Neutral Impact artwork
The 50 Shades of Planning Podcast

Neutral Impact

  • E38
  • 59:47
  • February 27th 2021

Eutrophication might not have been a word that planners came across too often before November 2018, but many now know if they didn’t before then that it is the process by which nutrient-laden water encourages algae growth to the extent that it starves water and sediments of oxygen, forms a barrier to birds feeding, smothers seagrass beds and saltmarshes.

Until November 2018 it was largely the case that an Appropriate Assessment undertaken to accompany development proposals affecting nutrient-sensitive Special Protection Areas (SPAs) would conclude that any impacts could be mitigated against. That month, however, the European Court of Justice ruled in two joined cases relating to the EU Habitats Directive, which together are know as the ‘Dutch case’. Depending on your point of view, this judgement either significantly raised the assessment bar or provided welcome clarification on how the Directive should have been being interpreted anyway. Either way, subsequent advice from Natural England, at first in relation to the Solent SPA, recommended that LPAs in and around sensitive areas should withhold planning permission unless negative impacts of development can be ruled out completely.

Eighteen months later the ramifications of the requirement for nitrogen and phosphorous neutrality are still being felt. What has the impact of this issue been? How far away is a satisfactory resolution in those parts of the country that have been affected? And, with change afoot for both the post-Brexit environmental assessment regime and the planning system more broadly, what lessons can be drawn for planning at the scale of a river catchment?

Sam Stafford puts these questions to James Cording (Turley), Max Tant (Kent County Council), Graham Horton (Natural England) and Marian Cameron (Marian Cameron Consultants Ltd).

Some accompanying reading.

Version 5 of Natural England’s ‘Advice on Achieving Nutrient Neutrality for New Development in the Solent Region’.

‘Solent nitrogen neutrality: 18 months on, where are we now?’ by Turley.

The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Nitrate Reduction Programme

The 50 Shades of Planning Podcast

Sam Stafford started writing the 50 Shades of Planning blog in 2012 and in 2019 turned it into a podcast. 50 Shades of Planning is about the foibles of the English planning system and it's aim is to cover the breadth of the sector both in terms of topics of conversation and in terms of guests with different experiences and perspectives. Why Fifty Shades? Well, planning is not a black and white endeavor. There are at least fifty shades in between...

Sam is on Twitter (@samuel_stafford) and his blogs can be found here: The 50 Shades of Planning Podcast is produced in association with BECG - the Built Environment Communications Group. BECG are on Twitter at @BECGUK and online at