The councillor in charge of planning at Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) has said it is facing the possibility of “hostile applications” if central government refuses to relax development laws.

Councillor Nick Adams-King, TVBC’s portfolio holder for planning, told a meeting of councillors that if the government did not relax sections of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for Test Valley, then developers would be able to submit planning applications for areas that are currently not earmarked for housing.

This would occur due to restrictions on development in the borough, and across Hampshire, due to nitrate neutrality rules. At present, the council says there are over 500 properties which cannot be approved because of these rules, leaving them vulnerable to not having a five year housing supply.

Cllr Adams-King said if changes didn’t occur, TVBC could “face the problem of not being able to confirm our five year land supply and, as a consequence, be open to hostile applications from developers.”

He said the council hoped to have a system in place by the summer to allow them to offset nitrates in the area and avoid the problem.

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.

As a result, TVBC currently has 93 planning applications which it would approve but cannot due to nitrate neutrality rules. This is a total of 502 houses that are currently in planning limbo, with an estimate that up to 50 per cent more may be prepared but not yet submitted.

The issue is compounded by the NPPF, which mandates that local authorities must be able to demonstrate they have sufficient housing in the pipeline for the next five years. If they do not, paragraph 11d of the framework says that permission should then be granted to new development applications unless they conflict with the NPPF, rather than local planning policies.

Therefore, TVBC could fall short of its housing supply if new estates are held up by nitrate rules.

Cllr Adams-King told a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on February 17: “We could face the problem of not being able to confirm our five year land supply and as a consequence being open to hostile applications from developers who, remember, might be able to offset land elsewhere that is in their own ownership and take the control away from us.

“We have asked [central government] to suspend that rule [11d] for us because we certainly have enough housing in the pipeline to meet our land supply we just can’t grant the planning permissions for it.”

TVBC has previously approved plans to make developers pay up to £3,000 per kilo of nitrate to be offset by the purchase of agricultural land, which they hope to make into country parks for residents.

Cllr Adams-King also said pressure was being put on the Environment Agency to ensure water companies strip more nitrates from effluent at their wastewater facilities.

In response to a question by Cllr David Coole, he said: “It is the Environment Agency we have been lobbying hardest because it is they who have the power to police Southern Water and make them put these measures in place.”

Cllr Adams-King said the public body had agreed to break their 10 year review cycle and review waste water treatment policies, and if utilities firms should be compelled to treat water for nitrates. He estimated the review would be completed by 2023 to 2024.

For now, TVBC is in the process of preparing to introduce its nitrate offsetting scheme, which they hope to achieve by the summer.