Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Housebuilding supported as government tackles water pollution at source

Government identifies wastewater treatment works to be upgraded to stringent nutrient removal limits.

  • Upgrades significantly reduce pollution from existing and new homes, supporting further development
  • Measures come alongside government action to improve water quality with stronger regulation, tougher enforcement and more investment to cut pollution

The government recently (Friday 24 May) set out measures to tackle pollution at source and enable the construction of thousands of homes, as it publishes a list of over 140 wastewater treatment works legally required to be upgraded in areas affected by nutrient neutrality advice.

Excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution comes from a variety of sources including livestock farming, housebuilding, and wastewater treatment works. This causes serious damage to our rivers and wetlands, harming the wildlife found in these habitats and impacting the quality of life for those who live nearby.  

Development can take place in impacted areas by securing appropriate mitigation, and now the government has confirmed upgrades to wastewater treatment works that will support housebuilding and improve aquatic ecosystems.  

For developers, these upgrades reduce the mitigation requirements for new homes by ensuring that water companies meet stringent nutrient removal standards in designated areas.   

In Poole Harbour, Natural England’s advice has maximised the impact that upgrades will make in the catchment, which are so significant that they will reduce phosphorus to levels consistent with conservation objectives. This will help to recover this internationally important habitat for iconic birds such as avocets, spoonbills and black-tailed godwits.   

Natural England has therefore removed nutrient neutrality advice for phosphorus in the catchment altogether, meaning developers will only be required to mitigate for nitrogen pollution in future.  

It is expected that the combined impact of the upgrades to wastewater treatment works and the increased provision of nitrogen mitigation credits from Natural England and Dorset Local Planning Authority will enable thousands of new homes to be built in the area in the coming years.

It comes alongside a wide range of government efforts to improve water quality, as set out in our Plan for Water.   This includes a ban on bonuses for water company executives where firms have committed serious criminal breaches, subject to Ofwat consultation, and plans to quadruple the Environment Agency’s regulatory capacity, enabling them to carry out 4,000 water company inspections by the end of this financial year.  

The Government has also scrapped the cap on civil penalties, enabling regulators to take action against polluters more swiftly and easily. 

Since 2015, the Environment Agency has concluded over 60 prosecutions, securing record fines of over £150 million against water companies. 

Marian Spain, Chief Executive of Natural England, recently said: 

Upgrading wastewater treatment works is an important step forward in reducing pollution in some of our most important protected areas for wildlife.  

Development and nature recovery should be delivered hand-in-hand, and so addressing the issue of pollution at source will ensure we can continue to build more sustainable homes for the future.

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