How planning applications are affected by Stodmarsh water quality

Some planning applications in the district are affected by guidelines on water quality.

In July 2020 Natural England issued water quality advice which affects planning applications for new homes in large parts of the district.

This means that an assessment must be carried out before we can agree new housing development which discharges waste water to the Stour Valley river catchment area. This is to make sure new development doesn't cause any further deterioration of the water quality at Stodmarsh. 

The water quality advice from Natural England applies to planning applications which would connect to a waste water treatment works (WWTW) which discharges into the Stour Valley.

View the affected waste water treatment works on a map

The affected areas include:

  • Canterbury (Sturry) WWTW
  • Herne Bay (Great Stour) WWTW*
  • Westbere WWTW
  • Chartham WWTW
  • Newnham Valley WWTW

*The advice doesn't restrict new development on some sites in the villages to the south and east of Herne Bay.

Southern Water has confirmed these villages are in catchment area 1 of the May Street waste water treatment works, which discharges into the sea and doesn't impact Stodmarsh.

There's no map available for the catchment area, but you can contact Southern Water for advice on a specific site.

What we’re doing to find solutions 

Since the guidance from Natural England was issued in July 2020 we have worked with local councils, Natural England, Kent County Council, the Environment Agency, Southern Water and government departments to find a solution.

This page will be updated when we have new guidance.

April 2023 update

In April 2023, the Chief Executives and Council Leaders received a joint ministerial letter about nutrient pollution.

The letter said:

We are writing to you regarding the issue of nutrient pollution, the impact on housing delivery due to the need to mitigate for pollution in the catchments of Habitats Sites which are being adversely affected; and to update you on a number of actions by government to support sustainable development in these areas, including highlighting new funding opportunities in the spring budget.

We recognise that finding and delivering nutrient mitigation is causing delays to housing delivery in many places, and that this has implications for local economies and communities. The government is clear that nutrient neutrality can only be an interim solution and is committed to removing barriers to housebuilding, releasing stalled development as soon as possible, as well as improving water quality by addressing pollution at source.

In the autumn the government added measures to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to place a duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works by 1 April 2030 to technically achievable limits for phosphorus and or nitrogen in areas affected by nutrient pollution. This will lead to around a 70% reduction in phosphorus loads and around a 57% reduction in nitrogen loads from wastewater treatment works on average; significantly reduce the amount of mitigation needed by developers.

The provisions in the Bill will also require planning decision makers to consider these future upgrades as certain for the purposes of a habitats regulations assessment, where development drains to a wastewater treatment works subject to the upgrade duty. This will reduce the mitigation burden on development from the point the legislation is implemented as a lower level of pollution will need to be mitigated for after 2030.

Alongside the action taken to reduce pollution at source, the government is acting to increase the supply of mitigation for residential developments. DLUHC and Defra are providing up to £30m in funding to Natural England to establish a Nutrient Mitigation Scheme. Natural England is working hard to identify and develop a pipeline of nutrient mitigation projects to generate nutrient credits that can be sold to developers. This will simplify and expedite the process for developers to ensure their developments are nutrient neutral and so enable LPAs to issue consents. Today, the first credits from the scheme became available for purchase by developers in the Tees and Cleveland Coast catchment, with three further rounds of sales planned in this catchment in the coming year. In addition, Natural England continue to scope out projects in other affected catchments, prioritising those with the highest housing pressures. These include The Broads, the River Wensum, and Stodmarsh catchments.

In addition, in the 2023 spring budget the government committed to provide funding this year for high quality, local mitigation schemes, with a call for evidence from LPAs for locally led nutrient neutrality credit schemes. Where high quality proposals are identified, this government will provide funding to support clearer routes for housing developers to deliver ‘nutrient neutral’ sites, in line with their environmental obligations. DLUHC will write to affected local planning authorities, in due course to open this full call for evidence and provide further details.

December 2022 update

In the July 2022 Written Ministerial Statement, the Secretary of State announced a ministerial direction to support Natural England to establish a nutrient mitigation scheme.

The operational details are not yet available, but we expect that the scheme will involve:

  • working with local landowners to help them create nutrient mitigation habitat, particularly wetlands and woodlands. These will be the basis for nutrient credits.
  • issuing nutrient certificates to eligible developers for planning applications in areas covered by NN advice.
  • providing certificates that will give LPAs assurance that additional nutrients from new developments can be mitigated by purchasing nutrient credits.
  • attaching conditions to planning permissions to ensure necessary nutrient credits are bought before new homes are occupied.
  • recycling income from the sale of credits to provide new mitigation and cover the costs of monitoring and maintaining them.

As a council, we are working closely with Natural England to take advantage of the funding available in order to unlock housing development.

The scheme aims to enable LPAs to grant permission subject to conditions or obligations securing mitigation and phasing developments (if needed), ensuring mitigation is operational and in place prior to any nutrient pollution being discharged.

More information about the National scheme was recently provided by Natural England for further details.

July 2022 update

Environment Secretary George Eustace announced that he will issue a ministerial direction to support Natural England to establish a Nutrient Mitigation Scheme.

Natural England will accredit mitigation delivered through the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme, enabling local planning authorities to grant planning permission for developments which have secured the necessary nutrient credits.

Funding will be made available to 'pump-prime' mitigation projects, including wetland and woodland creation. The funding will then be recouped through a payment where developers can purchase ‘nutrient credits’ which will discharge their requirements to provide mitigation.

In the same announcement he also said that an amendment will be tabled to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill; to place a new statutory duty on water and sewerage companies in England to upgrade wastewater treatment works to the highest technically achievable limits by 2030 in nutrient neutrality areas. More details will be announced on this in autumn 2022. 

In the meantime we're working closely with Kent County Council, other district councils and the Environment Agency to make sure we're best placed to take advantage of the funding available to unlock housing development.

See the full statement on improving water quality and tackling nutrient pollution

March 2022 update

We were given updated advice on nutrient neutrality - including a nutrient budget calculator - from Natural England. 

We are continuing to work with the other councils to investigate a range of potential mitigation options, such as wetlands, to allow the development of much-needed new homes in the district to go ahead.

November 2021 update

A report on progress across the catchment was presented to the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership on 25 November 2021. 

April 2021 update

The leaders and Chief Executives of the affected councils and the Chair of the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership wrote to the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), as well as the Secretary of State for the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government highlighting the impact of the issue on the delivery of new homes across the catchment area, and to seek their support to unlock growth.