Get a grip on greener housebuilding and pollution rules, government told

The government must “get a grip” on its “haphazard” implementation of environmental rules on housebuilding, a new House of Lords report warns.

The Built Environment Committee says there is a “real risk” the government will fail to deliver both its housing targets and environmental ambitions.

The criticism comes a day after Rishi Sunak announced a major shift in key green policies.

The government said it would consider the committee’s findings.

But environmental groups said that housebuilding should never come at the expense of the natural environment.

An inquiry by the cross-party Lords committee heard that 45,000 new homes a year might not be delivered as a result of current “nutrient neutrality” pollution rules.

It was in the Lords last week that a government attempt to amend the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was voted down., That would have scrapped those nutrient neutrality rules, which require housebuilders to ensure new developments do not add to the overall amount of river pollution.

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“Nutrient neutrality” rules mean developers must prevent or offset water pollution.

Thursday’s committee report said the government is failing to provide sufficient support to smaller developers dealing with those rules, which now risk putting them out of business.

Lord Moylan, chairman of the Built Environment Committee, said the government’s current approach to managing any conflict between housebuilding and environmental needs “is failing to deliver for either side”.

“Our inquiry found that the achievement of the government’s housing policies has been hampered and sometimes completely blocked by lack of co-ordination in policy-making and haphazard and unbalanced implementation,” he said.

“A government that sorted this out with proper leadership and got things lined up could, over time, give us the sort of environmental improvements we’d like to see, and the sort of housing numbers they have been promising. But that isn’t happening.”

The committee also criticised “poor agricultural and sewage management” over the decades for leading to water pollution that must now be mitigated through housebuilding practices.

Housing crisis ‘critical’

And it warned that developers were being “disproportionately burdened” by the new requirement to deliver Biodiversity Net Gain, an incoming planning rule that means housebuilders will need to improve nature and wildlife habitats.

The Lords committee says that housebuilding targets should be given statutory weight, giving them an equal status with environmental goals.

New housing supply is currently lower than the government’s ambition of 300,000 new homes In England per year. In 2021/22, about 233,000 were built, according to government figures.

Steve Turner, executive director of the Home Builders Federation, welcomed the Lords report, saying that “political failure” was “exacerbating our already critical housing crisis”.

“With proper leadership it is eminently possible to deliver the homes the country needs and enhance our natural environment, and after four long years of failure we urgently need politicians to implement a solution,” he said.

Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said the Lords committee was right that no one sector “should bear the weight of environmental action alone”.

But he added that “the conclusion should be stronger regulation and more investment for environmental improvement across the economy – not weakening the rules that protect nature. We cannot have healthy homes without a healthy environment”.

Meanwhile, the government is currently failing to meet most of its environmental targets, according to a report by the independent watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

Earlier this month, the OEP also warned the government’s attempt to amend the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill would have reduced the level of environmental protection provided for in law.

Elliot Chapman-Jones, head of public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, said the public “outrage” caused by recent government proposals, “shows how people across society will not stand for the further degradation of our natural environment”.

A government spokesperson said it was committed to its ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year and had invested £10bn to increase housing supply since the start of the current Parliament.

“We know we must work together to build the homes this country needs – tackling pollution at source while protecting and improving the environment,” the spokesperson added.

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