The Effect of Nutrient Neutrality on Norfolk Landowners

by Akeem Iginla

One of the most significant issues being discussed in planning terms, is how to reduce the leaching of nitrates and phosphate into protected rivers, wetland and coastal habitats in England and Wales. This is now of particular interest since the European Court of Justice ruled that new developments should not have a significant effect on any designated nature conservation site.

The ruling of the European Court has been felt tremendously across all the local authority areas in England and Wales, as Natural England and the Natural Resources Agency of Wales have consistently been advising planning authorities with protected water environments not to grant planning permission unless the development is proved to be “nutrient neutral”.

Consequently, a moratorium on the determination of planning applications and prior notification applications in affected areas has been imposed. The affected development includes residential, commercial development; care homes; agriculture, tourism etc.

The issue of nutrient neutrality is of great concern in the east of England, particularly in Norfolk Broads and River Wensum. Nitrogen and phosphorus have been identified as a problem in the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC / Ramsar) sites of Norfolk Broads, these include:

  • Trinity Broads SSSI
  • Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI
  • Upper Thurne Broads and Marshes SSSI
  • Bure Broads and Marshes SSSI
  • Upper Thurne Broads and Marshes SSSI

Regarding the River Wensum SAC, phosphorus has been identified as a problem and covers Broadland & South Norfolk Council; King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Borough Council; Norwich City Council; North Norfolk District Council and Breckland Council.

In practice, the effect of nutrient neutrality on planning applications is important. The effect of the ruling of the European Court of Justice means that any development that is likely to add nutrient pollution to water e.g. overnight accommodation, housing etc, is unable to be granted any newly submitted planning applications which fall within the affected areas. This is the situation at present, until ways to mitigate any adverse impacts can be identified.

In addressing the issue of nutrient neutrality in the affected local authorities in Norfolk, they have jointly consulted Royal HaskoningDHV, an environmental consultancy to prepare a Nitrate and Phosphorous Mitigation Strategy for the affected catchments, with a long-term strategy that is expected by the Spring of 2023.

However, whilst the seven local authorities in Norfolk are rigorously working to resolve this issue, planning applications and pre-application advice requests can still be submitted. The applicant may then be asked to agree an extension to the determination time of any application.

A Court of Appeal recently ruled as to whether Natural England’s advice around nutrient neutrality and Habitat Regulations Assessment was valid. In dismissing the appeal, the Court ruled that the advice issued to the Local Planning Authorities in March 2022 was correct and applicants should refer to this when making planning applications.

With an effective moratorium in place on a significant number of planning applications, we are looking at what can be done regionally to expedite action being taken by the seven Local Planning Authorities to address the issue.

At Urbanissta, we are monitoring the situation around the nutrient neutrality issues and how the various local authorities in the country intend to address this issues, and will keep you all updated as development unfolds.

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