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Page updated 10 March 2023
For frequently asked questions on nutrient neutrality please see below.
Alongside all other local planning authorities in Norfolk, the Council received a letter dated 16 March 2022 from Natural England about nutrient pollution in the protected habitats of the River Wensum Special Area of Conservation and the Broads Special Area of Conservation and Ramsar site.
The letter advised that new development within the catchment of these habitats comprising overnight accommodation can cause adverse impacts on nutrient pollution. Such development includes, but is not limited to:
- new homes
- student accommodation
- care homes
- tourism attractions
- tourist accommodation
- permitted development (which gives rise to new overnight accommodation) under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015
- any development not involving overnight accommodation but which may have non-sewerage water quality implications
The Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2017 require local planning authorities to ensure that new development does not cause adverse impacts on the integrity of protected habitats. Such as the River Wensum or the Broads before granting planning permission.
Natural England provided the following documents in March 2022:
- Natural England nutrient budget calculator, guidance document to help with the completion of the Natural England calculator.
- Water quality and nutrient neutrality advice, letter from Natural England.
Catchment area maps for Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
What we are doing
North Norfolk District Council recognise the frustrations for those applicants affected by nutrient neutrality. The key to unlocking the delays caused by Natural England’s nutrient neutrality advice is establishing mitigation solutions. For the latest information on mitigation solutions – see the Mitigation Schemes section below.
Since receiving the advice from Natural England, the Council has been working closely with its neighbouring authorities and Natural England to understand the implications for development and planned growth. Royal Haskoning were appointed to assist the affected Councils and to help clarify the impacts. This led to the creation of a custom Norfolk nutrient budget calculator and updated mapping. Royal Haskoning have also been helping identify possible options for mitigation to ensure sustainable development can proceed.
In July 2022, the government issued information about nutrient neutrality and steps to be taken to assist with the delivery of mitigation schemes to help development proceed. Mitigation schemes within the affected areas will be necessary to permit further development, such as housing growth.
The government issued a ministerial statement by George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) on 20 July 2022.
It set out that the government will:
- Place a legal duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works by 2030 in nutrient neutrality areas
- Require Natural England to establish and deliver a Nutrient Mitigation Scheme
This government advice was followed by a letter about nutrient neutrality and habitats regulations assessment from Joanna Averley (Chief Planner) issued on 21 July 2022.
Natural England Nutrient Mitigation Scheme
Natural England has funding to deliver nature-based solutions within the Norfolk catchments. The aim is to provide mitigation for which credits can be purchased to enable development to be permitted. The mitigation schemes aim to benefit small and medium-sized developments that cannot provide their own mitigation on site.
The availability of land to provide the mitigation solutions is key to delivering the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme. Progress has been slow, and no credits are available to purchase.
Joint Venture (Norfolk Environmental Credits Ltd)
A new Joint Venture (Norfolk Environmental Credits Ltd) has been formed involving:
- Anglian Water
- North Norfolk District Council
- Breckland District Council
- Norwich City Council
- South Norfolk and Broadland District Councils
The key purpose of the joint venture is to develop mitigation solutions and help lift the brake affecting many planning applications across Norfolk.
Will planning permission be granted?
NNDC are aware that some press reports had indicated that, with the creation of the joint venture, planning permissions could be issued from April 2023. However, this is not likely to be the case for the vast majority of development across Norfolk until the number and extent of mitigation solutions available can cover the number of new homes needed across the nutrient catchment. In other words, developing the range of mitigation required will take time. Therefore, the specific timeframe within which permissions can be issued remains uncertain.
Until the establishment of mitigation solutions (either via credits or on or off-site mitigation solutions) or unless a scheme is found to be nutrient neutral, the local planning authority, as competent authority under the habitats regulations, would not be able to reasonably conclude it is satisfied that there is no reasonable doubt as to the absence of adverse effects on the integrity of European sites.
How does this affect planning applications?
Applicants for proposals affected by nutrient neutrality may be asked to agree an extension of time within which to determine applications where mitigation solutions are yet to be finalised but where other planning issues are considered broadly acceptable.
