© Maurice Funnell

Government's weakening of water pollution rules spells disaster for Norfolk's wildlife and people

Tuesday 29 August, 2023

Today, Norfolk Wildlife Trust was shocked to hear the Government announce a process for weakening the legislation on water pollution to allow more housebuilding. Rivers – already under huge pressure from sewage and farm pollution – are likely to become even more polluted as a result. 


Currently, England’s most fragile rivers have some protection under the Habitats Regulations. These led to a required “nutrient neutrality” which means a new housing development within a surrounding river catchment must not result in an increase of damaging phosphates and other nutrients into the river.  


Developers are currently required to invest in new wetlands and other measures such as planting trees to create buffer zones in order to achieve this target of ensuring that no additional pressure is put on waterways that are already suffering from an overload of farm slurry and sewage. 


Gareth Dalglish, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Director of Nature Recovery, said:  


“Today’s announcement is terrible news for Norfolk’s wildlife and people. Norfolk is home to nationally and internationally important areas for wildlife, including the iconic wetlands of the Norfolk Broads, and rare chalk rivers including the River Wensum. These areas have already experienced centuries of degradation from sewage and farm pollution and, after today’s announcement, are now likely to become even more polluted by development.  


“Earlier this year, the Government made promises to the British people and to Parliament that they would not lower environmental protections or standards* and committed just 8 months ago to halve nutrient pollution by the end of the decade. Instead, we see them scrapping the rules that are merely trying to stop rivers becoming even more polluted. These broken promises make clear that the Prime Minister would rather look after the interests of developers than the environment. 


“These rules are about preventing pollution, not housing. Piling on pollution from developers into rivers already suffocating from poo and agriculture pollution, will only mean greater pressure is put on farmers to make bigger and faster cuts to nutrient pollution. 


“Vague offers of money as compensation are not the same as a legislative requirement to protect our natural environment – and even the existing rules are extremely modest. 


“We are facing a critical tipping point in reversing the fortunes of our wildlife, ecosystems and communities, and all three are deeply connected. Norfolk’s prosperity is directly linked to the wellbeing of our natural environment – from healthy, happy communities with access to clear air and water, to a vibrant tourist economy. 


“It is essential that our government’s decisions acknowledge the vital role a healthy environment plays in securing healthy communities and a healthy economy and starts investing significant time and money in reducing existing levels of pollution and recovering nature on a landscape scale.” 



*During the Parliamentary stages of the Retained EU Law Bill the Solicitor General, Michael Tomlinson, said:   

  • “we will not lower environmental protections”. 12th and 21st June 2023 

  • “we will not lower environmental protections or standards”. 24th May 2023 

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