The nutrient challenge
For readers that have not been previously involved with our discourse around phosphate pollution or nitrate pollution, the core nutrient neutrality conundrum can be summarised as follows:
- Urban and agricultural land use each adds nutrient load to surrounding land and waterways.
- Excessive nutrient load in a region exerts harmful impacts upon human health and wildlife ecosystems.
In recognition of this conundrum and the landmark European Court of Justice ‘Dutch N’ judgment, since mid-2019 over 30 UK local authorities have increasingly denied planning permission to new housing developments that add nutrient load without mitigation. This year, Natural England (NE) further recommended that this list be expanded to 74 local authorities.
We have observed that nutrient neutrality requirements are not always consistently applied across all affected local authorities. However, by industry accounts, these consenting changes pose a significant obstacle to building new UK homes. After surveying its members and analysing local authority statements, in May 2022 the Home Builders Federation (the trade association which represents private sector housebuilders in England and Wales) estimated that nutrient neutrality requirements have delayed about 100,000 homes.