Portsmouth ends nitrate pollution housing moratorium

A Hampshire council has brought its moratorium on deciding new residential applications to an end after introducing a temporary strategy to mitigate nitrate outputs into sensitive habitats.

Portsmouth adopts interim nutrient output mitigation policy. Image by Metro Centric, Flickr
Portsmouth adopts interim nutrient output mitigation policy. Image by Metro Centric, Flickr

In June, Portsmouth City Council was among 11 local authorities in Hampshire that suspended the consideration of new homes following advice from government environment watchdog Natural England that developments should only be permitted if they are nitrate-neutral.

The advice was prompted by concerns about nitrate levels in the area's protected waterways as well as recent European Court of Justice rulings that tightened the rules on mitigating the impacts of new development schemes on such sensitive habitats. 

Last month, the authority's cabinet agreed a new strategy that will see nitrate output from new development offset against water-saving measures in the council’s existing housing stock.

And last week, the council’s planning committee resumed hearing residential planning applications.

An officers’ report on the new strategy said: "The water savings will be monitored and recorded as 'credit', which can secured by applicants to help mitigate the impact of their proposals."

The strategy is based on saving water within the council’s existing residential stock, either through holding homes due for redevelopment vacant, or through retrofitting measures to improve water efficiency.

It will aim to ensure that that no net increase in wastewater is sent from the city council area to a waste water treatment works in neighbouring Havant district.

According to council officers, the strategy could create enough "mitigation credit" for 518 homes a year.

The policy would also allow developers two other alternatives - offsetting nutrient output against existing water uses on an application site, or other mitigation measures such as the creation of sustainable urban drainage systems.

Wildlife regulator Natural England issued its new guidance in June to councils in the Solent area on compliance with habitats regulation assessments.

This followed a ruling by the European Court of Justice raising the bar that development projects would have to clear when being assessed to see if they breached rules protecting sensitive habitats, such as EU "special protected areas".

In October, fresh legal advice from Natural England forced a West Midlands council to halt planning decisions until it brings phosphate levels affecting a European protected site under control.

Last weekBasingstoke and Deane Borough Council announced that it will not issue decisions on planning applications for housing in areas where wastewater could affect environmentally-protected areas in the Solent region.

Planning feature looking at the impact of the nitrates crisis on planning and development in Hampshire can be found here.

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