Ripping up legislation around water pollution to unlock house-building is "terrible news" for Norfolk's wildlife and people, a charity has warned.

The chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust slammed the government's announcement that it intends to scrap rules around what is known as nutrient neutrality - saying the county will suffer as a result.

Since March last year, many councils in Norfolk have been stopped from granting permission for homes because of a Natural England directive regarding nutrient pollution in the catchment areas of the River Wensum and the Broads.

Eastern Daily Press: Farmers could be paid compensation to help stop nutrient pollution

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

Councils were blocked from giving homes the go-ahead unless mitigation, such as creating wetlands or retrofitting drains, was put in place to remove nutrients.

Eastern Daily Press: Michael Gove pictured in Norwich alongside prime minister Rishi SunakMichael Gove pictured in Norwich alongside prime minister Rishi Sunak (Image: PA)

But, on a visit to Norfolk, prime minister Rishi Sunak and housing secretary Michael Gove announced an amendment to a bill would remove that requirement, although they said other environmental measures would protect waterways.

However, environmental campaigners criticised the decision, saying it would make rivers even more polluted.

Eastern Daily Press: Gareth Dalglish, from Norfolk Wildlife TrustGareth Dalglish, from Norfolk Wildlife Trust (Image: Norfolk Wildlife Trust)

Gareth Dalglish, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s director of nature recovery, said: "This announcement is terrible news for Norfolk’s wildlife and people.

"Norfolk is home to nationally and internationally important areas for wildlife, including the iconic wetlands of the Norfolk Broads, and rare chalk rivers including the River Wensum.

"These areas have already experienced centuries of degradation from sewage and farm pollution and, after this announcement, are now likely to become even more polluted by development."

READ MORE: Norfolk house price rise warning due to nutrient neutrality

The government has said it will add millions more into a nutrient mitigation scheme run by Natural England and new laws will make water companies upgrade 
wastewater treatment works.

It also says there will be £200m in grants for farmers to help reduce run-off.

But Mr Dalglish said: "We are facing a critical tipping point in reversing the fortunes of our wildlife, ecosystems and communities, and all three are deeply connected.

"Norfolk’s prosperity is directly linked to the wellbeing of our natural environment – from healthy, happy communities with access to clear air and water, to a vibrant tourist economy."

Countryside charity CPRE Norfolk also said it was "dismayed" by the government's move to change the rules.

Eastern Daily Press: Michael Rayner, from CPRE NorfolkMichael Rayner, from CPRE Norfolk (Image: CPRE Norfolk)

Michael Rayner, the charity's planning campaigns consultant, said: "Government boasts about concern for the environment are sadly being shown to be merely hollow and broken promises. 

"It is perfectly possible to provide new housing and to protect the environment - it is hugely frustrating that it has taken so long for appropriate measures to be brought into force, before as good as abandoning this completely.

"Now some of Norfolk's most precious and vulnerable waterways are likely to be subjected to more pollution from house-building, as well as from agricultural run-off and sewage discharges."