This week (23 October), reports suggested that the UK government has revoked plans to bring forward new legislation to change the nutrient pollution laws, which requires new developments to stop the level of phosphates and nitrates entering vulnerable watercourses and catchment areas.

According to media reports, Michael Gove is now not planning to bring legislation that would have unlocked around 100,000 new home developments in areas where river pollution is high. The new policy was to amend the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to allow housebuilders to effectively ignore evidence of nutrient pollution from housing development sites.

The Home Builders Federation has claimed it a “damning indictment” that politicians have still not found a solution to the problem. They claim that “banning new homes does absolutely nothing to improve the shocking state of our rivers, polluted by agricultural run-off and as a result the failings of water companies.”

Currently, to get planning approved, developers must make sure their schemes are nutrient neutral. This means that the number of nitrates entering the water system due to the construction must be offset. Around 74 councils are affected by these nutrient pollution laws in areas including Cumbria, Somerset, New Forest Norfolk, Kent, and much of the North of England.

Proposed reforms to nutrient neutrality

The planned changes to laws first announced in August this year were welcomed by the housebuilding industry to unlock greater housing delivery across the UK, with the industry claiming that homes are just a very small contributor of the wastewater ending up in our rivers.

Until increasing numbers of mitigation schemes can be established, nutrient neutrality will pose a significant obstacle to meet the UK’s ambitious housing demand and tackle affordability.

No doubt this week’s decision will come as a massive blow to the industry. The UK Government now needs work with housebuilders to maintain and better our environment but balance this with helping to solve our housing crisis and build more homes.