UK scraps some water pollution rules to boost homebuilding

A row of residential houses are seen during sunrise in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it would remove some European Union rules it had retained post-Brexit that were meant to curb water pollution, to enable thousands of new homes to be built, a move environmentalists said would further spoil dirty rivers.

The EU's "nutrient neutrality" laws were put in place to ensure that development does not pollute waterways with additional chemicals that cause plants to grow, from sources such as agricultural fertiliser and untreated sewage.

The British government said that while nutrients entering rivers was "a real problem," the contribution made by new homes was "very small".

Britain has for decades been grappling with an undersupply of homes. The government's Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said in a statement the rule change would enable more than 100,000 homes to be built by 2030.

"Today's announcement ... also will provide an 18 billion pound boost to our economy and support tens of thousands of jobs, and we're able to do this because previously it was a disproportionate and poorly targeted old EU ruling that blocked these homes," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters.

The government statement quoted David Thomas, boss of Britain's biggest housebuilder Barratt, as welcoming the move, which he said would allow the company to build more homes including 2,500 that were now stalled.

The Wildlife Trusts charity criticised the decision, saying the laws were about preventing pollution rather than housing.

"Scrapping the rules that are merely trying to stop rivers becoming even more polluted will allow vested interests to make more money at the expense of our rivers and the natural environment," The Wildlife Trusts Chief Executive Craig Bennett said.

Doug Parr, Chief Scientist at environmental group Greenpeace UK, urged the government to force water companies and housebuilders to invest in infrastructure to better handle sewage so river health is not sacrificed for the sake of building more homes.

A research briefing published by the government in May said around 340,000 new homes needed to be supplied in England each year, more than the Conservative Party's 2019 election manifesto target of 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s.

(Reporting by Muvija M; Editing by Peter Graff)