The government’s controversial plan to weaken river pollution safeguards and accelerate housebuilding met an unceremonious demise this week, as the House of Lords inflicted a brutal defeat on ministers.
The upper chamber overwhelmingly vetoed proposals to scrap EU-era “nutrient neutrality” rules limiting construction near contaminated waterways. The humiliating rebuke came despite government threats that blocking the move would hamper home ownership.
The rules sought to prevent nutrient runoff from new projects degrading rivers, however, developers complained they hampered approvals. Seeking to placate them, ministers proposed diluting the regulations while funding mitigation efforts like wetland creation.
However, the Lords closed the door on reviving the plan in its current parliamentary form, siding with outraged environmentalists who warned of increased waterway degradation. The loss epitomized the perils of sacrificing nature for development.
While the government could introduce stand-alone legislation to resurrect the scheme, delivering housing targets will be tougher for now without weakened rules in place. For nature, a reprieve – however the next battle likely looms.
For Rishi Sunak, the stinging defeat underscores the challenges of balancing competing priorities. However, perhaps this humbling loss will make the government think twice next time before gambling with hard-won environmental protections.