The UK government has controversially announced plans to reform anti-pollution housebuilding rules in parts of England.

The EU-codified nutrient neutrality laws are designed to protect the environment from building projects – laws the government has described as “red tape” that’s blocking the construction of new homes. According to ministers, removing the rules will allow the completion of 100,000 homes.

The move has been slammed by environmentalists, with the country’s waterways already under a sustained siege of effluence expelled by water companies.

The nutrient neutrality guidelines, which originate from a 2018 European Court of Justice ruling, require housebuilders to offset excess nutrients. They’re designed to ensure that new housing developments don’t pollute the environment with excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. The rules require new housing developments not to increase the amount of nutrient pollution in protected rivers. Phosphates and nitrogen can lead to algal blooms, which starve rivers of oxygen and kill off wildlife.

Speaking to HQN, housing association Orbit said: “We support the removal of any obstacle to delivering more affordable, quality homes. There are over 4.2 million people who have unmet housing need where social rented housing would be the most appropriate tenure, yet only around 54,000 new build affordable homes were built in 2012-2022. The need to increase the numbers of affordable, quality homes is immense.

“Hopefully this news means that the focus will quite rightly be directed towards agriculture and the water companies who have a much greater impact on the quality of our water courses, and we would like to see them working with government to focus on an outcome of clean, healthy water for us all.”

Housing association Abri has also welcomed the plans. Sam Stone, associate director of land and planning, said: “Abri welcomes the government’s plans to amend legacy EU laws on nutrient neutrality, to deliver more homes whilst continuing to protect the environment.

“Right now, the need for more affordable housing could not be greater and the current laws on nutrient neutrality have slowed delivery and caused land prices to increase as a result. It’s crucial we find ways to protect the environment and to continue to build affordable homes.”

Damian Roche, Operations Director at HQN, said: “I know we need to build more homes to solve the housing crisis, but surely there’s a better way than ripping up nutrient neutrality rules, as the media has reported in the last week. I don’t claim to be an expert, but the stories of the polluting of our seas by water companies and the watering down (pardon the pun) of these rules, by turning them into guidance, is very concerning. Surely there must be a better way to address the issue than by putting further pressure on our delicate environment?”

Green Party life peer Jenny Jones has written this article about a future Labour government blocking the amendments, concluding: “If Labour don’t use their power to reject these amendments, they are once again nodding along to the agenda of a right wing, corrupt government. I won’t be the only environmentalist to find that deeply disappointing and to wonder whether there is any hope of a Labour government cleaning up our waterways.”

Finally, Savills have penned this article which considers the implications for housing supply and the land market.