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Legislation within the Habitat Regulations has introduced new requirements for ‘Nutrient Neutrality’ in some areas of the country.

Nutrient Neutrality is a planning requirement for new development – mainly affecting housing developments. It is applied in 27 river catchment areas designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and impacts planning in 74 local authority areas.

The rules require developers to demonstrate that a proposed development will be ‘nutrient neutral’ and that nutrient pollution resulting from the development will not add to the already unsustainable levels of nutrient pollution entering the designated water course. Local Authorities are unable to grant planning consent unless the scheme can demonstrate how Nutrient Neutrality will be achieved.

To secure planning permission, developers must demonstrate Nutrient Neutrality by offsetting the anticipated nutrient pollution of a development, either by purchasing Nutrient Credits from established mitigation schemes or, by funding/creating nutrient mitigation schemes themselves.

As a result, projects which can reduce nutrient pollution - nitrates and phosphates - entering water courses are being sought as ‘Nutrient Offsets’ - to enable new developments. This has created new opportunities for rural landowners in affected catchments for development of nutrient offset projects.

Nutrient offsetting projects can include:

  • Agricultural abandonment - to reduce nitrates & phosphates inputs to land: but it will result in land being taken out of production
  • Wetland construction - to strip nutrients from surface water and effluent flows and prevent it entering water courses.
  • Riparian buffers and other catchment management solutions - this includes zones along the edges of rivers, streams, lakes and other water bodies which remain uncropped and planted with vegetation to capture nutrients

Nutrient reductions are purchased by developers as either nitrate or phosphate credits depending on the type of pollution in the catchment - to evidence that the impacts of the development can be offset. The quantity of offset required is determined by a number of variables including the performance of the sewage treatment works, catchment rainfall levels, soil type and existing land use.

Our Natural Capital team has the experience to advise landowners and help them understand the policy landscape, as well as the potential opportunities arising from the market for nutrient offsetting. We can help landowners explore opportunities for offset development, marketing and sale.

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