Government to relax nutrient neutrality requirements

As predicted in the news yesterday (here, here and here), Leveling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, and Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey, have today announced that they intend to remove nutrient neutrality requirements in England through an amendment to the Leveling Up and Regeneration Bill, which is currently progressing through the House of Lords.

In the announcement made today, the government says that housebuilding is being held back by “defective EU laws” and that the new approach is a “Brexit bonus“.

Government says that the amendment will unlock the building of up to 100,000 houses, and that environmental concerns will be addressed by “measures that will tackle pollution at source and restore habitats“, particularly noting agricultural run-off and sewage overflows. Government says that these measures will include “significantly expanding investment in and evolving the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme run by Natural England, doubling investment to £280m to ensure it is sufficient to offset the very small amount of additional nutrient discharge attributable to up to 100,000 homes between now and 2030“.

It is interesting to note that the government says it is discussing with the Home Builders Federation, the representative body of the home building industry in England and Wales, what the right structure and approach is for housebuilders to contribute into the new scheme. No mention is made of consulting with any other groups.

The announcement is disappointing, especially given how much time and effort local authorities and others have put into finding and implementing satisfactory avoidance and mitigation measures.

Wildlife and Countryside Link, of which CIEEM is a member, has made the following statement:

“The Government is carving away at the Habitats Regulations, the UK’s most important nature protections. If the Government is willing to strip away vital protection to save money for developers in polluted catchments, then where will it draw the line? This could be the most serious blow for environmental law in decades. What the Government is proposing here is to remove legal protections for nature, throw away requirements for polluters to pay, and instead use taxpayers’ money to try to fill the gap. But a single, short-term capital injection will do nothing to make up for the harm that our rivers and wildlife will suffer as a result.”