Britain is crying out for new housing. There is constant pressure on local authorities to find suitable sites, and applications, as we frequently report, are often beset by opposition from local residents.
How exasperating, then, to be told that housebuilding has ground to a halt in Hampshire as local authorities seek legal advice on how to obey environmental advice from government – a move that has been branded a shambles by a senior councillor.
The confusion stems from a recommendation from Natural England that all new-build homes have to meet strict environmental rules over nitrate levels. This, they say, is because high levels of nitrogen pollution are affecting protected sites in the Solent area and new housing contributes additional nitrogen to the water.
But developers say the target of being ‘nitrate-neutral’ is impossible to meet as nitrates are in drinking and waste water – and local authorities have stopped issuing planning permission while they seek clarity.
At a time when the government is setting massive targets for new homes to be built, this is an obstacle too far.
The leader of Fareham Borough Council, Cllr Sean Woodward, summed it up when he said: ‘It is a shambles. Government has set us the highest-ever housing target, but with another hand they have stopped us being able to issue any permission. The whole system is wrecked. It is a huge issue and it has stopped the planning process in its tracks.’
Of course the government and local authorities are right to be concerned about the effects of housebuilding on the environment. That is often uppermost in the minds of people who object to new developments.
But government policy on housing must be coherent and achievable. It is unfair to hamper councils in this way and the issue needs sorting out – fast.