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Nutrient Neutrality

FAQs

What is nutrient neutrality?

In freshwater habitats and estuaries, in particular, increased levels of nutrients, namely nitrogen, can speed up the growth of certain algae and plants. This is called ‘eutrophication’ – a process which starves a body of water of oxygen which can damage or kill aquatic life, thereby damaging protected sites. 

What are ‘nutrients’ and what do they do?

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.

How has this issue come about?

On 16 March 2022, Natural England wrote to all planning authorities in Norfolk to advise that each local council needs to adopt a more rigorous approach to assessing the effects of changes in water quality to achieve ‘nutrient neutrality’ for specific developments. So far, a total of 74 councils across the UK have been affected by the issue.

What is being done to resolve the issue?

The city council is working with Natural England, the Environment Agency, Anglian Water and other Norfolk councils to find a solution to this issue as quickly as possible. 

Leaders from every council in Norfolk are meeting to discuss a joint response and we are going out to tender for specialist consultants to help us prepare a strategy to achieve nutrient neutrality.

What constitutes ‘neutrality’? 

Put simply, ‘nutrient neutrality’ means that a plan or project would result in no net increase in the phosphate load being discharged to the river. This could be after controls at source, reduction by treatment, and/or offsetting measures

Nutrients come from a variety of sources such as agriculture and housing. Excessive levels damage our coastline and harm wildlife.

Who is affected?

Development affected includes, but is not limited to: 

  • new residential units including:
    • new housing development, including purpose-built student accommodation and residential care homes
    • replacement dwellings
    • barn conversions
    • tourist accommodation including hotels and camping/glamping sites
    • gypsy sites or pitches
  • development that supports agricultural intensification
  • anaerobic digesters
  • prior notifications of:
    • agricultural development
    • changes of use from office to residential
    • change of use of agricultural buildings to dwellings

However, despite the challenges this presents, we are encouraging people 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. 

What will happen to the planning application I’ve submitted?

The city council is working closely with Natural England, other councils in Norfolk, the Environment Agency and Anglian Water to find a solution as quickly as possible. However, there will be a delay to applications while we work through this. 

If you wish to proceed with this application, you will be asked to agree an extension of to the decision period to allow for the city council to work with Natural England on developing a suitable solution. 

During this time, you may wish to seek your own advice from an environmental and/or ecology consultant to achieve nutrient neutrality for your application. You will need to confirm its suitability with Natural England by using its discretionary advice service, before supplying any information to our planning department. 

Alternatively, you may wish to consider withdrawing your application.  

What’s happening with the council’s planning applications committee?

The planning applications committee usually meets monthly to determine certain planning applications. Due to changes required because of nutrient neutrality considerations, from April 2022, fewer committee meetings may be required. The meetings are not cancelled, but they may meet less often. Applicants and agents will still be notified if an application is being heard by the committee.

Which areas are affected?

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.