Lords block Government plan to weaken water pollution rules for housebuilders
The UK Government’s proposals to relax water pollution requirements placed on housebuilders have been blocked after a rebellion in the House of Lords.
Several members of the House had been planning to oppose the Government’s plan to scrap a ‘nutrient neutrality’ requirement placed on developers since it was first announced last month. These members received an uplift of support at the vote on the amendment on Wednesday (13 September) after the Labour Party urged its members to block the changes.
In total, 192 members voted that they were ‘not content’ with the proposals, while 162 voted ‘content’. Every single Labour, Green and Lib Dem member of the house opposed the plans.
Deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner called the plans “a flawed attempt to score cheap political points” and said poliymakers should be able to balance the need to build new homes with the need to protect the environment.
The Conservative Government had sought to axe the ‘nutrient neutrality’ requirement as part of its drive to phase out EU-laws post-Brexit. It would have done so via an amendment to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill.
The nutrient neutrality requirement was first introduced by the EU in 2017. It compels housing developers to prove that their work will not cause polluting nitrates and phosphates to enter nearby waters. They must assess the impact of construction and also building operations.
If pollution is likely to result from their developments, these businesses will need to invest to intervene. Options include wetland creation or buffer zone development. Since 2022, developers have also been able to buy “credits” from the Government to offset their impact elsewhere within the same catchment.
Housebuilders have argued that the enforcement of nutrient neutrality rules has been too strict and this has undermined the delivery of the Government’s target to create 300,000 homes each year from the mid-2020s.
The National Federation of Builders and House Builders Association has claimed that at least 100,000 homes have been put on hold in the past five years.
Others including Labour’s Baroness Jones have stated that this is an inflated figure. Jones also noted that, while developers are right in pointing out that the agriculture and water industries contribute to water pollution in the UK to a greater degree, rolling back any pollution laws would “set a dangerous precedent”.
Some Conservatives also joined Labour Lords in revelling. Conservative Lord Deben said the plan to axe nutrient neutrality was “one of the worst pieces of legislation [he has] ever seen and [he has] been around a long time.
An MP between 1970 and 2010, Deben served Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister for almost four years under Margaret Thatcher. He was then Environment Secretary under John Major for four years. Until earlier this year, he had chaired the Government’s independent climate advisory body, the Climate Change Committee.