Rishi Sunak is preparing to use the Conservatives’ 60-seat majority to force through plans to rip up green rules to build up to 140,000 new homes, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
A government source said that the Prime Minister was “absolutely determined” to scrap EU-derived regulations that are blocking construction, despite opposition from Labour and the government’s own environment quango.
Downing Street is understood to be drawing up plans for a new bill that would allow the Government to ditch “nutrient neutrality” rules by using the Tories’ majority to drive the legislation through Parliament. A source said that another piece of legislation would need to be shelved to make way for such a bill, meaning that “nothing is guaranteed”.
The move would put Mr Sunak on a collision course with environmental groups and Natural England, the government’s environment watchdog, where staff described an earlier attempt at scrapping the rules as “a huge slap in the face” because the changes would give permission to councils to ignore the quango’s advice.
It would also lead to a major clash with the House of Lords, which blocked an earlier attempt to introduce the changes via an amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.
A source said that introducing a separate bill announced in the King’s Speech would allow the Commons - where Mr Sunak has a 60-seat working majority - to exercise its “primacy” over the upper house. A second source said: “Ultimately, when it comes to ping pong [between the two chambers] and the Commons asserts clearly it wants something, the Lords respects that.”
Polluting nearby rivers
Mr Sunak believes that the national shortage of houses has been severely exacerbated by rules blocking the construction of homes deemed at risk of polluting nearby rivers.
A government source said: “The Prime Minister is absolutely determined to get this through.”
A second government source added: “The Prime Minister is really keen to unlock 100,000 homes and has made that very clear. We are considering a full suite of options, but given the constraints of parliamentary time nothing is guaranteed.
”The fact Labour blocked it for political reasons is intensely frustrating.” The source said another piece of planned legislation would have to be removed from the Government’s agenda to make way for a new bill before next year’s election.
Last month, Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, announced that the plan to ditch the nutrient neutrality rules would “provide a multi-billion pound boost for the UK economy and see us build more than 100,000 new homes”.
Natural England, whose chairman Tony Juniper came under fire from senior Tories last week for appearing to claim that Mr Sunak’s net zero shift “deepens peril for our children and grandchildren”, maintained a vow of silence following the announcement of the proposals in August. But privately its leadership fiercely opposed the move
On August 29, when the Government first announced its intention to scrap the nutrient neutrality rules for house building, Alan Law, Natural England’s chief executive, tweeted: “There are days where silence alone says all that needs to be said.”
One of the board members “liked” a social media posting of a satirical cartoon which depicted Mr Gove marching past a heavily polluted river stating: “We can build beautiful riverside homes right here.”
Lord Blencathra, the body’s deputy chairman, claimed in Parliament that the Home Builders Federation “lied, lied and lied again about the Government blocking the building of 145,000 homes because of nutrient neutrality.” He accused housebuilders of “sitting on more than one million planning applications and ... land-banking until they can release them gradually and make maximum profits”.
’Red wall’ areas
The nutrient neutrality laws, based on a controversial European Court of Justice ruling, mean firms must prove new developments will not raise phosphate and nitrate levels.
The Home Builders Federation has said the rules are preventing about 140,000 homes from being built and “threatening to put small builders out of business”.
Swathes of the country have been affected, including so-called “red wall” areas, and parts of Norfolk, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Homebuilders have branded the rules disproportionate, with housing contributing to just four per cent of such pollution, most of which comes from agriculture.
Labour had initially signalled that it would support the Government’s plans to scrap the EU-era regulations when they were first unveiled by ministers.
Lisa Nandy, the then shadow housing secretary, told the Commons last month her party would “support effective measures that get Britain building”.
But its position shifted after the proposals drew the ire of nature groups including the RSPB, which accused Mr Sunak of abandoning his green promises.