Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) could create new public spaces in the borough as part of plans to get rid of a “backlog” of unbuilt housing.

TVBC Leader, Councillor Phil North, raised the prospect during a meeting of the authority’s cabinet on Wednesday to discuss how the council aims to overcome nitrate restrictions placed on house building by offsetting land.

He said: “If there is land available and we are able to purchase that, there may be opportunities available to open it up to members of the public as public access like we have done in other areas.”

At present, all accommodation and tourism attractions across much of Hampshire must be nitrate neutral. Nitrates are generally generated by new housing, mostly in wastewater, amd have to be mitigated by other actions, such as taking agricultural land out of use, or introducing plants and animals that use nitrogen to grow.

This requirement is due to a 2018 EU court ruling, which led Natural England to subsequently advise planners in areas with rivers that drain into the Solent that their developments should not add excess nitrates. This is designed to protect the Solent by preventing eutrophication, where nitrogen allows algae to grow rapidly and starve marine life of oxygen and light.

In Test Valley, this means that any developments around the River Test, River Itchen, and River Avon, as well as any of their tributaries, must be mitigated.

At a meeting of the cabinet on January 13, Cllr Nick Adams-King said that nitrate neutrality was “one of the greatest challenges” Test Valley, and southern Hampshire, had faced in the past 18 months.

He described it as “an impediment” to TVBC’s housing delivery, attributing the “backlog” of undetermined planning applications to the issue.

As a result, the council plans to charge developers £3,000 per kilo of nitrogen that cannot be offset onsite, as well as a £100 administration fee. This money will be used to secure land for at least 80 years to offset the development, with the possibility of converting agricultural land to woodland or wetland to do so.

Cllr North said that once this land is purchased, “there may be opportunities available to open it up to members of the public as public access.”

Chartered surveyor Tony Langridge, who was invited to address the cabinet, welcomed aspects of the report but said it “will not unlock the current logjam.”

He said: “Reference is made to possible loans and the DEFRA pilot scheme, but there is no evidence these will result in any change in the next six to twelve months.”

He continued: “The paper before you does not highlight the inequitable situation that means the costs of mitigation in the Test and Itchen is up to three times that in the south of the Solent area.”

Responding, Cllr Adams-King said that Langridge’s frustration was “matched” by the council, and said that a solution to the matter, potentially working across local authorities “is actually on the horizon and will be available quite soon,” but could not go into detail as it was commercially sensitive.

Following debate, the plans passed with no dissent.