At the time of writing, the construction of more than 100,000 new homes across 74 local authorities is being delayed due to nutrient neutrality rules.
To get plans approved, developers must make sure their schemes are ‘nutrient neutral’. This means that the amount of nitrates entering the water system as a result of a new development must be offset by the removal of an equivalent amount of nitrates.
While the construction industry works to accommodate these rules, the impact of delays to new starts is being felt keenly by housebuilders, and these stalled projects are contributing to the current under-supply of housing in the UK.
Architects’ Journal noted that: “Since 2019, concerns over rising levels of phosphates and nitrates in rivers, estuaries and wetlands has brought development to a standstill across huge swathes of the country,” adding that: “The problem is worsening.”
About nutrient neutrality
Architects’ Journal added:
“One of the many ways rivers, estuaries and wetlands are being polluted is through rising nutrient levels, caused by the way nearby land is being used, either because of sewage or agricultural run-off, where intensive livestock farming produces harmful chemicals in the form of animal waste and fertiliser.
“But housing developments add to the problem with extra wastewater and sewage from new homes as well as run-off from construction sites. This pollution raises levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen which can speed up the growth of algae in water. This process, called ‘eutrophication’, degrades the quality of the water and harms wildlife.
“It is damaging protected sites, some of which are now classified as in ‘unfavourable condition’. Following a 2018 EU Court of Justice ruling, public body Natural England issued advice making it clear that no developments should be permitted near these sites unless it can be proved that they are ‘nitrate and phosphate neutral’”.
How the impact is being felt throughout the UK
Advantage took a quick look at how the issue has been covered in local newspapers across the UK, and it soon became apparent that the effects of nutrient neutrality-related rules on housebuilding was being felt by councils nationwide.
Housing Today said that one Herefordshire-based SME housebuilder had described the situation as “catastrophic.”
“Merry Albright, creative director at 40 year-old Leominster-based timber-frame housebuilder Border Oak, which employs 90 people and turns over more than £10m a year, is talking about the impact on her business of the ongoing planning moratorium caused by nutrient pollution – in her case around the River Wye, Lugg and Arrow catchments. She says the firm has now used up all the planning applications it had prior to the moratorium being imposed in October 2019. ‘This issue has ravaged our local construction sector,’ she says. ‘It’s been incredibly difficult. All our own sites are in the affected areas, so we have little agility.’”
A number of housebuilders and MPs are currently calling for a change to the way that the rules are currently being implemented in order to speed up the delivery of new housing.