Water pollution is potentially set to rise in the UK.

There has been an outcry across the UK as the government has confirmed the relaxation of the rules, within England for those developing new houses, when it comes to water pollution. Michael Gove, the UK’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, agreed on the 29th of August, that changes will be made.

The changes are being made due to the UK Government pledging to increase the number of new houses built each year to 300,000. Although currently, the rate in which houses are being built is the slowest it has been since World War Two.

Previous rules set out by the EU in 2017, called the ‘nutrient neutrality’ rules, were put in place to prevent developers from causing water pollution by stopping them from leaching harmful nitrates and phosphates into any water sources close by. Any developer wanting to build houses needed to prove that the work they would carry out would not cause water pollution in this way.

The rules affected the pollution caused by the building of the houses, as well as affecting the pollution released when they become operational as a home. Many housing development companies have found themselves waiting during intervention stages. According to the UK’s National Federation of Builders, around 120,000 homes have been put on hold due to the strict regulations.

The rules, however, have been put in place to protect the wetlands and water sources throughout the UK, which will in turn protect our natural wildlife, including both animals and plants. Although it is important that our growing population have somewhere to call home, it is also important to protect the natural world. Relaxing these rules could cause significant damage to the environments around us, as water pollution can have detrimental effects.

There has already been a large amount of opposition to the relaxation of these rules, especially after the public anger due to the water pollution caused by the dumping of raw sewage into our seas and rivers. In 2022, the Environment Agency (EA) stated that 1.75 million hours’ worth of sewage was pumped into our waterways.

Greenpeace’s Chief Scientist and Policy Director, Doug Parr has shared his outrage at the relaxing of these rules by stating:

“Who would look at our sickly, sewage-infested rivers and conclude that what they need is weaker pollution rules? No one, and that should include our Government…

Instead of allowing housebuilders to cut corners, the Sunak administration should make sure we have the right infrastructure to handle our sewage so we can build new homes without sacrificing our rivers’ health. But that would require them to do what they’ve spectacularly failed to do so far – forcing water firms and housebuilders to invest their profits in upgrading treatment plants and pipes to a standard that a modern, functional country would expect.”

Craig Bennett, the CEO of the Wildlife Trust has called the relaxation of the rules for housing developers “disgusting”. He argues that the rules concerning water pollution for these developers were already “modest” and he has claimed that this is a way for the UK Government to “wriggle out of environmental commitments”

Water Pollution
Relaxing of the water pollution rules could cause “total ecological collapse” to our rivers.

Many construction companies have disagreed and argued for the relaxation of the rules, as they claim that the construction sector produces less water pollution than those within the farming sector. With this, the UK Government also announced that they will increase the rates for farm inspections to ensure that slurry and other waste products are being removed and managed currently to prevent further water pollution within this sector.

Within the farming sector, the UK Government is legally bound to prevent nutrient runoff by 40%. This means that the UK Government should be working towards reducing water pollution caused by unnecessary nutrient leaching by almost half by 2038.

The Conservative Party has stated that it wishes to leave the planet in a condition that is better for our future generations. However, there actions are not living up to this promise. Katie-Jo Luxton, the RSPB’s Director of Global Conservation, has warned that the relaxing of the water pollution rules could cause “total ecological collapse” to our rivers.