The leader of Norfolk County Council has taken aim at pop star turned conservationist Feargal Sharkey, claiming the last time he said anything useful was when he topped the charts with ‘A Good Heart’ in 1985.
The remarks by County Hall’s Conservative leader Kay Mason Billig came as councillors clashed over environmental rules blocking the building of thousands of new homes in Norfolk.
Former Undertones singer Mr Sharkey has been a high-profile critic of the government and water companies over the pollution of rivers, but Mrs Mason Billig reacted with scorn when his name was brought up during a council debate about nutrient neutrality rules.
Those rules mean councils in large parts of Norfolk have been unable to grant planning permission for new homes for more than a year because of concerns over pollution.
The directive means housebuilders have to prove they can provide mitigation to offset phosphates and nitrates produced by development before councils can give them the green light.
Green Catherine Rowett quoted Mr Sharkey’s remark that a dead river could not be offset through mitigation.
But Mrs Mason Billig said: “To quote Feargal Sharkey? Well, let’s face it, the last time he said something useful was 1985, when he said ‘a good heart is hard to find’.
She went on to slam the directive by government advisors Natural England as “ridiculous”.
She said: “The major polluters are the sewage outflows of the farmers, but they have chosen to attack housebuilders because they are easy targets.
“We all accept our waterways need to be cleaner. But let’s not just attack housebuilders as an isolated group. Let’s deal with the issue of the sewage and nitrates that come off farming and sort it out properly.”
But Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens backed the policy.
Terry Jermy, Labour county councillor, said the Norfolk Broads and coast attracted millions of tourists each year – and it was crucial water was clean and healthy.
He said: “We weaken our waterways at our peril, both environmentally and financially.
“We simply can’t allow this situation to become a trade-off between homes and our environment.”
Government advisors Natural England told Norfolk councils in March last year they could not permit planning applications for homes within the catchment areas of the River Wensum and the Broads.
The halt was because of fears extra nutrients created by homes could go into waterways and harm species.
Councils were told they could not approve homes until mitigation was in place to “offset” the harm they would cause.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak and local government secretary Michael Gove announced, on a visit to Norfolk, they would amend a bill to scrap the rules. The House of Lords voted down the change.
Norfolk councils have set up a joint venture with Anglian Water to allow small and medium-sized housebuilders to ‘offset’ the impact of developments by buying ‘credits’ to fund mitigation measures and allow decisions.
Who is Feargal Sharkey?
Feargal Sharkey is a musician from Northern Ireland who is perhaps best known as the lead singer in the punk band The Undertones.
Formed in 1975, the band had several hits in the UK including, most notably, Teenage Kicks.
After the band split up, Mr Sharkey launched a solo career which saw him claim a UK number one single with A Good Heart – the 1985 hit referenced by the council leader.
Away from music, he is a keen fly fisherman, which led to him becoming a fervent campaigner against river pollution – particularly chalk streams.
He boasts more than 200,000 followers on X – formerly known as Twitter.