Letter to Rt Hon Michael Gove MP Regarding Nutrient Neutrality

July 10, 2023

10 July 2023

Dear Secretary of State,

Re. the right approach to solving the nutrient neutrality crisis

It has come to my attention that the Government may be seeking a legislative means through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) to remove the requirement for new development to mitigate additional nutrient pollution in affected areas of England. The nutrient neutrality crisis has become a significant barrier to the delivery of new homes in England and Wales and I recognise that failure to deliver much-needed housing is hurting local economies and people. Meeting the requirements of nutrient neutrality is complex and has required a new way of thinking about old problems. It has taken the Environmental Sector time to establish approaches to delivering nutrient neutral development, but we are now on the cusp of having a toolbox of solutions that can quickly remove the block on development in affected areas while also helping the Development Sector to improve its sustainability. I am concerned that a new attempt to use the LURB to remove the requirement for nutrient neutrality will only add more uncertainty and, pivotally, delay reaching a solution to this crisis.

It is highly likely that using the LURB to override the Habitats Regulations that underpin nutrient neutrality will result in legal challenge and/or require additional legislation, making it a very slow process. At a time when the public is more aware and increasingly angry about threats to the health of our rivers, taking this approach risks a public backlash, as well as further weaponizing nutrient neutrality for those who are anti-development to block housing in their local areas. I am concerned that this trajectory for nutrient neutrality will direct focus away from the fastest approach to dealing with this crisis: a widespread rollout of simple but effective nutrient mitigation solutions.

The market-led approach taken in the Solent was looked at as the model for how to respond to nutrient neutrality. New development in the Solent needs to mitigate nitrogen and it is possible to generate enough nitrogen mitigation through agricultural land fallowing, at least in the short-term. However, phosphorus mitigation is required in 24 of the 27 affected catchment areas and land fallowing cannot generate phosphorus mitigation at the scale required to support nutrient neutral development. These difficulties in generating phosphorus mitigation have stymied the development of nutrient markets in other affected areas. In these areas, other mitigation solutions are required to facilitate a functioning nutrient mitigation market.

Wetlands have been looked to as the other key mitigation solution because, when put in the right places, they can be used to generate large quantities of both nitrogen and phosphorus mitigation. However, wetlands schemes are complex, requiring significant planning and deployment works that mean they take at least 18 months to deliver. There are also few good deployment locations meaning that landowners can place ransom demands on land, making wetlands harder and more costly to deliver. Wetlands are part of the solution to nutrient neutrality, but we need other options.

Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) can now be specified to help reduce a development’s mitigation requirements by tackling the nutrient pollution from land use that comes from a site post-development. But SuDS can rarely be used as a solution to achieve nutrient neutrality. There is still a need for offsite mitigation solutions.

Greenshank Environmental is bringing forward proposals for mitigation solutions that take advantage of simple approaches to managing water within agricultural landscapes. Through our work with Natural England and further extensive research, I am confident that these solutions can deliver mitigation with the required certainty to comply with the Habitats Regulations and without the problems associated with fallowing and wetland schemes.

These solutions can be delivered economically, quickly and in an integrated manner so that farmers can keep on farming. We require access to drainage ditches and small watercourses and by putting these measures in the right places, they can generate significant quantities of nutrient mitigation. Most deployments should not require planning permission and, assuming they are designed and sited correctly, they should provide environmental enhancements that are compatible with environmental regulations.

The Government’s decision to allow the development of a market-led solution to nutrient neutrality only works where there is liquidity of mitigation in each local catchment market. Until now, there has been a lack of solutions to support liquidity. We are on the cusp of changing this. With a model that works in partnership with farmers and landowners to deploy mitigation schemes on their land, we see minimal barriers to deploying schemes, bringing liquidity to mitigation markets across the country.

Some of the key issues to overcome are a lack of resource at Natural England to assess mitigation scheme proposals and a lack of legal templates that enable Local Planning Authorities to easily link nutrient mitigation schemes to planning applications. Both issues can be overcome, especially as more schemes get deployed and industry becomes more familiar with these approaches.

Using the approach to generating nutrient mitigation that we are spearheading, schemes can be ready to deploy and support planning applications in nine months. We think this presents the fastest solution to the nutrient neutrality problem, while also achieving wider objectives of environmental protection and embedding another aspect of sustainability in housebuilding. If the Government pursues a legislative attempt to remove nutrient neutrality, it will only result in a longer timeline to reach a solution to this crisis while sending the wrong message about the dire need to address the environmental problems we face nationally and globally.

We would welcome the chance to brief you in more detail on how we think the nutrient issue can be solved quickly and to the benefit of the environment.

Yours sincerely,


Dr Gabriel Connor-Streich

CEO, Greenshank Environmental


Dr Gabriel Connor Streich

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