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.