UK government to relax pollution rules to boost house building

30th August 2023

The UK government has unveiled plans to relax “defective” EU-derived laws on nutrient pollution in order to boost house building.

Over 100,000 new homes will be unblocked between now and 2030 by doing away with the laws on ‘nutrient neutrality’, delivering an estimated £18bn boost to the economy.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities acknowledged that nutrients entering rivers are “a real problem”, but insisted that the contribution made by new homes is “very small”.

By removing “red tape” through an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Department said that developers could begin construction on the new homes within “a matter of months”.

“The way EU rules have been applied has held us back,” said Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities. “These changes will provide a multi-billion pound boost for the UK economy and see us build more than 100,000 new homes.”

The current regulations have required Natural England to issue guidance to 62 local authority areas that new developments must be nutrient neutral in their area, including Somerset, Norfolk, Teesside, Kent, Wiltshire and the Solent.

This has blocked or delayed new developments, according to the government, including around a large number of homes that already have planning permission.

Relaxing the rules will potentially allow Natural England greater freedom to develop catchment-specific solutions, and any additional nutrient discharge will be offset by doubling investment in the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme to £280m.

The government also unveiled a series of measured to tackle nutrient pollution at the source, such as introducing laws to drive investment in upgrading wastewater treatment works, and conducting at least 4,000, inspections on farms each year.

However, green groups have reacted with anger at the plans, insisting that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the extra nutrient pollution caused by developers.

“Make no mistake – this is a license from the government for the commercial housebuilding lobby to profit from the pollution of our rivers,” said Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts.

“The UK is ranked as one of the worst countries in Europe for water quality and the public are rightly outraged at our rivers being used as open sewers by water companies.

“Scrapping the rules that are merely trying to stop rivers becoming even more polluted will allow vested interests to make more money at the expense of our rivers and the natural environment.”

Ben Goodwin, IEMA’s head of policy, has written a blog outlining the Institute's concerns with the plans.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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