The Government has revealed that a pilot online ‘nitrate trading’ auction platform could, if successful in south Hampshire and the Solent, be extended and rolled out to a number of other areas, “providing a vital wider application to other parts of England”.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the scheme, in which it is investing £3.9m, 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.
The scheme is being implemented after planners in southern Hampshire were prevented from giving permission for most residential developments in the past year.
This was because of concern by Natural England that nitrates discharged from homes were damaging the environment through excessive growth of green algae on salt marshes and seagrass beds.
The nitrate trading platform will allow developers to buy credits to create meadows, woodlands and wetlands, which prevent harmful levels of nitrates from new housing from reaching the Solent’s rare wildlife and habitats.
Credits raised will also support a 60 hectares nature reserve created at Warblington Farm.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Not only will this innovative scheme unlock thousands of much-needed homes for the local area, but it will provide habitat rich areas for wildlife in a true win-win.”
The nitrate problem was first raised in September 2019 when Fareham Borough Council and Portsmouth City Council adopted mitigation measures to allow some development to continue following a European Court of Justice ruling in the Netherlands on interpretation of the Habitats Directive, which meant a more cautious approach had to be taken on assessments of residential development.
Natural England in August allocated money to enable councils in the Solent area to restart granting some planning permissions for housebuilding by buying and re-wilding low grade agricultural land where nitrates would be needed for growing crops.