In August, the Government announced plans that would have unlocked over 100,000 homes held up due to legacy EU laws on nutrient neutrality across 62 local authorities, while still protecting the environment. These rules have had a significant impact on families and communities, stalling developments such as high street regeneration schemes and forcing some smaller local builders out of business. The package announced on 29 August would have helped build more homes where communities wanted them, as well as an estimated £18 billion boost to the economy. I am, therefore, disappointed that the amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that would have enabled this was rejected in the House of Lords.
My ministerial colleagues and I are aware that increased levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus entering our waterways is a real problem. However, the contribution from new homes is very small. The Government introduced legislation to require water companies in impacted areas to upgrade their wastewater treatment works to the highest standards for nutrient removal, allowing for the use of nature-based solutions.
Finally, Ministers have made significant commitments to restore impacted habitats which are of international importance for migratory birds and beyond. The Environment Act 2021 introduced leading targets to reduce key sources of river pollution and halt and restore nature’s decline. The Government will continue to work on full site restoration through further work on new Protected Site Strategies, which Natural England will draw up in partnership with local communities to set the most affected catchments with the highest housing demand on the path to recovery.
Ministers were clear that this package would have more than offset the small amount of pollution expected from these new homes and was therefore not regressive. I am proud of our leading record on the environment. Since 2016, over 15,000 kilometres of rivers have been enhanced and, compared to 1990, phosphorus has decreased by 80 per cent and ammonia has decreased by 85 per cent. In addition, the Plan for Water has required the biggest ever environmental infrastructure investment from the water sector, including £56 billion for storm overflows, and is designed to make polluters pay to deliver clean and plentiful water for both people and wildlife.