Along with other councils in Norfolk and elsewhere in the country, the city council has been asked by Natural England to quickly adopt a more rigorous approach to assess the effects of changes in water quality in order to achieve ‘nutrient neutrality’.
This relates to Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance) where plans for new houses and developments featuring ‘overnight stays’ would need planning consent.
Following the letter from Natural England to all planning authorities in Norfolk on 16 March 2022, taking the total affected councils across the UK to 74, nutrient neutrality has become a pressing national issue.
About nutrient neutrality
The importance of achieving nutrient neutrality stems from evidence that large quantities of nitrogen and phosphate nutrients entering water systems cause excessive growth of algae, a process called ‘eutrophication.’ This reduces the oxygen content of water which increases the difficulty of survival for aquatic species; subsequently removing a food source for protected species.
The sources of nutrients generally include sewage treatment works, septic tanks, livestock, arable farming and industrial processes. Where sites are already in unfavourable (poor) condition, extra wastewater from new developments can make matters worse.
What this means for you
If you are a developer or have a newly submitted planning application, here in Norwich, as with all other affected councils in Norfolk and nationwide, it means we are unable to grant planning permission where a development is likely to add nutrient pollution to water until we can identify how to mitigate any adverse impacts.
There are also implications for the Greater Norwich Local Plan, which may result in delays to adoption and additional consultation.
However, despite the challenges this presents, we encourage you to continue with the submission of applications and pre-application advice requests. You may, however, be asked to agree an extension to the determination time of your application.
The city council is writing to anyone affected, setting out the situation and the options that are available to them in more detail.
We recognise this is a period of great uncertainty and we appreciate your cooperation and patience while we work through this.
Catchment area maps for Special Areas of Conservation: