Media stories: A legal requirement that new houses do not pollute nearby wetlands, rivers and nature reserves has halted development across a swath of England, the Guardian has reported.

The news piece stated that ‘forty-two local authorities in England were last month told they must ensure that new homes are “nutrient neutral” and do not add damaging nitrates or phosphates to river catchments and protected areas including the Eden Valley in Cumbria, the River Camel in Cornwall and the Norfolk Broads.

In these areas – close to protected sites such as special areas of conservation (SACs) – planning authorities are unable to permit new applications for any kind of home until developers prove they are not adding to nutrient pollution. Nutrient pollution causes algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water, killing fish and damaging other aquatic life. Farming is the main cause of excess nutrients washing into rivers and wetlands alongside discharges from overloaded sewage works but rainwater running off roads and new developments can also add to the pollution.

The Home Builders Federation estimates that up to 120,000 new homes have been delayed because of the “nutrient neutrality” rules in 74 local authority areas, with 42,000 new homes delayed in the greater Norwich area alone. In some areas, such as the Solent, mitigation measures have been established, with developers able to purchase nitrate credits from landowners including environmental charities who use the money to rewild farms or create pollution-absorbing wetlands in the catchment.

The full story from the Guardian can be read here. There has also been coverage in The Telegraph and The Times [both behind paywalls].

Government response: Following these stories, Defra have responded. Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Today where he clarified some inaccurate reporting that Natural England is banning housebuilding, and set out how there is advice and support on nutrient neutrality available to local planners and developers so they can build homes in a way that mitigates for any additional nutrients released into the environment as a result of development and helps protect fragile freshwater and coastal habitats.

Natural England wants to support planning authorities and developers to build the sustainable new homes that this country needs and is working with government and partners to help do this. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Planning Advisory Service and Natural England are funding additional support for local planning authorities to help with this issue.

Tony Juniper, Natural England Chair, said: Nutrient neutrality is not about stopping developments – it’s about making sure that pollution is not made worse by new development. Without mitigation, extra wastewater from new housing developments can contribute to the decline of our protected wetland and coastal sites, and undermine our efforts to recover these sites back to the healthy habitats they should be.

Natural England, working alongside our partners, will support planning authorities and developers to build sustainable new homes and contribute to healthy rivers, lakes and estuaries nearby.

You can read more from Defra here, and in a Natural England blog here.

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