Out Of Time

Cases about missed time limits give many of us sleepless nights, so (rapid eye movement) you might want to look away now.

I’m fairly sure that Laing J’s judgment from last September in R (Bellamile Limited) v Ashford Borough Council (Laing J, 19 September 2019), about a missed deadline for challenging a local plan under section 113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, only appeared online last week. I’ll deal with that after belatedly bringing you up to date as to what happened in the Croke litigation saga after my 7 April 2018 blog post Fawlty Powers: When Is A Permission Safe From Judicial Review?

Croke

At the time I wrote that blog post, Mr Croke, who had missed the deadline for making a challenge under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to an inspector’s decision to allow a planning appeal, had secured permission from the Court of Appeal to appeal from a ruling of the High Court that the deadline should not extended.

The full hearing subsequently took place in October 2018. The facts are set out in the judgment, R (Croke) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 1 February 2019):

Mr Croke was aware that the six-week period under section 288 expired on 23 March 2016, which was the Wednesday before the Easter Bank Holiday. He was also aware that on each working day – that is, on every day from Monday to Friday – the doors of the Administrative Court Office in the Royal Courts of Justice are closed at 4.30 p.m. He intended to go to the court office himself on 23 March. But he missed his train at Haddenham and Thame Parkway railway station, and knowing he would not be able to get to the court office before it closed, he sent an email to Mr Miller asking him to lodge the application on his behalf. In his letter to the court dated 26 April 2016 Mr Croke said he “returned home and emailed the Application, signed Statement of Facts and Grounds and a copy of the Decision being challenged, to Mr … Miller, who was located just a few minutes from the Court and who agreed to act for [him] in submitting the application on his behalf”. However, his attempt to get the Statement of Facts and Grounds to Mr Miller by email at 3.59 p.m. failed, because he mistyped Mr Miller’s email address. He eventually succeeded in sending the document to Mr Miller at 4.06 p.m. Mr Miller said in his witness statement (in paragraph 1):

“1. … I did … at 16.25 hrs attended [sic] at Royal Courts of Justice … on behalf of the claimant, in an attempt to seal the section 288 on behalf of the claimant; I was refused entry by security. The adult male security guard stated the counters were closed.”

In his letter of 26 April 2016 Mr Croke added this:

“… Despite [Mr Miller’s] pleading with them to allow him to proceed to the counter he was refused entry. …”.

At 5.09 p.m. Mr Miller sent an email to Mr Croke to tell him what had happened.

On 24 March, Maundy Thursday, Mr Croke himself went to the Administrative Court Office, arriving there at about 3.25 p.m. There was a queue. Mr Croke reached the front of the queue at about 5 p.m. and attempted to file his application using a standard Part 8 claim form (form N208). A member of the court staff told him he had used the wrong form and would have to file a Planning Court claim form (form N208PC) instead. He gave Mr Croke form N208PC but refused his request that he be allowed to complete it and file it straight away. He told him to return with the completed form N208PC on the next working day. Mr Croke did so on 29 March 2016, the Tuesday after the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, filing his application on the correct form.”

The two issues were (1) whether the statutory period for challenging the Secretary of State’s decision could be extended by a single day from 23 to 24 March 2016 and (2) if so whether from 24 to 29 March 2016.

Traditionally, time limit provisions, such as the six weeks deadline in section 288 for commencing proceedings, are absolute (although where the last day is a day when the court is closed the deadline is extended to the following day – the so-called Kaur v Russell principle – and the deadline is also in principle capable of being extended where there would otherwise be “an unjustifiable violation of human rights”). The position is less absolute where there is an error in a claim form (or the wrong claim form is used) but the filing is within time – the court has discretion to allow the error to be corrected.

Mr Croke argued that the Kaur v Russell principle should be extended to a claimant a further working day “where a prospective litigant had been inside the court building within normal court working hours but had then been prevented from lodging his or her claim on that day by some action or inaction on the part of staff employed within the building, or by some other unforeseen event within the responsibility of the court over which he or she had no control, that day should be treated as being a “dies non”. This would also apply, for example, to a failure of the court’s IT system that had the same effect. Certainty for all parties involved in the proceedings could be safeguarded by ensuring that a time limit would never be extended by more than a single day, and by requiring a litigant in this situation to put all parties with standing on notice, so that they would not rely on the decision under challenge – as Mr Croke had done in a letter to the council dated 23 March 2016. Mr Croke did not seek to support his argument with a submission that the court would in any event have a discretion to extend the statutory time limit on human rights grounds.”

The court did not consider that there was any justification for extending the principle. “To extend it to accommodate the unfortunate facts of a particular case such as this would be to undermine it.” The court went on to consider whether it should exercise a discretion to extend time, on human rights grounds but saw no basis for this. The six weeks’ deadline was contrasted with extradition proceedings: “The relevant documents here would have not been hard to assemble; they should all have been in Mr Croke’s possession. And the drafting of the grounds would not have been an onerous task, even for an applicant who had not instructed a lawyer to do it. This is in stark contrast to the situation of the appellant in Pomiechowski who was in custody, facing extradition, and had only seven days to make his appeal.”

The question of whether there could be a further extension from 24 to 29 March 2016 was accordingly academic, although the court was sympathetic in the circumstances, there having been errors on the part of the court on terms of the references to prescribed forms in its guidance, and given that the form which Mr Croke used contained the “essential content, including the grounds on which the challenge was made”.

So near and yet so far.

Bellamile

R (Bellamile Limited) v Ashford Borough Council (Laing J, 19 September 2019) relates to a claim, made out of time, seeking to challenge the adoption of the Ashford local plan. The facts are set out in detailed and plain terms at paragraphs 8 to 20 but can be summarised as follows:

The last day for making the challenge was 4 April 2019. A paralegal at the firm acting for the claimant took the claim bundle to the Administrative Court at about 3.35 on that last day. She had a cheque for £154, which is the right fee for judicial review claims, but is the wrong fee for a statutory review claim (which this was). She was turned away on the basis that the fee should have been £528. An email went back to the solicitor dealing with the matter from another paralegal communicating some internally contradictory information, suggesting that a different court form (one for a judicial review claim, which this wasn’t) was required as well as the higher fee.

On 5 April 2019, the day after the time limit, the claim was filed using a judicial review claim form and the judicial review fee was paid (£154). The solicitor subsequently on 13 May 2019 asked the court to treat the claim as if it had been made under the statutory review claim procedure, but without any “application for an extension of time for filing, production of the replacement claim form, or any offer of the correct fee at that stage”. These were provided on 23 May, with a request for an extension of time.

In her judgment, after rehearsing these facts, Laing J first deals with the substantive grounds of challenge to the plan and rejects them – so the question of whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the claim in the first place was potentially only of academic interest. However she goes on to consider whether the claim was out of time, reviewing the previous cases, including Croke.

First, she rejects any suggestion that the merits of a claim are relevant to the exercise of any exceptional jurisdiction to extend time.

Secondly, she finds that there is nothing in the statutory scheme for challenging local plans which gives rise to a discretion to extend on human rights grounds. But in any event she is not satisfied that the claimant has “personally done all that he can to bring and notify the claim timeously”, pointing to various unexplained gaps in the evidence before the court and lack of contemporaneous evidence as to what actually happened on that last filing date.

Out of time.

It’s surprising how often these sorts of issues arise – memories for instance of late, and therefore rejected, challenges to the Thames Tideway Tunnel development consent order (Challenge by council to London super-sewer plans dismissed as “out of time” Local Government Lawyer, 19 January 2015 and also the “Blue Green” case – since when the deadline under the Planning Act 2008 for challenges has been amended, but the basic pitfalls still remain).

Simon Ricketts, 21 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Let Me Count The Ways

How unromantic. To my disappointment, that line from Elizabeth Browning’s poem is not followed by a list of the differences between the section 247 and 257 procedures for stopping up highways.

I need to fill that gap.

After all, the process for stopping up highways in order to enable development to be carried out is a vital corner of our planning system that is particularly dysfunctional and lacking in logic. Perhaps because the process largely comes after the decision as to whether the development itself is to be approved, there is too little focus on whether it is working effectively. The last material change to the procedure was the limited, but welcome, amendment made by way of the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, which at least allowed it to commence prior to planning permission being granted.

Section 247 (1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides that “the Secretary of State may by order authorise the stopping up or diversion of any highway outside Greater London if he is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to enable development to be carried out…in accordance with planning permission...”

The procedure covers all types of highway.

Section 257 (1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides that “[s]ubject to section 259, a competent authority may by order authorise the stopping up or diversion of any footpath, bridleway or restricted byway if they are satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to enable development to be carried out…in accordance with planning permission…”

The procedure just covers footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways.

