The Planning Policy Manager opened the item by giving a brief history as to the Nutrient Neutrality issue. Officers told the Board that the council’s mitigation scheme was launched on 18 August 2020, and there had been a site visit by a DEFRA minister and the Chair on Natural England on 10 September 2020. The Development Management Committee was able to take this mitigation scheme into account when making a decision, notably on 10 September 2020 also.
The Planning Policy Officer explained that Warblington Farm would be taken out of intensive agricultural use, thereby reducing the damage to the Solent’s European Sites. Management of the site would maintain the level of nitrogen at 5kg/ha/year which would free up space for new development. They explained it was worth noting that there are pre-existing issues which development could not solve, but there were schemes to help with this, such as catchment sensitive farming, for example. Excess nutrients from agricultural activity could take many years to reach the Solent. External consultants had been brought in to ensure the scheme was robust, and a review was undertaken by them, the results of which could be found on the council’s nutrient specific webpages. By restricting the agricultural use of Warblington Farm, the Solent’s water quality is maintained, thereby meeting the requirements of the Habitats Regulations.
The Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Lead for Planning, Hayling Seafront Strategy and Commercial Services explained that the net effect of additional housing would be less than a 1% increase in the worsening of water quality, but as no one could be sure how much additional nitrogen could be increased, it was better to use Warblington Farm to reduce the likelihood of a significant impact. They also explained that Warblington Farm could only deliver a finite amount of nitrate mitigation, but not all sites coming forward would require unlocking some of the mitigation from the scheme. This would continue to be monitored.
In response to a question concerning the upcoming Havant Thicket Reservoir proposal, the Planning Policy Manager responded by saying that the proposal in its basic format was factored into the Habitats Regulations Assessment of the Local Plan. It would not be an immediate solution but could continue to be looked at by the council in conjunction with Portsmouth Water and the PfSH.
In response to a question regarding the calculation of the Nutrient Neutrality calculation at Warblington Farm, the Planning Policy Officer told the Board that the amount of nutrients in a dairy farm was established by Natural England at 36.2kg/h/year. The maintenance figure of 5kg/h/year could be subtracted from this in order to work out how much nitrogen could offset development. The 60 hectares of Warblington Farm taken out of intensive agricultural use could remove 1872kg of nitrogen which could be offset against development. It was highlighted that nutrient mitigation on a development site would always be preferred to off-site mitigation. The Planning Policy Officer also explained to the Board that the council would maintain a log of applications which used the mitigation scheme, and the amount of offsetting each application would require, to ensure there would be sufficient capacity within the mitigation scheme. This was now a part of the planning application process.
The Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Lead for Planning, Hayling Seafront Strategy and Commercial Services encouraged Board Members and the public to look at the documents found on the council’s website regarding the topic. These not only provided technical assistance and understanding, but also highlighted some of the challenges the Special Protection Area posed and how the council would look at them going forward.
The Planning Policy Officer in response to questions explained that each application which accessed the mitigation scheme would need to sign up to a Unilateral Undertaking (UU) or a Section 106 Agreement, and a scale of payment according to the scale of development. This payment would always be earmarked for Warblington Farm management. The Planning Policy Manager also added that the Solent LEP had contributed a little over £200,000 to the scheme through reassignment.
The Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Lead for Planning, Hayling Seafront Strategy and Commercial Services assured the Board that whilst they held the position in Cabinet, they would resist any attempts for the mitigation to be used on developments which fell outside the borough.
The Planning Policy Officer gave clarity concerning questions about brownfield versus greenfield development, and how brownfield sites could not offer on site mitigation, therefore being more nutrient “expensive” to develop.
The Officers concluded by informing Members that the land would be managed as non-intensive agricultural land by the tenant farmer as per the agreement the council held with them. The Environment Agency had not raised any concerns regarding the scheme, and that Natural England had worked closely with the council in preparing the mitigation scheme.
It was recommended that:
(i) the Operations and Place Shaping Board be updated quarterly on the transformation of the farmland used as mitigation for additional nutrients generated by new housing in the borough; and
(ii) that in the event of any changes to the law or the scientific findings on the matter, affecting the HBC mitigation scheme, that those changes - their cause and effect are brought to the attention of Scrutiny ahead of any new actions or calculations to be applied, being implemented.