Nutrient neutrality advice
In March 2022 Natural England notified the Council that the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast Special Protection Area (SPA) is in an unfavourable condition due to nutrient enrichment, which includes pollution from nitrates, including nitrogen.
- Natural England notification to Council [pdf document]
The whole of Darlington Borough is located within the identified catchment area of the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA, which is the whole River Tees catchment, identified on thismap [pdf document].
The Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast protected area is a wetland habitat comprising an area of complex coastal habitats centred on the Tees estuary and includes habitats such as sandflats, mudflats, rocky foreshore, saltmarsh, sand dunes, wet grassland and freshwater lagoons. These habitats support internationally important populations of breeding and nonbreeding waterbirds and a high density of benthic (bottom-dwelling) invertebrates.
What does this mean?
To comply with the Conservation of Habitat and Species Regulations [external link], before granting planning permission for certain types of development the Local Planning Authority must be satisfied that the proposal is nutrient neutral and will not have an adverse effect on the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA by increasing nutrient pollution. This means no increase in nitrogen discharge into watercourses.
What types of development are affected?
- New overnight accommodation (including new dwellings, HMOs, new camping, glamping or caravan pitches served by on-site toilet or washing facilities, or new hotel bedroom accommodation);
- New tourism development which is likely to increase the number of day visitors to a premises;
- Agricultural development which will result in an increase in stock numbers;
- Anaerobic digesters;
- All other developments (excluding householder extensions but including commercial developments) – where on-site overnight accommodation is provided.
Any other very significant commercial developments that attract people as visitors or for employment from outside the catchment area will need to be considered on their individual circumstances. You are advised to discuss these at an early stage with Planning Officers.
What type of applications are affected?
The requirement to demonstrate Nutrient Neutrality applies to all full and outline planning applications for the types of development set out above.
In light of the Fry Judgement [pdf document], it also applies to reserved matters applications and applications to discharge pre-commencement planning conditions where Nutrient Neutrality has not previously been considered at earlier stages of the decision-making process.
Classes of permitted development which require “prior approval” from the Local Planning Authority, falling within the types of development identified above, will also need to demonstrate Nutrient Neutrality.
The Prior Approval decision notice issued for an applicable development will include an informative saying that prior to commencement of the development, a Regulation 77 application should be made to demonstrate that the proposal is nutrient neutral and to secure the appropriate mitigation where necessary.
What do I need to do?
To enable the Local Planning Authority to establish if your proposal is Nutrient Neutral through the Habitat Regulations Screening & Appropriate Assessment, applicants must provide a completed Nutrient Neutrality Budget Calculator, evidence of secured mitigation (where applicable) and a Nutrient Neutrality Statement.
Further details of what these should include is set out in the following steps: (click to drop down)
For proposals generating overnight accommodation this can be done by completing the Natural England Nutrient Neutrality Budget Calculator [excel document] for the Tees Catchment.
The Council has also produced a Nutrient Neutrality Budget Calculator guidance note [pdf document] advising on the inputs and assumptions to be used within the calculator in Darlington Borough. This includes the average occupancy rate that should be used. This is informed by the occupancy report commissioned to review the average occupancy rates for the Tees Catchment.
Other types of development that nutrient neutrality applies to will need to produce a bespoke calculator to establish the nutrient budget for that particular proposal.
All applications that need to demonstrate Nutrient Neutrality must provide a completed Nutrient Neutrality Budget Calculator evidencing the nutrient budget of the proposal
Where a completed Nutrient Neutrality Budget Calculator identifies that an additional total annual nitrogen load needs to be mitigated, applicants will need to demonstrate and evidence how this mitigation will be identified and secured.
Mitigation can be provided on site or off site. Off site mitigation must be located in the Tees Catchment Area.
Mitigation could be provided in the form of purchasing nutrient credits from the Natural England Tees Catchment Nutrient Mitigation Credit Scheme or from other Nutrient Credit Schemes in the Tees Catchment (subject to verification).
The Natural England Nutrient Credits Mitigation Scheme releases credits in rounds with three rounds already released in 2023. The next round has been delayed and will now open to applications from 19 February 2024. Press release on the delay [external site]. Further information on the credit scheme is available on Natural England’s Website [external site].
Natural England do not check submitted Budget Calculators when assessing credit applications so we would encourage you to provide these to the Council to check ([email protected]) before submission to avoid applying for the incorrect amount of credits.
Should you be using Nutrient Credits as mitigation then a countersigned Provisional Credit Certificate will need to be submitted before the Council can complete the appropriate assessment on your proposal.
Off Site Mitigation Land
Mitigation could also be provided in the form of the change in land use of off-site land from a higher to certain lower nitrogen generating uses. For example, cereals (arable) or lowland (grazing) to woodland. This land must be owned by the applicant and be located within the Tees Catchment.
In order for the Council to complete the appropriate assessment applicants seeking to use off site land as mitigation will need to submit:
- Evidence of the mitigation land's current use such as a Baseline Condition Assessment,
- Evidence and details of how the proposed habitat will be created, such as a Planting Schedule,
- Evidence of how the proposed habitat will be managed and monitored in perpetuity, such as a Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan,
- A separate completed Nutrient Neutrality Budget Calculator including the mitigation land.
A legal mechanism will also need to be used to secure the land for nutrient neutrality mitigation purposes in perpetuity.
Other nutrient mitigation measures
Other measures which could be taken to reduce nitrogen pollution from development proposals include:
- Lower Water usage - You may wish to consider ways in which your development could reduce the water usage lower than the 120 litres per person per day (which is used in the calculator).
- Lower water usage rates should be evidenced properly and submitted with your completed budget calculator.
- Sustainable Drainage Schemes (SuDs) – You may also wish to consider the inclusion of SuDs and design this to maximise the opportunity to capture and remove nitrogen from the surface water runoff of your proposal. The Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) has published a guide, Using SuDs to reduce nitrogen in surface water runoff (2023) [pdf document], intended for areas where nutrient neutrality is required. The guide outlines the design criteria for a good SuDs scheme that can maximise the opportunity to capture and remove nitrogen.
A Nutrient Neutrality Statement should be produced and submitted to the Council which provides a summary of the approach and results of the Nutrient Neutrality Budget Calculator. This should also set out (where applicable) what mitigation will be used and how it will be secured.
The Council, in its role as the Competent Authority, will not be able to complete the Habitats Regulations Screening and Appropriate Assessment of applicable development proposals until all the required information set out above has been provided.