Plans to relax pollution rules blocked in Lords

The House of Lords has voted down government plans to scrap requirements for housebuilders in certain areas to offset river pollution.

In August, the government proposed an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that would have repealed EU-era ‘nutrient neutrality’ rules, which require planning officials to consider a housing development’s chemical run-off into surrounding waterways. The government claimed that the move would allow 100,000 new homes to be built.

After a heated debate, the amendment was defeated last night by 203 votes to 156.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said that retaining the existing rules “will do nothing to improve the shocking state of our rivers, polluted by agricultural run-off and the failings of water companies, but will exacerbate our housing crisis still further.

He added: “With growing waiting lists, a generation unable to buy, local economies damaged, and jobs lost, the mishandling of this issue is a national disgrace.”

The plan attracted a backlash from environmental groups. Independent government regulator the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) warned the government in a letter that scrapping nutrient neutrality requirements would weaken environmental protection.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which also spoke out against the plans, welcomed the Lords’ decision.

“This is not a choice between clean rivers or more houses. With the right mitigations in place, it’s perfectly possible these rules need not impact the drive to build more homes,” an RSPB spokesperson said.

Nutrient neutrality also caused a stir among politicians. Shadow levelling up secretary Angela Rayner had announced earlier on Wednesday that Labour planned to oppose the government’s “reckless” move to weaken environmental law.

During the House of Lords debate, Green Party Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb told the chamber: “Our government promised us repeatedly that there would be no lessening of environmental protection at any time. They promised us that and they lied.”

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