Art 4 Life

Article 4 directions are a small but essential cog in the complicated machine that is the English planning system. With the more widespread reliance by Government on permitted development rights, it falls to local planning authorities to make article 4 directions to disapply, where appropriate, those rights in relation to specific types of developments and/or in specific areas.

From 1 August 2021, we are potentially approaching a breakdown in this machine in the face of the proposed class E to class C3 permitted development right which I wrote about in my 4 December 2020 blog post E = C3.

But first a few basic points to note about the way these cogs work:

1. Article 4 directions do not have to be approved by the Secretary of State but he can intervene where he considers that a direction is inappropriate.

2. Unless an article 4 direction takes effect at least a year after it was first publicised, in certain circumstances the authority can be liable to claims for compensation where someone can show they incurred abortive expenditure or otherwise suffered loss or damage as a result of the direction.

3. For permitted development rights where prior approval of certain matters is required before the right can be relied upon, the prior approval needs to be secured before the direction takes effect and needs to be completed within three years of prior approval.

The role of article 4 directions has increased with the gradual spread of “resi conversion” permitted development rights since 2013.

The office to residential permitted development right was first introduced in May 2013. At that time the legislation included a specific list of “excepted areas” within which the right did not apply, for instance London’s central activities zone. The Government was not adverse to threatening intervention where authorities sought to introduce blanket article 4 directions in relation to other areas, for instance its well publicised spat at the time with the London Borough of Islington.

In 2016 the right was made permanent. The list of excepted areas was scrapped but only as from 30 May 2019 so as to give affected authorities time to put article 4 directions in place as appropriate (see Lichfields’ 14 March 2016 blog post Office to Residential Permitted Development Right Made Permanent.

There is now indeed a patchwork of article 4 directions across the country, disapplying “resi conversion” permitted development rights in relation to many areas of the country. Focusing on central London, here is how the “offices to resi” rights is disapplied in RBKC and in Westminster for instance.

When Class E was introduced from 1 September 2020 (see my 24 July 2020 blog post E Is For Economy for more detail) existing permitted development rights were kept in place until 31 July 2021 (applying to what the uses would have been categorised as prior to the creation of Class E) so as to give the Government time to introduce new permitted development rights that apply to Class E.

The consultation period on the proposed new development rights closed on 28 January 2021 and the Government has come under fire from many quarters for the intended breadth of the new rights (for instance, here is the British Property Federation’s response). The statutory instrument to introduce the new rights (and in part replace the old rights, which will expire) has not seen the light of day and we are now around six months away from what might be termed PD-Day, 1 August 2021.

Some big questions arise and discussions within Town with Duncan Field and other partners and colleagues have been really useful. I’m not going to give away for free our entire Town “house view” but I’m just going to state the obvious:

⁃ the existing permitted development rights that attached to uses now within Class E will fall away after 31 July 2021, the end of the “material period” in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020, unless secondary legislation extends the material period for those purposes, as a stop gap.

⁃ it is questionable whether existing article 4 directions would restrict the operation of any new permitted development rights that are introduced, even where the change is still, say, offices to residential (and some changes that, according to the Government’s consultation proposals, will now be possible are entirely new, e.g. restaurant, indoor sports hall or creche to residential).

⁃ As a matter of principle an article 4 direction cannot be made in relation to a future permitted development right, so authorities’ hands are tied until the statutory instrument containing the new rights is actually made.

⁃ plainly there is no time for authorities to give a year’s advance notice in relation to any new article 4 direction that is to take effect from 1 August 2021, so any more immediate restrictions would expose authorities to the risk of compensation claims (unless there is some specific transitional arrangement in the new rights, for instance if the new rights would permit development that before 1 August 2021 have been restricted by an article 4 direction, but that will not be straight-forward at all).

It is interesting that when the “excepted areas” system was abolished in 2016 authorities were given sufficient time to put article 4 directions in place. In the rush this time round, either this issue has been overlooked or the Government is seeking to sidestep the article 4 direction process and create some kind of gold rush for prior approvals before directions can be introduced and take effect. After all its antipathy towards article 4 directions in the “resi conversions” area, save where exceptionally justified, is plain from its recent consultation on proposed changes to the NPPF:

Article 4 directions

“We also propose clarifying our policy that Article 4 directions should be restricted to the smallest geographical area possible. Together these amendments would encourage the appropriate and proportionate use of Article 4 directions.”

“The use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights should

• where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts

• [or as an alternative to the above – where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance]

• where they do not relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area (this could include the use of Article 4 directions to require planning permission for the demolition of local facilities)

• in all cases apply to the smallest geographical area possible.”

The flexibility introduced by permitted development rights is necessary and welcome but let’s not focus on that lever without making sure that there isn’t going to be an almighty crunch when it is pulled. What am I missing here folks?

Simon Ricketts, 27 February 2021

Personal views, et cetera

PS If you’re on Clubhouse, I’ll be joined by some other friendly planning solicitors, barristers and planners to talk about this and other topical planning law issues at 6pm on Tuesday 2 March, details here. Do join us!

Arc

Well here’s an interesting R number: regional planning for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

Last week MHCLG published Planning for sustainable growth in the Oxford- Cambridge Arc: An introduction to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework (18 February 2021). “Spatial framework” is a regional plan by any other name. The document is only a precursor to the plan itself. A (fast) timeline is set out, as follows:

The accompanying statement indicates that the Government’s ambition for the Arc is expressed in cautiously generic language:

“There is an opportunity, recognised by government and local partners, to build a better economic, social and environmental future for the area. With high-quality, well-connected and sustainable communities making the Arc an even more beautiful place to live, work and visit.”

“To achieve this ambition, the government alongside local partners, is going to:

• Develop a Spatial Framework for the Arc; a long-term regional plan to help coordinate the infrastructure, environment and new developments in the area. We are committed to working with local communities throughout so we can create beautiful and sustainable places for residents and workers to enjoy.

• Explore the creation of an Arc Growth Body; that would be a clear economic leadership voice for the Arc, championing its talent and assets internationally, supporting businesses, and fostering innovation.”

