The limbo which has blocked the building of thousands of new homes in parts of Norfolk for a year and a half looks set to end, with the government set to rewrite rules over waterway pollution.

Housing secretary Michael Gove was in Norfolk today (Tuesday) to announce his intention to rip up so-called “nutrient neutrality” rules, which have stopped councils in much of the county from being able to grant plans for new homes.

Watton & Swaffham Times: Michael GoveMichael Gove (Image: Submitted)

The rules - stemming from a directive from Natural England in March last year - have been criticised by council leaders, MPs and some developers for blocking much-needed housing.

The rules were designed to ensure new homes do not dangerously increase nutrient levels in local wetlands and waterways in protected areas, such as the catchment areas of the River Wensum and the Broads.

READ MORE: How two words left Norfolk's plans for thousands of homes in limbo

The halt was because of fears extra nutrients created by homes could go into waterways and harm species.

Watton & Swaffham Times: The government is reportedly going to rip up rules around nutrient neutralityThe government is reportedly going to rip up rules around nutrient neutrality (Image: Mike Page)

Councils were told they could not give housing schemes the go-ahead until mitigation measures were in place.

But, the government's intervention means Natural England's rules will become guidance - once an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is passed - with local officials able to either ignore or follow it.

The government says Natural England will be given greater freedom to develop catchment-specific solutions to the causes of nutrient pollution.

Mr Gove visited a Taylor Wimpey housing development in Hethersett on Tuesday, along with prime minister Rishi Sunak, to announce the changes.

He said representations from Norfolk had been at the forefront of the government's decision to make the reforms.

Mr Gove said: "Norfolk voices have led the way in calling for reform of these disproportionate and poorly targeted EU rules.

"I have to thank Richard Bacon, John Fuller and all the Norfolk MPs who have said we need new homes to take the pressure off waiting lists and into affordable housing."

Questioned on why it had taken so long to find a solution to the issue, Mr Gove said the law was complex and the government need to ensure the reform would survive any legal challenge.

But the major shift has angered environmental campaigners, given long-standing concerns about the water quality of rivers.

Watton & Swaffham Times: Green county councillor Jamie OsbornGreen county councillor Jamie Osborn (Image: Jamie Osborn)

Jamie Osborn, Green county councillor said: "For years, under the Conservative government, there's been little control of pollution and no accountability for the businesses dumping toxic chemicals and sewage into our precious rivers.

"That has caused the nutrient neutrality crisis we are now in.

"Instead of responding with effective measures to prevent developers and agricultural industries from choking our rivers with effluent and fertiliser run-off, the government is now ripping up environmental protections."

Watton & Swaffham Times: Housing secretary Michael Gove and prime minister RIshi Sunak in HethersettHousing secretary Michael Gove and prime minister RIshi Sunak in Hethersett (Image: Press Association)

Mr Gove said: "Throughout this process, I have been very keen that we change the rules, and we protect the environment.

"The good thing is not only will we be getting more than 100,000 new homes, but we will spending hundreds of millions extra in making sure we can improve the quality of our rivers.

"We are taking steps to ensure water companies improve water and making money available for farmers to farm in a more sustainable way."

Developers could be asked to help contribute to a "mitigation fund" to help tackle any pollution caused by building on greenfield and brownfield sites.

Watton & Swaffham Times: The River Wensum in NorwichThe River Wensum in Norwich (Image: Archant)

Councils in Norfolk have already been working on a joint venture with Anglian Water, to allow housebuilders to 'offset' the impact of developments by buying 'credits' to fund mitigation measures.

READ MORE: Fakenham Urban Extension in limbo due to nutrient neutrality

Watton & Swaffham Times: South Norfolk Council leader John FullerSouth Norfolk Council leader John Fuller (Image: Newsquest)

South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller and Breckland District Council leader Sam Chapman-Allen were among council leaders from across political parties who wrote to prime minister Rishi Sunak calling for an intervention.

They said 41,000 homes across Norfolk had been put on hold because of the issue and that local builders' merchants had laid off staff.

The leaders had called on Mr Sunak to shift the "burden of cleaning our rivers" away from councils and back to organisations such as Natural England, the Environment Agency and water companies.

The government announcement was welcomed by Norwich North MP Chloe Smith and South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon.

Watton & Swaffham Times: Norwich North MP Chloe SmithNorwich North MP Chloe Smith (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

Ms Smith said: "The legislation is a blunt weapon which has also coshed the careers of many local young people who might have had jobs and training in the building trade in Norfolk these last few years. It’s badly affected our local economy. It’s not right.

"So I support the government taking action to unblock over 100,000 new homes by 2030, delivering an estimated £18bn boost to the economy, supporting 50,000 jobs, returning control to local areas, and supporting smaller developers who have been disproportionately impacted by these rules."

Watton & Swaffham Times: South Norfolk MP Richard BaconSouth Norfolk MP Richard Bacon (Image: Archant)

Mr Bacon said: "This is extremely welcome and I'm very glad the government has recognised the problem."