Applications for proposals subject to nutrient neutrality will be refused where an applicant cannot agree to an extension of time (where required) or other planning matters indicate that permission should be refused.
Natural England nutrient calculators
Regarding using Natural England nutrient calculators and the Habitats Regulations process, the Court of Appeal decision in R (Wyatt) v Fareham BC and Natural England was issued on 15 July 2022. This decision confirms that Local Planning Authorities can rely on Natural England's guidance and nutrient calculator tools. However, these are not the only tools that can be used when calculating nutrient loading. They are one way of carrying out an 'appropriate assessment', and their use is not mandatory. However, the Court of Appeal decision suggests that a planning authority should follow the methodology suggested by the statutory nature conservation body unless it has good reason not to do so.
Norfolk Nutrient Budget Calculator
The Norfolk Nutrient Budget Calculator produced by Royal Haskoning is now available as an alternative to the Natural England calculator.
How should I use the calculator?
You can use it for proposed developments in the Norfolk catchments impacted by nutrient neutrality. It provides a rapid calculation of net phosphate and nitrate loadings from developments. This includes phosphate and nitrate offsetting calculations for on and off site locations. It is a clear decision-making tool for the Local Planning Authority and developers.
You should use the calculator to determine your proposal's nutrient level. You need to submit this information to support your planning application. A planning application will only be able to proceed if either of the following:
- the proposed development is nutrient neutral or
- you have identified mitigation (to make it neutral) that you can secure.
This Norfolk-specific calculator uses local data to provide an accurate nutrient calculation. The calculator contains a help section to assist with the stages of the process.
With the launch of the Norfolk Nutrient Budget Calculator, the following documents are available:
- Norfolk Budget Calculator (version 1.1, EXCEL)
- Technical reference report (dated 6 October 2022, PDF)
A training video is also available, which provides a step-by-step guide on how to use the calculator.
A rainfall map has been produced to ease completing the nutrient calculator for the ‘annual average rainfall band’ for a proposed site.
Further help and support
We recommend using a planning consultant if you need help completing the Norfolk calculator. Natural England also offers a discretionary advice service. We will also be adding further help and guidance in using the calculator in response to queries we receive.
Student and communal accommodation
You should calculate the average daily total water consumption for the development and enter this into stage one.
What calculator should I use?
The new Norfolk calculator is likely to be used by many applicants. However, there may be occasions when applicants would prefer to use the Natural England calculator. For example, if planning to use mitigation credits secured through Natural England's Nutrient Mitigation Scheme.
Natural England’s advice on the Norfolk Calculator
Natural England has commented on the new Norfolk calculator, and you can find a copy of these comments dated 7 Oct 2022 below:
Updated catchment mapping
New development in the Norfolk catchments impacted by nutrient neutrality may increase nutrients at the habitat sites identified by Natural England as being in poor condition.
Royal Haskoning has provided updated mapping, which identifies the following within the catchment:
- main rivers
- surface water catchments
- waste water treatment works (WwTWs)
The following maps are available to download:
Focussed catchment maps
We will add updated mapping data to our NNDC web map shortly.
- We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the WwTW data, and you should contact Anglian Water for further information.
- Developments within the catchment area that will drain to a WwTWs within the catchment will need to complete stages 1 to 3 of the Norfolk calculator.
- Developments outside the catchment area that will connect to a WwTWs that drains to the catchment should not complete Stages 2 and 3 of the Norfolk calculator.
- A site located within the hydrological catchment drains to a WwTWs outside of the catchment, then, mitigation is not required.
Frequently asked questions
These FAQs will be updated shortly reflecting the introduction of the Norfolk Nutrient Budget Calculator.
What is Nutrient Neutrality?
In March 2022, Natural England issued advice to all Councils in Norfolk about the impact of phosphorus and nitrogen on water quality within the wider catchment of the River Wensum and The Broads. This advice impacts a large area of Norfolk, including:
- Broads Authority
- Broadland and South Norfolk
- Great Yarmouth
- North Norfolk
What water bodies are affected?
