Local Government Association (LGA) have suggested that pollution in rivers could stop an estimated 20,000 new homes from being built every year, which is around 7% of England’s planned house building. This is due to the Habitats Directive law which was adopted in 1992 to help maintain biodiversity, it is a legal requirement that new houses do not pollute nearby wetlands, rivers and nature reserves.

The LGA commissioned an assessment of the impact of environmental protections on housing supply. While the analysis found the majority of pollution comes from farming and water companies, it has reached a level where developments are forced to come to a halt until they can guarantee they will not exacerbate the issue. This year Natural England have sent advice to 42 councils about regulations, warning them of nitrate or phosphate pollution.

The analysis also found 23 councils had over 90% and 40 councils had over 25% of house building areas impacted by this law. Almost a third of potential new builds in the whole of the Northeast of England have been impacted in some way due to this law.

According to The Guardian, areas close by to protected sites and special areas of conservation, such as Eden Valley in Cumbria, the River Camel in Cornwall and the Norfolk Broads, planning authorities are unable to permit new applications for any kind of new home until developers can prove they are not adding to the pollution.

Some councils have been able to incorporate some nature-based schemes which can offset the new housings’ impact on the environment and developments can continue to go ahead. However, many local councils complain they have not been given adequate notice to enable new developments to continue, so cannot meet their mandatory new housing targets.

Housebuilders are warning the measures could cost developers up to £5,000 per home and affordable homes and council houses will be delayed.

James Stevens, the director for cities at the Home Builders Federation, said: “We are urging government to agree proportionate measures that reflect the contribution of housing delivery to the issue without delay. The situation has already been ongoing for some years and it is imperative that solutions are agreed and implemented urgently.”

The LGA said that while some councils are working on solutions for the issue in the short-term, the current system and legislation is making it challenging, lengthy and uncertain. The LGA are calling for long term action to be taken to clean up rivers in order to allow growth.

Cllr David Renard, environment spokesperson for the LGA, said: “It is concerning and frustrating that pollution levels in some rivers have reached a point to trigger bans on building around 20,000 new homes each year, over seven per cent of all England’s likely new house building. Councils are working tirelessly to enable house building while upholding high environmental standards. However, they cannot achieve this alone. We need to reduce pollution at source, which predominantly originates from water treatment and farming.”