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Nutrient Neutrality in Swale

Nutrient pollution (from nitrates and phosphates) in streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries has an adverse effect on delicate ecosystems by causing eutrophication and algal blooms.

The law requires that competent authorities (including Local Authorities such as Swale Borough Council) must carefully consider the impacts of any new plans and projects on habitats sites (including Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas), and whether those impacts may have an adverse effect on the integrity of a habitat site which requires mitigation. Areas where there is a potential for harm to failing habitats sites due to additional nutrients can receive nutrient neutrality advice, meaning that additional nutrient impact from development must be mitigated.

The Stodmarsh Nature Reserve is in the Stour valley near Canterbury. It is protected as a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Ramsar site as well as a Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive. It is managed by Natural England. A review during 2017/18 identified that some of the lakes there had raised nitrogen and phosphorus levels. As a consequence, in July 2020, Natural England issued nutrient neutrality advice for the catchment that feeds the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve.  This means that Local Planning Authorities can only approve development if they are certain it will not have an adverse effect on the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve habitat site.

What sort of development is impacted?

Any development that would result in a net increase in population serving a wastewater system (eg new homes and accommodation including tourist accommodation) is impacted. It includes applications validated but not yet determined, reserved matters applications, decisions to grant prior to completion of a Section 106 Agreement/other matters, permitted development, prior approval, certificates of lawfulness and appeals. This is to ensure that new development does not cause any further deterioration of water quality at Stodmarsh in terms of nitrate and phosphate discharges.

Is my site in a Nutrient Impact Area?

Nutrient neutrality advice impacts a small part of Swale east and south of Dunkirk and east of Oversland.

Map showing locations of nutrient and neutrality information

Detailed mapping of the Nutrient Impact Area is available using the MAGIC mapping platform:

  • Open the weblink and turn on the SSSI Impact Risk Zone (IRZ) layer. This can be found in the Table on Contents (left hand side) by ticking:

Designations > Land-based designations > Statutory > SSSI Impact Risk Zones (purple outline)

  • Using the ‘i’ button you can pull up the Site Check Results and it will say NUTRIENT IMPACT AREA towards the bottom next to Notes 2, if it is affected by nutrient neutrality.

What do I need to do if my site is in the Nutrient Impact Area?

Natural England has advised competent authorities that mitigation measures forming part of a Habitats Regulations Assessment must demonstrate no adverse effect ‘beyond reasonable scientific doubt’ and that the benefits of the mitigation measures must be ‘certain at the time of the Assessment’ before planning permission can be given. Any development that will have an adverse effect will need to provide suitable mitigation.

Natural England, Kent County Council and the local authorities in the Stodmarsh/River Stour catchment are currently investigating possible mitigation measures with the support of the Department of Levelling Up, Homes and Communities (DLUHC). In the meantime, Swale Borough Council is taking a precautionary approach and will require Appropriate Assessments (AA) for all relevant development.

If you have a planning application currently under consideration you should:

  • read the advice from DLUHC and Natural England set out below
  • speak with the Planning case officer to discuss any suggested mitigation If you are thinking of submitting a planning application

You can:

Advice from Natural England and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The documents and links below provide more information on Nutrient Neutrality. Please keep an eye out for updates.

The following websites also provide useful information

The Planning Advisory Service supports local authorities to manage the impacts of nutrient neutrality and deliver mitigation and is a useful place to keep up to date with the latest news on nutrient neutrality.

Defra Policy Paper – Nutrient pollution: reducing the impact on protected sites (Updated 31st March 2023)

Government Guidance on the process of Habitats Regulation Assessment/Appropriate Assessment guidance on protected sites and areas and how to review planning applications and government guidance on appropriate assessment.

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