The substantive test in relation to both processes is whether the stopping up is “necessary” in order to enable the development to proceed and whether stopping up is in the public interest. However, they are administered in very different ways (and the section 247 process is different in London).

(Outside London) a section 247 application is made by the developer to the Secretary of State for Transport, and is administered by the Department for Transport’s National Transport Casework Team in Newcastle. The casework team’s guidance indicates that the “Department aims to process Orders where there are no objections within 13 weeks from receipt of all necessary information.”

If there are objections following publicity for the application, the Secretary of State considers in his discretion whether an inquiry is to be held. If an inquiry is to be held, there are no procedural rules which govern the process. The inspector is appointed by the DfT and reports to the Secretary of State for Transport, who makes the final decision.

(In London, section 247 order applications are made by the developer to the relevant borough.

If objections are received and cannot be resolved, the application is referred to the Mayor of London, who either decides that under section 252 (5A) that “in the special circumstances of the case” an inquiry is unnecessary, in which case the borough may confirm the order, or that inquiry is necessary, in which case the borough must cause an inquiry to be held.)

A section 257 application is made by the developer to the local planning authority, following the form set out in the Town and Country Planning (Public Path Orders) Regulations 1993. If there are objections following publicity for the application, section 259 and schedule 14 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 require that the application must be referred by the local planning authority to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (although in practice by way of reference to the Planning Inspectorate’s rights of way section).

Unlike with opposed section 247 order applications, there are procedural rules that govern the determination of opposed section 257 order applications, namely the Rights of Way (Hearings and Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2007 and there is also procedural guidance published by the Planning Inspectorate.

Unless each objector indicates that he or she doesn’t wish to be heard in front of an inspector, PINS will either arrange a hearing or a public inquiry. There are set timescales for the relevant stages. For a hearing, each party wishing to give evidence must provide a statement of case within 12 weeks of the start date. The hearing should generally take place within 20 weeks of the start date. For an inquiry, the parties must provide their statements of case within 14 weeks of the start date and proofs of evidence must then be provided at least four weeks before the start of the inquiry, which should generally be not later than 26 weeks after the start date.

Not only is it odd that the Planning Inspectorate has no discretion to decide that an opposed application be determined by written representations unless all objectors agree (contrast with section 247 but also with the powerless position of an appellant in relation to a section 78 appeal) but these timescales are way out of kilter with modern, post Rosewell, inquiry timescales, where statements of case are due within five weeks of the start date and the inquiry will generally be within 13 to 16 weeks of the start date.

There is a further sting in the tail: The Planning Inspectorate’s procedural guidance warns:

Having received an order from a local authority, we aim to issue the notice containing the ‘start date’ to all the parties within 10 weeks.”

Ten weeks! That is often by definition ten additional weeks on the post permission, pre construction, timeline for a project.

So a section 257 order is likely to take around 36 weeks to get to inquiry…

The only good news is that (another difference between section 247 and 257 orders), the inspector can make the final decision in relation to section 257, so there is no further delay caused by waiting for the Secretary of State to consider his or her report.

In conclusion, there are unjustified differences between what should be very similar processes:

⁃ No overall statutory procedural framework (no procedural rules in relation to section 247; out of date procedural rules in relation to section 257, in terms of leisurely time limits and limited scope for determining that a written representations procedure is adequate)

⁃ No single decision-maker (two different Secretaries of State – and in London the Mayor’s role in relation to section 247 – and section 257 decisions are taken by the relevant inspector rather than needing to be referred to the Secretary of State).

⁃ No single body administering the process (DfT National Transport Casework Team vs Planning Inspectorate rights of way section).

In relation to both processes I would go further: As long as there are appropriate safeguards for those affected and with suitable requirements as to consultation and publicity, surely a local planning authority, at the same time as determining any planning application for development, should be able to approve any highways closures that are required in order for that development to be carried out? Otherwise, the issues are artificially divided, in a way that is particularly confusing for objectors, between two processes (planning and stopping up) which still have to run largely one after the other?

How do I love thee (sections 247 and 257)? Let me count the ways (not).

Simon Ricketts, 15 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Stansted Airport

This blog post covers yesterday’s High Court ruling in Ross & Sanders (obo Stop Stansted Expansion) v Secretary of State for Transport (Dove J, 7 February 2020), where the issue before the court was whether an application for planning permission for development at Stansted Airport, made to the local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council, by the airport under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, should instead have been pursued as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), to be determined by the Secretary of State for Transport. I also set out the timeline as to the council’s decision-making in relation to the planning application. I have limited what I say to a factual account, given that my firm is acting for the airport (alongside Tom Hill QC and Philippa Jackson from 39 Essex chambers).

The airport is subject to a cap of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) and a cap of 274,000 air traffic movements (ATMs) per annum. On 22 February 2018 the airport submitted an application for planning permission which involved “building two new taxiway links, being a rapid entry taxiway and a rapid exit taxiway, and nine additional aircraft stands. These new developments are planned to take place in four separate locations within the existing footprint of Stansted Airport. It is uncontentious that these developments would increase the use of Stansted Airport’s single runway and its potential to handle aircraft movements. The planning application also includes a request for the planning cap of 35 million passengers per annum (“mppa”) to be increased to 43 mppa.” It was not proposed to increase the ATMs cap.

The relevant part of section 23 of the Planning Act 2008 provides that airport-related development is to be treated as an NSIP in the case of any “alteration” to an airport the effect of which is “to increase by at least 10 million per year the number of passengers for whom the airport is capable of providing air passenger transport services”.

Section 23(6) provides that “”alterationin relation to an airport, includes the construction, extension or alteration of:


(a) a runway at the airport,

(b) a building at the airport, or

(c) a radar or radio mast, antenna or other apparatus at the airport.”

The Secretary of State for Transport determined on 28 June 2018 that the 10 mppa threshold would not be exceeded and that he would not exercise his discretionary power under section 35 of the Act to treat the proposals as nationally significant and therefore subject to the 2008 Act decision-taking process and a decision at a national level. The latter determination was taken against the background of the Secretary of State’s publication on 5 June 2018 of the government’s “”Airports National Policy Statement: new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in south-east of England” (NPS) together with the policy “Beyond the horizon: The future of UK aviation-Making best use of existing runways” (“MBU”).The MBU policy paper stated that the government would be using its Aviation Strategy to progress its wider policy towards tackling aviation carbon. “”[T]o ensure that our policy is compatible with the UK’s climate change commitments we have used the DfT aviation model to look at the impact of allowing all airports to make best use of their existing runway capacity.” The paper stated:

Airports that wish to increase either the passenger or air traffic movement caps to allow them to make best use of their existing runways will need to submit applications to the relevant planning authority. We expect that applications to increase existing planning caps by fewer than 10 million passengers per annum (mppa) can be taken forward through local planning authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. As part of any planning application airports will need to demonstrate how they will mitigate against local environmental issues, taking account of relevant national policies, including any new environmental policies emerging from the Aviation Strategy. This policy statement does not prejudice the decision of those authorities who will be required to give proper consideration to such applications. It instead leaves it up to local, rather than national government, to consider each case on its merits.”

Stop Stansted Expansion challenged the Secretary of State’s 28 June 2018 determination on two grounds: that the airport’s proposals would in fact lead to the 10 mppa cap being exceeded and that the Secretary of State should have used his discretionary power to treat the proposals as an NSIP, the claimant relying, amongst other things on a “suggestion that the application was in truth part of a wider project for expansion of passenger throughput in excess of the NSIP definition, and the ramifications of increased carbon emissions as a result of increased air travel which ought to have led to the conclusion that the development should be treated as an NSIP.”

On the first ground, the court accepted that the proposed works amounted to an “alteration” of an airport (the argument was as to whether the definition was for the purposes of these proposals limited to alterations to a runway but Dove J accepted a wider definition, given the word “includes” in sub-section (6)). However, the court found that the Secretary of State was correct to conclude that the 10 mppa threshold would not be breached:

I am satisfied that the submissions of the Defendant in this respect are undoubtedly correct. The language of the statute in relation to whether the alteration will “increase by at least 10 million per year the number of passengers for whom the airport is capable of providing air passenger transport services” requires the Defendant to form a judgment in relation to that question. In my view that judgment is to be formed by asking what increase in capacity could realistically be achieved, not what might technically or arithmetically be possible. It requires an analysis based on how the infrastructure is likely to perform, not a hypothetical approach assuming speculative figures in relation to each aspect of the calculation of capacity to show what might be possible rather than what is likely to occur in practice.”

On the second ground, the court noted that from the statutory language of section 35 of the 2008 Act “the Defendant is granted a broad discretion as to whether or not to treat an application for development which does not otherwise meet the definitions for an NSIP as a project which requires development consent on the basis of national significance. Bearing in mind the prescriptive nature of the definitions for various types of NSIP contained in the 2008 Act, the discretion under section 35 is a broad one. Given the nature of the Defendant’s decision, as one which was exercised using a relatively broad discretion, the task of the Claimants to show that the judgment which the Defendant reached was unlawful is daunting.

