Amendment announced on Nutrient Neutrality signals new opportunities and caveats for land users and housing developers

The announcement on Tuesday 29th August that amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will dispense with existing requirements for Nutrient Neutrality in their current form, could significantly change the challenges and opportunities for housing developers and environmental bodies alike.

Currently in its report stage in the House of Lords, the Bill would look to remove stipulations on Net Nutrient Neutrality. This currently requires new developments within catchments identified as having excess Phosphorus, Nitrogen or both, to achieve a nutrient neutral output, by measures such as mitigating their outputs through reductions of emissions elsewhere. The aim instead, is to look to increase investment in specific interventions where appropriate.

The UK Bill followed legacy EU legislation implemented in March 2022 through Natural England guidance to affected Local Authority areas. Since then, an estimated 145,000 new houses have been blocked (Housebuilders Federation), with many more sites paused prior to application, as no suitable mitigation has been identified. 

The implications could be significant, but not immediate. We are keen to stress that this is an announcement of an amendment to a current Bill, so it has not yet passed into law, but it does present further opportunities and constraints for development and wider land use. 

We can expect a higher level of investment in wastewater treatment works than previously identified. There could be specific interventions in Protected Sites , such as the creation of additional wetland areas, and it could lead to further emphasis on correct use of slurry and/or other nutrients, through inspections and additional funding for infrastructure grants.

For H&H Land & Estates clients, the company envisages a range of opportunities from the amendment if it becomes law.

Developers could expect a potential move towards better suited Sustainable Drainage Systems (SDS) on new build sites, and specific wetland areas were identified by impact of nutrient neutrality and acute housing pressures. 

For Farmers/Landowners there may be opportunities for additional funding for slurry infrastructure grants (£166m), with greater supervision of slurry storage and utilisation on farms. Payment premiums through ELMS (Environmental Land Management Schemes) could follow in 2024, for high priority options involving water quality measures such as Riparian buffers etc.

Net Nutrient Neutrality rules still apply currently, with mitigation needed, and land already committed to Nutrient Neutrality must remain secured. There is no word yet of what happens to land already committed under the scheme, so advice cannot be issued as to the most appropriate management.