Across Norfolk, catchments of the River Wensum Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and The Broads SAC are impacted.
What does the Natural England advice mean?
Unless it can be demonstrated that certain development proposals will not add to the phosphorus and nitrogen issue, planning permission for a range of development types, including additional overnight accommodation, should not be granted according to Natural England. This advice affects existing planning proposals already submitted and prevents many decisions from being issued at this time. The advice also impacts future plans or projects within the wider catchment area.
How do I know if nutrient neutrality impacts a specific site?
Natural England provided maps in March, but at a scale that made it challenging to identify specific sites in detail. Each Local Planning Authority now has maps on its website showing the catchment in more detail, which will enable the identification of particular sites. Unfortunately, we are unable to share those maps. However, if you are unsure which sites are affected, please contact your Case Officer or Natural England.
What applications are affected?
Whilst the advice covers all types of overnight accommodation, including:
- new homes
- student accommodation
- care homes
- tourism attractions
- tourist accommodation
- permitted development (which gives rise to new overnight accommodation)
It also affects any development not involving overnight accommodation but may have non-sewerage water quality implications, including various commercial or agricultural-related schemes.
My site is not in the catchment – does that mean it is not affected by nutrient neutrality?
In most cases, if you are well outside the catchment, then the nutrient neutrality advice from Natural England will not likely apply. However, where schemes are closer to the catchment boundary, it will be important to understand if foul flows from additional overnight accommodation will be processed at Wastewater Recycling Centres, which discharge into the affected catchments. In those circumstances, the Local Planning Authority will require further information from an accredited source to demonstrate where a specific site drains.
Where can I find information about where foul flows drain from my site?
Where development drains into Anglian Water’s network, you can obtain this information from their digdat service. There is a cost for this service. Anglian Water cannot advise where you intend to drain into a private network or sewage treatment plant, nor can they provide advice regarding NN or mitigation.
Why are mapping data relating to nutrient neutrality not in the public domain and free of charge?
Each Council has maps on their website showing the affected catchments, enabling the identification of specific sites. However, with foul flows, Norfolk Councils do not have catchment maps for Wastewater Recycling Centres for the public domain due to map licencing issues.
What are the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2017, and why do they matter?
The Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2017 (Habitats Regs) require local planning authorities to ensure that new development does not cause adverse impacts to the integrity of protected habitats. These protected habitats would include Special Areas of Conservation such as the River Wensum and The Broads.
The Local Planning Authority is the competent authority under the Habitats Regulations and will need to assess the implications of nutrient enrichment for relevant plans and projects within its area. Where the Local Planning Authority cannot lawfully conclude that development within the catchment of the River Wensum or the Broads Special Area of Conservation and Ramsar site will not have an adverse effect, permission would have to be refused. However, where there is sufficient evidence to rule out likely significant effects, permission can be granted.
What is the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, and why does it matter?
Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (as amended) places a duty on local authorities to conserve and enhance biodiversity, including when exercising its functions as a Local Planning Authority. Councils are under increasing pressure to ensure that development does not result in a net loss of biodiversity.
What impact do phosphorus and nitrogen have on water quality and the condition of Special Areas of Conservation?
In freshwater habitats and estuaries, poor water quality due to nutrient enrichment from elevated nitrogen and phosphorus levels is one of the primary reasons for habitat sites being in unfavourable condition. Excessive levels of nutrients can cause the rapid growth of certain plants through the process of eutrophication. The effects of this look different depending on the habitat. However, in each case, biodiversity is lost, leading to sites being in ‘unfavourable condition’.
What do Local Planning Authorities need to do?
Each Local Planning Authority (LPA) is the competent authority required to fully consider the nutrients implications on affected sites when determining affected planning applications.
The LPA will need to carry out a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA). It is suggested that if your development is affected, then you provide a shadow HRA and then carry out, based on the scientific evidence provided, an Appropriate Assessment (AA). This assessment establishes whether the proposal will have a significant effect (alone or in combination) on a protected site.
The competent authority should only grant permission if they have made certain at the time of Appropriate Assessment that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of a habitats site, in that, where no reasonable scientific doubt remains as to the absence of effects.
