How do we stop the nutrient neutrality problem holding up development?


Thousands of homes across are on hold due to new ‘nutrient neutrality’ rules. In a special long-read for our A Fair Deal for Housing campaign, Joey Gardiner investigates the root of the problem

Catastrophic” is how one Herefordshire-based SME housebuilder describes it.  

Merry Albright, creative director at 40 year-old Leominster-based timber-frame housebuilder Border Oak, which employs 90 people and turns over more than £10m a year, is talking about the impact on her business of the ongoing planning moratorium caused by nutrient pollution – in her case around the River Wye, Lugg and Arrow catchments. She says the firm has now used up all the planning applications it had prior to the moratorium being imposed in October 2019. “This issue has ravaged our local construction sector,” she says. “It’s been incredibly difficult. All our own sites are in the affected areas, so we have little agility.” 

Albright’s business and hundreds of others like hers have been unable to secure permissions since Natural England guidance landed in 32 authorities from 2019 onwards, requiring that all residential applications prove themselves “nutrient neutral” in order to win approval. The issue is particularly frustrating because there is little if anything they can do on their own to meet Natural England’s requirements and break the logjam. 

And now, following revised guidance issued in March, a raft of 42 new areas across England are facing the same problem, meaning 74 local authorities in total have now been hit. This means more businesses are experiencing similar frustrations to Border Oak, and a similarly bleak prospect of delay and inertia. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) estimates 100,000 homes are now held up in planning across the country, as a result of these changes. 

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