Nitrates Crisis: Councils call on government to suspend housing targets

Local authorities in south Hampshire have called on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to suspend the forthcoming housing delivery tests because excess nitrogen levels at protected sites have stymied new planning approvals.

The 12 local authorities, collectively represented as the Partnership for South Hampshire (PfSH), wrote to housing minister Esther McVey late last month describing the current situation “untenable”. 

They local authorities have formally asked the housing department to suspend the government’s annual assessments for home delivery targets due to the “severely reduced” number of planning permissions granted in south Hampshire during this financial year. 

Since June, the 12 local authorities have been dealing with a planning freeze due to updated legal advice from Natural England, which said that new developments in the Solent region – home to EU legally protected sites – should only be permitted if they are nutrient-neutral, particularly in relation to nitrates. 

Natural England has found that a number of sites across the Solent are in an ”unfavourable condition” due to agricultural runoff and wastewater from treatment works. This has lead to eutrophication negatively impacting the Solent’s protected habitats and bird species. 

While some councils in south Hampshire have been trying to find a strategic solution, such as a nitrate offsetting mechanism proposed by Portsmouth City Council and a nitrate-neutral planning policy by Havant Borough Council, many remain unable to deal with a backlog of housing applications stuck in the planning system

In the letter, Sean Woodward, chairman at PfSH and leader at Fareham Borough Council, wrote, “any short-term measures that PfSH local authorities are undertaking to resume 'business as usual' will need to complement any wider solutions identified by your officials”. 

The MHCLG has yet to issue guidance on the issue, although it has met PfSH and other stakeholders. It has been contacted for comment.

Separately, Woodward wrote a letter to DEFRA calling on the environment department to tighten up water companies’ environmental permits in the area.

To view the PfSH letter sent to the housing minister in full click here

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