Under pressure from housebuilders, the self-proclaimed ‘greenest government ever’ has scrapped nutrient neutrality rules on new developments.

The government states that over 100,000 homes held up due to defective EU laws will be unblocked between now and 2030, delivering an estimated £18 billion boost to the economy.

The change will be made through an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

The nutrient neutrality rules have been in place since 2017 when the UK was still a member of the EU. Under the rules, local authorities in England should not give the go-ahead to any new development that is projected to add to river nutrients in protected areas such as phosphates and nitrates, either through wastewater from new homes or run-off from building sites.

Under the existing rules, builders have to mitigate new nutrient loads caused by new populations in housing either onsite or elsewhere within the same catchment. They can do this by investing in new wetlands or by creating buffer zones along rivers and other watercourses. Builders have complained that doing so was costly and time-consuming.

In response to developers’ complaints, ministers launched a mitigation scheme in 2022 under which builders were allowed to buy “credits” to gain approval for their schemes. But those developers say that the process of purchasing such credits has occasionally led to unintended consequences, such as buying up farmland to take it out of use in an attempt to reduce water run-off.

The story is covered by the BBC, the Guardian and other news outlets. The Guardian reports that scrapping the nutrient neutrality requirement will cost taxpayers £140 million.

Link to the government’s nutrient pollution Policy Paper.

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