In this article the wastewater specialists at Water Treatment Services review the growing popularity of what’s being called “nutrient neutrality” and its impact on the planning application process and our approach to the treatment of wastewater from new building developments.
It explains what nutrient neutrality is and its implications for property developers and the planning process, why it’s important, the environmental benefits to be gained and how this all relates to the treatment of wastewater. So… let’s get started.
What is nutrient neutrality?
Nutrient neutrality is a phrase that has only just started to appear. Natural England published a record called Nutrient Neutrality Principles at the end of July 2023. The idea is that any developments or projects in England should not have any influence or effect on environmental nutrients in that area.
In more detail, it means that if activities in a certain area may lead to an increase in pollution, there should be mitigating measures taken to reduce that pollution to offset the effects. Ideally, there should be no impact at all, but in cases where pollution may occur, mitigating measures should be adopted to ensure there is no negative effect on the area concerned.
How does nutrient neutrality relate to the treatment of wastewater?
The concept of nutrient neutrality makes sense – the idea is to protect the natural world around us. Industry, farming, and other processes can all produce wastewater. If this wastewater is left to go into nearby rivers, ponds, and lakes, it can upset the delicate balance of nutrients in the water. As a worst case it can make the water sources harmful for both wildlife and for any humans who enter it.
While industry is responsible for large quantities of wastewater, housing developments can also create issues. Regulations are in place that require someone making a housing development application indicate how they will approach issues around nutrient neutrality.
For example, let’s say a residential housing developer puts in a planning application for a new housing estate. They do not consider the implications of this new estate on the surrounding water sources, such as lakes or rivers. In this scenario, their application is most likely to be rejected. The onus is on the developer to indicate whether there will be any impact on nearby water sources at any stage of their project. If there is likely to be an impact, they should also indicate how they plan to mitigate that risk. If they don’t do this, the application shouldn’t go through.
The idea, then, is for any new development to be “nutrient neutral” – that is, to have no adverse effect on the surrounding habitat sites. In the UK, the government has created a Nutrient Mitigation Scheme to help achieve this. On the plus side, it could lead to more wetlands and woodlands being developed to counteract any impact seen through wastewater from new building projects and sites.
How does wastewater treatment factor into nutrient mitigation?
Clearly, there is a need to treat wastewater to ensure that it does not add unwanted nutrients to local water sources and the wider natural environment. This holds true for both businesses and residential sites. There are several systems that can handle wastewater treatment on site, thereby making it easier to remove as many nutrients as possible before the waste water is discharged.
Many modern treatment systems are energy efficient and require little maintenance. This makes them ideal for anything from a single property to a large and complex industrial site.
The variation between the nature of the sites, nearby water sources and natural habitats, and the commercial, industrial, or residential type of site in place, could lead to complex requirements in each case. Fortunately, there is the opportunity to create targeted nutrient neutral solutions that are customised to each location.
Nutrient mitigation schemes will see new habitats created
One of the highlights of the nutrient mitigation scheme is that new habitats such as wetlands and woodlands are set to be developed to help offset any nutrient pollution that is unavoidable. This also bodes well for areas where new housing estates are likely to spring up in large numbers.
During these early stages it remains to be seen how the scheme performs, but taking action to limit the effects of wastewater and its associated, potentially polluting nutrients is certainly a major and positive step to take.
The bottom line: Reducing nutrient pollution from wastewater must be a good thing
Maintaining water quality is of paramount importance in our natural environments. Indeed, in some areas, reducing the number of pollutants is a target that is yet to be met. The new nutrient scheme looks set to help on that score, with property developers able to purchase nutrient mitigation credits from Natural England, currently focusing on the Tees catchment area.
Reducing nutrient pollution and focusing on the future
While industry does create a lot of wastewater, it’s clear that new housing developments are also part of the problem. The new mitigation scheme should minimise the impact such wastewater has on the environment. Anyone intending to build new properties should make sure they take all necessary steps to minimise the amount of wastewater going into the surrounding habitats.
Furthermore, finding solutions for wastewater treatment will help increase the chances of having planning permission granted first time, with no issues. The scheme is open to property developers finding their own solutions to this, rather than simply stating what they must do. However, they are also there to provide support and advice, and the government website has more information on the scheme for those who are interested in reading about it.
What is a Habitats Regulations Assessment?
A Habitats Regulations Assessment is required for any new planning application, and there are businesses who can provide this type of assessment for those making the application. It’s possible to simply put in an application for planning permission. However, if you are unsure about the impact the project could have on the surrounding land and watercourses, a habitats assessment will provide answers. It also shows you have done your homework, identified any potential issues with local habitats, and can provide mitigating steps to combat any potential issues. This makes it more likely that your application will pass this step first time.
Will a nutrient neutrality approach benefit natural habitats?
Since the scheme is just getting underway, it is too early to say what the outcome will be. Certainly, some planning applications may be rejected if they have not made sufficient progress in providing evidence of mitigation regarding wastewater and its effect on the surrounding area. However, with many knock-on effects of wastewater and nutrients entering natural water sources, some which may take years to see, this scheme is vital.
We shall keep track of the scheme and its progress closely. With new housing estates springing up almost around every corner, it is clearly vital that every possible step is taken to reduce the effects they can have on the quality of our natural environments.
Expert wastewater management solutions
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