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Government re-writing rules on waterway pollution in bid to boost home building | Climate News

The housing secretary Michael Gove is planning a major change to rules on waterway pollution in a bid to boost home building in England.

The so-called “nutrient neutrality” rules have been criticised by developers and some Tory MPs for blocking much-needed housebuilding.

The government hopes the move, which is coming in an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, will allow 100,000 new homes to be built over the next few years to 2030.

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.

He said the changes would bring a “multi-billion pound boost for the UK economy”.

Mr Gove added: “We will work closely with environmental agencies and councils as we deliver these changes.”

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The rules, introduced in 2017 when the UK was still an EU member, are designed to ensure that a development does not leak nutrients into local wetlands and waterways in protected areas.

They obliged developers to mitigate or offset that pollution, but developers will now be freed from that obligation, and cost.

The government will offset the “very small amount” of pollution instead, doubling an existing taxpayer-funded investment in the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme to £280m by 2030.

However, it plans to ask developers to contribute over time, though it is not yet clear if that would be voluntary or compulsory.

The housing industry is expected to welcome the move as a way to speed up the building of new homes.

But the major shift is likely to anger environmentalists, who in the last year have ramped up campaigns against sewage spills and other pollution leaching into Britain’s rivers and seas.

But water pollution rules are not the only issue affecting housing supply, with some calling for more public sector investment, making more land available and streamlining the planning process.

The Conservative government has pledged to build 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s.

Parliamentary figures show housing supply has increased year-on-year from a low point of 125,000 in 2012/13, reaching a high point of 243,000 new homes in 2019/20. Supply dipped during the COVID pandemic but rose again after that.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson Tim Farron MP said: “Not content with the levels of pollution in our rivers already, scrapping nutrient neutrality is a disgraceful act from the government. The Conservatives seem happy for Britain’s rivers to get even worse.

“If ministers actually cared about our rivers they would clean them up rather than scrapping the few rules in place that protect them.”

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