Nutrient neutral development position statement

Position statement on nutrient-neutral requirements for new development

Wessex Water’s water recycling centres (WRCs) accept additional flows and loads from housing developments as we have planned sufficient capacity for allocated development.


1. Our WRCs and the environmental permits that govern them are designed to reflect increases in population levels due to development over a 25-year design horizon, however, the Dutch Nitrogen case has meant that this is no longer the case for WRCs which discharge into or upstream of the Somerset Moors and Levels Ramsar site.

2. Prior to the legal precedent set by the Dutch Nitrogen Case, nutrient neutral development had already been incorporated into planning policy for developments impacting the Hampshire Avon (relating to phosphorus discharges) and Poole Harbour (nitrogen discharges).  There is the potential that this requirement may be extended to other sites designated under the Habitats or Birds Directives where nutrient levels are demonstrated to be an issue.

3. It is for the Local Planning Authority and Natural England to determine what phosphorus neutrality is, how this should be calculated and demonstrated.

4. It is for the developer to demonstrate to the Local Planning Authority and Natural England, as part of the planning process, that their development satisfies these requirements.

5. Wessex Water has no influence over these requirements through the planning process.  We can only accept flows from new developments once planning permission has been granted and the Local Planning Authority and Natural England are satisfied that the relevant phosphorus neutrality tests have been achieved.

6. Wessex Water is already required to meet nutrient reduction targets set by Natural England and the Environment Agency at a number of its WRCs. Solutions for nutrient reduction at these sites will be at technically achievable limits and we will therefore not be able to provide additional nutrient removal for developments. At some sites, the targets set are below what is technically achievable and so we will be pursuing Catchment Market opportunities (see final paragraph below) to deliver all our obligations for nutrient reduction. 

7. If promoters of development sites are considering standalone private treatment arrangements, please be aware that they will require Local Planning Authority, Natural England and Environment Agency approval. The first preference for disposal of sewerage from new development is to a public system, we will object to private treatment where proposals are contrary to Building Regulations and Environment Agency Guidance Wessex Water will not subsequently adopt private treatment assets or upstream sewerage networks unless they are designed and constructed to adoptable standards as explained here.

8 Wessex Water has received queries from developers seeking to contribute towards existing P removal schemes at our Water Recycling Centres to bring schemes forward. This is not possible within our regulatory framework. We are considering a small number of developer led schemes where land downstream of effluent outfalls of affected Water Recycling Centres is within the developer’s control. There may be potential in these instances for wetland creation to offset phosphorus requirements from the proposed development

The Wessex Water Group continues to actively working with regulators and Local Authorities to come up with a catchment solution to the problem through a Catchment Market in nature based projects.  Wessex Water Group’s wholly owned subsidiary, EnTrade, is one provider of these solutions.  However other options are available within these catchments.

Matt Wheeldon
Director of Assets and Compliance
On behalf of Wessex Water
January 2021 (updated July 2021)