‘Haphazard’ implementation of environmental regs is endangering green goals, Lords report finds

A House of Lords report has found a “real risk that the Government will miss both its housing targets and its environmental ambitions,” thanks to its “haphazard implementation of environmental regulations” in housebuilding.

The report, ‘The impact of environmental regulations on development’, published yesterday by the cross-party House of Lords Built Environment Committee, found a “lack of leadership and poor implementation” was limiting opportunities to address potential conflict between development and environmental aims.

The report said: “Government needs to show a strong display of political leadership to deliver and implement a comprehensive strategy for both development and the environment. Housebuilding targets should be given statutory weight, giving them an equal status with environmental goals.”

The Government is “failing to provide sufficient support for smaller developers,” said the Committee. “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. Ensuring these businesses “survival” meant “allowing them to deliver offsite solutions and ensuring demands are not made ahead of statutory deadlines,” the Committee said.

Brownfield development is being “stymied by the interaction between planning permissions and permitting requirements,” they added, saying that DLUHC and Defra should “review planning and permitting requirements for brownfield land and eliminate overlap.”

Communication and guidance available for developers is often “unclear or lacking,” said the Committee. It added that he Government and statutory bodies must “meaningfully consult local planning authorities on new advice and policy which will have an impact on their decision making as competent authorities.”

Lord Moylan, chair of the Built Environment Committee, 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 housebuilding 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 housebuilding 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.”

The committee heard evidence 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. At the same time, 61% of the country’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest are in an unfavourable condition.

The pollution of our water courses has its sources in poor agricultural and sewage management practices over decades – yet the burden of mitigating this is falling on new, often desperately needed, housing.

Other findings and conclusions from the report include:

  • The current approach is not effectively protecting or improving the environment. Local habitats and species are not fully understood or considered in the round, isolated pockets of mitigation are not addressing system-wide pollution or the ingrained impact of historic decisions.
  • The lack of managed credit-purchase mitigation schemes for specific pollutants or in certain areas is restricting developers’ ability to gain planning permission. Mitigation networks, organised by Natural England, should be created to share expertise and learning between affected local planning authorities.