People In Houses…

…really don’t want other people to have houses, do they?

FT, 19 June 2021
Times, 19 June 2021
Telegraph, 19 June 2021

The prime minister can hardly be surprised when the affluent home-owning constituents of Chesham and Amersham register a protest vote against his plans for change, thinking that in some way he is coming for their beautiful part of the country, even though it bristles with statutory protections from development. First there has been the insensitivity with which HS2 has been forced through the Chilterns AONB with the case for longer tunnelling rejected (see my 30 July 2016 blog post HS2: The Very Select Committee) and secondly, as hitherto loyal Conservatives, they will have taken the prime minister at his word when with typical hyperbole he said in his foreword to last August’s white paper:

“Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places. People cannot afford to move to where their talents can be matched with opportunity. Businesses cannot afford to grow and create jobs. The whole thing is beginning to crumble and the time has come to do what too many have for too long lacked the courage to do – tear it down and start again.

That is what this paper proposes.

Radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War.

Not more fiddling around the edges, not simply painting over the damp patches, but levelling the foundations and building, from the ground up, a whole new planning system for England.”

“And, above all, that gives the people of this country the homes we need in the places we want to live at prices we can afford, so that all of us are free to live where we can connect our talents with opportunity.

Getting homes built is always a controversial business. Any planning application, however modest, almost inevitably attracts objections and I am sure there will be those who say this paper represents too much change too fast, too much of a break from what has gone before.

But what we have now simply does not work.

So let’s do better. Let’s make the system work for all of us. And let’s take big, bold steps so that we in this country can finally build the homes we all need and the future we all want to see.”

How easy it must be for other parties and for campaign groups to scaremonger when such coarse analogies are used – war, tearing things down, levelling foundations, building from the ground up.

The paper itself was not nearly as radical as the foreword would suggest and we have seen no further detail since. And so he is now on the defensive:

The Independent, 18 June 2021

“What we want is sensible plans to allow development on brownfield sites. We’re not going to build on greenbelt sites, we’re not going to build all over the countryside.”

[What does this even mean? Of course there will continue to be green field development, and of course some green belt development – as there is under the current system].

This is such an unnecessarily controversial issue, carelessly caused, cynically amplified. The planning system doesn’t need to be torn up and was never going to be torn up. But where have the ministers been to explain, to persuade, to engage? Instead, a resounding, almost embarrassed, silence since that August 2020 white paper. The news vacuum as to the form that changes are likely to take has of course been filled with media speculation and campaigners’ characterisations which have now served to make the whole question more political than it ever needed to be.

We all know that what is needed is for the current planning system to work better, largely through clearer carrot and stick policies, through specific process improvements and simplifications – and with better resourcing. So as to deliver, yes, more homes, yes economic growth, yes in a planned way, yes meeting environmental and social, not just economic, goals. But none of that’s going to happen now is it? Because politics is all about retaining power, and planning is dependent on politics. So if you are relying on the planning system to enable you to move out of your parents’ house or out of an HMO; to start a family, or to grow a business, you know what? Your needs don’t matter. Not against the needs of a politician who doesn’t want to be the next Peter Fleet.

All this of course means that the current system needs to continue to work as best it can. The good news is that at least this week we had that Colney Heath appeal decision letter to demonstrate that the entire system is in fact not in total meltdown. If an area is without an up to date plan, with a severe unmet housing need, with need for affordable housing and for sites for self build homes, planning permission may be granted even if the land is, horror of horrors, politicians look away, green belt. My firm Town (well, my colleague Paul Arnett) was pleased to play at least a small role in the appeal as planning solicitors for the appellant, negotiating a section 106 agreement with the St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield councils that secured a commitment that 45% of the 100 homes proposed would be affordable housing and 10% would be self-build, delivering a strategy first formulated by Chris Young QC and developed and implemented at the inquiry itself by Zack Simons (who kindly brought us onto the team). Russell Gray at Woods Hardwick was the lead planning witness and coordinated the team.

Inspector Christa Masters determined that the following were “very special circumstances” that justified inappropriate development in the green belt:

provision of market housing

“I am aware of the Written Ministerial Statement of December 2015 which indicates that unmet need is unlikely to clearly outweigh harm to Green Belt and any other harm so as to establish very special circumstances. However, in common with the appeal decision referred to, I note that this provision has not been incorporated within the Framework which has subsequently been updated and similar guidance within the Planning Practice Guidance has been removed. I can therefore see no reason to give this anything other than little weight as a material consideration.

It is common ground that neither SADC or WHBC can demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable homes. Whilst there is disagreement between the parties regarding the extent of this shortfall, the parties also agreed that this is not a matter upon which the appeals would turn. I agree with this position. Even taking the Councils supply positions of WHBC 2.58 years and SADC at 2.4 years, the position is a bleak one and the shortfall in both local authorities is considerable and significant.

There is therefore no dispute that given the existing position in both local authority areas, the delivery of housing represents a benefit. Even if the site is not developed within the timeframe envisaged by the appellant, and I can see no compelling reason this would not be achieved, it would nevertheless, when delivered, positively boost the supply within both local authority areas. From the evidence presented in relation to the emerging planning policy position for both authorities, this is not a position on which I would envisage there would be any marked improvement on in the short to medium term. I afford very substantial weight to the provision of market housing which would make a positive contribution to the supply of market housing in both local authority areas.”

⁃ provision of self-build

“In common with both market housing and affordable housing, the situation in the context of provision of sites and past completions is a particularly poor one. To conclude, I am of the view that the provision of 10 self build service plots at the appeal site will make a positive contribution to the supply of self build plots in both local planning authority areas. I am attaching substantial weight to this element of housing supply.”

⁃ provision of affordable housing

“The uncontested evidence presented by the appellant on affordable housing for both local authorities illustrates some serious shortcomings in terms of past delivery trends. In relation to WHBC, the affordable housing delivery which has taken place since 2015/16 is equivalent to a rate of 23 homes per annum. The appellant calculates that the shortfall stands in the region of 4000 net affordable homes since the 2017 SHMA Update, a 97% shortfall in affordable housing delivery. If the shortfall is to be addressed within the next 5 years, it would required the delivery of 1397 affordable homes per annum. In SADC, the position is equally as serious. Since the period 2012/13, a total of 244 net affordable homes have been delivered at an average of 35 net dwellings per annum. Again, this equates to a shortfall also in the region of 4000 dwellings (94%) which, if to be addressed in the next 5 years, would require the delivery of 1185 affordable dwellings per annum.

The persistent under delivery of affordable housing in both local authority areas presents a critical situation. Taking into account the extremely acute affordable housing position in both SADC and WHBC, I attach very substantial weight to the delivery of up to 45 affordable homes in this location in favour of the proposals.”

I recommend Zack’s 15 June 2021 blog post Notes from the Green Belt: what’s so very special about Colney Heath?

I also recommend Chris’ earlier paper Winning an inquiry: it’s the benefits, stupid.

More decisions such as Colney Heath are inevitable where authorities, admittedly struggling at times with a sclerotic local plans system, fail to deliver, which of course makes this scaremongering about a new planning system so nonsensical.

Topically, at 6pm this Tuesday 22 June our Clubhouse Planning Law, Unplanned theme is “How can we build enough, affordable, housing?”. Our special guests are Chris Young QC, Nick Walkley (ex Homes England chief executive), Claire Dickinson (director, Quod) and Ric Frankland (founder, wudl.). Please join us. A free link to the app and event is here.

Simon Ricketts, 19 June 2021

Personal views, et cetera

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A CLEUD

Certificates of lawfulness are very useful, but care is still needed, as two recent cases illustrate.

But first, to explain about the two types of certificate provided for under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the consequent jargon about CLEUDs and CLOPUDs.

The “certificate of lawfulness of existing use or development” (“CLEUD”) procedure, under section 191 of the 1990 Act:

“(1) If any person wishes to ascertain whether—

(a) any existing use of buildings or other land is lawful;

(b) any operations which have been carried out in, on, over or under land are lawful; or

(c) any other matter constituting a failure to comply with any condition or limitation subject to which planning permission has been granted is lawful,

he may make an application for the purpose to the local planning authority specifying the land and describing the use, operations or other matter.”

“(4) If, on an application under this section, the local planning authority are provided with information satisfying them of the lawfulness at the time of the application of the use, operations or other matter described in the application, or that description as modified by the local planning authority or a description substituted by them, they shall issue a certificate to that effect; and in any other case they shall refuse the application.”

“(6) The lawfulness of any use, operations or other matter for which a certificate is in force under this section shall be conclusively presumed.”

The “certificate of lawfulness of proposed use or development” (“CLOPUD”) procedure, under section 192 of the 1990 Act:

“(1) If any person wishes to ascertain whether—

(a) any proposed use of buildings or other land; or

(b) any operations proposed to be carried out in, on, over or under land,

would be lawful, he may make an application for the purpose to the local planning authority specifying the land and describing the use or operations in question.”

“(2) If, on an application under this section, the local planning authority are provided with information satisfying them that the use or operations described in the application would be lawful if instituted or begun at the time of the application, they shall issue a certificate to that effect; and in any other case they shall refuse the application.”

“(4) The lawfulness of any use or operations for which a certificate is in force under this section shall be conclusively presumed unless there is a material change, before the use is instituted or the operations are begun, in any of the matters relevant to determining such lawfulness.”

Section 193 (7) “A local planning authority may revoke a certificate under either of those sections if, on the application for the certificate—

(a) a statement was made or document used which was false in a material particular; or

(b) any material information was withheld.”

There is discussion about the distinctions between the two procedures, CLEUD and CLOPUD, in the Government of the Republic of France v Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (Court of Appeal, 12 June 2017) but basically a CLEUD certifies that the development that has already taken place was lawful (i.e. had the benefit of any necessary planning permission) and a CLOPUD certifies that proposed development would be lawful (i.e. would not require any further planning permission).

Either certificate may be revoked by a local planning authority if it was granted on the basis of false information or if material information was withheld. CLOPUDs carry the additional risk that they may no longer be able to be relied upon as determinative of lawfulness if “there is a material change, before the use is instituted or the operations are begun, in any of the matters relevant to determining such lawfulness”.

R (Ocado Retail Limited) v London Borough of Islington (Holgate J, 7 June 2021) concerned the revocation by Islington Council of a CLEUD granted on 26 April 2019 to Telereal Trillium. The effect of the CLEUD was to certify that four of Telereal’s units on an industrial date were in lawful use for storage or distribution purposes, given that they been used for those purposes for at least the last ten years in breach of a condition on a previous planning permission. As is usually the case, the certificate application had been determined without public consultation and by delegated powers. Only when Ocado then made a planning application for works to the property so as to be able to use it as one of their distribution facilities did local residents find out that the certificate had been issued. They provided information to the council which caused it to make the revocation order, relying on the following reasons set out in an officer’s report:

“(i) Telereal’s application had relied on units A-D as “four interlinked units” forming a single planning unit, without mentioning a lack of interconnection between units B and C (paras. 11, 13 and 19);
(ii) Telereal had not referred to a statement in the 2011 planning application that units C-D were unused at that time and, being surplus to requirements, had been marketed since 2006 as a separate unit. Telereal had not produced photographs taken in 2011 showing the empty units. This information contrasted with the false statement in the application that between 1992 and 2013 units A-D had been fully operational as a warehouse and also with the reliance placed upon photographs taken in 2006 produced by Mr. Molony. This was not a case where units had simply not been used to capacity (paras. 11, 17 and 18);
(iii) The statutory declaration had been false in stating that since 1992 the whole site had been in use as a warehousing/storage depot, that the use had been continuous throughout, and that the photographs submitted were “typical of the uses” (para. 18);
(iv) The statutory declaration had withheld the fact that Mr. Molony, who was professing to give first-hand evidence, had not visited the site during Royal Mail’s lease[3] and so could not attest to its use during that period (para.18);
(v) The application had failed to refer to Royal Mail ceasing to use the premises by, at the latest, 2015 (paras. 11 and 17);
(vi) The application and the decision in 2019 had proceeded on the incorrect legal basis that the issue was whether there had been a 10-year period of continuous use in breach of condition at any time in the past, without that lawful use being subsequently abandoned or suspended. Instead, the law had been correctly stated in Ellis (para.22). In any event, even applying “the wrong legal tests” relied upon by Telereal, the applicant had been required to provide an accurate factual account of the use over time. The false statements and withholding of information were still material to that issue (para.23);
(vii) The false assertion about the interlinked nature of units A-D, as well as the lack of use and the separate marketing of units C and D, were relevant to the identification of the correct planning unit (para.28);

(viii) On the exercise of the discretion to revoke the CLEUD, the legislation assumes the provision of “correct and complete material information.” Had the false statements not been made and/or material information withheld, Islington “would have been alerted to the need to carry out further investigations in particular as to the planning unit” and “could have come to a different decision” (para.8).

Ocado challenged the revocation by way of judicial review on a series of grounds, a number of which raise interesting and difficult planning law issues, but for the purposes of this blog post it is sufficient to say that the claim failed. Holgate J held that the council was within its powers in deciding to revoke the certificate on the basis of applying the test in section 193 (7).

It is an important judgment for anyone dealing with certificate applications, with some helpful judicial pointers.

As to the drafting of a statutory declaration in support of a certificate application:

“Care needs to be taken in the drafting of any statutory declaration in support of an application for a certificate under s.191 (or s.192). Such a document is intended to have a formal and solemn status in a non-judicial process where oaths are not administered. It is an offence for a person knowingly and wilfully to make a statutory declaration containing a statement which is false in a material particular (s.5 of the Perjury Act 1911). This offence is “triable either way” and so there is no specific time limit on the bringing of a prosecution. Whether or not a statutory declaration is used to provide evidence to a local planning authority, s.194 makes it an offence for a person, for the purposes of obtaining a decision on an application under s.191 or s.192, to make a statement knowingly or recklessly which is false or misleading in a material particular or, with an intent to deceive, to use any document which is materially false or misleading or to withhold material information. In s.194(3) Parliament has expressly disapplied the normal 6-month time limit in s.127 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 for the bringing of a prosecution in respect of a summary only offence. Section 194(3) is all of a piece with the power of revocation in s.193(7), which is exercisable at any time after the grant of a CLEUD.

To enable an authority to assess the weight to be placed upon a statutory declaration or witness statement, it is good practice for the author to make plain which matters are within his own personal knowledge and, unless it is obvious, how that knowledge was obtained. For each matter outside his own knowledge, he should identify the specific source relied upon. These are essentially the principles applied to witness statements in civil litigation (CPR PD32 para.18.2) and it is difficult to see why the approach should be any less rigorous in the context of s.171B where a declaration may be dealing with continuity over a long period of time.

As to whether certificate applications should be publicised:

“It is beneficial to the quality of decision-making on s.191 applications, which deal with past events, that persons or bodies with relevant information on the grounds for seeking a CLEUD should be able to be involved, whether supporting or opposing an application. If they are not, there is potentially an increased risk of any certificate granted becoming the subject of an application for judicial review, or revocation under s.193(7), with consequential delays for a landowner wishing to rely upon that decision. If, on the other hand public participation results in the refusal of a CLEUD, the applicant is entitled to pursue the matter on appeal, where the evidence can be examined and tested.

It could be said to be unsatisfactory that whether consultation takes place should depend upon the exercise of discretion by individual planning officers, rather than there being a uniform national procedure. Similar concerns were raised by Collins J in Sumption v London Borough of Greenwich [2008] 1 P&CR 20 at [8]. The point is illustrated by paragraph 008 of the relevant part of the National Planning Practice Guidance, which states that “it may be reasonable for a local planning authority to seek evidence from other sources e.g., parish councils or neighbours, if there is good reason to believe they may possess relevant information about the content of a specific application”. The difficulty is that an authority is unlikely to be able to identify all situations in which members of the public have something material to contribute, either on the decision whether to grant a certificate or the precise scope of any certificate.”

As to the extent of the power to revoke a certificate:

“A CLEUD or a CLOPUD may only be revoked by a local planning authority on the grounds set out in s.193(7). The power of revocation may not be used, for example, because the authority wishes to revisit the merits of the application, or has changed its mind about the findings of fact it has made or the inferences or conclusions it has drawn from the material submitted.

As to other matters to take into account in deciding whether to revoke:

“By way of example, the local planning authority might take into account the effect of revoking the certificate on affected landowners, particularly if time has elapsed and successors in title demonstrate the harm they would suffer. In that event, it could also be relevant to consider whether a successor in title was involved in, or aware of, the application for a certificate, particularly if it intended to rely upon any certificate granted. Where a local authority has reason to conclude that material information was deliberately withheld at the application stage, or that there has been material concealment of information after the certificate was issued, those matters could be taken into account as weighing in favour of revocation. Although the planning merits of a development or a legitimised breach of condition are irrelevant to whether sub-paragraphs (a) or (b) of s.193(7) are satisfied, a local authority may have regard to that aspect when exercising its discretion whether to revoke a certificate. But it is entirely a matter for the authority whether to consider planning benefits or harm at all and, if so, to what extent, subject only to review on the grounds of irrationality.”

I mentioned the additional risk, with CLOPUDs, that they lose their effect if there is a material change, before the use is instituted or the operations are begun, in any of the matters relevant to determining the lawfulness of the proposed development. There was discussion about this in Croyde Area Residents Association) v North Devon District Council (Lieven J, 19 March 2021).

The case concerned an application for judicial review to quash the grant of planning permission on 27 January 2014 for the use of lodges, static caravans and touring caravans at Ruda Holiday Park, Croyde, Braunton Devon. The judge allowed such a late challenge to be brought, applying the principles in R (Thornton Hall Hotel Ltd) v Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (Court of Appeal, 30 April 2019) (covered in my 18 May 2019 blog post Slow Claim Coming: Limiting JRs) but much of the discussion in the case concerned a CLOPUD which was subsequently granted on appeal on 21 February 2020 once a dispute had arisen as to the extent of land which had the benefit of the planning permission, due to a mistake in the way in which the boundaries of the application had been shown (“…roughly 22 hectares of land were included within the red line which before 2014 had no permission for caravans or lodges to be stationed”).

There is an absolute statutory bar on challenging the validity of certificates granted upon appeal after six weeks but challenges can of course be brought to planning permissions granted by local planning authorities outside that six weeks period (on the principles set out in that Thornton Hall Hotel case). That was why this was just a challenge to the January 2014 permission. The land owner, represented by James Maurici QC, sought to argue that to allow a late challenge to the planning permission, as argued for by the claimant, represented by Richard Turney, would undermine the absolute bar on any legal challenge to the CLOPUD. The judge disagreed:

“I am concerned that Mr Turney’s argument does result in the undermining of the LDC, and therefore might be said to undermine the purpose of the statutory provision. However, in my view there are two answers to this. Firstly, it is clear from Challinor and from s.192(4) that the LDC does not create absolute certainty of the lawfulness of the use going forward in any event. The statute envisages that there may be a material change which removes the certified lawfulness and I see no reason why the subsequent quashing of a planning permission should not be such a material change. Secondly, the mischief that Mr Maurici relies upon can in my view be dealt with by the exercise of the court’s discretion not to quash if on the facts of the case that is the appropriate response. It would be a highly unusual, if not exceptional, situation where the court would quash a planning permission where the effect was to remove the benefit of an LDC. As I explain below, I consider this to be such an exceptional case. However, in the vast majority of cases the existence of the LDC will be an overwhelming reason not to quash the planning permission.”

So the judge assumes that the quashing of the planning permission will amount to a material change in a matter that was relevant to determining the lawfulness of the development certified in the CLOPUD. It is not clear from the judgment whether the development described in the CLOPUD had subsequently already been started – that would of course preclude the operation of section 192 (4). (NB I understand that permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal has been sought).

Lessons:

– Be scrupulously accurate when submitting any application for a CLEUD or CLOPUD, and do not withhold any material information. Otherwise, it may come back to bite you or your successor, by operation of section 193 (7).

⁃ In relation to CLOPUDs, be wary of any potential material changes that may come to undermine your certificate. You are at risk until “the use is instituted or the operations are begun”.

Simon Ricketts, 12 June 2021

Personal views, et cetera

It was a busy Clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned week! Many of you will have tuned into our session on Tuesday in relation to the Lichfields Taking Stock report and/or Thursday’s event arranged at about eight hours’ notice when Duncan Field and Zack Simons led a session on the HCLG Committee’s report on the future of the planning system. This Tuesday 15 June at 6pm we have another amazing session, this time about starting new consultancies, firms and practices, with a series of founders’ stories, including Roger Hepher (hgh Consulting), Paula Carney (CarneySweeney), Kelly Ryder (The Planning Lab), Mark Gimingham (i-Transport), Claire Dickinson (Quod), Rachel Naylor & Abbey Musker (Trium Environmental Consulting LLP ) and tax specialist Mitch Young (Fusion Consulting Ltd). Join us! Invite to app and event here.

“Our Number One Domestic Priority”: Taking Stock

I tweeted that yesterday was the 5th anniversary of my first simonicity blog post. 273 posts later and 496,000 words (War and Peace = 587,000 words) and to what effect?

As I also said, it can be deflating to look back. So many posts expressing frustration about the same topics, yes obviously CIL, but also the recurring debates as to how to address the country’s housing crisis and as to what the obstacles are: is it the planning system or are other factors at play? Something Must Be Done. But what?

Unpacking Use It Or Lose It (16 July 2016) was one of my first posts. It referred to that week’s House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee’s report, Building More Homes.

“Paragraphs 129 to 139 of the report’s section on Planning Reform set out the “criticism made of the large house builders…that they hold land suitable and with permission for building, yet build at a slow pace and thus maximise the profit from each development”.

The conclusion is arrived at:

“139.We recommend that local authorities are granted the power to levy council tax on developments that are not completed within a set time period. This time period should be negotiated when planning consent is sought and be varied according to the size and complexity of a development. To ensure that the local authority also has an incentive to accelerate the process, the clock should start to run only when the local authority has signed off all conditions and obligations“.”

The allegation that house builders hold unnecessarily large land banks, going slow to maximise profits, was considered in detail by Oliver Letwin in his 2018 review. Incidentally, a constant theme of my blog posts over the last five years has been reviews commissioned by the Government the recommendations of which it then ignores – my first ever post, on 3 June 2016, was about the recommendations of the CIL independent working group (sensible recommendations, ignored by Government) – and Oliver Letwin’s recommendations in his final report (summarised in my 3 November 2018 blog post Oliver’s Twist: Letwin’s Proposals For Large Housing Sites) were of course similarly ignored, but perhaps the findings in his earlier interim report (June 2018) were more interesting, where he rejects that land banking allegation:

“5.40 It is of course true that, although the land market can be highly volatile, land (unlike most assets) does not depreciate, and has generally tended to increase in value across the cycle, and has a ‘real option’ value. By holding rights over land that benefits from (or is soon likely to benefit from) some form of permission to build houses, the company which holds that land obtains a valuable ability to make profit by building on it at whatever time is thought likely to maximise the profitability of doing so. It would therefore be perfectly possible for financial investors of a certain kind to seek to make a business out of holding land as a purely speculative activity.

5.41 But I cannot find any evidence that the major house builders are financial investors of this kind. Their business models depend on generating profits out of sales of housing, rather than out of the increasing value of land holdings; and it is the profitability of the sale of housing that they are trying to protect by building only at the ‘market absorption rate’ for their products. I have heard anecdotes concerning land owners who seek to speculate in exactly this way by obtaining outline permission many years before allowing the land to have any real development upon it – and I am inclined to believe that this is a serious issue for the planning system. But it is not one that is consistent with the business model of the major house builders.

And yet here comes the allegation again in an 8 May 2021 Local Government Association press statement: Over 1.1 million homes with planning permission waiting to be built – new LGA analysis. “The LGA is calling for councils to be given powers in a Planning Bill in the Queen’s Speech to incentivise developers to build housing more quickly. Latest figures show that 2,782,300 homes have been granted planning permission by councils since 2010/11 but over the same period only 1,627,730 have been built.”

And look at their proposal, which harks back (without reference to it) to the rejected idea in that 2016 House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee Report. They say:

While there will be in some cases legitimate reasons as to why development has stalled, and it is recognised that there is a time lag between permission being granted and homes being built, new build completions have only increased by just over half as much in that time. The LGA, which represents councils, says this shows that planning is not the barrier to house-building and that it is the housing delivery system that needs to be reformed.

To help councils get developers building more quickly, the Queen’s Speech should bring forward legislation that enables councils to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point the original planning permission expires.”

Lichfields’ Matthew Spry rebuts the idea again in his 26 May 2021 blog post Use it or lose it: the taxing problem of undelivered homes.

The wider assertions in the Local Government Association press statement that sufficient planning permissions are already being granted to achieve the Government’s target of 300,000 net additional homes a year are tackled in Lichfields subsequent report, “Taking stock: The geography of housing need, permissions and completions”, published on 1 June 2021, commissioned by the Land Promoters and Developers Federation and the Home Builders Federation. Indeed they conclude that the necessary annual figure to achieve that target is 520,000.

The report represents the first stage of their work: “Analysis of how the number of homes with planning permission relates to housing need and delivery in different parts of the country through a comparison of housing need (either as per the standard method or recently adopted local plans), planning permissions and completions at a regional and housing market area level”.

We await stages 2 and 3:

“2. Assessing how the stock of permissions relates to housebuilder pipelines, rates of build out and the number of extra sites required to meet the government’s ambition; and

3. An analysis of what happens to the stock of permissions for a number of local authority case studies. This is a more in-depth ‘deep dive’ exploration on how the stock of permissions granted is linked to the number of homes completed within a given timescale by monitoring the land supply positions across the authorities over a five year period”

It is a great shame that MHCLG has not provided any detailed methodology to support the national target of 300,000 net additional homes a year. If anything it may be an under-estimate (see the 14 January 2021 House of Commons briefing paper Tackling the under-supply of housing in England) but surely it needs underpinning to avoid any assertion that it is too high. The background to the figure is mentioned in my 10 February 2018 blog post Nothing Was Delivered – the immediate context at the time being the first meeting of then prime minister Theresa May’s “housing implementation taskforce” (always good to have a taskforce). You recall Mrs May’s promise that the housing crisis would be her “number one domestic priority”? Roll forward three years: Theresa May leads Tory revolt over push for new housing (The Times, 12 May 2021).

What has got in the way of a sensible debate as to how we might resolve this country’s housing crisis since I started this blog? Politics. What might get us out of it? Action based on robust factual analysis.

Simon Ricketts, 4 June 2021

Personal views, et cetera

This week’s Clubhouse Planning Law, Unplanned discussion examines the Lichfields Taking Stock report. We will be joined by Lichfields’ Matthew Spry , together with the LPDF’s chairman Paul Brocklehurst, Lambert Smith Hampton’s Mary-Jane O’Neill, the BPF’s Sam Bensted, Blackstock Consulting’s Joshua Carson and our brilliant usual panel. Do tune in to join the discussion, or just to listen. This is a free invitation to the app.

Moving Into First Homes: 3 Key Deadlines

The Government’s First Homes announcements this week mean that we all need to understand the practicalities as to how this new form of discounted market sale housing will work and to plan around three key implementation dates.

On 24 May 2021 we had the formal ministerial statement together with the publication of MHCLG guidance providing “further detail on First Homes and their implementation”. For prospective purchasers there is also the Government’s Own Your Own Home website.

The three key dates are as follows:

28 June 2021

From the guidance: “ Local plans and neighbourhood plans submitted for examination before 28 June 2021, or that have reached publication stage by 28 June 2021 and subsequently submitted for examination by 28 December 2021, will not be required to reflect the First Homes policy requirement

(However: “Planning Inspectors should consider through the examination whether a requirement for an early update of the local plan might be appropriate.”)

28 December 2021

From the guidance: “The new First Homes policy requirement does not apply for the following:

sites with full or outline planning permissions already in place or determined (or where a right to appeal against non-determination has arisen) before 28 December 2021

28 March 2022

It also does not apply to “applications for full or outline planning permission where there has been significant pre-application engagement which are determined before 28 March 2022”.

So if you wish to avoid the new requirement and you are not in an area where a plan has been adopted under the transitional arrangements, you need to have submitted your application so that it will be determined (or so that that the statutory right to appeal on the basis of non-determination has arisen) by 28 December 2021 and if there is any doubt as to whether you will meet that deadline it would be prudent to have engaged in “significant pre-application engagement” such that the deadline for achieving permission is 28 March 2022.

“If an applicant wishes to amend a planning application to include First Homes which is already submitted and likely to be granted before these dates, the local planning authority should be flexible in accepting First Homes as an alternative type of tenure.

Local authorities should have flexibility to accept alternative tenure mixes for planning applications that are determined within the timescales identified above, although they should consider whether First Homes could be easily substituted for another tenure, either at 25% or a lower proportion.”

From the guidance:

What is a First Home?

First Homes are a specific kind of discounted market sale housing and should be considered to meet the definition of ‘affordable housing’ for planning purposes. Specifically, First Homes are discounted market sale units which:

a) must be discounted by a minimum of 30% against the market value;

b) are sold to a person or persons meeting the First Homes eligibility criteria […];

c) on their first sale, will have a restriction registered on the title at HM Land Registry to ensure this discount (as a percentage of current market value) and certain other restrictions are passed on at each subsequent title transfer; and,

d) after the discount has been applied, the first sale must be at a price no higher than £250,000 (or £420,000 in Greater London).

First Homes are the government’s preferred discounted market tenure and should account for at least 25% of all affordable housing units delivered by developers through planning obligations.”

….

“Who is eligible to purchase a First Home?

A purchaser (or, if a joint purchase, all the purchasers) of a First Home should be a first-time buyer as defined in paragraph 6 of schedule 6ZA of the Finance Act 2003 for the purposes of Stamp Duty Relief for first-time buyers.

Purchasers of First Homes, whether individuals, couples or group purchasers, should have a combined annual household income not exceeding £80,000 (or £90,000 in Greater London) in the tax year immediately preceding the year of purchase.

A purchaser of a First Home should have a mortgage or home purchase plan (if required to comply with Islamic law) to fund a minimum of 50% of the discounted purchase price.

These national standard criteria should also apply at all future sales of a First Home.”

…..

How should the remaining 75% of affordable housing be secured through developer contributions?

Once a minimum of 25% of First Homes has been accounted for, social rent should be delivered in the same percentage as set out in the local plan. The remainder of the affordable housing tenures should be delivered in line with the proportions set out in the local plan policy.

For example, if a local plan policy requires an affordable housing mix of 20% shared ownership units, 40% affordable rent units and 40% social rent units, a planning application compliant with national policy would deliver an affordable housing tenure mix of 25% First Homes and 40% social rent. The remainder (35%) would be split in line with the ratio set out in the local plan policy, which is 40% affordable rent to 20% shared ownership, or 2:1. 35% split in this way results in 12% shared ownership; and 23% affordable rent.

In another example, if a local plan policy requires 80% of units to be shared ownership and 20% to be social rent, a policy compliant application would deliver 25% First Homes units, 20% social rent and 55% shared ownership.

If a local authority has an up-to-date policy on cash contributions in lieu of onsite contributions, then a planning application compliant with national policy will align with this approach.”

The requirement will be secured by our trusty friend, the section 106 agreement (or unilateral undertaking). The guidance states: “The government will publish template planning obligations for this purpose, which the local planning authority can use as a basis for agreements prepared locally.” A workable template (stress the word “workable”) would be very useful indeed.

How will this policy mechanism work across very different housing market areas across the country and what might be the unintended consequences? I recommend an excellent Lichfields blog post, First Homes: dicing with the discount (Rachel Clements and Bethan Haynes, 27 May 2021).

They ask where can First Homes potentially have the biggest impact?

“First Homes have the potential to have the greatest impact in areas where first-time buyers are currently priced out of the open market (at the entry-level) but where First Homes would be within reach, when the minimum 30% discount is applied. We estimate this represents around one in five authorities in England – around 63 in total.”

Will it avoid the problems that caused the previous Starter Homes concept to fail (e.g see my 29 February 2020 blog post Starter Homes Were A Non Starter – What Future For First Homes?)? What do we make of this continuing political decision to intervene in the market in the interests of encouraging home ownership at the expense (where viability is impacted) of affordable housing for rent, for those on a lower rung of the housing ladder?

There is plenty more to say on the subject, for instance the new opportunity arising to bring forward First Homes exception sites on allocated land outside the green belt or designated rural areas. But for now, I suspect that developers and local planning authorities alike will be wanting to do some basic number-crunching and to bear those three deadlines in mind.

Simon Ricketts, 28 May 2021

Personal views, et cetera

This Tuesday evening’s Planning Law, Unplanned Clubhouse session (6pm, 1 June) takes on a more general subject: “Has work taken over your life? Life hacks, work hacks”. Do come along and share your views, or just listen to the chat. An invitation to the app is here.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry: Facts, Media, Politics

Government approves plan to turn Whitechapel Bell Foundry into boutique hotel (The Standard, 17 May 2021). Well, what do we think about that?

Bell foundry that cast Big Ben can be turned into boutique hotel, UK government says – Decision has drawn wave of criticism from culture and heritage professionals, accusing government of ‘money-grabbing philistinism’ (The Art Newspaper, 14 May 2021). Crumbs.

From the piece:

Andrew Wilson, a curator at Tate, wrote on Twitter that this is “another example of the normalisation of money-grabbing philistinism that this government promotes”. Writing on his blog, Charles Saumarez-Smith, the former chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, says that the government “is play-acting, [putting] a superficial veneer over rather brutal capitalists, who are happy to use British history for their own purposes… a hotel for foreign tourists is more important than a bit of living history”.

Saumarez-Smith also criticises the heritage body Historic England, which backed the boutique hotel project, saying: “I hope that the Commissioners of Historic England, who have so conspicuously failed in their public duty, might consider what went wrong: why they did nothing; why they have allowed this to happen in such a conspicuously supine way.” Historic England said in a statement: “We believe that the proposals have the makings of a successful heritage regeneration scheme, and would provide a sustainable future for this important group of listed buildings.”

Whitechapel Bell Foundry to be turned into a hotel, after Government greenlights plans (The Telegraph, 14 May 2021) – a piece that also quotes the tweets from Andrew Wilson and Charles Saumarez-Smith (Saumarez-Smith then writing a long piece in the same newspaper on 18 May 2021, If Robert Jenrick doesn’t act now, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry will be lost for good – A priceless piece of our heritage is on the brink of being turned into a hotel. Why won’t our public institutions protect it? ).

Bell tolls for historic Whitechapel foundry that created Big Ben (The Times, 14 May 2021), a piece which starts:

The housing secretary has ordered a review of planners’ approach to heritage after a decision was made to allow a 450-year-old bell foundry that cast Big Ben to be turned into a boutique hotel.”

Away from the traditional media, there has inevitably also been much tweeting and perhaps it is apt that the Secretary of State took to twitter to announce that review, the announcement so far taking the form just of the final sentence of this thread of tweets:

The one thing you get from the newspaper headlines is that the foundry is being turned into a hotel. Isn’t it interesting/worrying how these stories take on a life of their own, reduced to compelling headlines.? Of course, it’s inevitable – who has the time to read even the Secretary of State’s 13 May 2021 decision letter and accompanying inspector’s report, let alone any of the underlying documents? The foundry is not being turned into a hotel.

To take a step back…

First, what was the site? As described by the inspector:

“2.2 The entry in the statutory list provides a great deal of information about the Whitechapel (or what it terms the Church) Bell Foundry. It suffices to set out here that it is a Grade II* listed building. However, the situation is complicated, to a degree, by the fact that parts of the overall foundry site are specifically excluded from the listing.

2.3 Put simply, the application site has three main elements. Firstly, there is the front range (including 32 and 34 Whitechapel Road and 2 Fieldgate Street). Secondly, behind that front range, lie the courtyard and old stables and thirdly, beyond those, are the old foundry and former cottages. Together, these elements comprise the Grade II* listed building.

2.4 Beyond that lies what has been termed the 1980s building. This building is specifically excluded from the listing. Beyond and adjacent to the 1980s building are two areas of car park and hardstanding which were not part of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry but are parcels of land that have been assembled by the applicant.”

The foundry use had ceased in 2017.

What are the proposals by the applicant, Raycliff Whitechapel LLP? Again, as described by the inspector:

4.1 In simple terms, there are two main components of the proposals that can loosely be classified as the listed building and the new building. In terms of the listed building itself, it would play host to a modern foundry, interpretation spaces, a café and events space, workspaces and workshops. The proposed uses and improved circulation are intended to allow the maximum number of people to access and experience the building.

4.2 The new building would be home to a hotel, with 103 bedrooms, a restaurant, a bar, and a roof-top terrace and pool, and a workspace at ground floor level.

4.3 The ground floor across both the listed building and the new building would be open to the public, with the foundry, interpretation spaces and the café in the historic building, the restaurant bar and hotel reception in the new building. The main entrance to the buildings would be common to both.”

Tower Hamlets Council resolved to grant planning permission and listed building consent on the advice of its officers on 14 November 2019 and the Secretary of State then issued a holding direction on 2 December 2019.

Remember Rory Stewart’s campaign to be London Mayor? Back in December 2019, his campaigning included support for the Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry campaign (Rory Stewart Declares His Support To Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Spitalfields Life, 19 December 2019).

Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life website

The applications were called in by the Secretary of State on January 2020. There was an early hiccup in the process when housing and planning minister Chris Pincher mistakenly told MPs in a debate on 11 June 2020 (seeking to defend the Secretary of State’s position in relation to another scheme in Tower Hamlets, Westferry – now incidentally back at inquiry for redetermination but that’s another story):

“I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I said, it is not unusual for Ministers to look at and call in significant applications, and for them to come to a different conclusion from that of the Planning Inspectorate. My right hon. Friend’s reasons for his decision were clearly outlined in his decision letter of 14 January. He makes it clear that one reason for his decision to allow the application was the very significant number of homes that were going to be built as a result of it, including affordable homes. I might say in response to the hon. Gentleman that in the same week, in an application to the same authority, my right hon. Friend came to a very different conclusion when he refused a planning application made by and supported by the local authority to demolish the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the one that created Big Ben and the Liberty bell. The local authority, the well-known tribunes of the people in Tower Hamlets, wanted to demolish it and build a luxury boutique hotel. My right hon. Friend will always come down on an application based on its merits and in the interests of the people. That is what he did on this occasion and that is what he will always do.”

He later apologised for his mistake – it had only been called in by the Secretary of State, not refused, but an unhelpfully politically charged note in the process for sure.

An inquiry took place, which opened on 6 October 2020 and sat for nine days. The main objectors to the proposals were a group known as Re-Form Heritage, which appeared at the inquiry as a Rule 6 Party, represented by Rupert Warren QC and Matthew Dale-Harris, who called four witnesses including professional evidence on heritage and planning – no “David and Goliath” contest this). Tower Hamlets Council was in support of the proposals (Alexander Booth QC appearing), as was Historic England. David Elvin QC appeared for the applicant.

(Thanks to my Town Legal colleague Tom Brooks for much of the following summary, although any views expressed are mine).

Re-Form argued that:

– Raycliff’s proposals were unacceptable in heritage terms, and would cause, in the language of the NPPF (paras 193-196), “substantial harm” to the significance of the listed building; and

– Re-Form’s alternative vision for the future of the site, as a working foundry for casting both bells and other artistic commissions, was less harmful, so the applications should be refused.

Raycliff’s position was that only a low level of less than substantial harm would be caused by the proposals, that this would be outweighed by their public benefits (heritage and otherwise), and that Re-Form’s idea was undeliverable and unviable.

The inspector concluded that the listed building was “of profound significance” (IR 12.14), noting that all agreed there were elements of the proposals that would cause harm to that significance (IR 12.17), whether substantial (leading to NPPF 194-195) or less than substantial (leading to NPPF 196).

As spelt out by the inspector: the end of the bell foundry business in 2017 was unconnected to the present proposals (“Traditional bell founding on the site…ended for economic reasons mainly to do with a drop in demand for tower bells, and the difficulties, both operational and environmental, the business encountered in operating from a Central London address”); and therefore the starting point for the assessment was a “largely vacant Grade II* listed building that formerly housed traditional bell founding…It is not a situation where a traditional bell foundry is to be closed in order to be replaced by something else”. IR 12.23).

Following the inspector’s conclusion that the proposals cannot be taken to cause harm to the listed building as a result of the closure of the business, the only harm possible was any arising from the physical works now proposed. No harm was found to the other heritage asset in this case, the Whitechapel Conservation Area, and that the hotel extension was said by the inspector to be a “subtle and pleasingly understated” addition (IR 12.52).

The inspector concluded that the harm to the listed building “would be very much at the lower end of the scale of less than substantial” (IR 12.44), would be outweighed by the public benefits of the scheme (albeit with some non-consequential discussion as to how this balancing should be carried out – see below), and so planning permission and listed building consent should be granted.

This advice was accepted by the Secretary of State.

There are some interesting issues arising:

– Obviously, there is no planning control whatsoever to preserve as operational the specific use that was said to be significant in heritage terms – as a “large church bell foundry” (IR 8.46) – clearly the planning system cannot require a business to continue to operate or indeed to prevent other industrial uses of the site, or uses which may be possible by way of permitted development. The Secretary of State concluded that “the end of traditional bell making on the site has…nothing whatsoever to do with the proposals at issue”.

– Re-Form argued that that Raycliff needed to demonstrate that its scheme was the “optimum viable use” of the site (following the reference in NPPF 196). This suggestion was dismissed by the inspector: optimum viable use is an example of the public benefits that are to be weighed against harm in the balancing process, but in such “a situation where the heritage and other public benefits of the proposals so far outweigh the harm they would cause, it appears to me unnecessary” (IR 12.82).

– The inspector followed Bramshill at first instance (Waksman J, 16 December 2019) that not much detail of an alternative scheme for a heritage asset is needed for that scheme to be a relevant consideration. Nonetheless, he found Re-Form’s scheme to be “somewhat sketchy, and lacking in detail [with…] far too many uncertainties” (IR 12.92). Moreover, even if it had been shown to be viable, “the mere presence of an alternative scheme offers no justification to resist a proposal that is otherwise acceptable, and statute and policy compliant” (IR 12.77).

– One of the more surprising aspects of the decision is the inspector going out of his way to endorse the so-called “internal heritage balance” method of assessing heritage harm following Palmer (Court of Appeal, 4 November 2016), despite numerous subsequent judgments emphasising that such an approach should be used with caution (see recently the Court of Appeal judgment on Bramshill which I covered in my 12 March 2021 post).

While the inspector was at pains to make his view clear that such an “internal heritage balance” approach was “perfectly legitimate”, and this was endorsed in the Secretary of State’s letter, it actually made no difference to the conclusion reached.

The inspector thus carried out an initial balancing exercise of heritage harm against heritage benefits, prior to the NPPF 196 test considering the wider public benefits. In doing so, he found that “there would be no harm caused to the special architectural and historic interest of the listed building […and] no need to consider paragraphs 195 or 196 because considered in the round, the proposals would cause no harm to the significance of the designated heritage asset affected” (IR 12.75-12.76).

What the inspector had done, though, was exactly the same as carrying out the NPPF 196 test, and simply stopping after the heritage benefits because the scales were already tipped in their favour, and so there was no need to include the wider public benefits too. In fact, the inspector then carried out the NPPF 196 test doing this anyway (at IR 12.78-12.81), leaving it unclear as to why the “internal heritage balance” approach was taken in the first place.

It’s certainly a topical issue. In the middle of my writing this post, judgment was handed down in Juden v London Borough of Tower Hamlets (Sir Duncan Ouseley, 21 May 2021) – another social media cause celebre, the “mulberry tree” case. See discussion at paragraphs 59 to 87 on ground 3 (“inclusion of heritage benefits when assessing the level of heritage harm”).

– It is common, thanks partly to the shared application form these days, for applications for planning permission and listed building consent to share the same description of development. Unusually, in this case, the inspector sought during the inquiry to understand exactly which works should be the subject of each application, resulting in an amendment to the description for the listed building consent – a useful reminder of the proper scope of listed building consent in section 7 of the Act (for “works which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest”), and that despite their often parallel consideration by planning authorities, they are separate regimes with separate legislative and policy considerations.

Here was a proposal that was supported by Tower Hamlets officers and members, supported by Historic England, recommended for approval by an independent inspector and approved by the Secretary of State (the decision apparently taken by another minister but “on behalf of” the Secretary of State). In the meantime, commentary in social media and the broadsheet newspapers continues to attack the conclusions reached, repeating arguments that have already been rejected throughout this process.

There are plenty of participants to go at of course – the Secretary of State mentions the Planning Inspectorate (why?); Charles Saumarez-Smith (who appeared at the inquiry) alleges that Historic England “conspicuously failed in their public duty” (how?), and as always everyone has a go at the developer, without putting forward any realistic alternative proposals.

What has led to the Secretary of State’s announcement of a “review of how the Planning Inspectorate and planning policy considers and defends heritage”? An attempt to appease, without implementing substantive changes to the current system, those who wish that somehow a different decision could have been reached? Or something more fundamental? If the latter (and I’m struggling to visualise what form that might take), it needs to get hitched pretty quickly to the planning white paper bandwagon.

Finally, I of course recommend Zack Simons’ 19 May 2021 blog post Old buildings: what’s new in heritage planning? – a brilliant analysis as always.

Simon Ricketts, 21 May 2021

Personal views, et cetera

This week’s 6pm Tuesday 25 May #PlanningLawUnplanned Clubhouse session, provocatively titled, looks more widely at the treatment of planning issues in the media, already with a fascinating list of guest contributors in addition to our usual panel. Invitation to the app here (and, hooray, no longer limited to iphone users).

Have We Got No Planning Bill News For You

Nine months on from that planning white paper, we have seen no external signs of progress.

All eyes on the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021. Was there to be a narrowing down of previous options; a reflection on the consultation process; a programme set out of further work to be carried out ahead of the proposed Planning Bill, perhaps some new thinking following longer reflection?

Laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, will be brought forward…

Turning to the background notes, there is literally nothing in the section on the proposed Planning Bill could not have been written back at the time of the white paper in August 2020 or that gives any indication as to ministers’ current thinking.

“The purpose of the Bill is to:

Create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system to replace the current one that dates back to 1947, and ensuring we no longer remain tied to procedures designed for the last century.

Ensure homes and infrastructure – like schools and hospitals – can be delivered more quickly across England.

Transform our planning system from a slow document-based one to a more efficient and easier to use digital and map-based service, allowing more active public engagement in the development of their local area.

Help deliver vital infrastructure whilst helping to protect and enhance the environment by introducing quicker, simpler frameworks for funding infrastructure and assessing environmental impacts and opportunities.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

Providing more certainty for communities and developers, particularly smaller developers, about what is permitted where, through clear land allocations in local plans and stronger rules on design.

Simpler, faster procedures for producing local development plans, approving major schemes, assessing environmental impacts and negotiating affordable housing and infrastructure contributions from development.

Establishing a framework which focuses on positive outcomes, such as environmental opportunities and better designed places.

Digitising a system to make it more visual and easier for local people to meaningfully engage with.

The main elements of the Bill are:

Changing local plans so that they provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different categories of land.

Significantly decrease the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.

Replacing the existing systems for funding affordable housing and infrastructure from development with a new more predictable and more transparent levy.

Using post-Brexit freedoms to simplify and enhance the framework for environmental assessments for developments.

Reforming the framework for locally led development corporations to ensure local areas have access to appropriate delivery vehicles to support growth and regeneration.

Territorial extent and application

The Bill will extend to the whole of the UK, however the majority of provisions will apply to England.”

In my view there can only be two possible reasons for this “no news” approach:

1. The Government may not yet have reached the necessary decisions – for instance as to how many zoning categories there will be, whether all land will be zoned or just parts of areas; or how this Infrastructure Levy will work. Quite possible. But come on! Nine months, and nothing?

2. Alternatively, the Government may not yet ready to take the political flak from its own that any specific proposals will attract. Despite the lack of any new information the reaction was surprisingly hostile, and even amongst the development industry I only hear at best muted, hedged and qualified support for elements of the white paper: are many politicians or business leaders prepared to be the cheer-leaders for these changes when, inevitably, the going gets politically tough? This will need a plan.

The only “new” element that caught my eye was that the long-flagged proposal to reform environmental assessment processes will now be within the Bill. It is another area where an announcement is overdue. Environment minister George Eustice indicated in his 20 July 2020 speech:

“Later this autumn we will be launching a new consultation on changing our approach to environmental assessment and mitigation in the planning system.”

The consultation never happened. Whether the legislation will indeed not only simplify but “enhance the EU derived framework of environmental assessments for developments” partly depends on what happens with a separate proposal within the forthcoming Judicial Review Bill:

Giving the courts the power to suspend quashing orders in Judicial Review cases, so as to allow defects to be remedied. This will enable the courts to have more flexibility in Judicial Review cases. This may help ensure that, for example, a large infrastructure project is not delayed because an impact assessment has not been properly done”

Steve Quartermain and Lord Matthew Taylor have written about what the Government could now be doing to deliver on many of the objectives of the white paper, without legislation, in their article Government’s Planning White Paper is a slow road to the future (The Independent, 24 March 2021) and I have written about the areas where planning law reform is genuinely needed (but overlooked in the white paper) in my article Please sir, please can we have more planning legislation? (Estates Gazette, 21 November 2020).

I hope we are not now faced with a Bill that is either a fait accompli, given the various areas which genuinely need a great deal more work and engagement, or (as likely) an empty legislative shell, leaving the difficult work for secondary legislation in due course.

Incidentally, as a topical reminder that how the system is operated is as important as how is how it is structured, in the same week as the traditional parading of the Government’s forthcoming legislative programme, we have seen yet another example of the delays to the system that are caused when the Government intervenes in relation to planning applications: the ministerial decision on 13 May 2021 to approve the Whitechapel Bell Foundry application called in on 22 January 2020. Almost 16 months’ unnecessary delay, not to mention much unnecessary cost. Never mind new laws: how much could be achieved by the Secretary of State simply deciding not to call in applications or recover appeals!