Government announcements these days invariably comprise a series of related statements and documents. So for completeness there was also a separate MHCLG press statement on the same day, Government plan to transform Oxford-Cambridge Arc into UK’s fastest growing economic region (18 February 2021)

The documents say this about the likely nature and governance of the Arc Growth Body and of its likely delivery structure:

To realise the full opportunities – and overcome the challenges – will require coordination of planning functions across the region. Local councils cannot do this on their own because of the level of coordination needed across the area, and because they do not have all the levers needed to develop a genuinely integrated plan. Government needs to play a supporting role to bring together a strategic approach at the Arc level to support better planning and ultimately better outcomes for the economy, environment and communities.”

“Over the next two and a half years, a specialist team in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will work with communities and local partners to develop a robust, evidence-based Spatial Framework. “

“The nature and content of the Spatial Framework will be subject to the outcome of both detailed consultation and sustainability appraisal.”

We will seek to implement the Spatial Framework as spatially specific national planning policy. Local planning authorities preparing local development documents (including local plans) will have to have regard to the Spatial Framework, as they do with other national policies and guidance.”

“We have […] made a commitment to examine the case for development corporations, linked to the new transport hubs around East West Rail stations.”

“Specifically, the Spatial Framework will:

• provide an assessment of existing employment land, planned growth and anticipated future need

• set policies to support local planning authorities in allocating these as Strategic Business Zones or Strategic Industrial Locations, as appropriate

• set policies to support different land uses for different sectors and sizes of business”

“The Spatial Framework will also outline policies to enable sustainable, transport-led development. This will include policies to enable:

• new settlements to come forward at the scale and speed needed

• new development to support habitat recovery, delivery of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, and provision of good-quality green space within schemes

brownfield redevelopment and densification, and expansion of existing settlements, in sustainable locations or locations that can be made more sustainable by enhanced access to sustainable transport modes

housing needs to be met in full, including delivery of much-needed affordable housing”

To put a little flesh on the bones, it’s worthwhile looking back what was said in its March 2020 budget policy paper:

The OxCam Arc

2.128 The government has designated the corridor of land connecting Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge (the OxCam Arc) as a key economic priority. Earlier this year, the government announced the East West Rail Company’s preferred route for the new line between Bedford and Cambridge. The government will also, subject to planning consents, build a new rail station at Cambridge South, improving connectivity to the world-leading research facilities of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – the largest cluster of medical and life sciences research in Europe.

2.129 The Budget announces plans to develop, with local partners, a long-term Spatial Framework to support strategic planning in the OxCam Arc. This will support the area’s future economic success and the delivery of the new homes required by this growth up to 2050 and beyond. The government is also going to examine and develop the case for up to four new Development Corporations in the OxCam Arc at Bedford, St Neots/Sandy, Cambourne and Cambridge, which includes plans to explore the case for a New Town at Cambridge, to accelerate new housing and infrastructure development.”

Indeed, earlier this month, MHCLG started a tender process for a “planning/engagement specialist to support the Government in developing an approach to engaging local audiences (both stakeholder groups and the public) throughout the process of developing up to four new or expanded settlements in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc (OxCam Arc) aligned with new stations along the East West Rail (EWR) Central Section. The specific locations under consideration are Bedford, St Neots/Tempsford, Cambourne and Cambridge.”

“3.5 The objectives of this commission are […] to:

3.5.1 develop an evidence-based engagement strategy for the programme that sets out the phases and methods of activity until delivery vehicles have been established at the chosen locations (~mid 2022);

3.5.2 clearly set out a route for the programme to meet any statutory requirements for consultation across the area and specifically each of the four potential development sites Bedford, St Neots/Tempsford, Cambourne and Cambridge; and

3.5.3 secure local buy-in for the strategy by working with local partners to build on established channels of engagement and recommending methods to engage hard to reach groups.”

[Statement of Requirements, 5 February 2021].

There are so many interesting elements to what is proposed:

⁃ The Government, through the Arc Growth Body, is going to prepare the framework itself and take it through to adoption. Who is going to lead the body and what will be its make-up?

⁃ It will have equivalent status to the NPPF in relation to plan making and decision making.

⁃ The Government has accepted that there will be stages of consultation and the sustainability appraisal (opening itself up to the rigours of the legal requirements in relation both to consultation and strategic environmental assessment) but it appears that there will be no independent examination of the draft framework.

⁃ Success is inevitably going to be dependent on securing a sufficient level of support or acceptance from local politicians and communities, meaning that it is important that the 2019 joint declaration holds firm, “entered into between the Government, local authorities across the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, the Arc’s four local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), and England’s Economic Heartland.

⁃ We can expect to see up to four development corporations.

⁃ the document references the Government’s Planning For The Future proposals and I am sure we will see the process used in part as a showcase as to its proposed approach to plan making, for instance:

“3.12 First, we will use data and digital technology to support our policy-making. We intend to support development of an open source, digital platform for data and evidence to support collaboration between government, businesses, local councils and communities in decision-making. We will work with local partners to create an accessible digital platform for economic, planning and environmental data, and easy-to-use tools so that people – including the public and businesses – can engage meaningfully in the process.

3.13 Second, it means using digital engagement processes to make it easy for people to raise their views about proposals in the spatial framework, including on smartphones.

3.14 Third, it means the spatial framework will be visual and map-based, standardised, and based on the latest digital technology, so that it is easy to access and understand.”

Neil Young and Crazy Horse once released a terrific, if noisy album: Arc-Weld. Civil servants’ welding skills will certainly be needed to build the structure so far outlined, at the pace identified.

Simon Ricketts, 20 February 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Local Zoomocracy

My team has proved capable of losing 9-0 in any conditions but, because it is another angle on what I was going to write this morning, I was still interested to see this piece yesterday: Premier League’s home edge has gone in pandemic era: The impact of fan-less games in England and Europe (ESPN, 12 February 2021).

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see some statistics on the impacts of virtual local authority meetings and PINS hearings and inquiries on decision making outcomes?

