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An ear to the ground on nutrient neutrality


Michael Gove’s announcement to scrap nutrient neutrality restrictions in the planning system has been welcomed as a shot in the arm for housebuilding.

The government has announced plans to override EU rules on nutrient neutrality, in order to build over 100,000 homes across the UK.

Keeping an ear to the ground, we’ve gathered insight from some of Meeting Place’s experts to provide regional insight on the policy change and how it could affect the built environment.

Freddie Palmer – Senior Account Director, Western

We need homes, many of them and fast. We need to remove barriers whilst also facing down the issues. It’s the government’s role to create the conditions for the investment the country needs.

Taking so long to act on something blocking over 100,000 homes is not doing that. Failing to work with the industry to enable practical and viable nutrient neutrality solutions is a leadership failure.

We’re supporting various projects in Somerset where the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar is one of the areas impacted by the ‘Dutch Case’. Cllr Bill Revans, Leader of Somerset Council, has reached for the limited set of levers available to him to support developers to reduce their impact but has been clear that regardless of what the regulations demand the council is custodian of this important natural area.

This is the right and responsible approach.

The industry doesn’t just build homes but invests for sustainability – social, economic and environmental sustainability. We need the government to create a proper platform for that.

Joseph Baum – Director, South East

Development in the South East faces various issues – from the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC in south west Hertfordshire to water neutrality in West Sussex – so the relaxation of “nutrient neutrality” would appear to be a positive step.

The reality is that Sunak knows Labour see the lack of housebuilding as a key issue at the next general election, and thus becomes vulnerable to the attack line that “the Conservatives are no longer the party of home ownership”.

This policy may help Sunak in the short term – signalling to house builders (many of whom are key party donors) that the Conservatives are on their side.

In the long term, however, danger lies ahead. With 85% of the world’s chalk streams situated in England, and with climate change a key issue, the objections from environmentalists will continue to create Conservative party divisions.

Only through a truly radical plan involving our green belt alongside a regional plan for place making and bold solutions including creation of new towns, can the housing crisis be addressed.

Ruth Skidmore – Social Impact Lead

There are three strands of this policy that we should address. The housing stock, the cost and the comparison with agriculture.

In England alone there are 809,000 second homes. This equals two years’ worth of housing targets. We are at unprecedented lows of housing stock whilst also seeing overconsumption.

In a country where 271,000 people are facing homelessness, over triple that figure have multiple housing options. There is of course need for new housing as our population grows. The question would be: have the 27,342ha of brownfield land been considered as an alternative?

The argument for the cost benefits of the new laws have been highlighted. However, social value reporting changes the narrative and highlights the wider benefits to human health from land conservation.

We are also loading further pressures on poor soil quality and preventing further carbon sequestration. We must find nature rich solutions promoting biodiversity net gain. If we allowed this soil to restore and reach neutrality, we can continue to head towards our climate targets

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