Back in July 2020 Natural England issued advice to Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe, Maidstone and Thanet Councils under the catchy title of –
this advice has had a significant impact on the ability of Local Planning Authorities in East Kent to issue planning permissions for new homes within the Stour catchment area.
Their advice sets out that until the Stodmarsh protected site is restored to good condition, new developments cannot go ahead unless it can be shown that they will not contribute to any further deterioration of water quality at Stodmarsh. Developments need to show “neutrality” in terms of two nutrients – phosphorus and nitrogen – which, Natural England suggests, have the potential to harm the habitats at Stodmarsh.
In the absence of an agreed strategic solution, there has been a significant break in development activity in East Kent, which is the key growth area for the County.
The Kent authorities of Ashford, Canterbury, Dover Folkestone & Hythe, Maidstone & Thanet are developing a joint catchment-wide strategy, recognising the need for both interim and long term solutions to deliver the two key objectives:
Deliver planned growth to support the local economy and meet housing needs;
Bring the Stodmarsh site back into favourable condition at the earliest opportunity.
On-site treatment works and biodiversity enhancements have been agreed as solutions for two strategic sites in Canterbury District. A similar approach has been agreed for the Otterpool Park strategic site between Newingreen and Sellindge. These measures enable large sites to demonstrate that they are nutrient “neutral”.
The Natural England advice recognises however that smaller sites and brownfield developments may be harder to mitigate in this way. Outcomes of the Multi-agency work coordinated by Planning Advisory Service.
In Jan 2021 we understood Damian Green, MP for Ashford, met with a member of the Kent & Medway Business Partnership regarding the nutrient neutrality issue. He was informed the issue has resulted in a substantial brake on allocated site and regeneration aspirations in the region, and is causing significant economic concern in the construction sector.
Damian was asked for his support in seeking assistance from ministerial colleagues to, in turn, secure support from Southern Water Services (SWS), DEFRA, Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE) as follows.
Agree a Regional Nutrient Strategy with the key stakeholders.
Agree delivery dates for waste water treatment works (WWTW) improvements already in train within the current Asset Management Plan (AMP) to provide strategy certainty and deliver an immediate 31% reduction in nutrient load – SWS, DEFRA and EA .
Accelerate improvements to remaining WWTWs in region, ideally by reallocating funds from other Environmental projects to secure further substantial Nutrient reductions within the current AMP – SWS, DEFRA and EA.
Secure commitments for funding within the next AMP round to ensure all remaining WWTWs are brought up to best standards in conjunction with permit level reductions for nutrient loads to secure the improvements in perpetuity – SWS, DEFRA, EA.
All parties to sign up to the agreed Regional Strategy including the above commitments so that NE can also sign up to it and amend their advice to Planning Authorities to free up development activity.stakeholders.
Clearly to achieve these strategic aims, co-operation will be required between departments particularly for the allocation of committed funding.
Developers of course believe these improvements are in the national interest and affect existing populations as well as new development populations, such as:
All parties – statutory and developers appear to agree these works should be funded within existing Section106 monies to deliver the much needed local infrastructure improvements within the new developments put forward for the East Kent area.
Moving on, there has been a series of three meetings arranged by the Planning Advisory Service over the past couple of months, to find solutions to the problem. The affected Kent Authorities have attended along with Natural England, Southern Water, Environment Agency, DEFRA and MHCLG. The final meeting took place on the 10 February 2021.
The main outcomes of the PAS meetings were:
Agreement that a Catchment-wide Mitigation Strategy is needed;
Consensus around the two objectives of delivery growth and improving the water quality at Stodmarsh;
Agreement by Natural England that a strategic approach whereby nutrient “credits” from planned and potential projects in the catchment can be used as part of a long term strategy that will deliver housing in the short, medium and long term;
Explore opportunities to secure upgrades to Canterbury WWTW much sooner than 2030;
Agreement that there is a need to coordinate implementation of the Mitigation Strategy through a steering-group approach.
Work is underway in the Kent authorities to calculate the total nutrient loadings from planned development, and to identify potential existing nutrient “credits” to ascertain the residual level of nutrients requiring mitigation.
Kent & Medway Enterprise Partnership will continue to work with the Planning Advisory Service to progress a strategic approach to resolving the issues.
The East Kent Chief Executives are putting together a draft strategy which we anticipate PAS will assist in finalising and implementing. However, this will not be ready for some time to come as we understand.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful