Will nutrient credits restart stalled developments?
Most housebuilders and developers will remember the gloomy outlook that enveloped many areas of Kent in July 2020. This outlook wasn’t driven by the pandemic, but instead by Natural England’s concerns over the longer-term impact of housing developments on areas falling within the River Stour catchment.
To briefly recap…Natural England identified high levels of pollution in the water at Stodmarsh Nature Reserve and immediately instructed Local Planning Authorities to refuse approval for new housing developments unless sufficient mitigation measures were in place.
At this time, the definition of sufficient mitigation measures was questionable. A “garden city” development may be large enough to construct its water treatment facilities, but this was not likely to have been a suitable answer for the majority of developments.
Fast forward two years to July 2022 and Natural England have now announced its solution for the sustainable construction of new homes without adding nutrients to already polluted waterways. This “Nutrient Credits” scheme is being rolled out across the country around a newly formed partnership with Government, which will support Local Planning Authorities as they consider individual planning applications alongside nutrient neutrality.
The exact detail of the scheme has yet to be announced. Natural England are currently developing the operational details and are looking to engage with as many organisations as they can to ensure that this is successful, with the intention of the scheme being launched in the autumn of this year.
At this early stage, it is being suggested that a Nutrient Credit could cost in the region of £3,000 per home. A cost that housebuilders will need to factor in when considering the viability of future projects. Certainly, the economic viability of some projects that were already borderline could now be tipped over the edge, which could result in developments either ceasing or never getting off the ground.
Of course, the ongoing creation of more natural solutions, such as the creation of wetlands and woodlands will support the Nutrients Credit scheme. Both will significantly reduce the nutrients passing into our waterways, in the hope of mitigating the additional inputs from newly constructed homes.
A step forward
No doubt the devil will be in the detail, but this is a huge step forward in restarting developments to provide much-needed housing and a way of life for those that work within the sector.
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