The court concluded that similarly ground 2 was not made out. One of the claimant’s submissions was that the MBU carbon emissions modelling was flawed and had “underestimated the effects of growth in aircraft traffic at Stansted airport”. The judge accepted the Secretary of State’s submission that in “reality this aspect of the Defendant’s decision was essentially based on reliance on the MBU policy, and that the substance of the Claimants’ case is in fact a challenge to the legality of that policy in disguise (see paragraphs 95 and 96 above). Certainly, the legality of that policy is now beyond argument. As such I accept that the Defendant was, lawfully, entitled to reach the conclusion which he did, based squarely on the MBU policy that “an increase in the planning cap at [Stansted]…could be adequately mitigated to meet the CCC’s 2050 planning assumption”. That was a conclusion which applied the provisions of the MBU policy (see paragraphs 38 to 40 above) which had considered that proposals of this scale would not imperil the achievement of climate change targets in the light of the modelling work which had informed the policy.”

The Defendant has provided in the evidence a clear and coherent explanation of the purpose of the modelling (namely for long-term forecasting at a national level) and the basis on which it was constructed so as to inform and justify the policy in MBU relating to whether planning proposals at airports could be adequately mitigated and dealt with at the local level. Once this background to the technical work is understood, then it becomes clear that the criticisms of the Claimants, based upon short-term analysis or examination of individual years is without substance.”

Accordingly, the airport had been correct to pursue the proposals by way of an application for planning permission to the local planning authority, and the Secretary of State had not acted unlawfully in declining to intervene by way of directing that the proposals should proceed as an NSIP.

So was the local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council, now free to determine the application? Well this would have been the case if it had not resolved, against officers’ recommendations, to refuse planning permission on 24 January 2020, the decision notice then having been issued on 29 January 2020.

It has been a twisting route, summarised in the report prepared for Extraordinary Planning Committee meetings that were held on on 17 and 24 January 2020 (the passages in quotation marks below), with additional factual insertions by me:

The claimant made requests on 19 April and 14 June 2018 to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for the application to be called in. He responded that the Secretary of State for Transport should first determine whether the application should be treated as an NSIP.

The Secretary of State determined on 28 June 2018 that the application was not to be treated as an NSIP. Stop Stansted Expansion issued judicial review proceedings in relation to that decision (those proceedings eventually being dismissed on 7 February 2020 as described above).

On 14 November 2018, the Planning Committee resolved to grant the application, subject to conditions and subject to completion of an agreement imposing legally binding planning obligations (“section 106 agreement”). The Report and Supplementary Reports identified the planning obligations required. The precise form that the section 106 agreement should take, in accordance with the amended recommendation, was resolved to be delegated to officers. Subsequently, a proposed S106 Agreement was drawn up between the Council, Essex County Council (as relevant highway authority) and Stansted Airport Ltd.”

On 20 March 2019 the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government decided not to call in the application. Stop Stansted Expansion issued judicial review proceedings in relation to that decision (Legal bid lodged after Government rejects ‘call in’ of Stansted Airport planning application, Saffron Walden Reporter, 28 March 2019). Those proceedings were subsequently withdrawn.

The purdah period commenced ahead of local government elections on 2 May 2019.

5. An Extraordinary Meeting of the Council was called for 25 April 2019 to consider the following motion:

“To instruct the Chief Executive and fellow officers not to issue a Planning Decision Notice for planning application UTT/18/0460/FUL until the related Section 106 Legal Agreement between UDC and Stansted Airport Limited and the Planning Conditions have been scrutinised, reviewed and approved by the Council’s Planning Committee after the local elections.

The motion was defeated by 14 votes to 18 votes.

6. A further Extraordinary Meeting was called to consider the following motion:

To instruct the Chief Executive and fellow officers not to issue the Planning Decision Notice for planning application UTT/18/0460/FUL until members have had an opportunity to review and obtain independent legal corroboration that the legal advice provided to officers, including the QC opinion referred to by the Leader of the Council on 9th April 2019, confirms that the proposed Section 106 Agreement with Stansted Airport Limited fully complies with the Resolution approved by the Planning Committee on 14 November 2018 such that officers are lawfully empowered to conclude and seal the Agreement without further reference to the Planning Committee.

The meeting was originally scheduled for 3 June but was deferred until 28 June to allow further time for consideration of legal advice.

7. An informal meeting was held on 30 April with members who had requisitioned the Extraordinary Meeting. It was agreed:

⁃ that officers would not complete the section 106 agreement and issue the

planning consent for the time being;

⁃ That the legal advice previously obtained from Christiaan Zwart, barrister,

would be circulated to all members;

⁃ That a briefing session would be held for all members, with Christiaan Zwart in attendance to answer questions about his advice;

⁃ That, if need be, further advice would be sought at Q.C. level and a further briefing for all councillors would be held. This advice would focus on whether the planning obligation requirements made by the Planning Committee have been incorporated fully and effectively into the s106 agreement, and on the origin and consequences of any “gaps” if any between the Planning Committee Resolution and the resulting S106 Agreement.”

At the local government elections on 2 May 2019, the council came under the control of Residents 4 Uttlesford by a substantial majority.

8. A briefing meeting for all councillors was called for 14 May. Advice obtained from the Council’s barrister, Christiaan Zwart, was circulated prior to the meeting. He spoke to his advice on 14 May and answered questions.

9. Further advice was then obtained from Stephen Hockman Q.C. working jointly with Christiaan Zwart. Their joint advice was sent to members prior to a second briefing meeting held on 21 May. They answered questions raised by members at that briefing. Issues raised at the briefing meeting by members, and by Stop Stansted Expansion separately, led to additional further advice from Stephen Hockman, Q.C. and Christiaan Zwart. This also was shared with all members of the Council. In all cases information was shared on a legally privileged and confidential basis.

10. At the Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council on 28 June officers were instructed not to issue a Planning Decision Notice for planning application UTT/18/0460/FUL until the Planning Committee had considered:

(i) the adequacy of the proposed Section 106 Agreement between UDC and Stansted Airport Ltd, having regard to the Heads of Terms contained in the resolution approved by the Council’s Planning Committee on 14th November 2018;

(ii) any new material considerations and/or changes in circumstances since 14 November 2018 to which weight may now be given in striking the planning balance or which would reasonably justify attaching a different weight to relevant factors previously considered.

11. Since that meeting further expert legal advice has been obtained from Philip Coppel QC at the request of Members, and officers have been supporting members of the Planning Committee in preparing to consider the two matters set out above through a series of workshop sessions, in part owing to the significant change in membership of the committee. These sessions have taken members through the content of the draft obligations and issues that might be raised as potential new material considerations and regarded as a material change in circumstances since 14 November. They have provided opportunities for councillors and officers to ensure the obligations and issues are fully understood.

12. This report seeks to set out the issues comprehensively, to enable the Committee to comply with the Council resolution and authorise the release of the appropriate decision notice on the planning application.”

Officers recommended the following:

The Assistant Director – Planning be authorised to issue the decision notice approving the planning application subject to the planning conditions as resolved by the Planning Committee on 14 November 2018 on signing of the amended S106 Agreement appended to this report.”

The Committee sat on 17 and 24 January 2020. Members rejected the officers’ recommendation (ten members voting to reject it, with two abstentions).

The reasons for refusal set out on the decision notice are as follows:

1 The applicant has failed to demonstrate that the additional flights would not result in an increased detrimental effect from aircraft noise, contrary to Uttlesford Local Plan Policy ENV11 and the NPPF.

2 The application has failed to demonstrate that the additional flights would not result in a detrimental effect on air quality, specifically but not exclusively PM2.5 and ultrafine particulates contrary to Uttlesford Local Plan Policy ENV13 and paragraph 181 of the NPPF.

3 The additional emissions from increased international flights are incompatible with the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation that emissions from all UK departing flights should be at or below 2005 levels in 2050. This is against the backdrop of the amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) to reduce the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 to net zero from the 1990 baseline. This is therefore contrary to the general accepted perceptions and understandings of the importance of climate change and the time within which it must be addressed. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to approve the application at a time whereby the Government has been unable to resolve its policy on international aviation climate emissions.

4 The application fails to provide the necessary infrastructure to support the application, or the necessary mitigation to address the detrimental impact of the proposal contrary to Uttlesford Local Plan Policies GEN6, GEN1, GEN7, ENV7, ENV11 and ENV13.

If you are interested in the debate that led to these conclusions, you are out of luck: No webcast or sound recording of the 24 January session is apparently available. There is an apology on the council’s website:

Unfortunately the broadcasting of today’s meeting failed. Officers worked throughout the day, in liaison with the supplier, to identify and rectify the problem without success.

