Concerns have been raised that groundwater abstraction within the Sussex North Water Supply Zone may be harming biodiversity within internationally designated sites.
Parts of West Sussex fall within this zone, including areas in Arun, Chichester and Horsham districts, and in Crawley borough:
Water supplied by Southern Water within the zone area is sourced from abstraction points that are hydrologically linked to the Arun Valley, which includes these internationally designated sites:
- a Special Protection Area (SPA)
- a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
- a Ramsar site.
In October 2021, Natural England issued a Position Statement to the County Council. The statement sets out that it cannot be concluded that the existing abstraction within the zone is not having an adverse impact on the Arun Valley sites and advises that development within the zone must not add to this impact.
What this means for developers
Anyone considering submitting a planning application in the zone area is advised to read the following documents from Natural England:
- Natural England’s position statement (PDF, 168KB)
- Natural England's advice note (PDF, 218KB)
- Natural England’s frequently asked questions for developers (PDF, 360KB)
- Addendum to Natural England’s position statement (PDF, 492KB)
Development proposals within the zone area that would lead to an increase in water demand will need to demonstrate and robustly evidence ‘water neutrality’.
You will be required to supply a water neutrality statement with your planning application which:
- confirms that there would be no increase in water consumption, for example, through a combination of water efficiency, water recycling and offsetting measures
- includes a water budget showing details of the baseline and proposed water consumption, any mitigation measures proposed and mechanisms to secure them in advance of occupation/use.
This will ensure the requirements of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 can be met.
If a planning application cannot demonstrate that water neutrality is achievable, it will be refused.
Some types of permitted development, including prior approvals, may also need to seek approval under Section 77 of the Habitats Regulations to demonstrate the proposal does not have an adverse effect.
What this means for WSCC
Submission of a Water Neutrality Statement is likely to become a future requirement on our local validation list.
The matter of water neutrality is a rapidly changing area of concern, so the guidance may be subject to change.
All rights are reserved as the local planning authority and, as the competent authority, to consider this matter on a case-by-case basis.
Water cycle study
The County Council has been working with other affected local planning authorities on a study and strategy to deliver a strategic solution to ensure development across the Sussex north water supply zone is water neutral. There are three stages to the study. For more information and to view the completed studies, visit the Crawley Borough Council website.
The Water Neutrality Part C Mitigation strategy outlines a strategy to achieve water neutrality within the Sussex North Water Resource Zone, throughout the timeframe covered by the Local Plans of Crawley Borough Council, Chichester District Council, Horsham District Council and South Downs National Park Authority.
The objective of the strategy is to demonstrate compliance with the Habitats Regulations Assessment and enable the Local Plans to proceed towards adoption. The strategy has been endorsed by Natural England.
It should be noted that the Natural England Position Statement continues to apply, and planning applications remain subject to water neutrality requirements.
Advice for schools and occupiers of County Council property
The County Council has issued a Position Statement to advise schools and occupiers of property owned by WSCC of the council’s current position, if they are contacted by external bodies to access water usage or are offered water off-setting agreements.
Please read this document before engaging with or accepting any proposals.