All 1 Lord Krebs contributions to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023

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Wed 13th Sep 2023

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Earl Cathcart Portrait Earl Cathcart (Con)
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My Lords, I have houses for rental on my farm in Norfolk and in London. Sadly, I have been caught up in the restrictions. In March 2022, I proposed to convert two redundant barns into houses, but my council wrote to me to say that Natural England was blocking all developments because of nutrient neutrality restrictions. Further, the council said that at the present time, there were no identified solutions available to resolve this impact, and that it might be a year before it is resolved. Here we are, 18 months later and Natural England is still blocking the developments without any solution for these restrictions.

Nutrient neutrality laws are certainly well intentional, but blocking new home building will have little material impact on improving the quality of water, as my noble friend Lord Moylan said. Our waterways and coastline are undeniably in a terrible condition, and the situation is not improving. If anything, it is getting worse with the inability of the water companies to treat water effectively. At the same time, we have an undeniable chronic housing affordability and supply disaster. We see the laws intended to protect against and treat pollution blocking thousands of desperately needed homes while the source of this pollution runs practically unchecked. The water companies can do what they like.

The wastewater from all my houses goes into my sewage treatment plant which is emptied regularly so that no mucky water can get down into the ditch and the rivers. In addition, we have a second reserve tank for any runoff, just in case. How many more months or years do we have to wait until we have a solution? Or is Natural England going to just say, “Sorry, you can’t build at all”? I support the government amendments.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate. However, on Monday evening I went along to the very helpful briefing session hosted by the Minister. I thank her for that session. Two points arose that particularly stuck with me and caused me to say something this evening.

The first relates to the Office for Environmental Protection, which we have heard about from numerous previous speakers. When the Minister was asked why the OEP thinks this proposal will reduce environmental protection, the reply came that the OEP had not considered the matter in the round. While it is true that building extra homes adds a certain amount of pollution to water, and we can debate what percentage, this proposal says that to offset that there are mitigation measures. That is indeed what the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in her reply to Dame Glenys Stacey.

I thought it was odd that the OEP had not considered the matter in the round, so immediately after the meeting on Monday, I emailed Dame Glenys Stacey to ask her whether indeed the OEP had neglected to consider the mitigation side. As it happened, Dame Glenys was away, but Natalie Prosser, the chief executive replied immediately and said that it was not true. In fact she said that, in line with its correspondence, it has considered the matter in the round. So I ask the Minister to take this opportunity to correct what she said to us in the briefing meeting on Monday evening.

My second point—which has also been referred to by many previous speakers including the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in most eloquent terms—is about facts and evidence. I asked the Minister and her officials whether they could show us their workings that demonstrate that the increase in pollution from extra homes will be more than offset by the mitigation measures that are proposed in this amendment. No answer was forthcoming; instead, the Minister said that she believed these measures will enhance the protection of the environment. Belief has an important role in our society, particularly in places of worship, but I have never heard a conservation scientist, an ecologist or someone concerned with protecting the environment claim that by believing that we can make our waters cleaner or that by believing we can protect curlews and other endangered species. Without seeing the workings, without understanding anything about the evidence that underpins this proposal from the Government, I simply cannot see how anyone could vote for it.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I briefly rise to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and a number of other noble Lords. I have enormous sympathy for the Government. I believe that we absolutely need new housing. We have a problem with the shortage of housing stock. House builders should not have unnecessary barriers placed in the way of them getting on with development. However, I urge the Minister to listen to the sentiments expressed all around this House about the way in which the Government are currently planning to fulfil their laudable desire to ensure we get more homes built.

As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, Amendment 247YY would give carte blanche to this and any future Government to do what they liked to override the environmental protections of which I am so proud. This Government have done more than most other Governments to implement legislation that protects the environment. However, there is a risk that we will be tearing that up.

I congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on his amendments to government Amendment 247YY, which is asking us to ignore the science and local authorities just to assume that no pollution will happen even when they are being told it will or know that it will.

As my noble friend Lord Deben said, the “polluter pays” principle is important, but maybe what is happening here is a cart and horse problem. If my noble friend the Minister were able to assure the House that the mitigation measures that I am sure are genuinely intended to offset the pollution caused by any new developments will be in place before those developments pollute rivers, we would be able to consider that. However, there is no guarantee that any of the mitigation measures, however well meant and well intentioned, will be able to be put in place before the pollution happens.

I therefore urge my noble friend to think again about the Government’s apparently panicked reaction, which perhaps is intended to please housebuilders, who are very keen to get on with developing houses in places that they know would be of great value to them. I have enormous sympathy with my noble friend Lord Cathcart, who wants to do some development and is being blocked. However, we have to protect the environment. I am sure my noble friend would like to do that, but I hope that we can understand that in keeping this delicate balance of building new homes today but protecting our habitats and precious environment in the long run, we must try to prioritise these precious areas of the country that we as a Government have done so much to protect. As I say, I am proud of that, and we must not tear those protections up.