WORKINGTON MP Mark Jenkinson has blasted “flip-flopping” Cumberland Council for “sending out mixed messages” over housing developments.
His comments have also been echoed by Carlisle MP John Stevenson MP who would like to see the local authority re-assess their latest position.
Back in July the local authority wrote to Mr Jenkinson claiming that EU laws around nutrient neutrality were proving to be detrimental to the building industry and the local economy.
These nutrient neutrality laws disproportionately shift responsibility for nutrients entering rivers to housebuilders, who make no such direct contribution to pollution.
But at a meeting this week [26th September] the Labour-led council agreed to a Green Party motion challenging any move to relax these measures – the very rules about which the council had complained just over month earlier.
In an earlier letter Cumberland Council expressed “real and growing concerns” regarding the impact of nutrient neutrality rules on the economy in Cumberland.
Mr Jenkinson was advised that, alongside a number of new businesses and business expansions, 2,500 new homes had gone through the planning process only to be held up at the final hurdle by the EU regulations, with a further 1,450 homes as part of St Cuthbert’s Garden Village in Carlisle also blocked as a result.
The letter was clear that there is significant cost to the local economy, running to many millions of pounds per year, and there now is a serious threat to thousands of jobs in just a matter of weeks.
Carlisle MP John Stevenson MP said ‘Like Mr Jenkinson, I am concerned that the council’s U-turn on their stance on the issue of nutrient neutrality will have a significant negative impact on house building in the local area, which will in turn have a detrimental impact on the local economy. I would encourage the council to consider this and re-assess their position on the issue’.
Responding to such concerns, the Government announced plans in August that would have unlocked over 100,000 homes held up due to legacy EU laws on nutrient neutrality across 62 local authorities, whilst protecting the environment.
But this week Cumberland Council made what Mr Jenkinson called a “bizarre u-turn”, voting to accept a motion from two Green Party Councillors which described the recent proposals by Government as a “retrograde step” in an effort to hide their real motive to stop all house building anywhere.
Mark Jenkinson MP said: “This is a bizarre u-turn. Cumberland Council wrote to me in July asking for me to fix nutrient neutrality for them. I duly did so with Ministers, who brought forward changes, and additional funding to deal with nutrient runoff at the real source.
“Clearly the Government listened to these concerns and undertook to launch a package of measures that would have helped build more homes where communities wanted them, as well as an estimated £18 billion boost to the economy.
“Additionally I raised the council’s concerns in the House after Sir Keir Starmer’s flip-flopping on the issue.
“In other words, the same council that asked for – and then received – a Government solution to nutrient neutrality now apparently wants the problem to continue.
“It is quite clear that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing in Cumberland Council. They simply don’t know what they want: they are sending mixed messaged out to developers, to Government and also to the people they claim to represent.
“The Secretary of State was prepared to do what they asked – and now they want to keep the status quo.
“It is not simply Cumberland Council’s ‘asks’ are muddled: they are contradictory. The flip-flopping Labour leadership appears to being led by two Green Party councillors in a case of the proverbial tail wagging the dog.
“The motion agreed this week not only undermines Cumberland Council’s own senior officers: it undermines the building industry, the developers, the economy, local jobs, and people who need a place to live.
“The Government has already been clear that the contribution from new homes in terms of nutrient neutrality is very small and Ministers have taken steps to tackle nutrients at source.
“Legislation has been introduced to require water companies in impacted areas to upgrade their wastewater treatment works to the maximum technical level by 2030, stripping out significant levels of nutrients.
“Unfortunately, the amendment that would have resolved any planning backlog was rejected in the House of Lords.
“Ultimately, I hope the Government’s plans are implemented. This is, after all, what Cumberland Council asked for in the first place, and before this week’s sudden change of heart. If they can’t decide what they want, it begs the question ‘How can they expect to serve the people of Cumberland’?”
Mr Stevenson added: “Like Mr Jenkinson, I am concerned that the council’s U-turn on their stance on the issue of nutrient neutrality will have a significant negative impact on house building in the local area, which will in turn have a detrimental impact on the local economy. I would encourage the council to consider this and re-assess their position on the issue”.