Industry unconvinced deadline for better water treatment will boost housebuilding

Housebuilders are sceptical that pressure on water companies to get their treatment works up to scratch will unlock homes in areas where river nutrients are high.

Last week environment secretary Steve Barclay announced water companies operating in 16 sensitive catchment areas would have to meet specified nutrient removal standards by April 2030.

Home Builders Federation’s communications director Steve Turner said: “The notice is important as it requires local authorities, and indeed Natural England, to take the 2030 improvements to water infrastructure into account when determining decisions today.”

The move follows the government’s failure last year to get House of Lords approval to overturn EU environmental protection laws blocking the building of an estimated 150,000 homes.

The National Federation of Builders policy and insight head Rico Wojtulewicz said: “Without emergency planning powers that assist water companies to invest in infrastructure more quickly, our water will remain polluted and all developments at risk of being made unviable.”

The housebuilding industry has calculated that the occupancy of new homes generates less than one per cent of nitrogen and phosphorous a year and that industrial farming is the real culprit.

“While steps to mitigate the disproportionate moratorium on development are welcome, the ongoing failure to find a broader solution that reflects the negligible contribution new homes make to river pollution, is a total failure of government,” said Mr Turner.

Currently, 74 local authorities in England are affected by Natural England’s advice that run-offs into rivers and harbours with high nitrogen and phosphorus should be nitrate neutral.

SME housebuilders could still find they are disadvantaged

Mr Wojtulewicz said that SME builders and regional contractors could still find themselves in a difficult position.

“They will not have the financial clout to test whether decision makers such as Natural England have actually taken future water company investments into account.”

Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said development finance lenders agreed that it would be important for water companies to be granted planning concessions for major infrastructure works.

The 16 sensitive catchment areas where water companies must improve treatment works cover The Broads, The Solent, Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar, Poole Harbour and ten rivers including the Avon and Derwent.

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