If building homes in Britain were easy, we wouldn’t have a chronic housing shortage. The latest row – over “nutrient neutrality” rules – offers insight into just how difficult it is.
In 2017, Natural England, a quango, advised that new developments should cause “no overall increase in nutrient pollution”. The following year, this became mandatory following a European Court ruling. Concerns that nitrates and phosphates can lead to the destruction of water habitats are not unfounded, but new homes make up a small fraction of water pollution and these rules have, by some estimates, prevented the construction of around 140,000 homes.
That Rishi Sunak is considering a new bill that would allow the Government to rip up these regulations, after a previous attempt to push through the changes via an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was thwarted in the Lords, is to be welcomed. It was widely reported that Labour – whose leader in May vowed to back “builders not blockers” – whipped peers into voting it down.
Efforts to shake up our planning system have typically been frustrated by a formidable machinery of opposition. The Prime Minister’s recent watering down of green targets gives encouragement that he may be willing to take on Nimbys, charities, bureaucrats and other vested interests who oppose the construction of new homes.
Another piece of planned legislation may need to be removed from the King’s Speech to make room for this bill. Helping young people on to the housing ladder surely ought to take priority over, say, a ban on hunting trophy imports.