Paper outlines planning policy and legislation on nutrient neutrality

2nd April 2024

A hangover from EU legislation, requirements on the need for consideration of nutrient neutrality for developments on many protected sites in England were nearly removed from the planning system in 2023.

With this in mind, it seemed an appropriate time to take stock of nutrient neutrality requirements and reaffirm the important part that they play in the protection of nature. To this end, IEMA has produced a new paper, Nutrient Neutrality in the Planning System – Getting Back on Track.

Water courses are degraded, water quality problems are widespread, and sewage treatment plants seem to be at capacity. Underpinned by the Habitat Regulations, nutrient neutrality requires planning authorities to assess the environmental impact of planning applications on protected sites. Developments should only go ahead if they will not cause further pollution.

Developers have to demonstrate nutrient neutrality but it’s worth noting that they do not have to demonstrate any kind of net gain or improvements. Developments likely to be affected include residential developments, care homes, hotels and anything with overnight accommodation.

In September 2023, there was a period of uncertainty because of proposals to withdraw the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme through an amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. There was much confusion around this time, partially because of mainstream press reporting that nutrient legislation was to blame for delays in residential planning applications, while the number of new homes affected was only a small proportion of the new homes needed.

Ultimately, the House of Lords rejected the amendment at the end of 2023 and the legislation achieved assent. In an announcement on 20 December 2023, the UK government confirmed that Natural England will continue to deliver the £30m Nutrient Mitigation Scheme.

IEMA’s new paper aims to get readers up to speed on nutrient neutrality: the history of the requirement, what it is, why it’s important, and the legislative and policy landscape. It is aimed at various professionals, including those working in development, local authorities, ecology and waste water, and all stakeholders who want to do the right thing.

The paper is available to read at


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