NuGen Properties

Lords call for house-building targets to be given statutory footing

House of Lords voted down plans to remove environmental obstacles to house-building last week

The House of Lords built environment committee has today published a report on the damaging impact of environmental regulations on housing development and accuses the government of a lack of leadership.

The cross-party Lords built environment committee says that the government “must get a grip on the haphazard implementation of environmental regulations to unlock the construction of new homes”.

The committee argues that it should be possible to deliver both new development and improve the environment, but a lack of leadership and poor implementation is limiting opportunities to do this. There is a risk that the government will miss both its housing targets and its environmental ambitions, it says.

House-building targets should be put on a statutory basis, the report argues, giving them an equal status with environmental goals.

During its inquiry the House of Lords built environment committee heard that 45,000 new homes per year may not be delivered because of recent Natural England advice on the nutrient, water and recreational applications of the Habitats Regulations.

The pollution of water courses has its sources in poor agricultural and sewage management practices over decades but the burden of mitigating this is being dumped onto house-builders, it says.

The government is failing to provide sufficient support for smaller developers. Effective moratoria on housebuilding caused by advice such as nutrient and water neutrality risk putting small developers out of business in affected areas. All public sector development mitigation schemes should prioritise provision for small and medium-sized developers.

These developers are also being disproportionately burdened by the new requirement to deliver biodiversity net gain. By allowing them to deliver offsite solutions and ensuring demands are not made ahead of statutory deadlines the government can ensure these vital local businesses are able to survive.

The report has been months in the making and its publication date was set weeks ago, so it is coincidence that it comes out the morning after prime minister Rishi Sunak rowed back on a raft of emissions-related deadlines, showing himself to be a pragmatist rather than a slave to the orthodox ideologies of the day. The government has already attempted to sweep away the nutrient neutrality rules that block the builders and do exactly what the built environment committee suggests but its proposal was voted down by (irony alert) the House of Lords.

Lord Moylan, chair of the built environment committee (who, as a Tory, voted with the government last week), said: “The current approach to managing any conflict between new homes and the needs of the environment is failing to deliver for either side.

“Our inquiry found that the achievement of the government’s housing and environmental policies has been hampered and sometimes completely blocked by lack of co-ordination in policy-making and haphazard and unbalanced implementation.

“There is no way the government can deliver on its house-building targets unless it is brave and displays the political leadership necessary to deliver and implement a comprehensive strategy for both development and the environment.

“A good starting point would be to give house-building statutory weight, which would ensure it has equal status with environmental goals. After that, coherent, cross-government plans should be developed to address major pollutants and to ensure that money is expended where it will have the most impact. This cannot happen overnight. We must be prepared with a long term plan.”

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