• GL
Choose your location?
  • Global Global
  • Australian flag Australia
  • French flag France
  • German flag Germany
  • Irish flag Ireland
  • Italian flag Italy
  • Polish flag Poland
  • Qatar flag Qatar
  • Spanish flag Spain
  • UAE flag UAE
  • UK flag UK

Nutrient Neutrality – a stay of execution?

20 September 2023

Back in August this year, Michael Gove's Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced a headline catching late amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which would have effectively removed EU-era nutrient neutrality rules. The stated aim of doing so was to spur on the delivery of 100,000 much needed new homes.

The Department's press release lamented the 'legacy EU laws' and 'red tape' blocking much-needed development and predicted a £18 billion boost to the economy as a result of easing the current restrictions. Warnings quickly circulated from environmental groups and the political opposition that the removal of nutrient neutrality rules would be at the expense of the health of the country's rivers. 

However, the House of Lords had other ideas on this, sending the late amendment back last Wednesday (13/9/2023) on a vote of 203 to 156, which included a small rebellion of Conservative Peers.

The end result is now this late amendment has been defeated in the Lords, a new bill would be required to bring this proposal forward again.

Why the current rules exist

Current law, which derives from EU legislation, requires that developers must ensure that their projects do not cause a net increase in the amount of pollution to water catchments in the area of their development. 

Excess nutrients in rivers can cause a range of issues, including dangerous and potentially toxic algae blooms, which deoxygenate the water and cause mass death of aquatic life. 

Since the introduction of the requirement for nutrient neutrality in early 2022, many developments have been allowed to proceed by including mitigation measures, such as creating wetlands or woodlands, or buying 'nutrient credits' to offset a development's impact. 

Many house builders have argued though that the requirement for nutrient neutrality has caused delay in delivering much needed new homes, and that developers are responsible for considerably less nutrient run off than other industries such as farming.

The defeated amendment

The government had claimed that they would have offset the impact of their policy by increasing investment in Natural England's Nutrient Mitigation Scheme. They had also anticipated relying on an existing clause in the Levelling Up bill, requiring water companies to upgrade water treatment facilities by 2030. With so many new homes to be delivered before these upgrades are required, and news of mass sewerage releases including on 'dry days', the House of Lords clearly had concerns as to how already creaking infrastructure will cope with increased pressure without the requirement on developers to mitigate.

Next steps?

If Ministers still wish to proceed with the changes to nutrient neutrality rules, they will need to introduce a new bill later in the parliament. Given the resistance to this late amendment, from both political and environmental groups, it remains to be seen if this is forthcoming.

DWF is a full-service law firm. If you require any advice on these issues, please contact Stephanie Smith or Hannah Smith in DWF's UK Compulsory Purchase and Planning team.  

Further Reading