But I will leave more detailed commentary on that decision, and on the Secretary of State’s enigmatic subsequent statement on twitter this afternoon, until next week’s thrilling blog post.

Simon Ricketts, 15 May 2021

Personal views, et cetera

This Tuesday we held a #PlanningLawUnplanned Queen’s Speech Clubhouse session. If you attended I hope you found it useful. This Tuesday we’re going to run an essential session about the Clubhouse app itself and how to get the most out of it. All will become clear! Do join us (iphone invitation here if you are not yet a member).

Choiceplace, Wrong Place

Choiceplace Properties Limited v Secretary of State (Dove J, 27 April 2021) amounts to a short and sharp lesson for applicants and their advisers: make sure your application plans are accurate, not just in relation to your development proposals but as to the relationship of the proposals to the existing streetscape or landscape, particularly if a condition of the permission requires that development is to be carried out in accordance with those (scaled) plans.

Planning permission had been granted for a small block of flats to be built in north London. Condition 1 required the development to be carried out in accordance with a set of approved plans. The set included drawing “P.04, street elevations”.

This is an extract from the plan:

Courtesy of London Borough of Barnet planning portal

To quote from Dove J:

“Not long after the permission had been granted the claimant mobilised in order to implement the development. In December 2018, the claimant was advised by the architect that it had retained to prepare detailed construction drawings that the street scene drawing P.04 was inaccurate. In essence, the drawing, which was one of those listed in condition 1 along with the other drawings forming part of the pack accompanying the application, was in error in purporting to show that the proposed development would have a ridge height lower than the neighbouring building 159 Holden Road, when in fact the ridge height of the proposed building would be higher. Whereas the street scene in drawing P.04 showed the buildings stepping down in height from 159 via the proposal to 157, where the ridge height of 157 Holden Road was shown to be lower than the application site proposed building, in fact the proposed building was taller than both of them.”

I suspect that it is quite unusual that an error such as this is spotted pre-construction. The stakes are even higher for all concerned if the discrepancy is spotted at a later stage.

The local planning authority, London Borough of Barnet, took the position that the permitted development could not be lawfully implemented. The parties waved opposing counsel’s opinions at each other. The applicant, Choiceplace, made an application for a certificate of lawfulness of proposed use or development under section 192 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to seek to make good its position. The application was refused by Barnet and the subsequent appeal was dismissed by an inspector.

Some extracts from the inspector’s decision letter:

“In my view the starting point is that when interpreting a condition it should be asked what a reasonable reader would understand the words to mean. In this case it clear to me the development should be built in accordance with the plans. At its simplest this is impossible because to build it in accordance with P.03 and P.06 the building will not look like the building shown in P.04. In other words the plans are inconsistent. The condition doesn’t require the development to be in accord with some of the plans, or parts of the plans, but with the approved plans, and I think it reasonable to imply the word “all” there, again on the basis that is what an ordinary reading of the condition implies.

Starting from this point, it could be argued that the P.04 is merely illustrative, the buildings either side could change shape or size or even be demolished, but that seems to me to be rather missing the point. Firstly, P.04 is clearly not illustrative, it is not a simple sketch purporting to show a view, but is an allegedly scale drawing with the heights of the neighbour at No 159 drawn on to specifically compare to the proposal. Secondly, whether the neighbours can change is irrelevant. The drawing shows the proposed building in a relationship to the neighbours at the time the application was made regardless of any theoretical future changes. That relationship should have been replicable on site on the date the permission was granted and it was not.

If we delve further into the extrinsic evidence to see if there is anything else to suggest that reliance on P.04 would be excessive or in some way unreasonable then it becomes clear, for the reasons given in the Council’s opinion, that the streetscene drawing was important in the determination of the application, which was only allowed by the committee by a narrow margin. Furthermore it is only by detailed analysis of various spot heights across several of the drawings that the errors are revealed. The Council should be able to rely on accurately scaled drawings, especially when the drawing in question is important to determining the acceptability of the proposal.”

Dove J agreed with the inspector:

“In my judgment, there is no reason why the depicted heights of the existing buildings should be regarded as illustrative or somehow excluded from the requirements of condition 1 on the planning consent. As was pointed out during the course of argument, a relationship between a proposed development and the existing height of either adjacent structures or indeed adjacent ground levels is a matter to be accurately depicted on plans accompanying planning permission for good reason. It is at the very least to be assumed to be an accurate depiction, in the absence of any specific text on the drawing indicating that elements of it are not to scale. The Inspector was correct in pointing out that the drawing showed a relationship between the proposed development and surrounding buildings which should have been capable of replication on the site at the time permission was granted and it was not. In short, the development is not capable of being implemented in accordance with the approved drawings because it is not capable of being implemented in a manner which replicates the street elevations both longitudinally and axially which are purported to be shown to scale on drawing P.04. To reach that conclusion does not involve any suggestion that the planning application granted might be capable of controlling the scale or appearance of adjacent dwellings beyond the application on site; it is simply a reflection of the inaccuracy in the plans leading to an inability to construct a development which accords with that which is depicted upon them.”

A simple case but with some potentially far-reaching conclusions for applicants:

1. Of course, be careful that all drawings, plans and written descriptions of your development proposal are accurate, are internally consistent and describe accurately the surrounding environment – particularly where by condition you are required to build in accordance with what has been set out. If there need to be caveats as to accuracy, include them.

2. To what extent has someone, at some remove from the detail, audited whether this is in fact the case and confirmed it, such that you can rely on that confirmation if an issue subsequently arises? It’s not the local planning authority’s job.

3. Always check that you will be able to comply with plans and other details that are set out in planning conditions. The condition here was all encompassing: “The development hereby permitted shall be carried out in accordance with the following approved plans: Site Location Plan; Drawing no. P.01 Rev C; Drawing no. P.02 Rev C; Drawing no. P.03 Rev B; Drawing no. P.04; Drawing no. P.05; Drawing no. P.06 Rev A; Landscaping Scheme Drawing no. TH/A3/1497/LS; Arboricultural Impact Assessment & Method Statement by Trevor Heaps Arboricultural Consultancy Ltd Ref: TH 1497 dated 11th December 2017 including drawing no. TH/A3/1497/TPP; Sustainability Statement by Henry Planning; Planning statement by Henry Planning; Document titled “Holden Road, London, N12 8SP – Part M4(2) Category 2 Accessible and Adaptable Dwellings”. I am always wary of such an approach. For instance, why were documents listed that were not even “plans” and precisely which elements of those statements were to be incorporated into the condition?

Simon Ricketts, 7 May 2021

Personal views, et cetera

NB Next Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech should be interesting, in terms of whether we will see any detail released as to the contents of the proposed Planning Bill and the Government’s proposed way forward, and what else is on the Government’s agenda impacting upon our little world. No surprise that this will be our main clubhouse #PlanningLawUnplanned topic for 6pm that evening. I hope you can join us – if you have an iPhone, here is an invitation.

Stephenicity

There will be no blog post this weekend, in memory of Stephen Ashworth.

I commend his Dentons partner Roy Pinnock’s LinkedIn post and the many wonderful comments it elicited.

Stephen – if only we could all cut through the nonsense like you could. You were the one I looked up to, always did.

My condolences to Stephen’s family and to his colleagues.

Simon

30 April 2021

M’lud On The Tracks: HS2

Great Bob Dylan album, almost.

This post collects together in one place some of the recent planning, environmental and compulsory purchase litigation in relation to the High Speed Two rail project.

R (Keir) v Natural England (16 April 2021, Lang J; further hearing before Holgate J, 23 April 2021, judgment reserved)

This is the interim injunction granted by Lang J preventing HS2 and its contractors from varying out works at Jones’ Hill Wood, Buckinghamshire, until either the disposal of the claim or a further order.

The claim itself has Natural England as the defendant and seeks to challenge its grant of a licence under the Conservation of Habitats Regulations 2017 in relation to works that may disturb a protected species of bat.

The question as to whether the injunction should be maintained came back to court yesterday, 23 April, before Holgate J, as well as whether permission should be granted in the claim itself, and he has reserved judgment until 2pm on 26 April.

Secretary of State for Transport v Curzon Park Limited (Court of Appeal hearing, 21 and 22 April 2021, judgment reserved)

This was an appeal by the Secretary of State for Transport against a ruling by the Upper Tribunal on 23 January 2020. My Town Legal colleagues Raj Gupta and Paul Arnett have been acting for the first respondent, landowner Curzon Park Limited, instructing James Pereira QC and Caroline Daly. Thank you Paul for this summary:

The case concerns certificates of appropriate alternative development (‘CAADs’) under the Land Compensation Act 1961. A CAAD is a means of applying to the local planning authority to seek a determination as to what the land could have been used for if the CPO scheme did not exist. Its purpose it to identify every description of development for which planning permission could reasonably have been expected to be granted on the valuation date if the land had not been compulsorily purchased. Importantly, subject to a right of appeal, the grant of a CAAD conclusively establishes that the development is what is known as ‘appropriate alternative development’. This is significant as:

• When compensation is assessed it must be assumed that planning permission for that development(s) in the CAAD either was in force at the valuation date or would with certainty be in force at some future date and

• Following reforms in the Localism Act 2001, where there is, at the valuation date, a reasonable expectation of a particular planning permission being granted (disregarding the CPO scheme and CPO) contained in a CAAD it is assumed that the planning permission is in force which converts the reasonable expectation into a certainty.

There are four adjoining sites, each compulsorily acquired by HS2 for the purposes of constructing the Curzon Street HS2 station terminus at Cuzon Street Birmingham – four different landowners and four different valuation dates (i.e. vesting dates under the GVD process). Each landowner applied for a CAAD for mixed use development including purpose-build student accommodation (PBSA). In the real world, the cumulative effects of the proposed adjoining developments (e.g. including but not limited to the proposed quantum and need for PBSA in light of a PBSA need in the local plan) would have been a material planning consideration. However, Birmingham City Council considered each CAAD application in isolation. The Secretary of State argued that they should have considered the other CAAD applications as notional planning applications and, therefore, as material considerations which would have been very likely to result in CAADs issued for smaller scale mixed-used development being issued leading to a lower total compensation award and bill for HS2. The preliminary legal issue to be determined by the Upper Tribunal and now the Court of Appeal is:

Whether, and if so how, in determining an application for a certificate of appropriate alternative development under section 17 LCA 1961 (CAAD) the decision-maker in determining the development for which planning permission could reasonably have been expected to be granted for the purposes of section 14 LCA 1961 may take into account the development of other land where such development is proposed as appropriate alternative development in other CAAD applications made or determined arising from the compulsory acquisition of land for the same underlying scheme’.

