The Head of Planning will be in attendance to provide an overview of the Panel’s new scrutiny topic of Nutrient Neutrality.
RECOMMENDATION: that the Panel determines what further information is required.
The Head of Planning explained
that the basic concept of nutrient neutrality was to ensure that any land use
or developments occurring around watercourses did not cause an increase in
harmful nutrient levels. In Middlesbrough
this related to the impact of nutrients on the Teesmouth
and Cleveland Coast Special Protection Area (SPA).
On 16 March 2022, Natural England
added Middlesbrough to the list of 74 Local Authorities affected by nutrient
neutrality, highlighting that immediate action and a new approach was
needed. Since legislation was already in
place there was no transition period and the advice had to be adopted with
Natural England’s advice was that
excessive levels of nitrogen impacted on the integrity of the SPA and some new
developments should not be permitted unless nutrient neutrality was
achieved. Excessive nitrogen could lead
to algal blooms which impacted on protected species and their habitats.
Natural England had provided a
calculator to help determine potential impacts.
Nutrient Neutrality was achieved by ensuring there was no more nitrogen
as a result of development. The amount
of nitrogen from existing land use and proposed land use was measured and had
to be mitigated. It was noted that there
was a greater impact on brownfield sites than on greenfield
Natural England’s advice affected
the whole of the River Tees catchment which encompassed 11 planning
authorities, from Tees Estuary across to Cumbria. However, only Middlesbrough, Stockton and
Darlington were affected in their entirety.
There were three main sources of
nitrogen: agriculture (from fertilisers), industry and people (through the
waste water infrastructure network).
Work had shown that waste water from households and human activity accounted
for potentially less than 1% of the total but this was what the advice was
specifically targeting. The biggest
impacts were believed to be from agriculture, industry and the water
As the Local Planning Authority,
Middlesbrough Council made decisions on planning applications, prepared the
Local Plan and took into account all land issues including impact on the
environment. The Council also had a
role to act as a Competent Authority to protect European sites in line with
Habitat Regulations, undertake assessment tests to check whether plans or
proposals would cause harm, and agree any mitigation required to allow
development to proceed.
Nutrient neutrality guidance
affected all developments where there would be an increase in overnight stays,
producing more nitrogen via the sewerage system. Residential developments, hotels, and student
accommodation were all included.
Commercial properties, schools, offices or home extensions were not, as
the assumption was that people using those facilities already lived in the
catchment area and already contributed to the wastewater system and should not
be double counted. Some other
developments such as tourist attractions or hospitals might be out of scope
depending on the area served.
Further guidance was awaited on mitigation measures which
• Removal of
land from agricultural use.
Mitigation had to be provided
within the catchment area and would likely lead to greener developments as more
landscaping would be required. In
Middlesbrough, developments such as Stainsby and
Newham Hall had the potential to incorporate water habitats. The catchment area for providing mitigation
was vast, however the Council intended to prioritise Middlesbrough in the first
instance, then the Tees Valley and then the wider area.
As a result of Natural England’s
guidance there was an immediate moratorium on approving new housing development
and other affected schemes. Applications for 1532 dwellings, 274 bedrooms
student accommodation, a 4 bedroom House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) and a 48
bed hotel were affected. Schemes that
had already been granted
planning permission were not affected. Unfortunately one housing development in
Middlesbrough that was likely to be approved was awaiting a Section 106
agreement when the moratorium came in.
The Council’s 5 year land supply was not affected as yet. A small number of schemes could still
progress because the proposed impact was less or equal to existing land
use. Those developments in scope would
be subject to appropriate assessment.
Other implications for Middlesbrough included:
current estimates using the current Natural England calculator were between £2,000 and £10,000 per
dwelling. For developments proposed at Newham Hall this could be additional £2-10
million and for Middlehaven could be additional £1-5 million. This would impact on capital receipts as Developers would want to pay less for sites.
figures provided had not been tested and therefore the level of impact could be less or it could be
Term Financial Plan: whilst there would not be an immediate impact on current housing schemes and build
rates, the impact on delivery would be felt
in two to three years’ time and it was vital to resolve the issues now.
sites and regeneration of town centre: more mitigation would be required for the same level of
development as brownfield sites would be more hampered
than greenfield sites.
There was a lack of potential for on-site mitigation and the viability of such sites could be
impacted. A number of Local Authorities were worried because they
did not want to develop greenfield areas.
It was highlighted that Housing
Developers wanted to build in Middlesbrough but on the greenfield
sites. The Council had to translate that
strategy onto sites and how best to deliver them. Brownfield sites had to be the preferred
option in terms of meeting housing types, facilities, population needs but they
still needed some kind of public resource to bring them forward.
Middlesbrough Council was working
jointly with the other affected authorities in the Tees Catchment and had
sought legal and other specialist advice.
The Council would also learn from others’ experiences – one example was
the Solent area which had taken over two years to find a solution. It would be important to develop a consistent
approach across the Tees Valley and look at strategic mitigations to offset the
impacts and take developments out of the nutrient neutrality scope.
The Council had challenged the
Natural England calculator and evidence and commissioned consultants to
consider population impacts of new development.
The calculator had applied a formula of 2.4 persons per dwelling but a
figure below that would drastically reduce the impact and therefore the
mitigation figures. First and foremost
the Council wanted to concentrate on reducing the level of impact to make it
easier to mitigate against. In addition,
the Council was trying to find ways of bringing brownfield sites forward and
using its own land holdings and tree planting programmes to reduce
nitrates. Any solutions would be used to
help regeneration schemes on brownfield sites first and then assist developers
to find the mitigation on greenfield sites.
Following recent changes within
government there was some uncertainty as to possible changes to national
planning policy, legislation – with a new Regeneration and Levelling Up Bill and proposals to increase the statutory
responsibilities of water companies to include taking nitrates out of the
system by 2030. There had been rumours
that new investment zones could be introduced with reduced planning
requirements, and that nutrient neutrality could be removed from those zones
altogether. However this was
speculation and not fact. Potentially
the proposed Middlesbrough Development Corporation could be designated as an
There was also some tension
between planning legislation and environmental legislation. The designated SPA was home to predominantly
migratory birds. The government could
potentially look at that area and not afford the same weight to environmental
protections there. If some of that area
was to be excluded from nutrient neutrality requirements, then the
environmental legislation would need to be changed.
AGREED that the
information provided was received and noted.