It has now been established that the back-up local recording of the meeting also failed, meaning an audio recording of the meeting will not be available on the council’s website.

We sincerely apologise to those who had wanted to ‘listen in’ or ‘listen again’ to the meeting.”

From lack of sound to lack of soundness…

The inspectors examining Uttlesford’s local plan concluded in their 10 January 2020 post stage 1 hearings letter as follows:

Unfortunately, despite the additional evidence that has been submitted during the examination and all that we have now read and heard in the examination, including the suggested main modifications to the plan (ED41) put forward by the Council, we have significant concerns in relation to the soundness of the plan. In particular, we are not persuaded that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Garden Communities, and thus the overall spatial strategy, have been justified. We therefore cannot conclude that these fundamental aspects of the plan are sound.”

But that, friends, is for another blog post.

Simon Ricketts, 8 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Beauty Duty

The accelerated planning green paper will be published in November 2019.” (MHCLG press release, 1 October 2019).

Later this year I will publish a White Paper on planning reform, an objective of which will be a simpler and faster system for the benefit of everyone, including homeowners, and small and medium-sized builders” (Robert Jenrick, 13 January 2020, during Commons debate on new homes).

These proposals have certainly lost their acceleration.

Of course the white paper could emerge at any time now, or be part of the now traditional cohort of budget-accompanying announcements on 11 March 2020 (MIPIM week too…). But actually why not take a little longer so as to reflect on the recommendations in the final report of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, Living with Beauty: Promoting health, well-being and sustainable growth (30 January 2020)?

For a report on beauty it’s a bit of a beast, at 190 pages.

I blogged here on the appointment of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission in April 2019 and here on the Commission’s July 2019 report.

As with the interim report it is a wide ranging and discursive read, prickling with all manner of recommendations. It will take some time to assimilate. I almost pulled up at the first fenestration, but spent my commutes yesterday cantering once through the whole document, before then reading the “planning” section in more detail. (I had been to three preparatory discussion sessions held by Commission member Adrian Penfold, who led on this strand. The sessions were in fact extremely interesting with a wide range of perspectives and Adrian obviously has unparalleled experience – the discussion was practical, and action-orientated). I noted down some wider questions and dipped back into the main document in more detail this morning to see if they had been addressed.

The report sets out its overall aims in three exhortations:

• Ask for Beauty

• Refuse Ugliness

• Promote Stewardship

These aims are to be “embedded in the planning system and in the culture of development, in such a way as to incentivise beauty and deter ugliness at every point where the choice arises” by way of eight objectives:

1. Planning: create a predictable level playing field

2. Communities: bring the democracy forward

3. Stewardship: incentivise responsibility to the future

4. Regeneration: end the scandal of left behind place

5. Neighbourhoods: create places not just houses

6. Nature:re-green our towns and cities

7. Education: promote a wider understanding of placemaking

8. Management:value planning,count happiness, procure properly

Each objective leads to a series of recommendations, or “policy propositions”.

For instance these are the ten policy propositions under the “planning” objective, even though many of the policy recommendations under the other objectives would equally call to be delivered by way of changes to the planning system. I don’t see any alternative to setting out the “planning” propositions almost verbatim:

Policy Proposition 1: ask for beauty. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines the planning system’s purpose as ‘to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.’

a. References to the importance of ‘placemaking’ and ‘the creation of beautiful places’ should be placed in chapter 2 as well as in chapter 12 of the NPPF, particularly in paragraphs 7 to 10, at the end of the first sentence of paragraph 17 and in paragraphs 72(c) on new settlement, 73 on buffers and 91 on green infrastructure. Beauty and placemaking should be strategic and cross-cutting themes.

b. References to ‘good design’ in the NPPF should be replaced with ‘good design and beautiful places’ particularly in the section on ‘achieving sustainable development’

c. Beauty and placemaking should be embedded more widely across relevant government strategies. They should also feature in relevant forthcoming government legislation, such as the Environment Bill.

d. We have heard much support for the government’s recent guidance document Design: process and tools, as well as its new National Design Guide (one public sector planner told us it ‘would make things a lot easier’). We warmly endorse both the National Design Guide’s aim – to illustrate ‘how well-designed places

that are beautiful, enduring and successful can be achieved in practice’ – and its contents. We particularly commend its focus on character and identity.

d. Local planning authorities should take up the strong encouragement in paragraph 34 to use the National Design Guide to prepare their own local plan policy, guidance and area-wide or site-specific codes in line with clear evidence of local preferences (see chapter 7).

• Where relevant, a similar aim should be embedded in other planning policy guidance.

• The National Design Guide could be improved further with even more emphasis and more visual explanation on façade quality and materials (the importance of elevational proportions, symmetry, window treatment, storey heights and a façade with both complexity and composure are not mentioned). The guide could illustrate more the importance of block size, type and structure (above all blocks with clear backs and fronts and the way in which houses face the street so that boundaries contain façades). The guide could also focus more on height to width (or enclosure) ratio and street proportions, grain and plot size and effective ways to meet the challenges of parking provision. It should contain even more on street trees and the need for a hierarchy of public squares, streets and green spaces.

e. Paragraph 79e of the NPPF states that planning permission can be given for isolated houses in the countryside where design is ‘truly outstanding or innovative’. This opens a loophole for designs that are not outstanding but that are in some way innovative in these precious sites. The words ‘or innovative’ should be removed. In cases like these, we should always insist on outstanding quality.

Policy proposition 2: expect net gain not just ‘no net harm.’ The planning system operates on the principle of minimising harm. The important paragraph 130 of the NPPF should be reworded to say:

‘Development that is not well designed should be refused. Well-designed development will take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions, be properly served by infrastructure and will contribute towards meeting the needs of the wider community. It will also take into account…’

Policy Proposition 3: say no to ugliness. We have found good examples of schemes being turned down by the Planning Inspectorate on well-argued design grounds after developers appealed against rulings from local authorities.

Such examples should be publicised, celebrated and used to encourage beautiful and popular placemaking and they should encourage neighbourhoods or local media to argue for less unpleasant development. Local planning authorities should feel the full support of government when they reject ugliness. Government and the Planning Inspectorate should have a consistent message about placemaking.

Policy Proposition 4: discover beauty locally. Local authorities, neighbourhood forums and parishes should be strongly encouraged to embed the national requirement for beauty and placemaking from the outset, before any decisions are made about allocating land or making development control decisions. What beauty means and the local ‘spirit of place’ should be discovered and defined empirically

and visually by surveying local views on objective criteria as well as from deliberative engagement with the wider local population. Where appropriate, more detailed design codes should also be included in local plan documents, supplementary planning documents or neighbourhood plans. […]

Policy Proposition 5: masterplan, don’t plan by appeal. Local planning authorities should be encouraged to take a more strategic and less reactive approach to their local plans. Steps to incorporate this would include:

• More clarity on what and where. The ‘plan-making’ section of the NPPF should make it clear in paragraph 16 that plan proposals should provide a clear indication of the scale and design features of development that is proposed, particularly on strategic sites. This could be elaborated in paragraph 23 (which deals with broad locations for development) and in the ‘non-strategic policies’ section in paragraphs 28-30.The soundness test in paragraph 35 should be reworded to read ‘d) consistent with national policy – enabling the delivery of sustainable development, including the creation of beautiful places..’;

• Thinking more broadly about optimisation. We recommend the addition of text in paragraph 123 of the NPPF on the importance of area-based masterplanning in assessing and meeting the need to optimise, whilst also creating beautiful places. The piecemeal site by site approach leads to poor outcomes.

• A process review. We recommend a review of the way in which sites are identified including the ‘call for sites’ process. The review should consider which process changes could reduce the adversarial consequences of the current approach, reduce the resource-pressure on local authorities and better encourage ‘the right growth in the right place.’

• A timescale review. It takes too long to prepare local plans, supplementary planning documents and area action plans. We recommend a detailed review of how the process of creating local plans can be speeded up. Ultimately, local plans should be quicker to write and ‘living documents’ which can be updated more readily when circumstances change.

• Thinking long-term as well as medium-term. We understand and respect why the government has increased the focus on five-year land supply. This has had the very welcome consequence of obliging councils to have local plans in place. However, a longer time frame is necessary when thinking about new settlements, urban extensions and infrastructure investment. We recommend that the phrase ‘within the context of a longer 30-year vision is’ added to paragraph 22 of the NPPF.

[ ]

Policy Proposition 6: use provably popular form-based codes. Local planning authorities should develop more detailed design policy interventions, such as provably popular form-based codes and

pattern books, as a basis for considering planning applications. We believe that form-based codes and non-negotiable infrastructure including green infrastructure (as with the Community Infrastructure Levy) are often appropriate ways to embed quality in a popular and predictable way. [ ]

• The government’s July 2019 guidance on plan-making…should be more specific, requiring a minimum level of detail.