Would that Handforth Parish Council meeting have been any less chaotic if Aled’s iPad, guitars man or Handforth PC Clerk had all been sitting around the same table? A subsequent letter from Land Promoters and Developers Federation policy director John Acres in Planning magazine The Handforth debacle shows that local democracy is too often placed in the wrong hands (registration only) seeks to draw wider conclusions.

I mentioned in my 23 January 2021 blog post Temporary Covid Measures – Planning, Traffic, Local Government: There May Be Trouble Ahead that after 6 May 2021 local authorities may not be able to hold virtual meetings given the expiry on that date of temporary freedom provided by Regulation 5 of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 , pursuant to section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

In response to that blog post, Hugh Richards (No 5 Chambers) rightly, and probably rhetorically, asked whether local authorities need statutory authority to hold virtual meetings in any event. Well, I took it as a rhetorical question and didn’t reply at the time after I disappeared down a legal rabbit hole trying to arrive at an answer.

I’m pleased to see that the Lawyers in Local Government and Association of Democratic Services Officers are taking urgent steps to try to avoid what would be an unfortunate hiatus – they have obtained an opinion from James Strachan QC, a summary of which is reported as follows:

“(1) There are forceful arguments that can be made that the pre-existing legislation governing local authority meetings under Schedule 12 of the Local Government 1972 Act, and meetings of an executive or a committee of an executive under the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, enable local authorities to hold meetings remotely.

(2) For the present situation to continue after 7 May 2021 with the use of remote meetings, the optimum position would be for further legislation to be passed to make the position clear.

(3) In the absence of such legislation, one resolution would be to obtain a declaration from the courts to obtain clarity as to the legal position under the pre-existing legislation.

(4) The Secretary of State does have (a) power under section 16 of the 1999 Act to make an Order to modify or disapply those restrictions for best value authorities and (b) power under the 2000 Act to make regulations governing executive decision-making bodies to hold remote meetings.”

(LLG & ADSO Obtain Legal Opinion on Virtual Meeting Provisions, 5 February 2021).

The LLG and ADSO intend to seek a declaration from the High Court. Without such a declaration (or legislation) there is inevitably going to be a question-mark over the lawfulness of any local authority resolution passed on or after 7 May by way of a virtual meeting. This is a risk that most applicants would wish to avoid in relation to any contentious planning application.

6 May is of course an important date because local government elections will definitely be proceeding (as far as “definitely” is a word that any of us can still use). The Local Government Association has published much information and guidance relating to the May 2021 local government elections.

Ahead of those elections will be the usual period (previously known as the “purdah period”, now simply and dully, “pre-election period”) when there is heightened sensitivity over decision making. The period will start at the latest on 27 March (22 March for the London elections). Again, the Local Government Association has published detailed guidance.

The period is shorter when it comes to actions and decisions taken being by central Government. As set out in the Commons Library research briefing Pre-election period of sensitivity (23 November 2020), the relevant civil service guidance is as follows:

“The period of sensitivity for UK Government civil servants preceding scheduled local and mayoral elections each May is not fixed to any particular date, but the general convention is that particular care should be taken in the three weeks preceding the elections.”

Applying that ESPN Premier League analysis, it will be fascinating to see the influence of the current restrictions upon election outcomes. Fortunately I don’t have a team. Simon’s iPad will not be making its first appearance at my local parish council meeting this Spring.

Simon Ricketts, 13 February 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Tilt!

Tilt” in pinball is an example of a good rule: in order to discourage an unwanted outcome (cheating), transgression (sloping the table) leads to a predictable penalty (game over).

The purposes of the NPPF’s “tilted balance” (the phrase just being planners’ jargon) are to discourage local planning authorities from:

⁃ relying on out of date local plans

⁃ not maintaining (potentially with an additional buffer) at least five years’ housing land supply (now watered down to a minimum of three years’ housing supply if there is an up to date neighbourhood plan that allocates land for housing development) and

⁃ (since the introduction of the housing delivery test) not ensuring that a defined number of homes are delivered each year.

Where the tilted balance applies, it should in many circumstances be easier for developers to secure planning permission which is not in accordance with the relevant local plan and/or neighbourhood plan, in that paragraph 11 (d) of the NPPF provides as follows:

“(d) where there are no relevant development plan policies, or the policies which are most important for determining the application are out-of-date, granting permission unless:

i. the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed; or

ii. any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.

There is a footnote to “out-of-date”: “This includes, for applications involving the provision of housing, situations where the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites (with the appropriate buffer, as set out in paragraph 73); or where the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing was substantially below (less than 75% of) the housing requirement over the previous three years.

There is another crucial footnote, to (d)i: “The policies referred to are those in this Framework (rather than those in development plans) relating to: habitats sites (and those sites listed in paragraph 176) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park (or within the Broads Authority) or defined as Heritage Coast; irreplaceable habitats; designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest referred to in footnote 63); and areas at risk of flooding or coastal change.

Already, that description surely begins to raise obvious questions:

⁃ Is the rule sufficiently clear and understood, such that the risk of the penalty actually influences council members’ and officers’ decision making so as to discourage those unwanted outcomes: to encourage up to date plans, the maintenance of an adequate housing land supply, sufficient homes being built? If the public doesn’t understand it, it’s going to have no effect at the ballot box – so how do we expect it to influence councillors, for whom being seen to protect their local areas from change will usually be a more potent vote winner?

⁃ To what extent can the authority avoid those unwanted outcomes in any event, given for instance the slowness of the local plans system even for a authority wishing to make swift progress and given the reliance on the private sector not only to promote suitable sites but then proceed to build them out?

⁃ The footnote to (d)i reduces the impact of the rule in constrained areas which usually turn out to be those where the documented need for housing is greatest.

⁃ Should there be a different penalty other than to make it more likely that development will take place in a way which is unplanned for and often unpopular? What are the most direct “carrots and sticks” that could be deployed?

