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Environmental news round up - 1 September 2023

Water Pollution Rules Eased by the Government for Housebuilders 

Under current law, implemented when the UK was an EU member state, developments are regarded as ‘nutrient neutral’ if they do not seep harmful substances such as phosphates and nitrates into surrounding water. The development would be granted planning permission if they could prove if they are nutrient neutral, or that they can offset that pollution.  

However, on the 29th of August, proposed changes to the Levelling Up Bill were announced that will see developers being required to invest in a new £280m scheme by Natural England, where the pollution would be offset by the creation of wetlands or upgraded infrastructure. 

Housebuilders have welcomed the change, as the National Federation of Builders and House Builders Association have previously argued that the rule has been so strict that 120,000 new homes have been put on hold in the past five years. The current rule is very likely to cause issues in the Government’s aim to provide 300,000 new homes in the mid-2020s.

However, some environmentalists do not support the rule, believing that it would cause the most sensitive rivers and streams to be polluted. Greenpeace policy director, Doug Carr, told ITV news that weakening anti-pollution laws would indicate ministers have completely given up on saving waterways and wildlife.

Whilst new houses are imperative for the UK’s future, there is a delicate balance between pushing for further development and maintaining and protecting waterways and wildlife.

OEP v Secretary of State round 2

Following on from the above, the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) wrote to Terese Coffey. Avid readers will note we refereed to round 1 of the heightened tensions between the independent environmental body and the Government and now we can report on round 2 in what seems like a strained relationship. Round 2 is around last week’s announcement to the changes to LURB which means any planning authority will not need to consider the impact of a development on relevant sites EVEN IF the appropriate assessment says otherwise.  The OEP has stated that this will damage wildlife and environmental standards and should be seen as a regression in environmental law, but the SoS disagrees and put forward a defence of the new funding for the nutrient mitigation scheme as this focuses on outcomes rather than the process. 

This is all very well and good, but the different schemes and the water quality standards being proposed to bring the water sector into the mix are years off coming forward, thus leaving a gap in standards which there has been no risk assessment undertaken as to what that impact will be.

There have been published amendments by some Lords and once again this will be a fascinating debate in the House of Lords this week.

A further development is that CG Fry has been refused permission to leapfrog to the Supreme Court. The refusal and what is being played out in the House of Lords this week must be very frustrating for the company.

Ecocide. Is it time to make it a crime? 

Intentional damage to the natural world that causes long-lasting or widespread damage, has been coined as ecocide. Many countries have implemented environmental damage within their legislation. However, the recognition of ecocide as a crime is said to escalate the penalties associated.

A few states, such as Vietnam, Ukraine and Russia have criminalised ecocide. Within the EU, France has tested implementing this into law, and although campaigners have argued this is not as strong as they would hope, a case is currently in the courts where homeowners have been affected by chemicals released into water.

Mexico is the most recent country considering implementing ecocide as a crime. Those found in breach of legislation would face between 10 to 15 years in prison, and fines of $1,00-$1,500 pesos per day. This is a huge penalty; however, ecocide protection advocates argue this is a necessary step because existing protections are too limited. They believe there are still many ways those harming the environment can escape liability, and by criminalising ecocide, many harmful acts would fall under the article.

There is no indication that England would implement such legislation. Although, Scotland Labour MSP, Monica Lennon has spearheaded a drive for new legislation, with a consultation on plans coming later in the year. If implemented, individuals may be charged, rather than corporations.

With public concern raising in environmental issues, the way damage to ecosystems is viewed could change in many countries, and internationally in the future.

Housing Construction Company Agreed to pay £100,000 after Polluting Waterway 

Keepmoat Homes Ltd has offered to pay a civil sanction of £100,000 to Aire Rivers Trust, and Applebridge Construction will also pay £35,00.

An investigation found that the waterway, Pitty Beck, was polluted several times during 2016 and 2018. The construction company reported the pollution from the site in 2016, and confirmed the water was running into the Beck.

Both companies made a voluntary offer to make amends by way of an enforcement undertaking. As part of this, Keepmoat Homes revised its surface water management plan for the site. Applebridge also updated its environmental management system and delivered training for staff.

The donations will be used by Aire Rivers Trust to monitor and prevent pollution and restore riverside habitats.