A MAYOR has said the fallout of a ban on house building across parts of the North East will have a huge impact on economic development in the region.
Proposed developments near the River Tees or any of its tributaries in North Yorkshire, County Durham and Teesside have been put on hold following the government’s conservation advisor issuing advice on mitigating water pollution in the protected area around the Tees from housebuilding.
It follows a ruling by the Government’s environmental watchdog Natural England aimed at improving water quality.
Read more: River Tees housing developments put on hold
Local authorities in Tees Valley have been advised to refuse developments that are not phosphate and nitrate neutral, as the nutrients can speed up the growth of certain plants which can impact on wildlife.
Excess nutrients can cause algal blooms and excessive vegetation growth, killing fish and preventing birds from feeding,
The ruling means developers have to prove their projects would not impact nutrient levels in the river before applications could be considered and has seen councils halt their processes for approving developments until the ban is lifted or there is cleared guidance on how rules should be applied.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who described the approach as an “over reaction”, has called for the Government to step in over the issue.
He said: “The impact so far is there won’t be any housing developments in Tees Valley and parts of Durham and North Yorkshire for the foreseeable future.
“There has been a suggestion in other areas that it could be 18 months or even two years. With the housing demand we have that’s a major problem. ”
He added: “It would have a major impact on what we are trying to achieve and that’s largely down to nutrient neutrality rules.
“It could have a huge impact on jobs and growth and investment in the region.
“I have been speaking to the Government about it. They ultimately have to step in. ”
He said it would be a “dangerous precedent” if the ruling prevents industrial and commercial developments from being considered, citing an application for the redevelopment of Eaglescliffe rail station, which is yet to be decided by Stockton Council.
Describing it as “hugely frustrating”, he added: “It’s impacting on better public transport and it’s potentially going to impact on inward investment and job creation and all the things we have been working towards.”
The ruling has meant up to 100,000 homes in Teesside, Darlington and other parts of the country including Norfolk, Hampshire and Devon are thought to be on hold.
Once local authorities have been told by Natural England that their water catchments are at risk of pollution, previous case law means they have little option but to impose a moratorium on all residential planning decisions until they have developed a way to mitigate the impact of new homes .
Nutrient neutrality will see developers forced to mitigate the pollutants by creating wetlands, grasslands or woodlands that strip the nutrients from the water or offsets the pollution elsewhere.
Natural England director of sustainable development Melanie Hughes said: “Algal blooms and excessive vegetation growth can kill fish and prevent birds from feeding.
“These effects also reduce people’s enjoyment of these special places.
“The sources of excess nutrients include sewage treatment works, septic tanks, livestock, arable farming and industrial processes.
“These are long-running issues spanning decades and will be complex to resolve.
“However, without resolution of these, we will continue to see a decline in water quality and detrimental effects on our environment.”
Councilor Alan Marshall, cabinet member for economy for Darlington Borough Council, said: “We were notified about the guidance on nutrient neutrality from Natural England on 16 March, which came without any consultation or prior announcement.
“Natural England has informed councils within affected areas that they must cease to permit any new applications for development which have the potential to increase nutrient emissions into waterways. The result is that all new planning applications, including those already in the planning process, are currently paused.
“We are working with Natural England and other parties to understand how to move forward on this issue, but information and further guidance is not yet forthcoming.”
Councilor Nigel Cooke, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and housing for Stockton, said: “There was a chronic lack of engagement and advance notice before the sudden introduction of this guidance by Natural England, and there’s been a lack of urgency and clarity since.
“We’re doing our very best to understand the implications but we desperately need additional detail as a matter of urgency because as things stand, we don’t have the information we need to draw up solutions to the problems this has raised.
“By that, we mean we don’t have enough information to quantify what level of mitigation is required and what kind of mitigation is considered to be good practice.
“Once we have that detail we can get on with finding solutions to break this deadlock.”
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