The Housing Secretary Michael Gove is to scrap Natural England‘s requirement to block housing in areas polluted by Nutrients Neutrality.
Gove announced the significant deregulation of the rules around Nutrients Neutrality to unblock the building of up to 100,000 homes, in a move that will be worth £18 million to the economy.
Government squarely blames ‘defective’ EU laws for the issue, which saw Natural England, itself a government quango, place a ‘requirement’ to advise English councils not to approve housing schemes in affected areas. Had they done so the council in question would have been open to legal challenge, leading to 74 councils setting up moratoriums on large areas of their territory.
However, the actual contribution of new housing to the pollution of rivers is believed to be relatively small, with farming and poor treatment plants being the primary culprits, as set out in a report by Lichfields earlier in the year.
An amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will see an end to the red tape that’s stalled so many sites, including many custom and self build developments. Many of these sites already have planning permissions in place meaning that the lifting of the ban could seen construction commence in a matter of months.
While the construction industry welcomed that announcement, environmentalists have been quick to criticise the move to water down the reach of Natural England.
The announcement also referenced plans for new environmental measures to address pollution at source and restore habitats. This will see a doubling of the investment in Natural England’s Nutrient Mitigation Scheme, taking it to £280m. This will enable the small amount of nutrient discharge from the 100,000 homes between now and 2030 to be offset.
Natural England will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to tackle nutrient pollution improve river habitats.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP said: “We are committed to building the homes this country needs and to enhancing our environment. The way EU rules have been applied has held us back. These changes will provide a multi-billion pound boost for the UK economy and see us build more than 100,000 new homes.
“Protecting the environment is paramount which is why the measures we’re announcing today will allow us to go further to protect and restore our precious waterways whilst still building the much-needed homes this country needs.
“We will work closely with environmental agencies and councils as we deliver these changes.”