Relaxing environment rules criticised

Central Government

Relaxing environment rules criticised as news announced at the end of August suggests that the government intends to relax environment rules that force housebuilders to mitigate the impact new developments have on river health have been criticised by Greenpeace. Commenting Doug Parr, their policy director said: “Who would look at our sickly, sewage-infested rivers and conclude that what they need is weaker pollution rules? No one and that should include our government. Scrapping or weakening
limits on chemicals from sewage and farm run-offs would be a sure sign that ministers have completely given up on saving our great waterways and the precious wildlife they host”.

“Instead of allowing housebuilders to cut corners, the Sunak administration should make sure we have the right infrastructure to handle our sewage so we can build new homes without sacrificing our rivers’ health. But that would require them to do what they’ve spectacularly failed to do so far – forcing water firms and housebuilders to invest their profits in upgrading
treatment plants and pipes to a standard that a modern, functional country would expect.”

Despite the relaxing of environment rules being criticised, the news was welcomed by the housebuilding industry who hope the decision would enable them to provide an additional 100,000 new homes in England by 2030. A source quoted in The Guardian said: “This is undoubtedly good news for Britain’s housing supply. The only question is why it has taken so long for the government to get round to doing something about this”.

Current nutrient neutrality rules derived from the EU, prevent developers from building houses in protected areas when it would add harmful substances like nitrogen and phosphorus into nearby rivers and lakes, because such nutrients can cause algal blooms that deprive other plants and animals of light and oxygen.

Natural England currently issues guidance to 62 local authority areas, requiring new developments to be nutrient neutral in their area, meaning developers must demonstrate and fund mitigation to win planning approval in certain areas. This requirement will be diluted to become guidance under the changes being proposed. Natural England is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

The government also proposes that the financial burden to mitigate nutrient pollution for new housing shifted from developers to taxpayers, saying it would double investment in its nutrient mitigation scheme, being run by Natural England, to £280 million. And a further £166 million will be allocated for slurry infrastructure grants.

However, getting these changes passed into law maybe more difficult, as the government will have to change legislation through an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, currently in the House of Lords. If they cannot get support for this amendment to the bill, which must pass by the autumn the proposal will have to be reintroduced in a new bill in the
King’s Speech on 7 November.

Also see a comment piece from the Independent.