Four years ago this month my thoughts were wandering in these directions, while sitting in the Supreme Court in the Suffolk Coastal case, acting for Richborough Estates (thank you Paul Campbell and Chris Young). The case was a turning point in the consideration of how the tilted balance is intended to work. It relates to the original 2012 version of the NPPF but the principles still hold true. The judgment in Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes Limited, Richborough Estates Partnership LLP v Cheshire East Borough Council (Supreme Court, 10 May 2017) is a masterpiece in cutting through what had been a series of conflicting rulings by the lower courts as to how the tilted balance was to be interpreted in order to pull us all back to the basic principles. I tried to summarise them in a blog post at the time, but for instance:

⁃ Let’s not overstate the influence of the test: the NPPF is no more than “guidance” and is no more than a “material consideration” for the purposes of section 70(2) of the 1990 Act: “It cannot, and does not purport to, displace the primacy given by the statute and policy to the statutory development plan. It must be exercised consistently with, and not so as to displace or distort, the statutory scheme”. (Lord Carnwath, paragraph 21) (i.e. there’s a get-out so that a decision maker can determine that, notwithstanding the tilted balance, planning permission should not be granted).

⁃ Deprecation of the “over-legalisation of the planning process, as illustrated by the proliferation of case law on [the tilted balance]. This is particularly unfortunate for what was intended as a simplification of national policy guidance, designed for the lay-reader.” (Lord Carnwath, para 23) (i.e. the court will always be reluctant to interfere with the judgment arrived at by the decision maker).

⁃ As long as decision makers apply it lawfully (which means they first have to understand it – not easy!) the application of the tilted balance test engages matters of planning judgement, not legal interpretation. (i.e. legal challenges to the decision maker’s judgment, have to be based on unlawful or irrational reasoning on the part of the decision maker – never easy).

⁃ the basis for the test arises from the importance that the NPPF places on boosting the supply of housing. “The message to planning authorities is unmistakeable”. (Lord Gill, paragraph 77). He refers to “the futility of authorities’ relying in development plans on the allocation of sites that have no realistic prospect of being developed within the five year period”. (paragraph 78). (i.e. the test has a real world objective which we must not lose sight of – boosting the supply of housing).

⁃ “If a planning authority that was in default of the requirement of a five-years supply were to continue to apply its environmental and amenity policies with full rigour, the objective of the Framework could be frustrated”. (Lord Gill, paragraph 83). (i.e. the outcome of the test may well be that planning permissions are granted notwithstanding an authority’s policies – that’s the whole point of it).

The cases have kept coming. Already, in 2021, there have been no fewer than three rulings from the Court of Appeal – on a test in a non statutory policy document – this is surely ridiculous. Does this arise from its unnecessary complexity and “angels dancing on the head of a pin” abstractions, or from the way that in practice the so-called tilted balance hardly seems to provide any tilt at all, even in areas with a severe under-supply of housing, perhaps contrary to the original objective?

Three 2021 Court of Appeal cases:

Gladman Developments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 3 February 2021)

The case raised “two main issues: first, whether a decision-maker, when applying the “tilted balance” under paragraph 11d)ii, is required not to take into account relevant policies of the development plan; and second, as a connected issue, whether it is necessary for the “tilted balance” and the duty in section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to be performed as separate and sequential steps in a two-stage approach. There is a further issue: whether the “tilted balance” under paragraph 11d)ii excludes the exercise indicated in paragraph 213 of the NPPF, which requires that policies in plans adopted before its publication should be given due weight, “according to their degree of consistency with [it]“.

Answers from the court: no, no and (on the further issue) no.

R (Monkhill Limited) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal), 27 January 2021)

The case raised “one principal issue […]: whether the inspector was wrong to interpret the first sentence of paragraph 172 of the NPPF, which says “great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty” in an AONB, as a policy whose application is capable of providing “a clear reason for refusing” planning permission under paragraph 11d)i of the NPPF.

Answer from the court: no.

Paul Newman New Homes Ltd v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 12 January 2021)

Ever since a NPPF was first introduced in March 2012, the interpretation of its provisions has provided a fertile hunting ground for planning lawyers. The 2018 version was intended to produce greater clarity and simplicity, but unfortunately it has not been entirely successful. The effect of the appellant’s argument was that if there is only one relevant policy in the local plan, the developer gets the benefit of the tilted balance (absent the operation of one of the exceptions). Mr Lockhart-Mummery eschewed any suggestion that this was a “numbers game” but he also very fairly accepted that it is virtually unknown for a single policy in a local plan to embrace all the material considerations that would suffice to enable a decision-maker to determine a planning application, especially if that application is to build houses.”

Answer from the court: no. (“… at the end of the day there is nothing inherently unfair to an applicant or contrary to the overall scheme of the NPPF or the 2004 Act, both of which afford primacy to the local plan, about the balancing exercise being carried out under section 38(6) in circumstances where an experienced Planning Inspector has found that there is a policy in the development plan that is relevant, important and up-to-date. For those reasons I would uphold the interpretation of Paragraph 11d) adopted by the Judge and applied by the Inspector).”

Housing delivery test:

The Government has now published the results of its 2020 housing delivery test measurement (19 January 2021). The figures are important, because if the housing delivery test indicates that the delivery of housing was less than 85% of the housing supply requirement over the last three years, a buffer of 20% has to be added to that requirement. If delivery was less than 75% of the housing requirement over the previous three years, that is a trigger for the application of the tilted balance.

As an adjustment to recognise at least to some extent to effects of Covid this past year, authorities’ requirements this year were reduced by a month.

This year there are (by my count) 55 authorities for whom the tilted balance applies following these latest measurements.

Has that featured in the relevant local press? What are authorities doing about it? I would be pleased to hear.

And what of the obvious flaw, highlighted by Zack Simons in his 21 January 2021 blog post Elephants in the Room: Green Belts vs. the Housing Delivery Test – the obvious correlation between green belt authorities and those that are failing the delivery test?

I just wonder whether it might not be better to sweep all of this complexity away and replace it with a policy that provides for an enhanced presumption in favour of development if relevant housing land supply figures are not met: the higher the shortfall, the more weighty the presumption? Leave the detail to decision makers, including to inspectors on appeal – attempts at greater prescription are doomed to fail and are not understood by the public.

