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  • Writer's pictureInvestment Synergy Team

Michael Gove and Thérèse Coffey: River reforms will boost housing

August 31st - The Times

Building a better world for the next generation is key to Conservative philosophy — and a guiding mission for this government. In a world characterised by uncertainty and insecurity, recovering from the consequences of the pandemic and coping with the ramifications of war in Ukraine, we have a responsibility to both restore stability and build back better.

Our economic plan is doing this, with inflation falling and investment growing. Our education reform programme is accelerating, with new free schools and improved apprenticeships building on our progress made as the European pacesetter on school standards. The next generation of school leavers will be better equipped educationally than any before. But we know that if they are to enjoy all the opportunities they deserve we need action in two other areas: housing and the environment.

We need to build new homes for them to live full lives and raise their families. And we need to enhance our natural environment, leaving it in a better state than we found it.

The long-term housing plan we launched earlier this summer and the 25-year environment plan which we produced together in 2018 are whole-system solutions to two big strategic challenges. We have built too few homes for many years, and we are among the most nature-depleted nations on earth.

We have moved to address both.

The clunky “nutrient neutrality” rules inherited from the EU were inspired by a worthy aim — one we share — to reduce pollution in our rivers. But the way they’ve been applied has stopped housebuilding altogether in many parts of England. And the rules haven’t inspired the investment or action needed to tackle pollution at source — by getting water companies to improve the treatment of wastewater and helping farmers become more productive in a nature-friendly way.

Left unchecked, the “nutrients” — nitrates and phosphates — lead to damaging algal growth in rivers and the loss of fish and other species. But new homes make only a tiny contribution to the generation of these chemicals.

So instead of focusing on stopping residential development, we will tackle this problem at its root. Our reforms will drive action by investing £280 million — double the existing sum — on nature-based solutions and innovative technologies that can remove excess nutrients from wastewater, and supporting wetlands that can absorb nutrients before they enter our waterways.

Crucially, this funding will be enough to offset all new nutrient pollution from the thousands of new homes built. We are working with major developers to make sure that they contribute appropriate sums over the coming years.

But our ambition does not stop there. We want to see our rivers not just protected from pollution, but restored to their former glory. Nature recovery is a priority to meet our ambitions for net zero and our 25-year environment plan.

We will be working with Natural England to develop protected site strategies. These plans, drawn up with local communities, will chart a course to full restoration of the most affected catchments where demand for housing is highest.

And finally, we will also act to address the real sources of nutrient pollution: mandating much better wastewater treatment by water companies by 2030; conducting at least 4,000 annual farm inspections to make sure slurry and other pollutants are handled in the right way; investing £200 million in grants for improved slurry storage and equipment; and £25 million for farming innovation.

Changing these rules should mean another 100,000 homes built by 2030, with millions extra in revenue for public services. That means more jobs and economic growth, and more homes for those on council waiting lists, for first-time buyers and for growing families.

We’ve achieved a lot already in this parliament on housing. This government has delivered the highest number of new homes in a year for 30 years, and the highest number of first-time buyers for 20 years. We are on track to meet our manifesto target of delivering a million new homes.

And these reforms reinforce our commitment to building in the greenest possible way — investing in brownfield and urban regeneration so we can protect the greenbelt and precious natural habitats.

The changes wouldn’t be possible without the freedom to make our own laws.

Brexit has already helped us improve our environment — by making sure we reward farmers better for the great work they do for nature. Now we can go further.

Brexit is already making sure we have new laws that help financial services and science — now, we can help the construction sector and local councils. As politicians committed to both treading more lightly on the earth and extending opportunity to the next generation, we are delighted these reforms deliver that better future.

Michael Gove is secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities and Thérèse Coffey is secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs

Investment Synergy - There has to be responsibility on all sides, housebuilders and government must come to a viable solution to enable the housing needs to be met, and keep the environment safe and stable, housebuilders need to dig into their pockets to support the government endeavours.

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