Special areas of conservation
River Mease SAC
The River Mease Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is designated due to the importance of the species and habitats which are either within the designated area or supported by it. The River Mease is home to the following protected species: Spined loach (Cobitis taenia), Bullhead (Cottus gobio), White-clawed (or Atlantic stream) crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), Otter (Lutra lutra) Further info about its designation can be found on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.
Alongside other local planning authorities in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire, we have received advice from Natural England in relation to nutrient neutrality for developments in the River Mease Special Area of Conservation (SAC) catchment. We also received a letter from the Government's Chief Planner about the same issue. The advice was issued to us without prior notice.
Nutrient pollution is a big environmental issue for many of our most important places for nature in England. In freshwater habitats and estuaries, increased levels of nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) can speed up the growth of certain plants, impacting wildlife. This is called ‘eutrophication’ and it is damaging protected sites. As such, some sites are classified as being in ‘unfavourable condition’.
The letter advised that new development within the catchment of these habitats comprising overnight accommodation can cause adverse impacts to nutrient pollution. Such development includes, but is not limited to:
- new homes
- student accommodation
- care homes
- tourism attractions
- tourist accommodation
- permitted development (which gives rise to new overnight accommodation) under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended)
- any development not involving overnight accommodation, but which may have non-sewerage water quality implications.
There may also be some cases where some forms of development not involving overnight accommodation may cause adverse impacts to nutrient pollution.
Natural England have confirmed that development in some catchments, including the catchment areas for the River Mease SAC, cannot proceed if it increases levels of nutrients or results in eutrophication. Development can now only proceed if it is ‘nutrient neutral’.
The Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2017 require local planning authorities to ensure that new development does not cause adverse impacts to the integrity of protected habitats, such as the River Mease, before granting planning permission. There are currently no identified mitigation solutions available locally to resolve these impacts.
We are working to understand the advice and its consequences for developments within the River Mease SAC catchment area. The implication of the advice from Natural England is that the Council, in its capacity as competent authority, cannot approve developments in the SAC catchment area that would increase foul drainage discharge from sites comprising overnight accommodation to the mains sewer system, as the Council will be unable to conclude that such development would not result in an adverse impact on the SAC; nor could it decide that any adverse impacts could be properly mitigated.
We are working closely with neighbouring authorities and Natural England to better understand the implications and identify possible options for mitigation to ensure sustainable development can proceed. Unfortunately, it is not possible to state how long this may take to resolve. However, we will keep this web page updated with more information as it becomes available.
The Nutrient Budget calculator (see link below) provided by Natural England is the first step to understanding the nutrient load of a development. It can help identify whether a proposal is likely to add to the nutrient load within the catchment and require mitigation or whether the development can be considered nutrient neutral. In the latter case, where development is nutrient neutral, subject to confirmation from Natural England, such developments can likely be approved without mitigation. Natural England has also provided a guidance document (see below) to help with the completion of the calculator. For those with live planning cases, your case officer will be in contact to discuss this with you further.
Please note Natural England advise that at present some elements of the guidance (national methodology, nutrient budget calculators) issued by Natural England should be considered as provisional due to the outstanding appeal to the Court of Appeal in Wyatt v Fareham BC  EWHC 1434 (Admin), which although not concerned with the national methodology issued on 16 March 2022, could impact on certain elements contained within the methodology because that case considers similar (but not identical) earlier guidance issued for other parts of the UK.
Natural England intends to review the national methodology following judgment in the appeal in Wyatt which may require amendments to be made.