26th May 2020
Nitrate neutrality: How can we all play our part?

Rund’s Director, Paul Deakin, discusses ongoing issues with nitrate pollution in the housing and construction industry and what measures need to be considered as a resolution method.

“Amid the many uncertainties that are currently happening, our dedicated teams continue to take a ‘business as usual’ approach, as sites reopen, and projects continue for Rund.

“COVID-19 has brought with it a number of barriers to overcome, however I’d like to address one which has become even more apparent as the years have gone on – nitrate neutrality. This remains an issue which significantly impacts the construction industry as housing demand is higher than ever, even in these unprecedented times.

An overview of the nitrates issue

“To give a brief overview of the problem, nitrates are a form of pollution and are created from agro-chemicals and human sewerage. In recent years, the threat of nitrate pollution has caused Natural England to impose restrictions on Solent planning authorities when it comes to housebuilding. The Solent region is of particular focus as the water environment within this area is under strict protection, due to its importance for wildlife. As a result of Natural England’s restrictions, there are now up to 10,000 new homes which are stuck in the planning process.

“Although the restrictions are in place to help protect the environment, we are facing a catch-22 situation as there continues to be increasingly high demand for building new homes.

“As a professional surveying and construction consultancy, a large part of our role at Rund is representing Registered Providers when they acquire homes from house builders. We ensure that these homes are built to the highest quality in construction, including meeting the necessary fire and safety standards.

“As such, we have witnessed first-hand the major effect that nitrate neutrality issues have caused when it comes to building new homes, particularly in the Solent region. As a result, multiple projects we have been working on have been put on hold.

Overcoming the nitrates issue: what are the causes?

“So, what can be done to eliminate the problem? In short, everyone involved in this situation has a part to play in resolving the matter – it does not simply fall to one party to make sacrifices.

“Firstly, we should consider the causes. Building new homes does indeed lead to an increased level of sewerage, which is then treated using nitrates by water companies, under a permit scheme managed by the Environment Agency. Therefore, alternative methods for treating such systems could be considered.

“However, what also needs addressing is the large contribution of agricultural practices to nitrate pollution. Naturally, farmers need to fertilise their land to improve production, and fertilisers contain nitrates. A solution could be that stricter measures are put in place to ensure that the level of nitrates is removed, or else reduced significantly in fertiliser products.

Creating ‘nitrate-friendly’ developments

“From the development side, there are opportunities to create ‘nitrate friendly’ projects. An example development in this spectrum is the Berewood scheme in Hampshire, involving the creation of over 2,550 homes, two primary schools, play areas, woodland walks and sporting facilities. Rund has been appointed by Grainger plc for our Project Management and Clerk of Works services, and we have been closely involved in overseeing the nitrate neutrality assessments that have taken place.

“Such assessments involve detailed calculations set out by Natural England, to ensure that a development can indeed achieve nitrate neutrality. Without going into the finer details, one of the methods Berewood is using to do this is ensuring that all waste water flows to a water treatment works that has been upgraded to use a minimal amount of nitrate in its processes.

“Another example of a ‘nitrate-friendly’ development in progress is the Welborne Garden Village project in Hampshire, consisting of up to 6,000 homes, shops, schools, employment and local facilities. To offset the level of nitrates that will result from the development, a solar farm will be built on another piece of land which would have been otherwise used for agriculture – eliminating nitrate production in that area. 

“These developments demonstrate how we can get around the nitrate issue from a development point of view. However, they don’t come without their difficulties, as the nitrate neutrality calculations set out by Natural England alone come hand-in-hand with a lengthy assessment process.

A collective responsibility to solve the nitrates issue

“To summarise, I believe that more measures can be taken to resolve this issue. However, the responsibility does not solely lie with one party. If new processes are considered and we all work together to put them into place, I am hopeful that we can find a solution that suits everyone involved – developers, farmers, water companies and environmental bodies alike.”

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