MICHAEL Gove is set to tear up environmental regulations protecting English rivers in the name of boosting housebuilding.

The Levelling Up Secretary will announce changes to water pollution rules in a speech on Tuesday, despite howls of anger from environmentalists already deeply concerned about water quality south of the Border.

But the move will be welcomed by the construction sector which blames the rules around nutrient neutrality for slowing down housebuilding.

Nutrient neutrality means no net extra nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus can be released as a result of construction projects under English housebuilding rules.

The move will be deeply controversial because of widespread concern about English water quality amid concerns about water companies dumping raw sewage in rivers and seas across the country.

Gove will announce the changes alongside Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey, who will unveil a fund worth hundreds of millions of pounds aimed at mitigating the environmental costs of the changes.

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “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. Scrapping or weakening limits on chemicals from sewage and farm run-offs would be a sure sign that ministers have completely given up on saving our great waterways and the precious wildlife they host.

“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.”

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The Government said the change would mean 100,000 more homes can be built in England by 2030 and that Natural England’s nutrient mitigation scheme budget would be increased by £280 million.

The changes are being proposed via an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords, with the Government saying it could see additional homes being built in a matter of months.

Under legislation derived from the EU, Natural England currently issues guidance to 62 local authority areas requiring new developments to be nutrient neutral in their area, meaning developers must demonstrate and fund mitigation to win planning approval in certain areas.

This requirement will no longer apply under the changes being proposed.

The Government describes nutrient pollution as an “urgent problem” for freshwater habitats, many of which it says are “internationally important for wildlife, and acknowledges it needs to tackle the issue to meet legal commitments to restore species abundance.

Gove said: “We are committed to building the homes this country needs and to enhancing our environment. The way EU rules have been applied has held us back. These changes will provide a multibillion-pound boost for the UK economy and see us build more than 100,000 new homes.

“Protecting the environment is paramount which is why the measures we’re announcing today will allow us to go further to protect and restore our precious waterways whilst still building the much-needed homes this country needs.

“We will work closely with environmental agencies and councils as we deliver these changes.”

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Coffey (above) added: “These new plans will cut nutrients and help support England’s precious habitats whilst unlocking the new homes that local communities need.

“We are going to tackle the key causes of nutrients at source with over £200m of funding to reduce run-off from agriculture and plans to upgrade waste water treatment works through conventional upgrades, catchment approaches and nature-based solutions.

“This builds on the key commitments made in our five-year strategy – our Environmental Improvement Plan – as well as our Plan for Water which brings forward more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to protect our rivers.”