• The local plan should apply the approach taken in the national planning practice guidance on design at the local level, reflecting local circumstances, by setting clear area-wide design criteria, and local planning authorities should consider adopting a co-ordinating code approach in the local plan, particularly for strategic sites. It should also define the requirement for masterplanned area action plans in order to coordinate development across sites in any defined growth area, as well as the application of a co-ordinating code or similar approach to allocated non-strategic sites. These should be prepared as supplementary planning documents or in Neighbourhood Plans prior to the commencement of any planning application process.

• Pages 23 to 28 of the government’s July 2019 guidance on plan- making deal with the evidence required when preparing a local plan. Other than ‘conservation and the historic environment’ there is no section which deals with evidence that might support design policies, such as character assessment. This should be included.

• The Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 set out the legal requirements for local planning authorities when preparing local plans and supplementary planning documents. They specify their form and content very generally. There is no specific reference to design. There is scope to specify the minimum design policy level for different types of site.

• The government’s Design: process and tools guidance gives helpful and positive advice to local planning authorities on design policy and its associated tools. It also provides useful advice on assessment frameworks, design review and effective community engagement on design. The ‘What role can non-strategic

policies play?’ section refers specifically to the establishment

of local and/or detailed design principles for an area, including design requirements for site specific allocations. The wording might however be strengthened to move from encouragement (‘can’) to something closer to requirement, (‘should’ or, in some circumstances, ‘must’).

Policy Proposition 7: localise the National Model Design Code. We support the government’s proposal to publish a National Model Design Code, which will function as a template for local authorities to develop, their own codes in accordance with local needs and preferences and to support better urbanism and mixed use…

The model code should include the following elements:

• Design guidance relying on numbers, specifications and images more than words. The model code should define the segments, ratios, façade patterns or cross-sections that make for popular and well-designed places. Local authorities would not be required to accept these definitions in their own codes, but they would form

a template to help local planning authorities understand what they need to define. The national code should provide measured and illustrated exemplars of how all these good principles come together in street segments, public space segments, building and street patterns. These can be stylistically neutral and should take account of parking and servicing.

• Guidance on what goes where. A street hierarchy, and the difference between a good central, urban or suburban street (including levels of mixed use), needs to be set out and illustrated so that it is clear where different elements of guidance are most relevant in different types of place.

• Guidance on scales of development. The National Model Design Code should give examples of what is relevant for various scales of development so that local authorities are helped to be clear about what is (and is not) being scrutinised

• Guidance on turning the The National Model Design Code into a local code. The national code should contain a clear and straightforward suggested process to help turn it into local policy. This will need

to include surveying local preferences empirically and should lay great weight on harmonising with local vernaculars.

[ ]

Policy Proposition 8: require permitted development rights to have standards. There is scope for targeted and carefully drafted use of permitted development rights to free up the delivery of new development, whilst ensuring it achieves better placemaking. But we are not there yet. One way to keep the supply-side advantages of permitted development rights but with some basic standards, would be to move minimum home or room sizes into building regulations. This would prevent some of the worst excesses that have come to light in office to residential conversion. We support this but it is not enough.

The government should evolve a mechanism whereby meaningful local standards of design and placemaking can efficiently apply to permitted development rights. This is not possible at present under the current legal arrangement. It should be. Where it is appropriate, to build housing via permitted development rights or permission in principle should require strict adherence to a very clear (but limited) set of rules on betterment payment and design clearly set in the local plan, supplementary planning document or community code as set out above. If these rules are followed, then approval should be a matter of course. There are precedents for this. For example, permitted development rights for residential extensions requires matching materials.

The Commission recommends that adherence to established design guidance, coupled with a certification process, not unlike the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (‘BREEAM’) but directed to the sense of place, is embedded into an overhauled ‘prior approval’ process. It is outside the scope of this report to undertake that drafting, but we consider it to be an important ‘next step’ following these recommendations

Policy Proposition 9: permit a fast track for beauty. If a robust design policy, which is based on community engagement and which has been properly examined, has been established, the detailed planning application stage should be relatively straightforward. The focus should be on compliance with the site-specific design policy, whether contained in the local plan or in a supplementary planning document.

[ ]

Policy Proposition 10: ensure enforcement. Where masterplans or designs are approved, it is those schemes that should be built – not a diluted version down the line. There should be more efficient management of conditions applications, of alterations and a greater probability of enforcement, with stricter sanctions where necessary. Clearer, shorter, more visual local plans should help, but additional ways to achieve this which we recommend include:

• Encouraging specificity on issues such as materials in detailed planning applications.

• Supporting the use of centres of excellence to aid local planning authorities’ enforcement teams.

• Strengthening enforcement penalties for a Breach of Conditions Notice from a maximum of £2,500 to perhaps ten times that. (Breach of Enforcement Notice is already unlimited). The Government should also consider permitting authorities to obtain proceeds from a Process [sic] of Crime Act order in relation to breach of condition notices.

• Tightening the approach and digitising the process of signing off the discharge conditions and regulating non-material and minor alterations. Might it be a requirement that building control sign-off cannot be achieved without adherence to design quality requirements?

• Involving enforcement teams in early discussions about the scheme. This would permit them to understand the relative priorities of members and officers, and the importance of the design features of a scheme. This appears to happen very rarely, if at all, at present.

Many of these recommendations appear to me to be practical and deliverable but obviously questions arise:

Are we all on the same page as to what is “beauty” or “good design”? Can such prescription be imposed in reality without stifling individual design responses? Are we not just feeding bullets to those who will oppose development, using whatever arguments come to hand?

The document says this:

Are there assumptions that arise from political or social outlook, or age? The report roots its stance by describing a “powerful consensus…concerning what people prize in the design of new developments, and about how beauty in human settlement is generally understood”, with passages on:

⁃ townscape

⁃ mixed-use

⁃ building to last

⁃ affordability

⁃ respect for nature

⁃ stewardship.

Much of this must be right, but, faced with specific choices, I am still certain that there is room for debate as to development choices.

The throw-away assumption in the document is that tall buildings are bad:

“...there is much evidence for the view that we will not normally achieve the kind of humane densification that we are looking for by ‘building upwards’ – evidence that has not always been taken into account in recent urban developments, especially in London and Bristol. We need to weave the ground-level fabric more closely, not to stretch it to the skies.”

There is an equivalent dismissive reference to “iconic buildings”, immediately followed by a photograph of the Walkie Talkie:

“...people may not want an ‘iconic’ building in their immediate environment if it does not fit in or harmonise. For many planning protesters, the best outcome is also the outcome that will not be noticed.”

Do we dream of a bland and pleasant land? Where is the room for rebel buildings, for surprises? (I spotted nothing on the desirability or otherwise of preserving, for instance, outstanding examples of brutalist or post modern architecture – little of which would have got past the beauty police). And, whilst the use of traditional materials is eulogised, is this not, in many circumstances, to descend to pastiche and facadism? A logistics warehouse is what it is, or it should be.

Given the difficult value judgments required, are local planning authorities sufficiently resourced to fulfil the central role that the Commission envisages for them?

It is going to be a fascinating debate and, given the warm reception that the Secretary of State has already given to the recommendations (one of which is that he should become the Secretary of State for Place – I would certainly support a change of MHCLG to MoP), I predict that much of the document will find its way into the Government’s agenda. Better this, in my view, than a curious document, almost as long, published earlier in the week by Policy Exchange, Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century.

To my mind, we need to move on from the Conservatives’ 2010 mantra that “the planning system is broken”. It either is not, and never has been – or they have had long enough to mend it (and it beggars belief that the Policy Exchange can be advocating “a clean break with the land use planning system introduced in 1947”, unless you read it as part of a wider free market attack on all associated post-war settlements of that time). I tend to favour the former – the planning system is not broken – and the system can indeed accommodate greater attention to be paid to beauty. However, whilst there are always improvements to be made (including some of those recommended by the Commission) there are always two more fundamental influences on outcomes:

stewardship, dealt with well in the the Commission’s report:

We are persuaded, from a wide pool of evidence, that on-going involvement by the landowner very often leads to development which is better for residents’ well-being, more popular and, ultimately, more valuable. Currently, however, most landowners sell or ‘option’ their land to developers or sign deals with land promoters.. If we are to achieve this stewardship model, there are six issues that must be confronted:

1. We need to encourage management structures that can guide longer-term placemaking projects or stewardship projects, as well as the expertise to staff them;

2. We should support and encourage sources of patient capital investment;

3. We need to address ways in which the tax code unintentionally discourages landowners and developers from putting together stewardship projects;

4. We need to use the spatial planning system to encourage the right stewardship projects and infrastructure in the right place (using improving geospatial data where possible);

5. We need to help public bodies pool their land with private landowners for long-term schemes; and

6. We need to encourage competent long-term stewardship (or trusteeship) of the result.

financial resources, the relevance of which is acknowledged but not given particular prominence in the report, by which I mean: both a recognition that is wishful thinking to assert that good design does not cost (in terms of compromises on height and massing, on materials and in the use of appropriate professionals at every stage) and a recognition of the additional resources, including additional skillsets, required by local planning authorities.

