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Truss is right to challenge nutrient neutrality nonsense

Conservative leadership front runner, Liz Truss MP, has come out to recognise that EU regulation used for three years to stop housing development for an issue housebuilders didn’t cause, is the sort of red tape nonsense which now the UK has left the EU, must be tackled head on.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders (NFB), said: “The housebuilding industry has spent three years being blamed for pollution they didn’t cause and despite our desperate efforts, no minister or Prime Minister has worked with us on reasonable solutions to ensure 100,000 homes don’t get caught in a planning quagmire. 

It should never have taken this long for this travesty of a decision to be appraised and we thank Ms Truss for giving it the attention it deserves.”

The industry has been working with all relevant ministers and secretaries of state on nutrient neutrality flaws but for whatever reason, they did not take the issue seriously. In 2021, three years after first raising the issue, the Government finally accepted that the primary polluters, water companies and farming needed tougher regulation and greater aid. Though acceptance has not translated into solutions and the 30,000 homes stuck in planning has now grown to around 100,000.

At unfair cost to builders, the construction industry has produced potential solutions, such as cleaning water leaving sites and continue to deliver surface water drainage strategies, yet the Government has ignored constructive efforts and opted for a new tax, which results in much needed farming land lost for mitigation purposes.

This failed engagement with the construction industry who were always at the table, is also replicated in the Environment Act’s biodiversity net gain policies, where the NFB’s housebuilding arm, the House Builders Association (HBA), has produced a solution to increase biodiversity, rather than simply put in habitats on-site, or pay a new tax for off-site habitat creation.

Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy for the HBA, said: “I am delighted that Ms Truss heard our pleas and has grasped the ridiculous nature of nutrient neutrality rules on housebuilding, and we now need her to tackle the flaws inherent within biodiversity net gain policy. 

Instead of having a system which means small and medium sized builders meet regulations by losing a few homes to put in habitats such as hedges or trees, or pay a fortune for offsite solutions, often on farming land and which doesn’t target local biodiversity, the calculator which decides if you meet regulation, should include onsite solutions, particularly if relative to local biodiversity, such as building solutions like bat boxes into the fabric of a building, site designs, such as lifting fences for access or permitting garden habitats to be included. 

We have offered the two year transition period to trial this strategy and have members ready to prove it works, as it has internationally. The truth is, if we don’t make this change, SME builders will go under and the Government will be to blame.”

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