Update on the 'Nutrient Neutrality' issue

Last night’s Operations and Space Shaping Board gave us an insight into the latest impacts on Havant Borough Council’s planning stalemate caused by the the Nutrient Neutrality issue.

Councillor Pike provided a brief context to the board, referring to the letter sent by HBC to the Secretaries of State on January 14th. The first paragraph of that letter gives a fairly concise explanation of the issue.

“…recent case law, most notably The Dutch Case is making it impossible to grant planning permission for all but a handful of planning applications for new housing in Havant Borough and parts of East Hampshire district. This issue extends to our Partnership for South Hampshire colleagues and a number of other areas of the country. Left unchecked will render it impossible for these parts of the country to meaningfully contribute to Government’s target of providing 300,000 new homes a year.”

The full letter can be found on page 29 of the information pack here.

The delays are currently impacting 1000-1200 housing units and risking around £200M of external investment budget to the Borough. Of particular concern is the potential impact on the development plans for Wellington Way in Waterlooville.

Wellington Way, Waterlooville, viewed from the SE. Take this link to view the planning application.

While that’s a long way from ‘our patch’, we should be mindful of the fact that if the issue continues, the regeneration plans for Havant Town Centre will also be impacted.

The sources of nitrogen based nutrients entering our harbours and the wider Solent split into roughly three areas. Agricultural impact, roughly 40%, background atmospheric and geological, 40%, and urban run-off/sewage, 20%. We can beat up our rather long suffering Waste Water utilities over the latter or we can apply pressure on the farming community over the former. There’s little that can be done over the background levels so let’s point the finger at the Southern Water and the local farmers.

Southern Water have come under a fair amount of pressure already and despite being an obvious target, their hands are to some extent tied by their regulator who won’t let them raise charges to their customers to part fund the infrastructure projects necessary.

Farmer Pike” explained how the local farms within the Borough are playing by the rules and only spreading muck on the fields during the periods allowed by recent government regulations. There was a (perhaps tongue in cheek) finger pointed out the South Downs farmers in East Hants’ patch since the muck they spread also finds its way into our harbours and estuaries. The difficulty is that it takes up to thirty years to filter through over that distance – this is not an easy issue to crack.

The scale of the problem and the knock on effect on local and regional building trades and services is significant as our softly spoken Planning Policy Manager, David Hayward, explained. Right now, applications for 242 homes are ‘solely backlogged’ by the the Nutrient Neutrality issue, plus another 780 if the Campdown development goes ahead, with a further 409 ‘significantly backlogged’. We are not alone; across the Solent area, those figures rise to 2314 ‘solely backlogged’ with 3974 ‘significantly backlogged.

The specific issue holding up planning and development is that until the Nitrogen Neutrality issue is resolved at a national level, planning applications can only be accepted if the developer chooses to agree to a Grampian condition being attached to the decision. In this case, that condition will refer to an unquantifiable cost of mitigation, a condition few sane developers would consider sign up to. From an interesting aside from Farmer Pike after we’d been expelled when the meeting went into exempt session, was that they have actually found one such developer, the North Street Arcade application was signed off last Friday with a Grampian Clause. If you want to see how this manifests itself, check out Condition 10 in the decision notice.