Maintaining water quality is critical to human health and our natural environment. Its impact on the world of development is comparatively recent, but it is currently placing the delivery of tens of thousands of homes at risk. The consequences of the problem go beyond environmental matters and have a significant impact on broader social and economic considerations.
The issue of water quality has arisen as a result of the additional presence of nitrates and phosphates from agricultural and wastewater treatment in our river ecosystems, which is causing an imbalance. This imbalance is currently affecting, or will affect, a wide range of habitats, which can lead to the excessive growth of algae, which in turn can have detrimental effects. These water quality issues have not arisen solely because of development, however every additional development scheme puts pressure on our industrial wastewater treatment plants, which then increases the total outflow of nitrates and phosphates into our rivers.
Whilst the effects are currently focused on certain regions around the UK, for example the Solent and the Stour Catchment in Kent, it is a matter of growing concern beyond these catchments and several Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) are considering taking action.
Looking closely at the need to ensure ‘nitrate neutrality’ in the developments across the Solent region, the latest figures suggest that as many as 10,000 residential units are unable to come forward. This is not only having a financial impact on both developers and landowners, but also on LPAs with the delivery of housing at risk. This is exacerbating the housing crisis, and also reducing receipts and social infrastructure due to the lack of planning contributions that are generated by development.
So how is this challenge going to be resolved? Some of the LPAs across the Partnership for the South Hampshire region have provided a solution to the problem. Where third party land has been acquired and ‘banked’ as a nutrient sink, developers can make a contribution, secured via a S106, in order to off-set their development. We have also seen the launch of a ‘phosphates calculator’ in Somerset, which identifies the compensatory measures required to achieve neutrality.
An alternative solution which has gained a great deal of interest amongst those effected by the issue has been provided by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, who recently purchased a 100-acre farm within the Solent region and then packaged up and sold-off ‘credits’ to developers, calculated using the Natural England guidance on mitigation. Unsurprisingly, these credits were very quickly used up and there is no indication that others will be made available any time soon. It is one of many potential solutions, but it is land hungry and results in spiralling development costs.
If we are to deliver on the Government mandate to ‘Build, Build, Build’, we need to embrace the opportunities that exist to deliver schemes in collaboration across the public and private sectors.
At Carter Jonas, we are well-placed to advise in this area, whether on behalf of landowners who are seeking advice on the various mitigation solutions available or sourcing suitable land for clients such as local authorities or developers.
We provide a range of planning and development services, with over 90 specialists working across the UK. Our rural team also manages large areas of farmland on behalf of institutional establishments, including charitable trusts, colleges, diocese, and private landowners, many of whom could offer a solution to the problem.