My condolences to Sir Roger Scruton’s family. With Nicholas Boys Smith and the other Commissioners, he has produced an elegant and thought-provoking, but practical, piece of work. Let’s not dismiss it out of hand, but equally, as with any contemplated changes to the planning system, let’s be sure that the consequences of what is proposed are fully understood before we hand-chisel again into our battered, much extended, poorly maintained, but still in its own way beautiful, planning system.

Simon Ricketts, 1 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Jenrick Allows Two Further Large London Appeals, With Costs

Exactly a week after the Westferry Printworks decision letter (see my previous blog post) on 22 January 2020 the Secretary of State allowed two further appeals in relation to significant London residential development projects, this time both decisions following his inspectors’ recommendations, and with costs awards in favour of the appellants, again as recommended by his inspectors.

Given that an award of costs can basically only be made on the basis of unreasonable behaviour by a party to the appeal (see the detailed advice in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance), lessons plainly need to be learned – in fact what happened in both cases was pretty shocking.

North London Business Park site, Barnet

This was an appeal by Comer Homes Group against Barnet Council’s refusal of a hybrid application for planning permission for the phased comprehensive redevelopment of the North London Business Park to deliver a residential led mixed-use development:

• detailed element comprising 376 residential units in five blocks reaching eight storeys, the provision of a 5 Form Entry Secondary School, a gymnasium, a multi- use sports pitch and associated changing facilities, and improvements to open space and transport infrastructure, including improvements to the access from Brunswick Park Road, and

• outline element comprising up to 824 additional residential units in buildings ranging from two to eleven storeys, up to 5,177m2 of non-residential floorspace (Use Classes A1-A4, B1 and D1) and 2.9 hectares of public open space, associated site preparation/enabling works, transport infrastructure and junction works, landscaping and car parking.

This is the Secretary of State’s decision letter and inspector’s report in relation to the appeal and this is the Secretary of State’s decision to make a full costs award against the council, following the inspector’s recommendations.

Members had refused the application against officers’s recommendations.

The council’s failing is set out starkly in the inspector’s costs report: no proper evidence was adduced to support its decision:

Mr Griffiths, Principal Planning Officer at the Council of the London Borough of Barnet, was the Council’s only witness at the Inquiry. He stated, in his proof of evidence, that “It is not the intention for this document to represent my professional opinion and the evidence presented represents the views of elected members of the London Borough of Barnet Planning Committee”.

The proof of evidence focusses on a particular view contained within a TVIA submitted by the Applicant and states that “Within View 11, the 8-storey height of Blocks 1E and 1F stands in harmful juxtaposition with the two-storey height of the properties on Howard Close”. But the proof acknowledges “…that buildings of up to 7 storeys in height could be acceptable in this location therefore it is pertinent to outline the additional harm that would arise from the 8 and 9 storey buildings proposed within the development and why these heights are unacceptable”.

The written evidence fails to substantiate why the extra storey on Blocks 1E and 1F would cause harm and fails to consider the effect of buildings over seven storeys in height elsewhere in the development. The proof simply repeats the assertion made in the sole reason for refusal of the application that “The proposed development, by virtue of its excessive height, scale and massing would represent an over development of the site resulting in a discordant and visually obtrusive form of development that would fail to respect its local context…to such an extent that it would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the area”.

Under cross examination Mr Griffiths refused to answer some questions put to him and to give his professional view on the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area. The Appellant was not thus afforded the opportunity, at the Inquiry, to explore the unsubstantiated assertions made in the proof of evidence and did not learn anything more about members concerns. Crucially, no member of the Planning Committee appeared at the Inquiry to substantiate their views that was unsubstantiated in the proof of evidence.

The Council has failed to produce either written or verbal evidence to substantiate the reason for refusal of the application, and has provided only vague and generalised assertions, unsupported by an objective analysis, about the proposed development’s impact. The Council has behaved unreasonably and the Appellant has incurred unnecessary expense in the appeal process. A full of award of costs against the Council is justified.”

It was hardly surprising that the Secretary of State decided to allow the appeal:

“32. The development plan restricts tall buildings to identified locations, and the proposal would include them on a site not identified as suitable for them. This conflict carries significant weight against the proposal.

33. The proposal has been designed to respect the existing character of the local area, while maximising the potential for delivering homes. It would deliver a replacement secondary school alongside new open space, sports facilities and community space. The local authority is unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land without taking account of this site, and the proposal would provide 1350 new homes. The provision of the housing and the ancillary facilities both carry significant weight in favour of the proposal.

34. The Secretary of State considers that there are material considerations which indicate that the proposal should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan, and therefore concludes that the appeal should be allowed and planning permission granted.”

The inquiry sat for four days in October and November 2018 (why the inordinate delay since then?), with the appellant team comprising Christopher Katkowski QC and Robert Walton (now QC), calling four expert witnesses. The costs award will amount to a sum that would be ruinous for many private sector bodies, well into six figures – because council members took a decision without evidence and without considering whether proper evidence, or a different approach, might be required in the face of an appeal. And a scheme for well over a thousand homes and a school (first applied for in December 2015!) has been delayed for absolutely no reason.

Conington Road, Lewisham

This was an appeal by MB Lewisham Limited against Lewisham Council’s decision to refuse its application for planning permission for the construction of three buildings, measuring 8, 14 and 34 storeys in height, to provide 365 residential dwellings (use class C3) and 554 square metres (sqm) gross of commercial/ community/ office/ leisure space (Use Class A1/A2/A3/B1/D1/D2) with associated access, servicing, energy centre, car and cycle parking, landscaping and public realm works.

This is the Secretary of State’s decision letter and inspector’s report and this is the Secretary of State’s decision to make a partial award of costs against the Mayor of London, and inspector’s report.

The procedural position here was a little more complicated. After Lewisham had refused this application, the applicant had submitted a further application for planning permission which sought to address the reasons for refusal. The scheme would secure 20.19% affordable housing by habitable room, which the council accepted, on the basis of viability appraisal, was more than the maximum reasonable provision. The Council resolved to approve the application but the Mayor directed refusal, not satisfied that the viability work justified that level of affordable housing.

By that time the first application had been refused and the appellant revised the scheme to reflect the changes introduced into the second application. Accordingly, whilst the appeal was technically against Lewisham’s initial decision on the first application, in reality the only live issues were those raised by the Mayor on affordable housing and viability, including whether a late stage review mechanism was necessary in line with its policy requirement.

I suspect that you needed to be at the inquiry to appreciate the full horror as events unfolded (I wasn’t) but it appears that the viability case against the appellant’s position completely collapsed at the inquiry following exchange of evidence and cross-examination by Russell Harris QC. But that wasn’t the only problem. Presumably to save costs, the council and the Mayor both engaged the same advocate at the inquiry and, once it understood the real position on viability, the council wished to concede various issues but the Mayor was not willing so to do, meaning that the advocate immediately had a conflict of interest and, mid-inquiry, had to recuse herself from acting for the Mayor! The Mayor’s team continued to participate in the inquiry but without challenging the evidence provided by the appellant.

This is from the inspector’s report on the appellant’s costs application:

On day 2 of the Inquiry, following cross-examination of the Council’s construction costs witness Mr Powling, the advocate representing the Council and the Greater London Authority (GLA) advised that due to a conflict of interest, the GLA would no longer be represented. The GLA however wished to continue with their objections as an unrepresented principal party. Later in the afternoon, following cross-examination by the appellant of Ms Seymour for the GLA, the Council formally withdrew its objections to the proposal on viability grounds. The Council took no further part in the Inquiry.

Where the operation of a direction to refuse is issued, the GLA is to be treated as a principal party. Without the GLA direction, the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL) would have granted a planning permission for a now identical scheme. This appeal only arises thus as a result of the change of the resolution to grant to reflect the terms of the GLA’s direction.

6. In its letter to the Inspectorate indicating its intention to attend, the GLA made it clear that was prosecuting its direction in terms and was expecting LBL to do the same. Therefore for all practical legal and policy purposes, the GLA must be treated as a main party prosecuting the terms of its direction at this appeal. Without that direction LBL would not have opposed this scheme and this inquiry would not have been necessary.

