Pollution ruling could cost developers more to build in New Forest

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Nitrates ruling
The Waterside seen from Warsash on the eastern side of Southampton Water

HOUSEBUILDERS may have to spend more money on providing extra green space to win permission for developments in the New Forest without worsening a regional pollution problem.

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The district council is looking at how to ensure new homes can be made “nitrate neutral” to stem the flow of the pollutant from settlements and agriculture into the Solent.

As reported in the A&T, some authorities on the south coast had to suspend planning approvals for months after a European Court of Justice ruling raised the bar for mitigating contamination of environmentally protected areas.

To avoid the same problem, NFDC has brought in a range of interim measures – which could make development in the area it controls outside the national park more expensive, potentially hindering the supply of new homes.

Actions to reduce nitrate run-off were set out in a report to the ruling cabinet. They included requiring developers’ contributions to “retire” farmland, provide more open space and “mini wetlands”, plant woodland, and retro-fit houses with water efficiency technology.

It would theoretically cost up to £45m to buy up as much as 1,400 hectares of farmland to offset the nitrates produced by the 10,500 homes proposed by 2036 in NFDC’s Local Plan, the report added.

The potential impact on developers was noted by Cllr Edward Heron, NFDC’s deputy leader and cabinet member for planning and infrastructure.

He told the A&T that it would be down to builders to set out how they would tackle extra nitrates before any new dwellings were occupied.

Any mitigation projects, he said, “will potentially require contributions for developments where on-site nutrient mitigation measures are not practical”.

NFDC’s cabinet report also pointed out Natural England has warned councils that planning permissions failing to mitigate nitrates fully could be challenged in court. However, the Environment Agency – which is also part of Defra – has said no further investment was needed.

NFDC was “concerned about a potential lack of a coordinated approach between these bodies,” Cllr Heron added.

He said the council was working with others in the area as well as government bodies to come up with long-term solutions.

One of the New Forest’s biggest developers, Pennyfarthing Homes, said it had not been affected by the nitrates issue yet but was seeking advice from consultants and talking with the council.

It planned to use Natural England’s standard calculation to work out how much mitigation it would have to pay for, said Guy Peirson-Hagger, strategic planning manager.

He said: “We take the situation very seriously and fully understand the need to protect the ecologically sensitive areas around our coastline.

“We will work with the relevant authorities in order to work toward a solution to the problem.”

Fareham Borough Council was among those authorities that suspends planning permissions while it worked out what to do.

Earlier this month it brought in interim measures so it could resume allowing developments on condition no homes are occupied without “appropriate mitigation” agreed to be nitrogen neutral.

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