Party has ‘different way’ to solve nutrient neutrality blockage, says shadow housing minister

Environmental rules should not be sacrificed for the sake of new development, the shadow housing minister has said, re-iterating Labour’s position on nutrient neutrality.

Last month, Labour peers blocked the government’s proposed reforms to rules protecting British waterways from pollution, voting down an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.


Source: Daniel Gayne

Matthew Pennycook speaking at a Fabian Society fringe event yesterday

The government has since announced it will pursue the reforms through standalone legislation, but speaking at a Labour Party conference fringe event yesterday, the opposition housing spokesperson Matthew Pennycook backed his party’s approach.

“We have had a big fight, I am sure you will have seen, over nutrient neutrality, because the current government thinks the only way to build these houses in these areas is to disapply environmental rules,” he said.

We think there is a different way through […] there are ways to do it, there are obvious policy solution”, Pennycook added, although he did not go into detail on what these were.

Shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner has previously set out proposals for using so-called “Grampian conditions” on planning agreements, which give conditional approval on the basis homes aren’t occupied until pollution mitigation is delivered.

Pennycook said environmental policy affecting housebuilding was an area of policy where “certainty is absolutely essential” and said the government had failed to provide this.

Pennycook pointed to a recent Lords’ built environment committee report which detailed “quite exhaustively how contradictory many elements of the government’s approach to housebuilding and the environment are”.

“We see it with delays on BNG, delays on energy efficiency standards,” he added.

Elsewhere in the conference, Baroness Taylor, Labour’s Lords spokesperson for Levelling Up, also re-iterated the party’s position on the matter.

“We desperately, desperately need housing and no-one is more passionate about that than me, but we cannot do that at the expense of our environment,” she said.

Support for Labour’s position on this issue was not universal across the party, however.

At a raucous pro-YIMBY fringe event in the Hilton Hotel, a member of Labour’s governing committee described its policy on nutrient neutrality as “a little hiccup”.

Abdi Duale, who sits on the party’s National Executive Committee, said the party had “come along way” from the days of describing planning reform as a “developers’ charter”.

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“We have had a little hiccup on nutrient neutrality, but we are more or less there,” he said.

Speaking to Housing Today after that event, which featured a series of boosterish speeches from Labour local politicians and pro-development bodies, Redrow’s group chief executive said he was not massively concerned about Labour’s position on nutrient neutrality, given its broader move towards embracing development.

“I don’t know what was behind that [vote],” said Matthew Pratt. “It was not a case of them blocking it, they just didn’t like the way it was dealt with [In the legislation].”

“I’ve just been to the most positive event you could ever go to. And it’s nice to see that – for a long time the housebuilding industry has been in a difficult situation in the sense that it has been viewed very negatively and it is nice to think of people talking about it positively.”

Pratt said Labour had some “interesting views” on housing and contrasted their approach with the prime minister’s speech in Manchester last week, where the issue was “remarkably absent”.

He said his main priority for the next government was solving the planning issue but said “massive” reform was not necessarily needed, it “just needs to function correctly”.