7. Their conduct therefore falls to be considered in accordance with the provisions for principal parties.

8. Its conduct was unreasonable in substantive terms in relation to its directed main reason for refusal. Its conduct during the inquiry was also unreasonable. Both levels of unreasonableness resulted in the inquiry and the appellant having to incur significant unnecessary expense in relation to the affordable housing issue.

9. In substantive terms, the GLA produced no evidence which met or came close to the requirements of the PPG on the issue of construction costs to support its reason for refusal.

10. Its ‘evidence” failed to meet the threshold properly to be called “evidence” It failed to engage with the agreed evidence of others that the construction costs were fair and reasonable and during the proceedings failed to read understand or engage with evidence which clearly established that its evidence was incorrect and unreasonable.

11. In terms of the double count issue, the GLA persisted with its case irrespective of evidence suggesting that it was wrong and in an unreasonable fashion after the only other relevant party advised by Leading Counsel had accepted that the point was simply not properly arguable. It chose not to read and understand the clear evidence, notwithstanding it had insisted on the reason for refusal and that it be a party at the inquiry.”

The Greater London Authority shall pay to MB Homes Lewisham Ltd its partial costs of the inquiry proceedings, limited solely to the unnecessary or wasted expense incurred in respect of the costs of the appeal proceedings related to dealing with the issue of affordable housing after the Council decided not to represent the Greater London Authority, such costs to be taxed in default of agreement as to the amount thereof.”

Oof!

The Secretary’s conclusions on viability were as follows:

“17. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the essential differences on viability between the parties lies in a variation of around £11m in construction costs (including fees and profit); and private residential values (IR127).

Construction costs

18. The Secretary of State notes that CDM (for the GLA) consider build costs to be overstated (IR129). However, the Secretary of State also notes that independent costs estimates produced by 3 firms of costs consultants were within 2 percentage points of each other. He agrees with the Inspector that no evidence has been produced in any later analyses to show that those build costs, or any element of them considered for viability purposes, are unreasonable (IR128-131).

Fees

19. The Secretary of State notes that the level of fees remained a point of difference at the beginning of the Inquiry. The Secretary of State also notes that while detailed analysis of this issue did identify an overstatement of fees of less than £1m, this is far below the overstatement claimed by the Council and GLA. He further notes that, at the Inquiry no evidence was forthcoming from the GLA’s costs witness, CDM, to support their contention that preliminaries are set too high or that the level of professional fees of around 10% would be excessive for a project of this nature. In addition, the Council’s costs witness accepted that if a reasonable preliminaries figure of 17% or so was adopted then the whole argument in support of the £5.5m fees deduction from the overall level of costs fell away (IR132-133).

Profits

20. For the reasons given in IR134-135, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the proposed profit levels are reasonable for this scheme.

21. For the reasons given in IR136 the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that no evidence was offered by the Council or the GLA to counter the appellant’s build costs analysis or the level of fees or profit.

Private residential values

22. The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s analysis in IR137-146 and agrees that the GLA’s suggested values would be unlikely to be achievable in the market (IR144).

23. The Secretary of State also notes that the GLA accepted at the Inquiry that if the £11m alleged surplus on fees and construction costs did not exist, then the claimed remaining £900,000 (IR132) would not have led to a direction to refuse from the Mayor’s office (IR146). For the reasons in IR147, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the 20.2% affordable housing proposed by the appellant is the maximum, if not somewhat more, than what can be reasonably provided, and he accordingly attaches very considerable weight to this benefit of the proposal. He finds no conflict with the requirements of LonP policy 3.12; the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG, Lewisham CS policy 1 and DMLP policy DM7.

Late stage review

24. For the reasons given in IR148-149, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is no pressing case for a late stage review for a scheme such as this, where development is proposed to be completed in a single phase. He finds no conflict with the requirements of LP policy 3.12, the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG, Lewisham CS policy 1 and DMLP policy DM7.

“In favour, the Secretary of State affords very considerable weight to the provision of market and affordable housing. He also affords moderate weight to the positive contribution to the character and appearance of the emerging Lewisham Town centre.”

And no late stage review!

In amongst the horror show for both the council and the Mayor seems to have been some simple lack of communication as between their witnesses. Quoting from the inspector’s summary of Lewisham’s case:

When the appellant’s viability proof was received and reviewed it did not appear that the short reference in paragraph 7.2 to the Gardiner & Theobald review report raised any pertinent issue. This was particularly so as the proof suggested that the appellant’s basis for assessment of costs was unaltered.

As a consequence the Council’s viability witness did not send its costs witness the appellant’s viability proof (which dealt with numerous other issues not relevant to costs estimates). On review at the Inquiry, the Council’s build cost estimate was revised from £107,179,737 to £111,809,368 representing a difference of £4,629,631. The consequence of this was that it changed appraisal A – 2018 Residential Pricing to negative £1,155,982 and Appraisal B – 2017 residential pricing (less HPI) reduced to £ 3,111,251. This still represents a £20m disparity approximately with the appellant’s viability conclusions. It nonetheless reduced the margin of surplus on the Council’s assessment to fall within an acceptable margin of error“.

Oof.

Where would we be without the ability properly to test evidence at inquiry?

Simon Ricketts, 25 January 2020

Personal views, et cetera

PS not to be too London-centric, I should add that on the same day the Secretary of State also allowed an appeal for 850 homes near Tewkesbury.

The appeal stats for 2020 are already going to look more healthy than those for the last two years, which become apparent if you interrogate our Town Legal 2014-2019 housing inquiry appeals data visualisation tool.

Westferry Printworks Decision: LPA Reaction Unprintable

Tower Hamlets Council’s revised CIL charging schedule came into effect on 17 January 2020, imposing borough CIL for the first time on its large allocated sites, so you will appreciate its double disappointment at the Secretary of State allowing the Westferry Printworks site appeal, against the inquiry inspector’s recommendations, in a decision letter dated 14 January 2020. The CIL figure could have been up to £50m, according to evidence given at the inquiry on behalf of the appellant.

The scheme is for a “comprehensive mixed-use redevelopment comprising 1,524 residential units (Class C3), shops, offices, flexible workspaces, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, drinking establishments (Classes B1/A1/A2/A3/A4), community uses (Class D1), car and cycle basement parking, associated landscaping, new public realm and all other necessary enabling works” at Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs.

There has been a furious response from the council. At a full council meeting the following day, 15 January 2020, a resolution was passed to examine “all available options, including a judicial review“. The East London Advertiser reports Mayor John Biggs as saying:

It is a massively tall and dense development. Something of 40 floors on the island is an outrage. By making the decision on Tuesday we also lose a massive sum of money. This development will place a huge impact on the island. It is a scandal and outrageous. We will be doing everything in our power [including] seeking a judicial review.”

The potential impact of borough CIL on the viability of the proposals obviously had been raised by the appellant as a potentially relevant matter, given that it would go to viability. Unsurprisingly, the appellant had sought to include a mechanism within its section 106 agreement for a potential reduction in affordable housing should the Secretary of State’s decision letter be issued after the revised CIL charging schedule had been adopted, a proposal which both the inspector and Secretary of State rejected.

The timing of the decision letter meant that this issue went away – it would have been an interesting one to test, given that the situation often arises where an applicant or appellant is in the hands of the decision maker as to whether permission will be issued before a revised CIL charging schedule comes into effect and why shouldn’t a section 106 agreement mechanism to neutralise the effect be appropriate where the viability appraisal has not taken the potential additional CIL liability into account?

The decision letter was plainly ready to be issued, why should it have been held back?

The appeal had been lodged in relation to an application submitted by Westferry Developments Limited (the owner of the site is Northern & Shell, the development manager is Mace) on 24 July 2018. The appeal was recovered for the Secretary of State’s own determination on 10 April 2019. Tower Hamlets asked for more time to formulate their position in relation to the proposals but this was refused by the Secretary of State, as recorded in a report to a meeting of Tower Hamlets’ strategic development committee on 14 May 2019:

This report is seeking the authority of the committee for officers to defend an appeal which has been submitted to the Secretary of State by the developer. The Secretary of State has imposed a timetable which requires that this report is considered by the Committee on 14th May 2019 in time for the council to submit a Statement of Case by 22nd May 2019 in order to avoid breaching the imposed timetable and making the authority liable for costs for unreasonable behaviour. As the report had not been written when the timetable was imposed, the Council asked Secretary of State to review the timetable and he has declined. These are the special circumstances justifying the urgency.”

The previous Mayor of London (whatever happened to him?) had intervened and granted planning permission for an earlier scheme for the site in 2016 for “comprehensive mixed use redevelopment of 118,738 m2 including buildings ranging from 2-30 storeys (tallest 110 m AOD) comprising: a secondary school, 722 residential units, retail use, restaurant and cafe and drinking establishment uses, office and financial and professional services uses, community uses, car and cycle basement parking, associated landscaping and new public realm“. That planning permission has been implemented by the demolition of the printworks and works to construct a new basement.

