas remains strong.  Time will tell how this week’s announcement will affect this pattern. 


What’s actually being proposed? 

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB), which is already a huge and wide-ranging piece of legislation, has been modified in the House of Lords to add new clauses to the Habitats Regulations, which will essentially mean a council can’t even consider nutrients in waste water, nor use this as a reason to require an appropriate assessment, even if there is evidence to the contrary.  To say that this will be a radical change is an understatement. 

But, as the saying goes: ‘a week is a long time in politics’, a lot can happen between now and when - or even if - the LURB reaches royal assent. This bill still has to pass both houses of parliament, and as this amendment will disproportionately affect Conservative constituencies, its passage through the Commons may not go unchallenged. 

Importantly, although this change - if it arrives - will be a boon for the house-building sector, it will only work if it comes alongside more funding to actually fix the nutrient problem, including existing waste water treatment works and farming practices.  

We will keep an eye on how this progresses through parliament. In the meantime, all the Nutrient Neutrality areas in England are available to see within LandInsight - you can see if a site that you’re looking at is affected and if it is, what catchment it is located in.  Until there is absolute clarity on how the Nutrient Neutrality issue will be addressed, you’ll need to keep this top of mind.