Government has released plans to tackle the issue of ‘nutrient neutrality’ – which has prevented any building, including self builds, from taking place in many counties across England.

Backed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the plans recommend a new mitigation scheme, which will mean that building can take place where certain conditions are met.

What is nutrient neutrality?

Natural water habitats are typically affected by the excessive run off of nutrients, which has an adverse effect on the delicate water-based environment, leading to algal blooms that threaten flora and fauna.

Such nutrients are usually due to run off from farming, such as fertiliser or effluent from chicken farms, or from untreated water being shed from water treatment plants that are not up to the job.

But construction has also been blamed for this, with 74 English counties affected – either wholly or areas within them. This led to a blanket ban on all new construction on undeveloped land in some areas, which has been in place for several years now, such as in Herefordshire.

What is the nutrient neutrality scheme?

Government’s new scheme is based on the idea of mitigation, meaning that you can effectively put in additional measures to offset any potential damage. These offsetting measures will then improve the local situation for wildlife. These may be through physical schemes or though a process where the developer (and presumably the self builder) can buy ‘nutrient credits’. These then contribute to mitigating measures built locally, rather than on each site.

These may involve local Sustainable Urban Drainage systems (SUDs), new or expanded wetlands and woodlands and so on, to support and promote new local habitats.

Once agreed, permission can then be granted for work to go ahead. Natural England will be the accreditation body overseeing this credit element, and government is also creating a a legal duty for water companies in these areas to upgrade water treatment works by 2030 to the highest levels.

Levelling up secretary Greg Clark added: “It is essential that new homes do not impair the quality of our rivers, streams and wetlands. These measures will ensure the development can take place, but only where there is practical action taken to protect our precious aquatic habitats.”

Image by choi from Pixabay

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