The Natural England advice states that LPAs need to apply a “precautionary approach”.
Why can’t you ignore the Natural England advice and grant planning permission for affected schemes?
Local Planning Authorities are the competent authority under the Habitats Regulations, they could, in theory, disregard the advice of Natural England. In most cases, it would likely be considered unlawful to grant planning permission where it could not be demonstrated beyond reasonable scientific doubt that a plan or project would not cause adverse impacts to the integrity of protected habitats. Planning permissions issued without proper regard to the Habitats Regulations (or other legal duties) may be subject to legal challenge, if successful, could lead to planning permission being quashed.
What does mitigation look like?
Mitigating the impact of phosphorus and nitrogen on water quality within the wider catchment of the River Wensum and The Broads is complex. Ideally, each development should seek to achieve nutrient neutrality. Achieving nutrient neutrality often requires mitigation as part of development, either in the form of on-site treatment of wastewater and surface water runoff or by offsetting any increase in nutrient loading by converting land on or off-site with woodlands or wetlands or through other means of mitigation designed to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen entering into the river. Work is ongoing to establish a range of short, medium and long-term mitigation options.
Can I pay a tariff and have my permission approved?
It is very likely that as mitigation options are identified and ways to deliver mitigation secured, tariff schemes may be created, enabling developers to pay a tariff to be used towards off-site mitigation. Given that mitigation has not been identified nor has any delivery of mitigation been costed, identifying or setting an appropriate tariff rate is not currently possible. Until the mitigation measures required are clear, a tariff-based solution is unlikely to satisfy the requirements of the Habitats Regs.
How long is this going to take to resolve?
Experience from elsewhere across the country suggests that identifying appropriate mitigation solutions can take some time both in terms of understanding the type of mitigation required and securing that mitigation for 80 to 125 years as part of any tariff-based solution. In this case, the impact of phosphorus and nitrogen on water quality within the wider catchment of the River Wensum and The Broads requires mitigation, which adds to the complexity.
All affected Norfolk Authorities are working together to find a solution alongside relevant partners. Finding a solution is a high priority given the impact Natural England’s advice has on delivering housing and employment growth across Norfolk.
Why did Natural England not raise nutrient pollution concerns sooner as part of wider growth plans across the County?
Local Planning Authorities were surprised to receive the advice from Natural England when it did and without prior warning. However, the advice is now in the public domain. Unless it is subsequently withdrawn, the issues raised within the advice must be considered by each competent authority as part of the assessment under the Habitats Regulations.
Will Natural England be providing advice and support to Local Planning Authorities?
Natural England has provided the methodology and calculator tools in their advice and is working with Local Planning Authorities.
Natural England has indicated that it is for the competent authority, the Local Planning Authority, to assess whether a plan or project will result in adverse impacts on the integrity of protected habitats. It will be the competent authority who completes the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA). Natural England will, in most cases, be consulted when an HRA and AA are produced, but they may not necessarily provide detailed advice. Norfolk Authorities are working with Natural England to ensure that all necessary support and guidance are in place to enable smooth processing of applications, particularly once mitigation solutions are understood.
Will Natural England provide advice and support to applicants and agents on nutrient neutrality?
Whilst applicants and agents are free to contact Natural England. Early indications suggest they will not comment in detail on specific cases and will likely refer an applicant or agent back to the Local Planning Authority as they are the competent authority under the Habitats Regulations. Norfolk Authorities are working with Natural England to ensure that all necessary support and guidance are in place to enable smooth processing of applications, particularly once mitigation solutions are understood.
Catchment Area Map
Updated mapping data will be added to our NNDC web map shortly, reflecting the introduction of the Norfolk Nutrient Budget Calculator.
Use our catchment area map to check if your site is affected. This map will help identify whether a site falls within the catchments.
How to view the catchment areas
- Open the catchment area map.
- Select the menu What would you like to do?
- Select Map Features
- Select the symbol to the right of Area Regulation, Restriction & Mgmt
- Select Nutrient Neutrality Catchments