Commercial Property expert, David Redgate looks at a new pilot government-backed scheme designed to benefit both local people and wildlife in the Solent estuaries.
On 11 September 2020, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced £3.9 million of funding for a wildlife protection project in Hampshire that will pilot an online nitrate trading auction platform for housing developers to reduce nitrate pollution and aid wildlife recovery.
The project aims to tackle the curb on housing growth in the Solent area caused by concerns that nitrate pollution from such developments is damaging protected habitats and wildlife on the Solent's estuaries, salt marshes and seagrass beds. Following the 2018 Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) decision in joined cases Coöperatie Mobilisation for the Environment UA, Vereniging Leefmilieu V College van gedeputeerde staten van Limburg (Cases C-293/17 and C-294/17) EU:C:2018:882 (the Dutch Nitrogen Case), Natural England (NE) advised that housing developments in the Solent area should only be permitted if they were nitrate-neutral.
The funding will be used to set up an online nitrate trading auction platform that will allow housing developers to buy credits to create new habitats such as meadows, woodlands and wetlands as part of a nature-based solution. The government intends that these new habitats will prevent harmful levels of nitrates from new housing developments from reaching the Solent's protected wildlife and habitats.
The nitrate trading platform pilot will be rolled out over the next two years and delivered jointly with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, NE and the Environment Agency. If successful, the pilot could be extended to other areas in England. It will also inform the government's wider work on market-based solutions to environmental issues such as carbon offsetting, biodiversity net gain, water quality and flood risk management.
In its 25 year plan, the government committed to embed a "net environmental gain" principle to enable housing and infrastructure development to go ahead without increasing overall burdens on developers. The Environment Bill 2019-21 will introduce a mandatory requirement for developers to provide 10% biodiversity net gain in respect of any new development under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that results in loss or degradation of habitat. Under the scheme, where on-site or local creation or enhancement of habitats is not possible, developers will be able to invest in nationally strategic habitats through a system of statutory biodiversity units.
So let's watch this space to see if the trial is expanded to the rest of the country.