The Upper Tribunal had rejected the landowners’ argument that the scheme cancellation assumption (i.e. disregarding the CPO scheme) under the Land Compensation Act 1961 required CAAD applications on other sites to be disregarded. However, critically, the Tribunal agreed with the landowners’ that CAAD applications were not a material planning consideration and that there was no statutory basis for treating them as notional planning applications as the Secretary of State has argued. The Tribunal also disagreed with the Secretary of State that the landowners’ interpretation of the statutory scheme would lead to excessive compensation pointing out that the landowners’ ability to develop their own land in their own interests was taken away when their land was safeguarded for HS2 and from November 2013 when the HS2 scheme was launched until 2018 when the land interests were finally acquired by HS2 any planning permissions for these sites would have been determined in the shadow of the HS2 scheme and safeguarding of the land. The Secretary of State appealed the Upper Tribunal decision and the Court of Appeal granted permission to appeal in July 2020 noting that the appeal raises an important point on the principle of equivalence (i.e. the principle underpinning the CPO Compensation Code) that a landowner should be no worse off but no better off in financial terms after the acquisition than they were before) which may have widespread consequences for the cost of major infrastructure projects.

A judgment from the Court of Appeal (Lewison LJ, Lindblom LJ and Moylan LJ) is expected in the next month or so.

Sarah Green v Information Officer & High Speed Two Limited (First Tier Tribunal, 19 April 2021)

This was an appeal against the refusal by HS2 Limited to disclose, pursuant to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, information as to the potential effect of its works on chalk aquifers in the Colne Valley. The information requested was as follows:

What risk assessments have taken place, of the potential increased risk to controlled waters as a result of imminent works by HS2 contractors along the Newyears Green bourne and surrounding wetland?

Are any of the risk assessments independent from the developers (HS2) and where are the risk assessment (sic) accessible to the public?

By the time of the hearing before the First Tier Tribunal, three reports had been disclosed, redacted. The Tribunal summarised the issues before it as follows:

“(1) whether HS2 correctly identified the three reports as being the environmental information which Ms Green requested and whether there was further material held which came within the request;

(2) whether at the time of Ms Green’s request the three reports were “still in the course of completion” or comprised “unfinished documents” and, if so, whether the public interest in maintaining the regulation 12(4)(d) exception outweighed that in disclosure;

(3) whether disclosure of those parts of the three reports which have been redacted in reliance on regulation 12(5)(a) would have adversely affected “public safety” and, if so, whether the public interest in maintaining the regulation 12(5)(a) exception outweighed the public interest in their disclosure.”

The Tribunal found, expressing its reasoning in strong terms, that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the public interest in maintaining any exemption.

“The reports in question in this case concern a major infrastructure project which gives rise to substantial and legitimate environmental concerns. They specifically relate to the risks of contamination to the drinking water supplied to up to 3.2 million people resulting from the construction of the HS2 line. This is clearly environmental information of a fundamental nature of great public interest.”

HS2 appeared to be concerned that “if the versions of the reports current in January 2019 were made public they “… could have been used to try and impact work undertaken in finalising the information”.

“It seems to us that such an approach almost entirely negates the possibility of the public having any input on the decision-making process in this kind of case, which goes against a large part of the reason for allowing public access to environmental information.

The suggestion that public officials concerned in making enquiries and freely discussing options to mitigate environmental problems might be discouraged or undermined by early disclosure of their work seems to us rather fanciful and was not supported by any kind of evidence; the case is not comparable in our view to that of senior officials indulging in “blue sky” thinking about policy options. We accept that the material is “highly technical” but we cannot see why a lack of understanding on the part of the public would have any negative impact on HS2’s work; if a member of the public or a pressure group wanted to contribute to the debate in a way that was likely to have any effect on the decision-making process they would no doubt have to engage the services of someone like Dr Talbot, who would be able to enter the debate in a well- informed and helpful way.”

“HS2’s second main point, that the Environment Agency will be approving and supervising everything, does not seem to us of great weight. Of course the Environment Agency is there to act in the public interest in relation to the environment but its involvement cannot be any kind of answer to the need for public knowledge of and involvement in environmental decisions. The EA is itself fallible and should be open to scrutiny. If the public could simply entrust everything to it there would be no need for the EIR.

HS2’s third main point is that if inchoate information is released it could be misleading and they would incur unnecessary expense correcting false impressions. We were not presented with any specific evidence or examples to illustrate how this problem might have been encountered in practice. It does not seem to us a very compelling point.”

R (Maxey) v High Speed 2 Limited (Steyn J, 10 February 2021)

This was an interim ruling in an application for judicial review, made only nine days previously, of the decision by HS2 Limited to extract the protesters that were occupying the tunnel under Euston Square Gardens and alleging a failure to safely manage Euston Square Gardens in a manner compatible with HS2 Limited’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights. It followed a rejection of an application by Mr Maxey for an interim injunction and followed an order made requiring him to cease any further tunnelling activity, to provide certain categories of information to HS2 Limited or others and to leave the tunnel safely, with which he had not complied.

At the hearing, Mr Maxey was renewing his “application for orders requiring (a) the cessation of operations to extract the protesters from the tunnel and (b) to implement an exclusion zone. In addition, the Claimant has expanded the interest relief he seeks to include provision forthwith by the Defendant of (a) oxygen monitoring equipment; (b) a hard-wired communication method; (c) food and drinking water for the Claimant and the protesters; and (d) to make arrangements for the removal of human waste from the tunnel.” He was also seeking to overturn the orders against him.

The judge rejected Mr Maxey’s arguments:

While I accept that the Defendant is (or at the very least there is a good argument that the Defendant is) currently under a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect those in the tunnel under the site (including the Claimant) from death or serious injury, on the evidence before me there is no realistic prospect of the Court finding that the Defendant is breaching its duty. In my judgment, the claim for interim relief does not meet the first test.

That suffices to dispose of the interim relief application. But if it were necessary to consider the balance of convenience, I would have to bear in mind the strong public interest in permitting a public authority’s decision (here a decision to proceed with the operation and a decision as to the necessary safeguards) to remain in force pending a final hearing of the application for judicial review, so the party applying for interim relief must make out a strong case for the grant of interim relief. The Claimant has not come close to establishing a strong enough case to justify the Court stopping the operations to remove those who are in the tunnel, given the compelling evidence as to how dangerous it is for them to remain there.”

R (Packham) v Secretary of State for Transport (Court of Appeal, 31 July 2020)

I summarised this case in my 9 January 2021 blog post Judges & Climate Change. It was Chris Packham’s failed challenge to the Government’s decision to continue with the HS2 project following the review carried out by Douglas Oakervee, the grounds considered by the Court of Appeal being “whether the Government erred in law by misunderstanding or ignoring local environmental concerns and failing to examine the environmental effects of HS2 as it ought to have done” and “whether the Government erred in law by failing to take account of the effect of the project on greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050, in the light of the Government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008”.

R (London Borough of Hillingdon) v Secretary of State for Transport (Court of Appeal, 31 July 2020)

This case was heard consecutively with the Packham appeal. It related to Hillingdon’s challenge to the Secretary of State’s decision to allow (against his inspector’s recommendations) an appeal against Hillingdon’s refusal to grant HS2 Limited’s application for approval, under the Act authorising the relevant stage of the HS2 project, of plans and specifications for proposed works associated with the creation of the Colne Valley Viaduct South Embankment wetland habitat ecological mitigation. HS2 Limited had refused to provide Hillingdon with information so that an assessment could be made as to the effect of the proposed works on archaeological remains, HS2 Limited’s position being that it was “under no obligation to furnish such information and evidence. It says that this is because it will, in due course, conduct relevant investigations itself into the potential impact of the development upon any archaeological remains and take all necessary mitigation and modification steps. HS2 Ltd says that it will do this under a guidance document which forms part of its contract with the Secretary of State for Transport which sets out its obligations as the nominated undertaker for the HS2 Project.”

Lang J had upheld the Secretary of State’s decision but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal:

“The key to this case lies in a careful reading of Schedule 17 and the powers and obligations it imposes upon local authorities and upon HS2 Ltd. In our judgment, the duty to perform an assessment of impact, and possible mitigation and modification measures under Schedule 17, has been imposed by Parliament squarely and exclusively upon the local authority. It cannot be circumvented by the contractor taking it upon itself to conduct some non-statutory investigation into impact. We also conclude that the authority is under no duty to process a request for approval from HS2 Ltd unless it is accompanied by evidence and information adequate and sufficient to enable the authority to perform its statutory duty.”

[Subsequent note: Please also see London Borough of Hillingdon v Secretary of State for Transport (Ouseley J, 13 April 2021), “Hillingdon 2” where on the facts Ouseley J reached a different conclusion, holding that an inspector had not acted unlawfully in determining an appeal without information sought by the council from HS2 Limited as to the lorry routes to be used by construction lorries to and from the HS2 construction sites within its area].

R (Granger-Taylor) v High Speed Two Limited (Jay J, 5 June 2020)

This was a judicial review claim brought by the owner of a listed Georgian building near Regents Park. The property was separated by a large retaining wall, built in 1901, from the perimeter of the existing railway. “It rests approximately 17 metres from the front of the property and the drop from the level of the road to the railway below is approximately 10 metres. Unsurprisingly, given that the substrate is London clay, the wall has suffered periodic movement and shows signs of cracking. The Claimant’s expert says that it is “metastable”.”

The claimant was concerned as to the engineering solution arrived at for that section of the route, which was known as the Three Tunnels design. “This judicial review challenge is directed to the safety of the Three Tunnels design in the specific context of the outbound tunnel travelling so close to the base of the retaining wall. It is contended on the back of expert engineering evidence that this aspect of the design has engendered an engineering challenge which is insurmountable: in the result, the design is inherently dangerous. The risk is of catastrophic collapse of the retaining wall, either during the tunnelling works or subsequently, which would if it arose cause at the very least serious damage to the Claimant’s property. Consequently, the Claimant asserts a breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 because her rights under Article 8 and A1P1 of the Convention have been violated.”