There should also be additional consequences for authorities that fail to meet these targets, and their councillors – but also a new transparency on the part of the Government as to (1) the basis for its national target and (2) the need for frank annual reporting to Parliament as to its performance as against that target.

To encourage desirable outcomes, we need rules that everyone understands. Plan positively = great places. A failure to plan positively = intervention, remedial steps.

But enough of this quixotic tilting.

Simon Ricketts, 6 February 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Beautiful Day

I threw those curtains wide, drinking in the morning emails and there it was: MHCLG press release 30 January 2021, All new developments must meet local standards of beauty, quality and design under new rules.

Consultation is now running until 27 March 2021 on:

National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code: consultation proposals

National Planning Policy Framework Draft text for consultation

Draft national design code

Guidance notes on design codes

The proposals seek to give effect to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission’s recommendations that I summarised in my 1 February 2020 blog post Beauty Duty.

“The National Model Design Code is intended to form part of the government’s planning practice guidance. It is not a statement of national policy. However, once finalised, the government recommends that the advice on how to prepare design codes and guides is followed.”

I will leave others to comment on the draft national design code and the proposed “beauty” related changes to the NPPF (the consultation proposals identify the changes and the draft revised text is helpfully marked-up to show all the textual changes).

However, you should note that the draft NPPF changes go wider:

“We have also taken this opportunity to make a number of environment-related changes, including amendments on flood risk and climate change. The amendments also include a small number of very minor changes arising from legal cases, primarily to clarify the policy. A few minor factual changes have also been made to remove out-of-date text (for example, the early thresholds for the Housing Delivery Test), to reflect a recent change made by Written Ministerial Statement about retaining and explaining statues, and an update on the use of Article 4 directions.

As summarised in the consultation proposal, the draft revised text:

Implements policy changes in response to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission recommendations

• Makes a number of changes to strengthen environmental policies – including those arising from our review of flood risk with Defra

• Includes minor changes to clarify policy in order to address legal issues

• Includes changes to remove or amend out of date material

• Includes an update to reflect a recent change made in a Written Ministerial Statement about retaining and explaining statues.

• Clarification on the use of Article 4 directions

Some points that immediately leapt out (this is not a comprehensive list):

Overarching objectives of the planning system

Paragraph 8 of the NPPF has been amended to refer to refer to “beautiful, well-designed and safe places” (previously “a well-designed and safe built environment”).

The presumption in favour of sustainable development

Paragraph 11 (a) has been amended to read:

“all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”.

(The previous wording was “plans should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area, and be sufficiently flexible to adapt to rapid change”).

Article 4 directions

“We also propose clarifying our policy that Article 4 directions should be restricted to the smallest geographical area possible. Together these amendments would encourage the appropriate and proportionate use of Article 4 directions.”

This is really interesting, particularly in the context of the proposed class E to C3 permitted development right. The proposed wording is pretty tight:

The use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights should

• where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts

• [or as an alternative to the above – where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance]

• where they do not relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area (this could include the use of Article 4 directions to require planning permission for the demolition of local facilities)

• in all cases apply to the smallest geographical area possible.”

Larger scale residential proposals

There is an amendment to paragraph 73 to require that these should include “a genuine choice of transport modes”.

Isolated homes in the countryside

The design should now be “outstanding”. The “or innovative” is gone.

Affordable home ownership

“Paragraph 64 has been amended to clarify that, where major development involving the provision of housing is proposed, planning policies and decisions should expect at least 10% of the total number of homes to be available for affordable home ownership. This is to address confusion as to whether the 10% requirement applies to all units or the affordable housing contribution.”

Neighbourhood plan allocations

Paragraph 69 has been amended to remove any suggestion that neighbourhood plans can only allocate small or medium sites. This was not the policy intention, so the wording has therefore been amended to clarify that neighbourhood planning groups should also give particular consideration to the opportunities for allocating small and medium-sized sites (of a size consistent with paragraph 68a) suitable for housing in their area.

Trees

A new paragraph 130:

“Trees make an important contribution to the character and quality of urban environments, and can also help mitigate and adapt to climate change. Planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined [Unless, in specific cases, there are clear, justifiable and compelling reasons why this would be inappropriate], that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments (such as community orchards), that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long- term maintenance of newly-planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible. Applicants and local planning authorities should work with local highways officers and tree officers to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places, and solutions are found that are compatible with highways standards and the needs of different users.”

The “well-designed” test

Paragraph 133:

“133. Development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and codes. Conversely, significant weight should be given to:

a) development which reflects local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and codes; and/or

b) outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability,, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings.”

Development affecting the setting of national parks and AONBs

“New paragraph 174 has been amended in response to the Glover Review of protected landscapes, to clarify that the scale and extent of development within the settings of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be sensitively located and designed so as to avoid adverse impacts on the designated landscapes.”

Historic statues, plaques and memorials

(which was going to be the subject of this week’s blog post until the curtains/drinking in the emails moment)

“New paragraph 196 has been added to clarify that authorities should have regard to the need to retain historic statues, plaques or memorials, with a focus on explaining their historic and social context rather than removal, where appropriate.”

This of course supplements Robert Jenrick’s statement to the House of Commons (18 January 2021) and MHCLG’s 17 January 2021 press statement, New legal protection for England’s heritage.

As a draft for consultation in my view the consultation material so far has only limited weight for decision makers and, as is usually and appropriately the case, the final documents may be subject to change. However, there is much for us all to get to grips with – and comments on the national design code are for another day.

Simon Ricketts, 30 January 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Temporary Covid Measures – Planning, Traffic, Local Government: There May Be Trouble Ahead

So friends, here we are, still in the most tedious sequel in the whole franchise: Lockdown 3. Of course, the vaccines will be the eventual way out 💪 this year but can anyone predict how many more months will go by before, in England, we are free from some level of restrictions on our ability to go about our lives?

The planning system has kept going through all of the restrictions of the last ten months, thanks to the determination of local authority staff and councillors, thanks to technology and thanks to the Government in providing for a number of temporary procedural relaxations last Spring. The relaxations were summarised in my 16 May 2020 blog post Stay Alert! A Quick Guide To All Those MHCLG Announcements.

