Achieving nutrient neutrality

Back in the summer of 2020, local planning authorities in the River Stour catchment were told that any new developments that included an overnight stay must not increase the level of nutrients and nitrogen in the River Stour as it was having a negative impact on the Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve.

This mainly covered the areas of Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone, Hythe and Maidstone. In effect, it has put the brake on any new housing developments for the past three years, whilst a solution was being sought. These areas had set their housing targets, got developers onboard and were ready to get started on much-needed housing growth.

When I first heard about this, I have to admit that I had no idea what it was or what the impact could be, and if you are reading this and wondering ‘what are nutrients?’, put in simple terms, nutrients are the effluent from wastewater treatment works and the more housing development that takes place without mitigation, the more nutrients enter the River Stour.

Any new housing developments over the past few years have had to show that they can achieve nutrient neutrality (i.e. the river is the same after the development as it was before it started so that no additional nitrogen or phosphorus enters the river). This has not been an easy task and in effect, ground everything to a halt. 

Some larger developers purchased additional land and built wetlands, but this was not going to be a viable long-term solution, whilst others looked at putting in their own water treatment solutions – which, again, did not present a viable long-term solution. 

This is not a problem specific to the River Stour; there are Rivers up and down the country with the same issue and like Kent, counties that have had to put a stop on new housing development. 

At a recent meeting I attended, it appears that there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon that will enable housing developments to restart. Having already admitted I am no expert on the subject, from an outsider looking in, it seems that it is more a change of thinking, rather than a solution having been found. Whatever the reason, it will certainly be most welcome. Let’s hope that we have sufficient planners across the patch to process the planning applications that will no doubt be flooding in.

As a county, Kent continues to see business growth and inward investment and this in itself will generate housing demand, so let’s hope that glimmer turns out to be a positive outcome.

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