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Nutrient Neutrality: A Farce in Several Parts

Ritchie Clapson, co-founder of propertyCEO, comments

Without wishing to alienate a part of the audience that I’ve been reliably informed represents the world’s fourth most popular participation sport, I’m just going to put it out there: I don’t enjoy fishing. In the interest of balance, I can share that my business partner, Ian, adores fishing and frequently journeys north of the border in search of the (highly) elusive salmon. Given that he nearly always fails to catch any, I suspect he’s not a poster child for the sport, but he assures me that not catching fish is still an enjoyable pastime. He also says it’s called fishing, not catching.

No, I’m not convinced either, but there’s no reasoning with the man. And over the years, I learned to tune out the litany of excuses I get in response to that most innocuous of questions, ‘How many fish did you catch?’. When this appeared to be perceived as a passive-aggressive line of questioning, I toned things down a little, first to ‘Did you catch a fish?’, then to ‘Did you see a fish’, and finally to ‘Was the weather nice?’. So, when Ian urged me to watch a programme about rivers hosted by the venerable Paul Whitehouse, of ‘Gone Fishing’ fame (Paul Whitehouse: Our Troubled Rivers (BBC iPlayer), I thought it was just another weak attempt to convince me that fishing should be on my hobby list. Turns out it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t a programme about fishing at all, at least not directly. But it is a programme that I’d recommend you watch, and if you’ve not yet seen it, I defy you to do so without feeling a tad angry and probably a little bemused. You have been warned.

Before I let you have a small glimpse behind the curtain of Mr Whitehouse’s ire-inspiring documentary, let me bring you up to speed on what’s been happening in the exciting world of nutrients (hold onto your seats). Nutrients are generally good for humans but not so good for the country’s waterways since they cause algae to bloom, to the detriment of other aquatic life. Nutrients come in the form of phosphates and nitrates and are most commonly found in sewage, whether that’s waste from our homes or animal waste from agriculture. Following a law passed in the EU, Natural England decided that 74 local authorities with environmentally sensitive areas would need to ensure that any new development was ‘nutrient-neutral’ before planning was granted. In other words, developers would have to take measures to offset the nutrient impact of any developments, and local planning authorities would be required to assess whether a full offset had been achieved. Given that Natural England landed this requirement without warning, the local authorities had no time to create offsetting schemes to which developers could subscribe. More recently, Natural England’s own nutrient neutrality offsetting programme has been expanded; however, it’s been widely reported that many developers still have no access to offsetting schemes in their area. And so, we are left with thousands of planning applications either being suspended or rejected and around 150,000 new homes that can’t currently be built. 

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