Unlocking Development Through Nutrient Neutrality Solutions

The subject of Nutrient Neutrality continues to sit high in the priority list of the water sector regulators and water companies, but even more so in the minds of developers across large swathes of the UK. While Ofwat and the regulated companies are planning long-term programmes of capital works aimed at reducing nutrient discharges, housebuilders are faced with an immediate problem as hugeareas of land are ‘locked out’ due to Nutrient Neutrality restrictions. All of this is taking place with the backdrop of a crisis in housing availability and a need to release land for development as quickly as possible.

This topic was the first item on the agenda at the recent Future Water Developer Services Event held in London on the 11thJune 2024. A presentation by the event sponsors, EPS Water, and a subsequent panel discussion session set out the current landscape for development in Nutrient Neutrality designated areas, and the challenges being faced by developers, NAVs, consultants and contractors in delivering viable solutions. It was agreed that, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming General Election, Nutrient Neutrality is likely to remain an issue for developers for many years to come and a better framework for implementing Nutrient Neutrality solutions is needed.

So, how can we move towards a situation where development in nutrientsensitive areas can proceed within the constraints of the Regulations and without causing an adverse impact on receiving watercourses? A lively debate and feedback session offered the following enablers that would contribute to creating better outcomes for stakeholders involved in developments in these areas:

1. Changes to regulations and regulatory tariff structures to make NAV operation of Nutrient Neutrality solutions more economically viable.
2. Sharing best practice examples to educate the market on the successes and failures that occur, in order to inform better decisionmaking going forward.
3. Ensuring that funding and regulatory mechanisms are geared towards a realistic and reasonable Return on Investment potential for Nutrient Neutrality schemes.
4. Increased collaboration between developers, NAVs, regulators and other stakeholders to enhance and simplify the processes for development in nutrient sensitive areas.
5. Using Nutrient Neutrality solutions as a positive marketing tool for developers, making such schemes more attractive to buyers due to their environmental credentials. This would include demonstrating enhanced quality of discharged water, greater use of wetlands and SUDS areas, etc. for enhanced overall Biodiversity Net Gain.

In addition, delegates offered a series of potential blockers that might inhibit the viability or success of Nutrient Neutrality solutions across the developer sector, as follows:

1. Liquidity and survival of the NAV water companies, who are essential to the implementation of Nutrient Neutrality solutions and the consequential freeing up of development land in nutrient-sensitive zones.
2. The impact of future changes to Regulations and the introduction of even tighter consents by the Environment Agency.
3. Conflicts between the Capex affordability of solutions for developers, the operating costs of the NAVs, and the limitations on customer billing under the existing NAV framework provided by Ofwat.
4. Finding a regulatory and operating framework that offers genuine long-term sustainability, not just in the short term but also through future-proofing, e.g. funding of future upgrades.
5. Changes in occupant behaviours such as working-from-home patterns and home-based businesses that could influence wastewater characteristics.

Overall, the session demonstrated that there is a genuine shared purpose between the developer sector and the water industry to resolve these challenges together and at pace. One outcome of the event is the proposed establishment of a Developer Services Working Group within the Future Water Association, which will seek to take the initiative forward and work on delivering the enablers and challenge the blockers. By positively influencing policy and regulation, and by enhancing public perception around developer-led Nutrient Neutrality solutions, it should be possible to create a more viable and sustainable model for the future.