The Government's scrapping of the Nutrient Neutrality Scheme has drawn the ire of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.
The scheme ensures that suitable measures are put in place by developers to counteract an increase in pollution of rivers as a result of new housing development, including in protected areas of Wiltshire.
According to the trust, the removal of these protections will place further pressures on already severely damaged rivers and globally rare Wiltshire chalk streams.
Trust CEO Jo Lewis said: "“In exempting housebuilders from playing their part in preventing more nutrients polluting our precious rivers, the Government is simply transferring more of the burden to farmers and to the public via higher taxes and water bills.
"The public has made clear their outrage about the state of our rivers, and now they hear they are to pick up the bill for simply stopping housebuilders from making the situation worse.
"This is one more broken Government promise on the environment, and short-sighted in the extreme. A one-off injection of funds to compensate will not rescue our rivers.”
The trust says every new house built results in more sewage being produced, whilst sewage works are already failing, with repeated discharges of raw sewage. Even when treated, the effluent from sewage works is adding harmful nutrients, which causes an increased growth of algae.
This results in decreased levels of dissolved oxygen, which can choke rivers, killing fish and other aquatic life. Chalk streams, with their diverse ecosystems, are particularly vulnerable to nutrient pollution.
The Government announcement followed complaints from housebuilders that pollution-limiting requirements were costly and time-consuming, despite the success of schemes which saw farm pollution reduced, or wetlands created to buffer and filter pollution to offset that from new development.
Wildlife trusts throughout the country say they have demonstrated a range of nature-based solutions that can take the nutrients out of the system. Landholders and environmental organisations such as Wiltshire Wildlife Trust are in a position to rapidly invest in large, landscape-scale nature recovery schemes with funding from developers to protect and improve water quality.
The trusts say that under the proposed changes to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, instead of making developers pay to offset their pollution, the Government will increase funding to the nutrient mitigation scheme run by Natural England - meaning that taxpayers rather than builders will pay to prevent pollution.
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