However, there is no reason to be complacent:

⁃ Some temporary measures are due to expire and there is no certainty that they will be extended.

⁃ Covid does not give carte blanche to local authorities to cut corners in their approach to decision making – I deal below with last week’s High Court ruling in relation to Transport for London’s Streetspace plan.

⁃ If initially temporary measures are to be made permanent (rather than just extended to see us through this current saga), that should surely be after careful review and reflection.

I’m going to deal with that last point first. On 16 December 2020 and without prior consultation the Government laid two statutory instruments (Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and Infrastructure Planning (Publication and Notification of Applications etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2020) before Parliament, the effect of which was to make permanent the ability for plan makers and promoters to dispense with making copies of documents physically available for inspection, instead providing them on a website to which consultees are directed, in relation to strategic environmental assessment (i.e. , basically, sustainability appraisals in relation to plans) and in relation to nationally significant infrastructure projects.

As summarised in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the first set of Regulations:

“In addition to publishing documents on a public website, responsible authorities (or the Secretary of State, as the case may be) will now be required to: make available a telephone number for the public to raise enquiries in relation to any documentation published; provide by mail hard copies of any documentation upon request, subject to a reasonable charge and provided it is reasonably practicable to do so given precautions and other measures relating to coronavirus; and provide copies of any documentation by email upon request. Guidance will set out that authorities may also offer electronic copies of documents available on USB flash drive to those with access to a computer but without access to the internet, and that they may wish to consider waiving any charge for hard copies of documents to members of the public who are unable to access the documentation electronically or find it difficult to do so.”

Making these changes permanent without consultation was strongly criticised by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its 21 January 2021 report. This is the summary at the beginning of the report:

“These two instruments remove permanently publication and publicity requirements for certain planning matters that were suspended temporarily last year to assist authorities in taking forward relevant plans, programmes and projects during the pandemic. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) says that it is not aware of any concerns about the changes and that the move to more digital processes has been broadly welcomed, though support for the changes seems to have come largely from those involved professionally in the planning process.

We regret that there was no formal public consultation, as the changes have the potential to reduce physical access to information and the ability to make representations for the general public and in particular for vulnerable or disadvantaged groups or those with poor or no internet connection, in relation to important infrastructure, housing or other projects that may impact on them. The House may wish to ask the Government to update Parliament on the impact of the changes. The possibility that requesting hard copies of potentially complex planning documents may incur an undefined ‘reasonable charge’ also gives cause for concern. Taken as a whole, these proposals seem likely to increase rather than narrow any gap between the planners and the people whose lives may be affected. We also regret that MHCLG has again used secondary legislation to make significant, permanent changes to planning legislation during the pandemic.”

In the body of the report:

“Asked why the instruments had not been extended, as other measures dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, MHCLG told us that, in addition to moving towards a digital planning system, making the changes permanent:

“avoided some uncertainty about whether it would be possible to make Regulations providing for a further extension of all of these measures in a timely way in due course. This is because the measures are made in part under the powers set out in section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 and these powers were only available until the end of the EU Exit Implementation Period (11pm on 31 December 2020)”.

We are not convinced by MHCLG’s explanation. The instruments were laid and came into force before the expiry of relevant powers at the end of the Transition Period, suggesting that MHCLG could have chosen to legislate for a further extension, rather than making the changes permanent. The House may wish to press the Minister for further explanation of the Government’s approach.”

Whilst these specific, initially temporary, publicity relaxations have been made permanent, the wider temporary changes to publicity requirements for planning applications introduced through the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure, Listed Buildings and Environmental Impact Assessment) (England) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning, Development Management, Listed Buildings etc) (England) Regulations 2020 are still due to expire on 30 June 2021 unless extended.

No doubt there will be an extension if it is needed (and let us hope that it isn’t). What is much more worrying is the imminent expiry on 6 May 2021 of the power for local authorities to hold virtual meetings, provided by Regulation 5 of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 . The concern is that the basis for this temporary relaxation in local government law is Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. Sub-section (3) provides:

The regulations may make provision only in relation to local authority meetings required to be held, or held, before 7 May 2021.

MHCLG’s current view is apparently that power to hold virtual meetings cannot be extended without primary legislation to amend section 78 and this may not be possible – see ‘Councillors could be disenfranchised without remote meetings’ (Local Government Chronicle, 21 January 2021).

This could be a real problem and needs to be grappled with now. I would be very pleasantly surprised if normal life has resumed by 6 May to such an extent that everyone is available to attend planning committee and other meetings in the same way as before the pandemic. Let’s be clear, without virtual planning committee meetings, the planning system (at least on any democratic basis, as opposed to wholesale reliance on officers’ delegated powers) would have shut down for the last ten months.

Finally, on the subject of temporary powers and measures:

⁃ the emergency permitted development right for the NHS and local authorities to provide additional temporary health and local authority facilities introduced by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Coronavirus) (England) (Amendment) Order 2020 has been extended to 31 December 2021.

⁃ the additional allowance for temporary use of land expires on 31 December 2021 and the right for a local authority to hold a market for an unlimited number of days expires on 23 March 2022, both introduced by the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 and then extended by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

⁃ I am not aware of any proposal for any extension of the duration of certain planning permissions and consents beyond that provided for in the Business and Planning Act 2020.

Surely it’s going to take some time and evidence-gathering to work out what the benefits of each of these measures have been, what problems may have arisen and which processes and rights (if any) should now be permanently adopted. For instance, for my part, I see great advantages to the inclusivity that has come with virtual planning committee meetings and indeed appeal inquiries and hearings and I hope that we do not return entirely to old ways. However, we should not be bumped into permanent change without that process of reflection.

The judgment deserves a blog post of its own, but the dangers that arise where decisions are made under the justification of Covid but which have more widespread effects which may not have been properly considered are illustrated starkly by the Streetspace case, R (United Trade Action Group & others) v Transport for London (Lang J, 20 January 2021)

This was a challenge by London taxi drivers to the London Streetspace Plan, the related Interim Guidance to Boroughs and the A10 GLA Roads (Norton Folgate, Bishopsgate and Gracechurch Street, City of London (Temporary Banned Turns and Prohibition of Traffic and Stopping) Order 2020.

