Water resources in Northern Chichester District
Natural England is concerned that existing water abstraction in the Sussex North Water Resource Zone, which supplies part of the north of the district, is having an impact on protected sites in the Arun Valley. The increasing demand for water is thought to be harming internationally protected species, with the potential threat of extinction for some of these species. In response to this, Natural England has advised that new developments within this zone, which affects Horsham, Crawley and part of Chichester District (including some parts of the South Downs National Park) must not add to this impact. The area is served by supplies from a groundwater abstraction at Pulborough. This has the potential to impact upon the Arun Valley, a Special Area Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site. The council and other affected authorities continue to work together to further our collective understanding of the issue.
On 14 September 2021, the council received a position statement from Natural England setting out the interim approach. In December 2021, Natural England provided further guidance in response to frequently asked questions (FAQ's) from developers. A further advice note was issued by Natural England (February 2022) to be read together with the position statement, and Natural England has now published an updated FAQ document. All the documents are available to view:
Water neutrality and planning applications
What types of application are affected?
All development proposals that consume mains water are potentially impacted by the Natural England Position Statement.
Anyone considering a development in the affected area should read the guidance note in full. It is likely that householder planning applications (with the exception of proposals for annex accommodation and swimming pools) and all development granted under Schedule 2 Parts 1 and 2 of the General Permitted Development Order (GDPO) will be screened out under the Habitat Regulations, as there is no evidence that minor alterations to dwellings will directly result in an increase in water consumption.
All other development proposals that consume mains water are now required to demonstrate water neutrality. This includes all development other than that mentioned above. All applications for Reserved Matters, and most applications made under s.73 of the Town and Country Planning Act where amendments are sought to an outline planning permission, must also now demonstrate water neutrality. Applications made under s.73 of the Town and Country Planning Act where amendments are sought to full planning permission are unlikely to be required to demonstrate water neutrality, unless the change sought would materially increase water consumption. Applications to discharge conditions and make amendments under s.96A of the Town and Country Planning Act are not impacted, unless the amendment would clearly increase likely water consumption. Such an amendment would be considered a material change.
Development granted under the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) must still demonstrate water neutrality (except where it is screened out). Art. 3(1) of the GPDO states that planning permission is granted by the GPDO only where the provisions of the Order and regulations.75-78 of the Habitat Regulations have been complied with.
What information is required?
If a development will create demand (regardless of any existing use of the site) for mains water from the Sussex North Water Resource (Supply) Zone, the applicant must submit a Water Neutrality Statement setting out the existing and proposed water consumption figures and a scheme for how water neutrality will then be achieved. In the future, the submission of a water neutrality statement will likely become a local validation requirement.
Further guidance will be available shortly.
What if water is from a different source?
If development is not supplied by the abstractions in Sussex North Water Resource Zone, then there would be no need to demonstrate water neutrality. The applicant will however, need to evidence where the supply to their site comes from and obtain Southern Water's agreement that the supply is sourced from outside the supply zone.
Water Neutrality and Planning Policy
The council is working on a joint study with neighbouring affected authorities, along with Natural England, Southern Water and the Environment Agency, to quantify the scale of the issue and identify a proposed mitigation strategy to address this issue.
It is currently envisaged that the study will comprise of three parts:
Part A: Individual local authority areas assessment
The study calculates the individual impact of each local authority on water resources using estimates of future growth. The contribution that could be theoretically possible from different measures is also presented.
Part B: In-combination assessment
The individual authority assessments have been combined into a Water Supply Zone assessment and the report is published below. Part C, the mitigation strategy, will then follow towards the end of the summer.
Part C: Determine mitigation
The third part of this study, this mitigation strategy, is published below along with a statement from Natural England.
Further updates will be available on this webpage.