Water Quality Issues in the Solent Catchment Area

An update on Nitrates

The context

The Solent has recognised problems from nitrate enrichment; high levels of nitrogen from human activity and agricultural sources in the catchment have caused excessive growth of green algae (a process called eutrophication) which is having a detrimental impact upon protected habitats and bird species. Since mid-April 2019 Natural England (NE) has required developers in south Hampshire including the Borough of Eastleigh to quantify the nitrate level of their development and mitigate any increase in nitrates compared to the existing land use. A development must demonstrate how it will ensure for at least 80 years there will be no nitrate loading from the development within the Solent.

Ultimately this issue needs to be dealt with at a Government level and the Council will continue to lobby government and work with other Councils, Partnership for South Hampshire (PfSH) and other outside bodies to find a long term solution to this issue. Whilst this is progressing, at a strategic level, PfSH continues to develop a coordinated strategy to mitigate the impact of additional residents in new housing.

What we're doing 

Council planners have agreed with Natural England a short-term interim strategy to enable planning decisions to continue to be issued (whilst meeting our obligations under the Habitat's Regulations) while a more comprehensive and strategic solution is determined. With mitigation measures in place, the Council will be able to continue to grant planning permissions to ensure we continue to deliver much-needed new homes. 

For all current and new planning applications, planning staff have asked developers to undertake a nutrient budgeting assessment using Natural England’s methodology. A nitrate neutral development can be achieved in a number of ways, one of which is working with the Council to seek to remove land that the Council owns from an agricultural use to offset any increase in nitrates as a result of the development.

A report to the Cabinet meeting scheduled for 19 March 2020 recommended that where an applicant sought to offset the nitrate generated by a development against Council owned land, that nitrate credits are charged for each new dwelling or development that generates overnight accommodation.

The Cabinet meeting was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the pandemic, wherever possible decisions had been deferred, however, there are decisions that still need to be taken to ensure services can continue effectively.  One of these is the decision on the nitrates charging policy.  The Council’s Constitution allows for urgent decisions to be taken by the Leader and the Chief Executive and the decision has been taken to approve with immediate effect the recommendations as written within the Cabinet report on charging for nitrate credits.  

In light of the urgent decision, for any current undetermined planning application and any future planning applications seeking to offset nitrates against Council owned land, a charge of £4,500 per dwelling and £1,800 per room for care homes and tourism developments will be levied and secured by S106. For development proposals that offset their entire nitrate loading via alternative mitigation arrangements a nitrate credit charge will not be sought by the Council.

A link to the Cabinet paper can be found here