Bill amendments set to free developers from nutrient neutrality requirement

A proposed amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill tabled by Michael Gove, Secretary of State at DLUHC, will if passed move responsibility for achieving ‘nutrient neutrality’ on new housing developments from developers to water companies.

The amendment will place a legal duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works, and thereby manage new limits on phosphorus and nitrogen in water outflows, by 1 April 2030. The Government estimates that in “affected catchments” there will be “around a 75% reduction in phosphorus loads, and around a 55% reduction in nitrogen loads.”

The Government continued: “These upgrades will enable housebuilding to be unlocked by reducing the amount of mitigation developers must provide to offset nutrient pollution.”

In July the Secretary of State reinforced its commitment to support Natural England to establish a nutrient mitigation scheme. A further amendment to the Levelling Up Bill proposes that local authorities “should assume that the wastewater treatment works will meet the pollution standards by the upgrade date” when assessing developments.

Housebuilders have welcomed the possible lightening of requirements on developers, while environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace and the Wildlife Trusts have condemned the move, as allegedly opening the doors to more pollution of waterways.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) commented that the local authority would still be the arbiters of whether developers should contribute to cleaning up the local environment. NFB housing and planning policy head Rico Wojtulewicz welcomed a doubling of funding for Natural England’s mitigation scheme, but said that the system needed to be more adaptable.

“If pollution levels drop considerably, the taxes and land ownership models must be flexible, which means a wetland which doesn’t contribute to reducing pollution levels can return to previous use or be used for something different.”