Nutrient and water neutrality policy inquiry

An LGA inquiry responding to the immediate and significant pressures placed on councils through their role as local planning authorities.


The LGA has been talking to councils and stakeholders about their experiences of dealing with water issues in the months leading up to the inquiry. Nutrient and water neutrality are complex issues and there are no easy solutions. 

Nutrient neutrality and water neutrality

Phosphates and nitrates are both types of nutrients that can damage wildlife at high levels. Phosphates and nitrates mainly enter the water system through agricultural practices and water industry discharges (e.g. wastewater treatment works). Patterns of nutrient pollution vary by region, depending on population density, extent and type of agriculture and habitats can be impacted by one or both of these nutrients.

In England, Natural England monitors the condition of special habitats and provides advice to local planning authorities. Special habitats are protected by international law, set out in the Habitats Directive, and where habitats are threatened by this nutrient pollution, local planning authorities are being directed to pause all planning decisions in affected areas. This advice is now impacting a significant number of councils.

Protected habitats are also threatened by water extraction leading to low water levels, which can also lead to advice to pause planning decisions. A small number of councils are impacted by advice on water neutrality, but the challenges of dealing with this issue are significant and may become more prevalent due to the impact of climate change. This policy enquiry will seek to address both nutrient and water neutrality.

About the inquiry

A cross-party group of councillors will lead the inquiry, reporting into the LGA’s Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board. The inquiry will gather information from stakeholders through a survey and this will be followed by round table discussions to examine what can be done across the whole environment and water system to reduce the stresses on fragile habitats. Findings and recommendations will be reported in early Autumn 2022.

Research commissioned by the LGA, 'Nutrient and water neutrality: The impact of environmental protections on housing supply', shows the scale of the issue and the seriousness of the planning moratoriums.

Resources and support for councils

The Planning Advisory Service has more information on nutrient neutrality and the planning system, as well as areas currently affected.