Advising South Somerset District Council on the implementation of a new nutrient credit scheme

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Ashfords has advised South Somerset District Council on its participation in and sign off of the Somerset Catchment Market, including planning, the commercial terms, and procurement. Now operational, the Catchment Market is a new nutrient credit scheme which will allow developers to purchase the credits they need to offset the impacts of their development proposals. In turn this will allow the council to begin to issue decisions in relation to planning (and related) applications that have been held up by the paucity of mitigation options to date.

The challenge

By virtue of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, the ‘Dutch N’ case from the European Court, and the subsequent notification from Natural England regarding the Somerset Levels and Moors RAMSAR site, the council as a local planning authority is prevented from approving planning applications (and indeed other types of application that would lead to development taking place) that would increase the phosphate load in particular catchment areas, at least without mitigation being in place.

This has led to a backlog of planning applications awaiting determination, and developments being stalled, whilst the applicants either secured mitigation, or waited for mitigation solutions to become available. Whilst single project or on site solutions have been possible in some cases, the resulting impact on housing delivery in particular were that to continue in the long term would be significant. This catchment market solution – a scheme designed by EnTrade working with the Environment Agency and Natural England – allows for ‘market rounds’ of credits to be released by the market operator, with the credits being created by a network of projects that will have signed up to the market.

SSDC Article

Our approach

Ashfords has a strong record of advising public sector bodies, including planning authorities, and the team brought to bear their experience in advising on emerging nutrient neutrality measures elsewhere in the country, and their experience in related areas such as carbon offsetting and biodiversity net gain. Drawing together fee earners in the planning team, the commercial team, and procurement we were able to provide the council with the cross discipline advice required for it to approve the scheme.

The result

The council has engaged with, and now signed off on, the Somerset Catchment Market which provides a wider market solution that will allow applicants to buy credits from the market operator rather than seeking out individual or small scale off site mitigation land solutions. Participants can read about the operation of the market and register interest here.

"South Somerset District Council has signed off the Somerset Catchment Market to allow for the delivery of phosphate credits within the River Parrett catchment. The project will hopefully deliver a series of credit rounds to allow development currently held up by nutrient neutrality issues to finally progress. My thanks to Ashfords LLP, particularly David Richardson, for leading their team to support us through the various agreements."
John Hammond, Lead Specialist- Built Environment at South Somerset District Council

For more information, please contact David Richardson.

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