Natural England's assessments during 2019/20 suggest that more than 3000 hectares of the intertidal parts of Chichester Harbour, which is the subject of several European designations, is now classified in an "unfavourable - declining" condition. Natural England's Condition Review of Chichester Harbour sites was published in February 2021.
Water quality is a contributing factor to the build-up of excess nutrients in the Harbour causing eutrophication (algal growth) which impacts on the Harbour's ecology and conservation. Sewage from new development using waste water treatment works or an on-site package treatment plant that discharges to Chichester Harbour contributes to the excess nutrients in the Harbour (albeit in small amounts relative to other sources) and therefore needs to be considered in line with the Habitats Regulations. This means that before agreeing to a proposal (such as a planning application or a development plan) the authority needs to undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment and be satisfied that the proposal will not have any adverse impact on the protected site or sites. Certain types of new development will now need to be nutrient neutral to avoid detrimental harm to the Harbour's ecology and conservation.
Natural England published detailed guidance on achieving nutrient neutrality (updated June 2020) which includes a methodology for calculating the "nutrient budget" of proposed development.
On 16 March 2022 Natural England updated their advice and guidance for calculating the nutrient budget. This advice is based on the most up-to-date scientific information regarding water quality and so must be taken into account in preparing Habitats Regulations Assessments on planning applications.
As part of the information needed to determine planning applications, if a relevant proposal (primarily those involving an overnight stay) is likely to discharge into Chichester Harbour, then a nitrogen budget will need to be prepared and submitted with the planning application. Natural England's Guidance sets out when and how nutrient neutrality must be achieved with catchment maps to clarify the areas that are affected.
Natural England's new advice is available to view:
The Government issued a Ministerial Statement on 20 July 2022 pledging a package of further measures to tackle nutrient pollution including tabling an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to place a new statutory duty on water and sewerage companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works in nutrient neutrality areas, as well as supporting Natural England to establish a Nutrient Neutrality Strategic Mitigation Scheme. Further details will be announced by Natural England in the Autumn.
The Rivers Trust and Constructed Wetland Association have set up a Constructed Wetlands Hub where specific details around designing and constructing wetlands for nutrient neutrality can be found. In particular, the Natural England Framework for Wetland Mitigation Proposals has been produced by Natural England working with the Rivers Trust and the Constructed Wetland Association, to guide anyone interested in submitting a proposal for wetland designed to deliver nutrient neutrality.
Southern Water has produced a helpful infographic providing a broad overview of the issues of nitrates in Chichester Harbour, and this is also available to view.
We are a working with the Partnership for South Hampshire (PfSH) and other authorities affected by the issue of nutrients through the PfSH Water Quality Working Group. In light of the advice from Natural England, one of the key areas of work that the PfSH Water Quality Group is currently focused on, is nutrient mitigation. PfSH publish a list of currently available potential nutrient mitigation schemes.
PfSH and other affected authorities, including Chichester, have together employed a Strategic Environmental Planning Officer (SEPO) whose primary objective is to provide a strategic response to the issue of nutrient neutrality across the impacted areas of the Solent. As well as providing a single point of contact to the development industry and landowners who may be able to offer mitigation solutions, the SEPO monitors the supply and demand relating to nutrient neutrality mitigation and engages with stakeholders to facilitate mitigation schemes coming forward to satisfy demand. The SEPO also aims to promote consistency between local planning authorities regarding the legal process required to secure mitigation through the planning process.
The SEPO's progress is reported in a "Nutrient Mitigation Update" newsletter and as these are published, they will be made available to access:
The Solent nutrient market pilot project seeks to develop and trial a nutrient trading process, testing the feasibility and costs of a market-based approach to trading nutrient credits, and exploring how multiple benefits can be delivered. The pilot is being led by DEFRA, working with Natural England, the Partnership for South Hampshire and other partners including the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.
Further details including FAQs for nutrient credit suppliers and developers is available from the PfSH Defra Trading Platform webpage whilst a project update and helpful infographics explaining the need for nutrient neutrality, how the trading platform works and the landowner process are available below.