Water Neutrality

A recent directive from Natural England states that all new accommodation, together with new commercial premises with high water uses, in affected areas will need to meet the new Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) requirement to demonstrate water neutrality. In the Sussex North Water Resources Supply Zone this measure has been stipulated in order to protect ecological flows and reduce the demand for increased water abstraction from the wells at Hardham. As this could adversely impact the integrity of the Arun Valley which is a critical habitat for many important species.


The aim of water neutrality is to minimise the impact on existing water resources, infrastructure, and the environment. Consequently for every new development, water demand should first be minimised with any remaining water demand offset, so that the total demand on the public water supply (mains, treated or abstracted) in a defined catchment region is the same after development as it was before the development was built. Thus for all new developments there would be a requirement to offset water use from existing residential/school/building premises within the same water resource zone to create the water resources required to service the new development. Through theWaterBank we are actively addressing this issue by matching developers with water offsetting opportunities in affected regions throughout the United Kingdom. 

What is a Water Neutral Development? 

A Water Neutral development will not add to the overall existing water demand of an area or 

catchment and will have zero impact on existing water abstraction requirements or water mains supply.  

Nearly all of the Councils that are located along the southwest coast receive their portable water supply from the Sussex North Water Resources Supply Zone with abstraction points at Hardham including others located in the Arun Valley. The Environment Agency has classified this area as a Water Stressed Area which has resulted in concerns being raised by Natural England regarding the long term availability of ecological flows.  

The Arun Valley contains both nationally and internationally significant habitats that are protected, which includes locations such as Amberley Wild Brooks Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Pulborough Brooks SSSI and Arun Valley Special Protection Area/Special Area of Conservation and Ramsar site.


Owing to the emergence of the water neutrality requirement, councils like Hampshire, Horsham, Chichester District, Horsham District and Crawley District can no longer support planning applications without the water neutrality protocol being met. Below we provide an analysis of the implications for the other water stressed regions in the south and southeast of England, demonstrating that it is certainly most likely that they too will be affected by the water neutrality requirement.  

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Chalk Streams - Our Unique Ecosystem 

The UK's chalk rivers have helped to shape some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. From the rolling green downloads in southern England to the grassy meadows, salmonoid habitats, criss crossed with the waterways of the eastern fens. 

Save Water - Save Our Rivers 

40% of the water we extract from the natural environment is wasted. By taking just what we need we will save the environment, natural aquatic habitats and wildlife and maintain good levels of our limited water resources. 

In order to meet our daily modern day requirements we are reliant on a heavily complicated and over engineered capital system, consisting of large sewers, treatment plants and sewer overflows. In recent months we heard the scandalous reports on a number of Water Companies discharging untreated effluent into rivers, needlessly contaminating and polluting our rivers and killing aquatic life.  

Over-abstraction of water decreases the resilience of habitats to natural variations in water levels, particularly during summer or in a drought. This results in irreversible damage to aquatic ecosystems and ecological services.

Compelling Case for Water Neutrality


Most of the government's targeted 300,000 homes will be constructed in the South and East of England. These areas have high populations and greatest economic activities. Significant developments are also earmarked for these regions; the Oxford - Cambridge ARC with an enormous target of 1 million homes, the 10,000 homes Tewkesbury Garden City, North Essex Garden city; but the list goes on with many less prominent developments that are required to meet demand. 


Natural England and the Environment Agency have indeed taken a precautionary approach in considering the potential adverse impact on the Arun Valley ecosystems and protected habitats. But applying the "Precautionary Principle" is a tenet of the Environmental Law and so it must be as we cannot afford to lose habitats, flora and fauna first then act after the event. There is a strong case for taking this stance as technology is readily available at reasonable cost for new developments to actively offset their "new" water demand requirements.  


The more critical issue is that this matter will not go away or be lobbied out of existence. The regions in the South and East of England are particularly vulnerable as they rely on the aquifers which also service the chalk streams. These chalk streams are unique habitats as stated above and at times have become vulnerable to over-abstraction.  









Developers will need to look at this carefully, particularly for strategic sites and develop deliverable mechanisms for securing potential water offsets opportunities. The water issues are compounded by climate change induced weather events which inevitable compels regulators to apply stricter regiment in order to mitigate the risk of over abstraction of water. 

Future water supply will no longer be an end of tap solution. We all need to look at the source of supply and mitigate existing consumption patterns and habits if we are going to facilitate developments in the future. This is a collective effort and we consider theWaterBank to provide a universal solution that that will reduce overall water demand, ensure ecological flows and facilitate future developments. 

The hidden rivers of the Thames are simulated at surface level by a myriad of bust pipes! In 2007/2008 the Ofwat 

Economic Leakage Target was a staggering 22%. In the 2019 water price review Ofwat that it was targeting a water leakage reduction nationwide by 17% between 2020 and 2025. This would be sufficient to save water enough water to meet the needs of everyone in Manchester, Leeds, Leicester and Cardiff. We are there working on a mechanism to facilitate water mains repairs via theWaterBank, so that the water saved can be utilised by future developments.  

Dry Chalk River Mimram Hertfordshire

Kills Aquatic Life & Habitats

Thriving Chalk Stream 

Salmon and Trout Habitat


High Levels Of

Water Stress

Our rivers together with their ecosystems are at risk from a number of pressures but the compounding effects of excessive abstractions are particularly severe: 

  • Increased concentrations of effluent, pollutants and nutrients.

  • Restricted migration routes and restricted access to spawning grounds.

  • Rivers slow down, lose oxygen and drop sediment. 

  • Increased water temperature leading to algae growth and oxygen depletion.

  • Decreased viability of species that rely on specific water levels, flow levels and substrate conditions.   

  • Aquatic habitats for fish, insects, animals and plants are reduced and severely altered. 

  • Excessive groundwater abstraction compounds other negative impacts on water quality:

    • Pollution from surface water runoff. 

    • Concentrates pollutants from agriculture like pesticides and fertilisers. 

    • Phosphates from sewage. 

30% of the Rivers in England and Wales are at risk of significant damage from over-abstraction, as highlighted by the Environment Agency's Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS). Ref 12.

  • 15% of river catchments are classified as over-abstracted. 

  • 18% of river catchments are classified as over-licensed. 


The south and east of England region is particularly under high levels of water stress; owing to the high population density and greater per capita consumption. In drought and low rainfall periods abstraction to meet domestic life and commercial requirements abstraction to meet these demands is causing irreparable damage to our rivers, aquatic life and associated habitats.   

preserving every precious drop