The latest application had been on the basis of an offer of 35% affordable housing, although not policy compliant due to the proposed tenure mix, justified by reference to viability appraisal. When the appeal was submitted, unsurprisingly, given that on appeal the decision maker would expect an updated viability appraisal, that offer was withdrawn and at the time of the 14 May 2019 committee meeting there was just an indication that a revised viability assessment would be submitted and that the revised offer would be less than 35%.

The committee resolved that the proposals would have been refused on the following grounds:

⁃ Townscape and visual impact

⁃ Wind Impact on the Docklands Sailing Centre

⁃ Affordable housing – amount

⁃ Housing mix and choice

The inquiry started on 7 August 2019. This was an important appeal for the council, as can be seen from this July 2019 Facebook post from a councillor, encouraging opposition to the proposals:

In the evidence for the inquiry, the affordable housing offer had been reduced to 21% on the basis of an updated viability assessment.

In this summary that follows I am plagiarising some of an internal note prepared by my Town partner Louise Samuel (into which I may now introduce errors, all mine):

• The inspector accepted that the existing permission should be treated as a fallback, which formed an appropriate basis for assessing an alternative use value for the purposes of arriving at a benchmark land value.

• However, the inspector did not agree with how the appellant had calculated the benchmark land value (see IR 507 on for BLV discussion) and considered that the 21% offer was unlikely to be the maximum reasonable provision for the site. He did not, however, set what the maximum reasonable provision would be.

• Whilst Tower Hamlets criticised the appellant for resiling from its previous 35% offer, the Inspector notes that it was clear that the appellant was responding to the Mayor’s fast-track approach (which requires at least 35%) and so took a commercial view despite the fact that it was not supported by the viability assessment at the time. He concluded that this was not, in itself, a reason to reduce the weight to be attached to the Assessment before him (see para 530 of the IR).

• The Inspector’s view was that the consented scheme provided many of the same benefits but without causing the same harm to heritage assets. Because of the consented fallback, the only benefits that carried weight were those in addition to the consented position.

• The Secretary of State agreed that it is likely that the scheme could provide more affordable housing (“21% does not…represent the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing”) but still considered that the additional benefits (compared to the consented fallback scheme) of: (a) housing (802 more units of which 142 would be affordable, with a policy compliant tenure split of 70% affordable rent 30% intermediate); and (b) employment during construction, were enough to grant permission. The Secretary of State gave these benefits significant weight whereas the Inspector had attached moderate weight to these benefits. The Secretary of State took into account that “there is no evidence before him of any other scheme which might come forward or what level of affordable housing might be delivered by any such scheme”.

• The Secretary of State considered these benefits to be enough to outweigh harm to important heritage assets (Grade I Old Royal Naval College; Grade I Tower Bridge; and the Greenwich World Heritage Site).

• The section 106 agreement included both an early and late stage viability review, which means that the percentage of affordable housing may increase, albeit the Inspector criticised the limited effectiveness of these.

An interesting decision in that we would need to go back almost two years to find another recovered appeal for housing development which the Secretary of State has allowed in London. Contrast for instance with the 19 July 2019 Chiswick Curve decision letter, appeal dismissed by the Secretary of State against his inspector’s recommendations, where he gave only moderate weight to the provision of 327 dwellings, whereas the Inspector had given significant weight to the housing offer (the decision has been challenged by the appellant – Louise and colleagues acting), and contrast with for instance the 1 Cambridge Heath Road 10 June 2019 decision letter, again an appeal dismissed against his inspector’s recommendations.

Much to chew over for those promoting, or otherwise engaged with, major projects in London.

Simon Ricketts, 18 January 2020

Personal views, et cetera

 

Image courtesy of Westferry Printworks website

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards: Wealden, South Oxfordshire & Eastleigh Local Plans

It feels like I only go backwards, baby

Every part of me says, “Go ahead”

I got my hopes up again, oh no, not again

Feels like we only go backwards, darling

The seed of all this indecision isn’t me, oh no

‘Cause I decided long ago

But that’s the way it seems to go

When trying so hard to get to something real, it feels

(Tame Impala)

An Australian band singing about English local plans?

Wealden local plan

First the Sevenoaks plan was knocked back on failure of the duty to cooperate (see my 26 October 2019 blog post More Plans Grounded: West Of England; Sevenoaks; London), now Wealden.

As always, it is interesting to start with the “taking the moral high ground” toned press statement.

Throughout the Local Plan process, we have always tried to find the right balance between the need for growth in housing and employment land, and the need to protect our unique environment,” said Councillor Bob Standley, Leader of Wealden District Council.

“Our approach to protect the environment has been supported by our Councillors and many of our residents.

“Unfortunately, the Planning Inspector, following last summer’s Examination in Public of our Local Plan, has found that we put too great an emphasis on protecting the environment and that we need to do more to build houses in Wealden which our neighbouring councils cannot accommodate.

“Regrettably, this will inevitably have impacts on our communities. We acknowledge that there is already significant pressure on infrastructure; such as roads, doctors, dentists, schools and sports facilities. A requirement to build more homes will only have a greater impact on those facilities, which will require further investment.”

(Wealden District Council’s 6 January 2020 press release).

It is interesting then to turn to the forensic dissection of the council’s approach, its multiple failings laid bare in the inspector’s 20 December 2019 letter.

I wrote about Wealden’s previous run-ins with Natural England, adjoining authorities and the courts, all basically about the extent that the council is entitled to rely on environmental concerns to reduce housing numbers within its district, in my 8 April 2017 blog post Heffalump Traps: The Ashdown Forest Cases.

South Oxfordshire local plan

My 12 October 2019 blog post SOx On The Run explained the background to the Government’s intervention to prevent the new Lib Dem administration at South Oxfordshire from withdrawing the plan which the previous Conservative administration had submitted for examination.

Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has now written on 6 January 2020 to the council indicating that he is considering whether to use powers to ask Oxfordshire County Council to prepare the Plan.

In this context, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to outline by 31st January 2020, if there are any exceptional circumstances as to why you do not have a plan in place that I should take into account when I make a decision on next steps.”

Eastleigh local plan

Eastleigh Borough Council is in the middle of an examination of its submitted local plan. It has not been uncontroversial locally:

Hundreds of campaigners, along with local TV crews, converged on the Botleigh Grange Hotel yesterday morning as Action Against Destructive Development (ADD) staged a demonstration on the second day of the public examination of Eastleigh’s Council’s Local Plan.

Organisers estimated 400 hundred people had braved the rain to attend the early morning “show of strength” as residents from Eastleigh’s Northern and Winchester’s Southern parishes united in opposition to council plans to build thousands of new homes and a motorway link road in countryside just North of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak.  It was reported that so many people had turned up, some were forced to park at the Ageas bowl two miles away.”

(from Hundreds protest at Local Plan hearing Eastleigh News, 23 November 2019).

31 year old career politician Paul Holmes was elected to represent the Eastleigh constituency in the December 2019 general election, replacing fellow Conservative Mims Davies, who is now MP for mid-Sussex. Ms Davies was a long-time opponent of the (Lib Dem) council’s plans – indeed oddly (and surely contrary to convention) there are still campaigning pieces by her about Eastleigh on her official website despite now representing another constituency:

Our community must be heard. Real democracy is missing across Eastleigh in the local planning process. Our beautiful green spaces are under direct threat from the plans of the Council. We need to use brownfield land first. That is why I joined with community groups to make a strong submission to the Eastleigh Local Plan process. The Council should serve Eastleigh residents and not developers.”

Mr Holmes has picked up the reins from Ms Davies with some verve…

Indeed he asked a question about the local plan at Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 January 2020:

My right hon. Friend has always been a vocal advocate of localism, so what advice can he give to my constituents who are concerned about the local Lib Dem council’s unwanted housing plan in Eastleigh, which would lead to even more overdevelopment without securing the vital infrastructure that Eastleigh needs?

The Prime Minister’s response:

I am not surprised by what my hon. Friend says about the cavalier behaviour of the Lib Dem council in Eastleigh. We will ensure that, in so far as we need to build many more homes, which we do, we will supply the infrastructure necessary and do it on brownfield sites.”

(Sigh, that brownfield sites reference. That’s what they all say, isn’t it? What did Mr Holmes do on the very first day in his new job? He objected to proposed development on just one such brownfield site, the GE Aviation site in Hamble Lane, and the application was duly refused by members in spite of officers’ recommendation to approve).

I wrote about other examples of MPs intervening in local plan processes in my 13 July 2019 blog post Less Than Best Laid Plans: Political Pragmatism.

Let’s leave local plan examinations to the examiners!

Simon Ricketts, 11 January 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Image from Tame Impala video for Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.