Chief planner says councils may need to reconsider whether development plans acceptable

The government’s chief planner has told local authorities newly affected by expanded “nutrient neutrality” rules that they may need to reconsider whether existing development proposals are acceptable.

Crop_Joanna Averley Portrait_Credit Joanna Averley

Source: Joanna Averley

Joanna Averley is the government’s chief planner

Joanna Averley admitted in a letter to council planning bosses, sent yesterday, that the change will have an “immediate impact” on planning applications in those areas newly affected.

The letter came after the government on Wednesday launched a consultation on new rules which would see it expand by 42 the number of authorities deemed to contain protected habitats threatened by phosphate and nitrate pollution, where development must be screened to ensure it does not worsen the problem.

The issue, which has so far affected some 32 council areas across the South of England, has been blamed by housebuilders for the stalling of plans for tens of thousands of homes.

The shift sees the problem expand into areas of the Midlands, North west and North east and Yorkshire not previously affected, such as the Cheshire East, Copeland, County Durham, Carlisle, East Riding and Malvern Hills councils.

Averley stressed the department was working with environment quango Natural England to provide a “Nutrient Calculator” and other tools which it said would allow development to go ahead despite the new designations. However, her letter said: “I appreciate that this will have an immediate impact on planning applications and appeals in affected areas.

“There may be a need to reconsider the acceptability of current proposals, in light of the advice issued and you may need to consider seeking further information from applicants and reconsult as appropriate.”

>> See also How water neutrality is affecting development in some parts of the country

She advised councils to seek extensions of time where it will be necessary to reconsult on applications, adding: “We recognise that in the newly affected areas, it is unlikely for there to be mitigation solutions in-place or readily available and so the ability for development to be made
acceptable will be necessarily limited in the short term.

“As we have seen in catchments already affected by similar advice, it may take time for applicants to secure mitigation to be able to demonstrate neutrality.”

The impact of the rules, which relate to ensuring the protection of specially designated sites, is that before granting any new permissions, councils will need to be confident that the development in question either does not require nutrient neutrality to be acceptable under the regulations, or that nutrient neutrality is secured as part of the development proposal.

Housing within a greenfield area from above


Being able to prove either of these things is likely to require councils to reconsult on new proposals with Natural England. Averley urged councils to work with developers to come up with solutions to the problems in order to allow development to go ahead.

She added the government recognised the issue was “particularly challenging” for local authorities involved in plan-making, and said the government was “actively reviewing” the government’s Planning Practice Guidance in-light of the challenges of nutrient neutrality.

Averley concluded the letter by saying: “I understand that this is a very challenging situation and I would like to reassure you that we are here to provide you with the support you need to keep the planning processes running in your local area.”

A spokesperson from the Home Builders Federation (HBF) yesterday said the new rules could mean “tens of thousands more homes” could be stalled in addition to the existing moratorium, which he said had already affected plans for 60,000 homes.

James Stevens, director for cities at the HBF, said: “We are urging government to agree proportionate measures that reflect the contribution of housing delivery to the issue without delay. The situation has already been ongoing for some years and it is imperative that solutions are agreed and implemented urgently.”