Why Water Neutrality is Becoming Increasingly Important to Developers

min read time
2024-05-21 13:44:00

It is predicted that by 2050 we will have a 4 billion litre a day shortfall in water supply in the UK and in April 2023 the government published its plan to tackle this along with water pollution and storm overflows. With a growing demand for water and increasing periods of drought due to climate change, water neutrality for new developments will become key to climate resilience. 

Cutting waste, improving water efficiency and investing in new water resource infrastructure will also play a part in nature recovery and carbon reduction helping to ensure a sustainable future. Whilst there is not yet any government legislation regarding water neutrality, it has already become a planning requirement in parts of Sussex and it seems likely that there will be legislation in the future. 

Forward thinking developers can look to water efficiency, water reuse and water harvesting to add value to and future proof their developments whilst working towards water neutrality. In this article we take a look at what water neutrality is, its benefits, how it works in practice, current requirements and responsibilities and what the future could look like.

What is water neutrality?

Water neutrality is the term used to describe the concept of managing the demand for water in response to the accelerated rate of house growth associated with government targets for new homes and constraints on water availability particularly as a result of climate change. It is particularly relevant in the South East of England where water shortages are more common and weather predictions point to droughts becoming more frequent but as the climate continues to change it could become more relevant in areas throughout the UK

In the context of development, a definition of water neutrality was established by Therival et al in 2006, “For every new development, total water use in the region after the development must be equal to or less than total water use in the region before the new development” then in 2009 The Environment Agency changed this definition to include mention of offsetting. Their revised definition became: “For every new development, the predicted increase in total water demand in the region due to the development should be offset by reducing demand in the existing community”. However, some would class this definition as unhelpful as it reduces the focus on water efficiency as a priority.

What are the benefits of water neutrality?

There are a number of benefits of water neutrality to new homeowners, developers and communities. These include:

  1. Saving water
  2. Saving money
  3. Saving carbon
  4. Reducing environmental impact
  5. Increased climate resilience
  6. Reduction of water going into sewage system and therefore sewage outflows


How does water neutrality work in practice?

In its 2021 review of water neutrality in the UK, The Environment Agency set out 3 steps to achieving water neutrality.

  1. Reducing water use – this can be through a combinations of water efficient devices, smart monitoring and embedding a water saving culture
  2. Reusing water – this can be achieved through a combination of rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling and blackwater recycling.
  3. Offset water – finally where the water requirements for a new home can’t be covered using the above 2 methods, investment can be made in a scheme that saves water in the local region such as retrofitting existing buildings with water reuse systems and water efficiency devices.

Is water neutrality a requirement for developers?

Water neutrality is not yet an official policy in the UK, but the idea is getting increasing attention as a potential way to manage water. As part of their efforts to be more sustainable, some businesses and organisations in the UK have begun to use water neutrality strategies.

 “Whilst there is not yet an official government policy regarding water neutrality, its seems likely that something will be required soon. Forward thinking developers could start to consider options not only to comply with potential future legislation but also with regards to their own corporate responsibility policies and the added value it could add for new home buyers which could include reduced water bills and added protection from future water shortages“. Martin Lambley, Wavin Urban Climate Resilience - Global Product Manager


In the Sussex North Resource Zone water neutraility has become a requirement of local planning policy. Natural England have stated that Local Planning Authorities must ensure that all new development which takes place are water neutral so as not to exacerbate any impacts of water extraction which might be occurring on the Arun Valley, an important area for wildlife due to a number of nationally and internationally important nature conservation sites. Planning applications will need to consult with the Local Planning Authority (LPA) and submit a Water Neutrality statement which demonstrates ‘water neutrality’.

Who is responsible for water neutrality?

A 2007 paper by the government stressed the need for action by a partnership of local community, local authority, local water companies, the environment agency and developers to deliver the water neutrality. It also highlighted how water companies cannot be seen as the default funders for water neutrality measures. The establishment of water neutrality in the planning system will be key to its effective delivery with local authorities playing a key role in regional strategies that can be refelected in the development of regional strategies and implementation as part of the Local Development Framework.  

However, a consortium known as Houses for Homes consisting of Agents, Developers and Builders in the North Sussex Supply Zone in association with the National House Builders Federation are opposing the imposition of water neutrality in the area stating that Natural England has instituted this ban on planning approvals without consultation with the Developers and without the provision of an organisational system to make it work. They argue that Southern Water, the utility supplier is responsible for proving new properties with an adequate supply of water and to demonstrate to the Local Planning Authorities that they will not contribute further to the existing adverse effect.

“It is clear that government policy has yet to establish a clear and workable mechanism to allow water neutral developments to proceed. The need for new housing and a climate resilient water supply are both important and a clear policy is needed to balance these two key priorities. It seems likely that this is on the agenda for the future. For now, committing to deliver a water neutral development could still strengthen the case for development, particularly in areas where water availability is constrained or likely to be in the future.” Martin Lambley, Wavin Urban Climate Resilience - Global Product Manager

How can Wavin help?

Wavin’s urban climate resilience solutions are helping our built environments to withstand the challenges of climate change. Our forward-thinking solutions provide a holistic approach to managing stormwater, reducing urban heat, supporting nature and enhancing livability for sustainable and future-proof built environments.

Our in-house design capabilities can support end-clients, architects and developers to understand how our solutions can best be incorporated into a project and provide an insight into the solutions’ capabilities including:

  • Water balance onsite
  • How to strategically use that water
  • How much water is needed
  • When to evacuate the system
  • When to have more storage.

​Want to find out more about Urban Climate Resilience at Wavin? please get in touch below.