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Developments in limbo - nitrates in the Solent halts planning process

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Many developments across the Solent region are currently in limbo following the decision of several local authorities to halt the grant of planning permissions for new houses and tourism related projects. This follows advice from Natural England after record levels of nitrates were found in the Solent. Jenny Colvin, Partner in our Commercial Property team, here explains why nitrates are impacting planning permission, which local authorities are affected and when you may be able to apply for planning permission.

What are nitrates?

Nitrates are chemicals found in agriculture and domestic waste water. Their continued entry into the water supplies has led to the increase of a process called eutrophication. This causes an excess of green algae to grow that prevents all other organisms from surviving in that area, which subsequently has a devastating effect on marine and bird life. Natural England therefore advised that new housing developments and tourism-related projects in the Solent region be stopped unless they can be shown to be ‘nitrate neutral’ to safeguard the protected areas of the Solent and Southampton Water Special Protection Area.

The advice is not binding however, and as a result the Isle of Wight, New Forest and Southampton Councils are continuing to grant planning permissions. However, Fareham, Portsmouth, Havant, Gosport and East Hampshire have chosen to follow the advice and have placed all future decisions on hold until an appropriate solution is found. This has meant many housebuilders and developers are now left up in the air, as not only will no new planning applications be considered, but many existing applications will not get the results within the usual time frames, if at all. This decision will also impact those with a grant of a planning permission in principle but where the decision has not been formally issued yet, for example because of a pending s106 agreement.

When can I apply for planning permission?

Planning will be considered if the developer can show that the site is nitrate neutral and therefore does not increase the nitrogen intake into the Solent. This may be easier to achieve on larger sites or through the major housebuilders where there is both the space and the money to take more substantive mitigation measures, however, smaller, local developers may struggle.

Considerations being proposed are, for example, s106 agreements with neighbouring agricultural land to prevent further run off of the nitrates used in fertilisers, or off-setting measures by way of additional wetlands or reed planting. However, a consolidated approach needs to be adopted across the region to try and break the deadlock on development and ensure that all five Councils are on the same page, therefore, in reality, it may be some time before housebuilders can start building again.

If you have any queries about buying or selling land for development, you can contact Jenny on 023 92 77 6558 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.