NY Today News
NY Today News: Your Daily Dose of Local and Global Headlines

Repeal of water pollution rules won’t solve England’s housing crisis, say developers

Michael Gove’s plan to repeal water pollution rules in an attempt to kickstart housebuilding will not solve England’s housing crisis, developers have warned, thanks to delays in implementation and other planning burdens.

The housing secretary announced on Tuesday he intends to remove the regulations regarding nutrient levels in rivers, prompting outrage from green groups but relief from housebuilders, whose shares promptly rose.

But while developers have campaigned for years for an end to the rules, they warned that amending the levelling up bill to do so risked months of delays given opposition to multiple parts of the expansive legislation.

A spokesperson for the Home Builders Federation said: “After four years the proposals are a welcome step towards a solution, but clearly the bill still has some way to go and we are potentially many months from unlocking sites and starting construction work.”

They added: “Whilst this ultimately may remove one major barrier to housing supply, it is no silver bullet and the government’s approach on planning remains an even greater constraint alongside mortgage availability in the current economic environment.”

Gove said on Tuesday he would use the levelling up bill, which is being debated in the House of Lords, to remove rules blocking new development if it is forecast to add to levels of nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates in rivers.

Those nutrients, which are contained in waste products, can cause algae and other plants to grow so quickly that they choke off aquatic life.

However, housebuilders say the rules have been enforced so strictly by Natural England that it has become impossible to build on large parts of the country. The regulations have meant no houses being built in the past four years in large parts of the Solent and the Lake District for example.

Under the new regime, developers will no longer have to offset the nutrient pollution caused by sewage from new homes. Instead, the government is spending an extra £140m to offset extra pollution, shifting the burden from the polluter to the taxpayer.

Gove told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “After all the measures we’ve announced today have been enacted there will be fewer nutrients going into British rivers.”

Richard Benwell, the chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “Scrapping the rules may reduce the costs for big businesses, but those costs don’t disappear. Instead, the public will pick up the bill for pollution reduction, and the environment will bear an unbearable cost of yet more pollution in our most sensitive rivers and streams.”

Some Conservatives also expressed concern. Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, said: “It is disappointing that the government has chosen to exempt housebuilding’s nutrient pollution from the habitats regulations, rather than seek a holistic reform with developers paying proportionally for their pollution.”

Conservative MPs, however, were broadly supportive, including those who have opposed Gove over housebuilding in the past.

Theresa Villiers, who has previously led rebellions against plans to liberalise the planning system, told the Guardian on Tuesday: “For a long time the nutrient neutrality rules have been operating in a very inflexible way, and have all but stopped development in a number of places.”

Shares in major developers rose on Tuesday, with Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, and Barratt Developments and Berkeley Group all performing well.

Industry executives however warn however that Gove’s attempts to repeal the pollution regulations could still fail given the tortuous process behind passing the levelling up bill.

Lords have debated dozens of amendments already, covering everything from education policy to electric vehicle charge points. The government also wants to use the bill to push forward new measures to allow councils top opt out of low-emissions zones such as London’s Ulez.

“This bill has become a Christmas tree with various members using it to advance their chosen policies,” said one supporter of the move to repeal the nutrient neutrality rules. “The worry is now that it simply doesn’t pass in time.”

If the bill is not passed in time for the King’s Speech in November, it will have to be reintroduced for the next session, where it will fight for legislative time with the rest of the government’s priorities for what is likely to be the final session before an election.

And even if the bill does pass, officials admit it will be months before the pollution regulations are formally removed.

News Source