Norfolk is set for a major housing boom after the government moved to end a limbo that was delaying more than 40,000 new homes from being built.

Housing secretary Michael Gove called for eco-rules which have stopped councils in much of the county from being able to grant plans for new homes to be ripped up.

Eastern Daily Press: Housing secretary Michael Gove and prime minister Rishi Sunak during their visit to HethersettHousing secretary Michael Gove and prime minister Rishi Sunak during their visit to Hethersett (Image: Press Association)

But prime minister Rishi Sunak and Mr Gove, who visited Norfolk in support of an announcement that councils will be able to grant permission again, were forced to defend the government's approach.

That came amid anger from environmental campaigners who argue the rules protected local rivers and wildlife.

READ MORE: Norfolk Wildlife Trust blasts water pollution changes

Known as nutrient neutrality, the rules were put in place in March last year following a directive from government advisors Natural England.

Eastern Daily Press: Nutrient neutrality guidance blocked decisions over thousands of homes in NorfolkNutrient neutrality guidance blocked decisions over thousands of homes in Norfolk (Image: Mike Page)

It meant that councils could not give housing schemes within the catchment areas of the Wensum and the Broads the go-ahead until mitigation measures were in place.

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

That was meant to prevent the increase of nutrient levels in wetlands and waterways and campaigners say the government, which is ready to remove the onus on councils and builders, is turning its back on the environment in the rush to get houses built.

Eastern Daily Press: The River Wensum in NorwichThe River Wensum in Norwich (Image: Archant)

But council leaders, MPs and developers welcomed the tabling of an amendment to a bill which will mean, within months, decisions on some of the 41,000 stalled housing schemes in Norfolk can start being made by councils.

Eastern Daily Press: Housing secretary Michael GoveHousing secretary Michael Gove (Image: Press Association)

Mr Gove, along with Mr Sunak, visited a Taylor Wimpey housing development in Hethersett, to announce the changes.

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

Eastern Daily Press: The government says its solution to the nutrient neutrality issue will mean Norfolk homes can be builtThe government says its solution to the nutrient neutrality issue will mean Norfolk homes can be built (Image: Chris Bishop)

"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, Mr Gove said the law was complex and the government needed to ensure reforms would survive legal challenges.

Eastern Daily Press: Green county councillor Jamie OsbornGreen county councillor Jamie Osborn (Image: Jamie Osborn)

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

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.

Eastern Daily Press: Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife TrustsCraig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts (Image: Press Association)

"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."

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts - which includes Norfolk Wildlife Trust - said: "In May, June and July, the government made promises to the British people and to Parliament that they would not lower environmental protections or standards.

"But just a few weeks later they are planning to do precisely the opposite. They lied – this is a disgraceful move which undermines public trust in this government."

But 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 be spending hundreds of millions extra in making sure we can improve the quality of our rivers.

Eastern Daily Press: South Norfolk Council leader John FullerSouth Norfolk Council leader John Fuller (Image: Archant)

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

South Norfolk Council leader Mr Fuller welcomed the intervention but said: "The people with responsibility for cleaning up our rivers had palmed off responsibility to builders and councils - none of who have the powers or skills to do that.

Eastern Daily Press: Norwich North MP Chloe SmithNorwich North MP Chloe Smith (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

"While civil servants and environmentalists have been arguing about this, homes have not been built and artisan craftsmen, plumbers and builders have been put out of work."

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

Eastern Daily Press: South Norfolk MP Richard BaconSouth Norfolk MP Richard Bacon (Image: Archant)

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."

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