Almost four months have now passed since Natural England published updated advice with regards to water pollution – and more specifically nutrient neutrality -causing significant disruption to planning application submissions across Cumbria, writes Kayleigh Lancaster, chartered town planner at PFK.
So where are we now? Honestly, not a lot further forward!
We know that Cumbria is one of the worst affected areas and the local authorities are still working to understand the guidance and to consider their approach to planning applications going forward.
We understand they are working together, with a working group set up to prioritise their response to this issue and that they are in regular communication with Natural England to help devise solutions to unlock development within the area.
Potential mitigation solutions could include:
- On-site measures ie SUDS;
- Off-site measures ie change of use of agricultural land to woodland/wetland;
- Strategic measures ie large wetlands for which ‘credits’ can be purchased;
- Upgrading existing systems ie septic tanks to treatment plants.
Small scale or on-site mitigation strategies may be capable of being assessed on a site by site basis, rather than as a strategic solution, but must be able to demonstrate:
- Mitigation will be in place prior to occupation;
- Mitigation will remain in place for the duration of the development (or up to 2030 if mitigation targets are met);
- Be suitably located within the same catchment area.
In practice, we are seeing a varied picture across the authorities, however, one thing that is clear across the local authorities is the significant disruption this has caused not only to the development of new homes, but also to tourism proposals and agriculture developments across the county.
Last week, Natural England published further details of their plans to address the water pollution crisis, which includes:
- A new legal duty on water companies in England to upgrade wastewater treatment works by 2030 in nutrient neutrality areas to the highest achievable technological levels.
- A new Nutrient Mitigation Scheme established by Natural England, helping wildlife and boosting access to nature by investing in projects like new and expanded wetlands and woodlands. This will allow local planning authorities to grant planning permission for new developments in areas with nutrient pollution issues, providing for the development of sustainable new homes and ensuring building can go ahead. Defra and DLUHC will provide funding to pump prime the scheme.
- Further clarification on the application of the Habitats Regulations Assessment for post-decision matters.
A statement released by the Government said: “The measures will not only tackle the long-term issue of nutrient pollution by significantly reducing pollution from existing homes in sensitive areas. Developers will be able to purchase ‘nutrient credits’ which will discharge the requirements to provide mitigation.”
While the new measures announced by Natural England are undoubtedly welcomed, particularly the emphasis on necessary upgrades by the water companies, they don’t address the immediate and pressing concern facing those working in the planning and development sector in those affected areas.
The duty placed upon the water companies is a requirement to complete the upgrades by 2030, which is eight years away.
If we look to other areas of the country that were caught up by this guidance some time ago, many of the solutions took years to agree and deliver.
Furthermore, only yesterday the head of policy and research at the RTPI indicated that the creation of mitigation solutions such as wetlands would take time and is unlikely to present an immediate resolution to the tens of thousands of new homes currently stalled across Cumbria.
We also now understand that the Habitats Regulations Assessment provisions apply to any consent, permission, or other authorisation, this may include post-permission approvals; reserved matters or discharge of conditions. Previously, we had understood that discharge of condition applications would not be affected.
It looks as though this issue of nutrient neutrality is likely to affect development proposals and consented sites which have not yet commenced for some time to come, and updated guidance is expected this summer on how local planning authorities should assess deliverability of their housing land supply, with the expectation that Carlisle and Eden which are covered almost entirely by this guidance will suffer the greatest reduction in their land supply.
If your scheme is or could be affected by nutrient neutrality and you need advice, please contact PFK Planning and Development by phone on 01768 866611 or by email at [email protected]