As summarised by Lang J:

“The Mayor issued the Plan on 6 May 2020, in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. The Guidance was published by TfL on 15 May 2020. Broadly, the aim of the Plan and the Guidance is to facilitate walking and cycling by providing more dedicated road space for pedestrians and cyclists, and “suppressing” motor vehicle traffic, other than buses.”

“The A10 Order is a traffic management order (“TMO”) made by TfL on 16 July 2020, under section 14(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (the “RTRA 1984”). It is a temporary measure, due to expire by 15 January 2022 at the latest. It imposes extensive restrictions on motor vehicles, other than buses, along the A10 at Bishopsgate and Gracechurch Street in the City of London, from 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays. There are limited exemptions, but not for taxis.”

The judgment contains a detailed account of the effects of Covid lockdown measures on traffic in the City of London and the traffic measures introduced by the Mayor during the period. The contentious nature of decisions which balance priorities as between the use of streets by through traffic and by communities has been one of the political themes of the pandemic, particularly in London. This judgment is going to be carefully scrutinised by all sides in that particular debate. This is an interesting OnLondon piece about the ruling and its implications, High Court ruling means major rethink for Mayor’s ‘seriously flawed’ Streetspace scheme (OnLondon, 21 January 2021) but here are Lang J’s conclusions:

“278. Ground 1: in making and promulgating the Plan and Guidance, the Mayor and TfL failed to distinguish taxis from “general traffic”. In doing so, they failed to have regard to relevant considerations, namely:

a) the distinct status of taxis as a form of public transport, reflected both in law and policy;

b) the role played by taxis in facilitating accessible public transport for those with mobility impairments.

However, Ground 1 did not succeed in respect of the A10 Order.

279. Ground 2: In making the Plan and Guidance and the A10 Order, TfL and the Mayor failed to have proper regard to the public sector equality duty, pursuant to section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010.

280. Ground 3: The economic benefits which taxi drivers derive from their statutory licences, which entitle them to ply for hire throughout London, are a “possession” within the meaning of A1P1 ECHR [article 1 protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights], and so A1P1 is engaged. However, because of the way in which this challenge was formulated, and insufficient evidence, the Claimants failed to establish an interference with their possessions by control of use.

281. Ground 4: The Plan and Guidance and the A10 Order breached the Claimants’ legitimate expectation to pass and repass on London’s roads, and to use lanes reserved for buses.

282. Ground 5: The treatment of taxis in the Plan and Guidance and the A10 Order was irrational.

283. In my judgment, quashing orders rather than declarations are appropriate because of the nature and extent of the unlawfulness which I have identified, which affects not only taxi drivers, but also their passengers. The Plan, the Guidance and the A10 Order all need to be re-considered by the Defendants and substantially amended in the light of my judgment. To reduce disruption, the Defendants can turn their minds to this task now, on a provisional basis, as there will be a stay and a delay whilst they pursue their appeal. If the appeal is unsuccessful, they can apply for further time (if required) to finalise the proposed revised Plan, Guidance and Order before the quashing orders take effect.”

So, watch this (street)space.

In the meantime, another date that is of course looming is 6 May 2021, local government elections. The Government is not presently intending to delay them again. That was particularly clear from MHCLG minister Luke Hall’s 19 January 2021 letter to Croydon Council (again for an explainer about this – campaigners had been pushing the council for a referendum into whether there should be a directly-elected Mayor for Croydon, which the council had been seeking to delay on Covid grounds – see the OnLondon 19 January 2021 piece Croydon: Government tells council it should hold governance referendum on 6 May (OnLondon, 19 January 2021).

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if things were indeed sufficiently normalised by 6 May 2021?! (But, in small font, what if they are not?).

Simon Ricketts, 23 January 2021

Personal views, et cetera

courtesy TfL

Court Costs, Inquiry Costs

Jessie J is no judge and when it comes to litigation costs “forget about the price tag” is poor advice.

Aarhus cost caps

I last blogged about Aarhus Convention cost capping in my 22 June blog post No Time To Be 21: Where Are We With Aarhus Costs Protection? The detail is in that blog post but basically the regime allows a potential claimant in many planning and environmental cases to cap exposure to the other’s side’s costs (if the claim fails) to (subject to case by case variations) £5,000 for an individual and otherwise £10,000. As a quid pro quo, if the claimant succeeds, the claimant can only recover (subject to case by case variations) £35,000 from the other side towards its costs.

A big question, unanswered until this month, was whether these amounts are inclusive or exclusive of VAT. This only matters if the party seeking to recover the costs is not VAT-registered and cannot recover its VAT. But it matters a lot to most individuals and campaign groups.

The issue was decided following written submissions in R (Friends of the Earth) v Secretary of State for Transport (Court of Appeal, 13 January 2021). The background doesn’t matter much but is odd – Friends of the Earth were one of the parties in the Heathrow cases that won in the Court of Appeal against the Secretary of State for Transport, but the case only proceeded to the Supreme Court because interested party Heathrow Airport Limited appealed. Despite the Court of Appeal’s ruling being overturned, Secretary of State for Transport remained on the hook for Friends of the Earth’s costs from the Court of Appeal and, before then, the Divisional Court.

The relevant Aarhus Convention based costs order that had previously been made by the Court of Appeal in the main proceedings was:

The Defendant is to pay the costs of the Claimant in the Divisional Court and in this Court, subject to detailed assessment and a cap of £35,000 in respect of the costs in the Divisional Court, and a cap of £35,000 in respect of the costs in this Court.”

Friends of the Earth submitted that this meant they were due a contribution of £70,000 towards their costs, as well as the VAT element, i.e. £84,000. (Incidentally this is the express statutory position in Northern Ireland – in England and Wales the Civil Procedure Rules are silent on the issue). The Secretary of State submitted that the cap was inclusive of any VAT element.

