Bird reserve plan for Warblington Farm to lift nitrates deadlock - but developers warn of 'additional tax'

PLANS to rewild farms in a bid to offset pollution from new homes have been dealt a blow after it was branded an ‘additional tax’ by a trade association.

Friday, 12th June 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 12th June 2020, 6:02 pm
A Glossy ibis bird spotted at Warblington Farm in 2013. Picture: Malcolm Phillips of Emsworth.

The national Home Builders Federation warned a charge on developers to pay for the pollution their homes will come at the cost of other infrastructure payments.

It comes as Havant Borough Council is looking to buy a farm and turn it into a bird reserve to offset nitrates from new homes.

Developers routinely are asked to pay for costs towards roads, schools, and health care among other infrastructure.

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As reported, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has bought a farm in Wootton on Isle of Wight, and is set to to rewild it, so its fertiliser-rich soil will not leach more nitrates into the Solent. By stopping this source of nitrates affecting the biological make-up of the Solent’s waters, there is scope to to build some houses.

Natural England had warned councils in the Solent area to stop granting permissions for homes if there was no way to balance the extra pollution they cause through wastewater.

The trust will charge developers for nitrate credits depending on how many homes they wish to build.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at Home Builders Federation, told The News his association would work with councils for the environment.

But he said: ‘The issue is not caused directly by the provision of new homes and developers already pay millions of pounds in infrastructure charges to the water companies to enable them to improve their infrastructure and address environmental issues such as that of nitrate discharge.

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‘Whilst the levy proposal provides a welcome breakthrough to the current stalemate, this additional tax on development will mean less money is available for contributions towards other obligations such as affordable housing and amenity improvements.

‘The recent impasse has posed major housing supply issues for the communities of south Hampshire and has been economically damaging by reducing employment and investment in businesses in the area.

It comes after plans have been drawn up to turn a farm into a refuge for wildlife in a bid to further ease the nitrates crisis blocking house building in the Solent area.

Warblington Farm is being targeted by Havant Borough Council, whose cabinet agreed behind closed doors to renegotiate its lease to make the plans work.

Havant’s cabinet, chaired by leader Councillor Michael Wilson, excluded the press and public from its meeting last week when it made the decision.

The News has asked the borough how much it is spending, and how many homes could be built elsewhere if the farm offsets nitrates pollution.

Councillor Tim Pike, deputy leader, said: ‘Unfortunately, because this is a commercially sensitive legal transaction we cannot say anything about it at this stage.

‘We are hoping the legal process will be completed by the end of this month and then we will make all the information public.’

But details from a February dated document drawn up to look at the borough’s new local plan revealed more.

It said: ‘The allocation of a refuge and for nutrient neutrality, would mitigate part of the impact on the (special protected area) protected birds and their habitat from residential development in Havant borough.

‘It is considered that, if provided to the required high standard, the development of a refuge would lead to a net biodiversity gain. In addition, nutrient neutrality in the harbour safeguards biodiversity.

But not everyone is happy with the move.

In a written deputation Andrew Hunnibal, from the Havant Borough Residents’ Alliance, said: ‘There is no guarantee that Warblington Farm will provide the necessary offset in perpetuity.

‘With global warming and rising sea levels most of this land is below the current high water mark. Without spending a lot of money strengthening the seawall this land will be inundated at high tide within five years.’

He added: ‘The council should not be spending taxpayers’ money on an unproven scheme where there is no certainty it will deliver the mitigation necessary to offset the impacts of new development.’

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