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Government Goes Back To The Drawing Board On Housebuilding After Lords Defeat

(Alamy)

3 min read

Government will “consider the next steps” on how to change pollution regulations which they claim have hindered housebuilding, following a defeat in the House of Lords on an amendment to scrap the EU-era law on nutrient neutrality.

The government’s amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill would have removed the need for housebuilders to prove their projects are “nutrient neutral” and not contributing to water pollution in certain parts of the country. 

Ministers had said the changes could mean as many as an additional 100,000 homes by 2030. But the proposed plans to scrap nutrient neutrality rules were rejected by peers on Wednesday by 203 votes to 156. 

Earlier this week PoliticsHome reported that the rejection of the amendment by the Lords effectively kills it in this legislation and means that it cannot be debated by MPs in relation to this bill. 

But Downing Street remains undeterred on the issue, with the the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson confirming that government was still “considering the best way” to get changes through. 

“We need to consider the next steps in unlocking the homes that we need while protecting our waterways in the way we set out yesterday," they said. 

“We do remain committed to unlocking the 100,000, much-needed homes by reforming these EU legacy laws but as I say, at this stage we are considering the best way.”

The plans to ditch the rules had been criticised by some green groups, who argued that the regulation was key to protecting the environment. But Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network felt that changes to these rules were necessary as the current set-up can be a “real hold up” on housebuilding in some areas. He told PoliticsHome the government now needed to “find alternative ways of achieving this change that carries wider support”. 

Hall felt that housebuilding was only a “small contributor” to river pollution. 

“I think the government was right to look for a solution and I also think they were right in their package to focus on the other bigger contributors to river pollution, such as farming and water firms,” he explained.  

“The legal mechanism wasn’t necessarily the one I would have gone for but I think they were right to act. Keeping housebuilders within scope of habitats regulations, by requiring them to pay towards the mitigation in order to free up new homes, may have addressed some of the concerns and eased the burden on the taxpayer.

“I do think there is an opportunity given last night’s result in the Lords to find alternative ways of achieving this change that carries wider support and that effectively improves rivers and boost housebuilding.”  

Labour peers were among those who voted down the government's plans, having not moved their own amendment which if accepted would have forced ministers into a consultation on updating nutrient neutrality laws to increase housebuilding “without any detrimental impact on the natural environment”. 

If the Labour amendment had been accepted by peers, the issue would have entered into ping-pong with the House of Commons, which would have allowed MPs the opportunity to further alter the plans. 

Shadow levelling up secretary Angela Rayner said after the vote that the “flawed” plan had been “humiliatingly rejected”. 

"Labour’s amendment demonstrates our commitment to serious reform of nutrient neutrality rules," she posted to social media. 

“It’s time to build a consensus for a credible alternative based on evidence, and not at the expense of our rivers.”

In response, levelling up secretary Michael Gove claimed that Labour “literally did nothing to enable new housing” with their rejection of the plans. 

 

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