The judge boiled the questions down to the following:

has the Claimant demonstrated that she is directly and seriously affected by the implementation of the Three Tunnels design, given the risk of catastrophic collapse identified by Mr Elliff? In my view, that question sub-divides into the following:

(1) should I conclude on all the evidence that the Three Tunnels design is so inherently flawed in the vicinity of the retaining wall that no engineering solution could be found to construct it safely? and

(2) have the Defendants already committed themselves to implement the Three Tunnels design regardless of any further work to be undertaken under Stage 2?

After detailed consideration of expert engineering expert on both sides, the judge rejected the claim.

Anixter Limited v Secretary of State for Transport (Court of Appeal, 30 January 2020)

This was a compulsory purchase case, about whether an owner of four units on the Saltley Business Park in Birmingham, faced with compulsory purchase of one of them, had served counter-notices in time such as to trigger its potential ability to require acquisition of its interests in all four buildings. The court ruled that it had not.

It certainly seems an age since R (HS2 Action Alliance) v Secretary of State for Transport (Supreme Court, 22 January 2014) where in a previous law firm life I acted for the claimant, instructing David Elvin QC and Charlie Banner (now QC). The case concerned whether the publication by the Government of its command paper, “High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps” engaged strategic environmental assessment requirements and whether the hybrid bill procedure would comply with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (for more on the HS2 hybrid bill procedure, see my 30 July 2016 blog post HS2: The Very Select Committeehttps://simonicity.com/2016/07/30/hs2-the-very-select-committee/). The loss still grates. And in consequence of that ruling…

There’s a slow, slow train comin’.

Simon Ricketts, 24 April 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Thank you to my Town Legal colleague Lida Nguyen for collating a number of these cases.

Our clubhouse Planning Law, Unplanned session at 6pm on 27 April will follow a similar theme, so if you are interested in issues relating to HS2 or in wider questions as to judicial review, interim injunctions, access to information or compulsory purchase compensation, do join us, whether to contribute to the discussion or just listen in. As always, contact me if you would like an invitation to the clubhouse app (which is still iphone only I’m afraid).

Detail from Bob Dylan’s painting Train Tracks

Trent Won, Cil Nil

The community infrastructure levy system, in its application to lay individuals in particular, is monstrous, absurdly over-engineered, often badly administered and unfairly opaque.

Could anyone disagree after reading Lang J’s judgment handed down yesterday in R (Trent) v Hertsmere Borough Council (16 April 2021)? (Or for another example see my 19 January 2019 blog post CIL The Merciless).

Solicitor Alison Trent brought proceedings for judicial review, as a litigant in person, in order to quash a totally unjustified demand notice for £16,389.75 that she received on 21 April 2020 in relation to the construction of a dwelling in Radlett.

Her success represents a loud wake-up call for CIL collecting authorities.

Planning permission was issued on 10 February 2017 for demolition of a house and the construction of a replacement three bedroom dwelling.

Even with a project as simple as this, there is a complicated sequence of notices:

⁃ Under regulation 65(1) of the CIL Regulations 2010 “the collecting authority must issue a liability notice as soon as practicable after the day on which a planning permission first permits development”.

⁃ The person assuming liability for CIL then has to serve an assumption of liability notice and, if appropriate as here, a self build exemption claim form.

⁃ A commencement notice must then be served on the authority before development commences.

When something goes wrong in that sequence, matters invariably get messy.

Here:

⁃ There was no evidence that the necessary liability notice had been sent out in 2017 although a draft was on the council’s computer system.

⁃ Ms Trent had unwittingly jumped the gun by purporting to submit a self build exemption form ahead of planning permission being issued and had failed to submit an assumption of liability notice, both mistakes apparently at least partly due to misleading advice she had received from the authority.

⁃ The development took place and, when the authority realised, it issued a liability notice, demand notice and imposed surcharges for failing to submit an assumption of liability notice (surcharge of £50) and failure to submit a commencement notice to the Council (surcharge of £2,500).

Ms Trent had successfully appealed to the Planning Inspectorate against the imposition of the surcharges. The inspector found that (1) the council had failed to issue a liability notice and therefore she had never been in a position to serve an assumption of liability notice – the 2017 notice had never been served and the 2019 notice was not served “as soon as practicable” after planning permission had been issued – and that (2) the deemed commencement date on the demand notice was incorrect. She had also argued that the notices did not meet procedural formalities but the inspector did not need to consider that issue.

Unbelievably, the authority then issued a replacement demand notice, on 21 April 2020, relying on the 2019 liability notice which the inspector had considered not to be valid!

Ms Trent challenged the issue of that demand notice by way of judicial review, arguing as follows:

“In the light of the Inspector’s findings, and the Council’s material misunderstandings or errors of fact and/or errors of law and/or procedure, the Council’s decision to issue the 2020 demand notice, on the basis that the 2019 liability notice was valid, was manifestly improper and/or irrational and/or unfair and unreasonable.

…the Council’s decision to issue the 2020 demand notice, and to maintain its registration on the Land Charges Register for the Property in respect of the alleged CIL liability, was a breach of the Council’s duty under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in that it acted in a manner which was incompatible with her Convention rights under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).”

The judge found as follows (extracts from judgment):

“In my judgment, the Defendant was required to issue and serve statutory notices which complied with the requirements in the CIL Regulations, and to do so in the prescribed sequence. In consequence, the Claimant was not under an obligation to pay the CIL, as required by the 2020 demand notice, unless and until the Defendant had issued and served a valid liability notice, in accordance with regulation 65 of the CIL Regulations.”

“Planning permission was granted on 10 February 2017. So the 2019 liability notice was issued 2 years and 6 months (less 5 days) after the grant of planning permission. I agree with the Inspector that such a long period of time cannot reasonably be described as “as soon as practicable” and this amounted to a breach of the requirement in regulation 65(1). The breach was not waived by the Claimant.

Regulation 65(1) imposes a mandatory requirement without any provision for extensions of time. Time starts to run from the date on which a planning permission first permits development. The phrase “as soon as practicable” gives an authority some flexibility, for example, if the recipients are not readily identifiable or their address known, or if there is an administrative backlog. But in the light of the statutory scheme and its purpose, the expectation must be that any delay would be measured in weeks or months, not years. I consider that the absence of any provision for extensions of time was deliberate, to ensure that authorities comply with the duty in a timely way.”

“In my judgment, it is of fundamental importance to the operation of the statutory scheme that the liability notice is issued and served soon after the grant of planning permission because of the key information it contains about the recipient’s liability to CIL, and the next steps which follow under the scheme. It is not the practice of this Council to provide this information in any other form or at any other time, and I assume that the same applies in other authorities.

I consider that the failure to issue and serve a valid liability notice on the Claimant within the prescribed time period was prejudicial. If the Claimant had received a timely liability notice, in February 2017, it would have alerted her to” the need to apply for exemptions.

In my judgment, as the liability notice is a formal legal document, which imposes a tax liability on the recipient, and places a land charge on the owner’s property, it is of fundamental importance that the recipient is correctly identified by their name. In this case, the liability notice should have been addressed and issued to “Alison Trent”. She should have been identified as the owner of the relevant land. Instead, the Defendant addressed and issued the liability notice to “C/O Alison Trent & Co”. “Alison Trent & Co.” is the Claimant’s business. It has no legal or beneficial interest in No. 40 and does not fall within any of the categories of recipients. I consider that the only plausible explanation for this error was incompetence on the part of the Defendant. As the liability notice was not addressed and issued to the correct person, it is invalid.

The regulations do not contain any provisions to save a non-compliant notice. The Claimant pointed out that this is in contrast to other regulatory schemes such as enfranchisement notices under section 13 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 which may be saved by paragraph 15(1) of Schedule 3.

As a general rule, failure to effect valid service of a liability notice would invalidate a notice. However, in this case, the notice was successfully served on the Claimant, care of the London business address, which was the second of the two addressees she provided on the Land Register. Therefore, despite the failure to serve the Claimant at No. 38 or No. 40, which was in breach of the requirements of the CIL Regulations, I do not consider the failure is of sufficient significance to invalidate the notice.”

Whilst the inspector could not formally quash the 2019 liability notice, “I would expect a responsible authority to have regard to the Inspector’s findings when deciding upon its next steps.”

The Claimant’s ground of challenge under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR turned on the lawfulness of the 2019 liability notice, and the consequent 2020 demand notice, requiring her to pay the CIL as assessed. As I have found that the notices were not valid, it follows that there would be a breach of A1P1 if the Claimant was required to pay the CIL.”

“In conclusion, the Claimant’s claim for judicial review is allowed. The liability notice issued by the Council on 5 August 2019, and the demand notice issued by the Council on 21 April 2020, are invalid for the reasons set out in this judgment, and are to be quashed.”

So there we have it.

Woe betide any collecting authority that delays unreasonably in serving a liability notice (common in my experience) or addresses it incorrectly. The judgment would imply that the authority may lose the right to serve a liability notice at all (and thereby not be entitled to levy any CIL in relation to the development) if it delays unreasonably in serving a liability notice (in this case there was a delay of two and a half years, but in circumstances where the authority’s records had probably, although wrongly, shown that one had already been served). That had not previously been my understanding and it would be extremely risky for a developer to embark on construction in reliance on that approach, rather than (as is often currently the case) chasing down the late notice so that it can go on the merry-go-round of assumption of liability, securing exemptions and serving the commencement notice. But I can foresee arguments being raised in some situations.

And woe betide this Government if its proposed Infrastructure Levy is as unnecessarily complicated as CIL. First, why do we have a self build exemption in the first place? Secondly, given that we do, it should be obvious from the planning application that the development proposed is likely to qualify. Why the need for any forms at all? Under a properly constructed system, there would be no need for these reeling spools of, of, yes, of red tape – there I’ve said it.

Simon Ricketts, 17 April 2021

Personal views, et cetera

PS This week’s clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session will be a careers special. 6pm, 20 April. As always, message me for more information.