Hopes major announcement will end limbo blocking thousands of homes

Blue Green Algae on the Broads in Norfolk

Natural England says nutrient neutrality is necessary to prevent algal blooms on the Broads. - Credit: Mike Page

Hopes have been raised that a major new announcement will end the limbo blocking thousands of homes in Norfolk from being built.

The government has unveiled a raft of measures it says will mean homes can be built without causing pollution to waterways such as the River Wensum and the Broads.

Measures include a legal duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works by 2030.

Digger near homes

Decisions over housing have been put on hold due to the Natural England letter to Norfolk councils. - Credit: Chris Bishop

A new Nutrient Mitigation Scheme would see new woodland and wetland schemes created, which developers could buy 'credits' for - mitigating for the nutrients created by their projects.

Norfolk council leaders hope that will end a frustrating period when a directive from Natural England stopped them approving planning permission for homes within the catchment areas of the Wensum and the Broads.

The government advisor said, in March, councils could not approve plans involving 'overnight accommodation', until they could prove they would not lead to more nutrients flowing into waterways.

Such nutrients reduce oxygen in the water and make it harder for aquatic species to survive.

The government announcement was welcomed, although most councils said they needed to work through the detail.

John Fuller, leader of the South Norfolk Council

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council - Credit: Denise Bradley

South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller said. “This is a material and welcome change in the position from central government and Natural England placing responsibility on water companies to manage sewage outfall, which is obviously as it should be.

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"We need a short time to assess this new situation and then progressively and in a phased manner, unlock the planning applications that have been stuck."

Spokespeople for Norwich City Council, West Norfolk Council and North Norfolk Council said they needed to consider the latest announcement in more detail.

They said councils would work together to establish how it would be put into practice.

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “Our water recycling centres across Norfolk operate well within their current legal permit requirements, but we welcome the opportunity to go further to reduce the levels of nutrients such as phosphate and nitrogen entering the environment.

"We must recognise there are a number of other significant sources of these nutrients, in particular the agriculture sector and domestic septic tanks, and we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with other sectors and agencies including house builders to develop and fund a portfolio of options to solve this complex issue."

How will it work?

The Nutrient Mitigation Scheme will create new wetlands and woodlands.

The government says that will be done in partnership with green groups and other privately led nutrient mitigation schemes, with funding from Defra and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Those new habitats would ‘soak up’ or mitigate the impacts of unavoidable nutrient pollution.
 
The scheme will be open to all developers, with priority given to smaller builders who are most affected and will open in the autumn.

Tony Juniper

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England - Credit: Archant

Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said: "The duty on water companies and the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme mark significant steps forward, and will help join up the various approaches to improving water quality and bring about multiple other benefits.

"They will provide the tools needed to help planning authorities, developers and water and land managers to both build new homes and support the healthy rivers and lakes that are vital for restoring nature and creating beautiful places for everyone to enjoy.”