The Court of Appeal sided with the Secretary of State for four reasons:

“First, that is the natural meaning of the words used in those provisions. The figures are set out as absolute amounts, without qualification.

Secondly, this construction is supported by the history of the consultation exercise and the response to it by the Government in the process which led up to the enactment of CPR 45.43.

Thirdly, it does not seem to us that this would impede or frustrate the implementation in domestic law of the Aarhus Convention. That Convention simply requires that the costs of environmental litigation such as this should not be prohibitive. It does not require a contracting State to specify a particular ceiling, still less to state whether it is inclusive or exclusive of VAT.

Fourthly, the fact that the regulations applicable in Northern Ireland expressly provide for the ceilings to be exclusive of VAT does not assist FoE. Indeed, it suggests that, when the relevant legislative body wished to make the point clear, it was able to, and did so.”

So the bottom line is that the £70,000 entitlement had become an entitlement to £58,333.33 plus the VAT element on that amount.

There is an element of unequal treatment in this – if the party claiming costs were able to recover VAT the cap would in practice apply to its net costs figure, the VAT element only being an issue where the party can’t recover its VAT. Time to amend the CPR to accord with the Northern Ireland position?

Incidentally, I recommend a short YouTube summary on the case by Kings Chambers’ Martin Carter. As I write, the video has had 36 views and Jessie J’s Price Tag has had 731 million views. Come on planoraks!

Other court costs awards

Stepping aside from Aarhus costs capping, the general principle is that “if a party who has been given leave to bring a judicial review claim succeeds in establishing after fully contested proceedings that the defendant acted unlawfully, some good reason would have to be shown why he should not recover his reasonable costs” (Lord Toulson in R (on the application of Hunt) v North Somerset Council (Supreme Court, 22 July 2015) but the court of course always has a wide discretion.

That discretion may well result in no award or a reduced award. Two examples which may serve to manage expectations:

In Tomkins v City of London Corporation (Lang J, 8 December 2020) the claimant challenged the making of an experimental traffic order in relation to Beech Street, which runs under the Barbican Estate. He won on three of eight grounds but was not awarded costs:

The Claimant’s application for the City to pay his costs is refused. Although he succeeded on three of the eight grounds, he did not succeed in quashing the [experimental traffic order]. The Council succeeded on five of the grounds, and the issues on which the Council succeeded occupied the majority of the hearing, and the post-hearing submissions. The City incurred significant costs in preparing and presenting those issues. Their costs far exceed the Claimant’s claim for costs in respect of the grounds on which he was successful. The City is not pressing for its costs, but has instead proposed that there should be no order for costs. In all the circumstances I consider that this is a just and appropriate order.”

(Town Legal’s Town Library summary is here).

In Flaxby Park Ltd v Harrogate Borough Council (Holgate J, 25 November 2020) the claimant had sought to challenge the adoption of part of the Harrogate local plan on three grounds and succeeded on part of one ground. To cut a long story short (literally), Holgate J did not allow the claimant to recover the costs of an original bundle which he considered to be disproportionately lengthy or of the preparation of a witness statement which he determined to be unnecessary, and awarded the claimant 15% of the balance of its costs:

“I do not accept HBC’s submissions that there should be no order as to costs. … It was necessary for FPL to bring proceedings, but they ought to have been on a much more limited scale. Taking into account also the unnecessary expenditure to which HBC has been put in order to resist the substantial parts of the claim where FPL was unsuccessful, FPL should be awarded only 15% of its costs…”

Appeal inquiry costs awards

In Swale Borough Council v Secretary of State (Sir Ross Cranston, 17 December 2020), Swale Council sought unsuccessfully to challenge a costs order made against it by a section 78 appeal inspector

The judgment includes a helpful review of the case law in relation to challenges to inspectors’ awards of costs, leading to the following conclusion by the judge:

“the authorities establish the following propositions:


(i) the Secretary of State is entitled to adopt a policy about costs and having done so his inspectors must apply it;


(ii) the policy is that costs may be awarded against a party for unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense;


(iii) “unreasonable” means unreasonable in the ordinary sense of the word, not unreasonable in a Wednesbury sense;


(iv) a Council’s behaviour may be unreasonable if its refusal of planning permission could not be supported by substantial evidence, but that is not the only test and there may be other relevant factors;


(v) one example is if a developer signs a section 106 agreement; it is accepting that it is reasonable even though the inspector may not be persuaded that it is necessary
.”

The Council had sought to argue that it was wrong for it to be penalised for late withdrawal of its requirement for an affordable housing contribution and for the consequence of a late indication of particular highways concerns but the judge declined to interfere with the judgment of the inspector. For instance, on the second complaint:

In my view this is one of those cases where a different inspector may have reached a different conclusion. However, I cannot conceive that Mr Upton has surmounted the high hurdle necessary to establish that this inspector’s decision was flawed. The case which Mr Village QC put to the inspector was that the Council had not raised what became condition 19, or the further contribution to traffic calming in Darlington Drive/Parsonage Chase, until immediately before the exchange of evidence on 6 January 2020, too late to avoid the preparation of Attwood’s highways evidence. When these were raised as a way forward, Attwood agreed and it was an example of the Council’s failure to review the case promptly following the lodging of the appeal, one of the examples the PPG gives as indicating unreasonable behaviour (at para. 049, referred to earlier).

(Town Legal’s Town Library summary of the case is here).

Simon Ricketts, 16 January 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Judges & Climate Change

Over Christmas, I finally read Joshua Rozenberg’s 2020 book Enemies of the People? How Judges Shape Society.

The book examines the tension inevitably faced by judges in interpreting the law, particularly in areas of public controversy (constitutional issues; “right to death”; family; discrimination; religion; privacy; access to justice): when should the application of common law principles (i.e. rules developed over time by the courts through the doctrine of precedent, as to matters not resolved by legislation) and changing expectations in society as to minimum rights that we should enjoy (a question legitimised to some extent, and in relation to some issues, by principles of statutory interpretation required under the Human Rights Act) lead judges to “make” law? And can Parliament prevent the Judiciary from constraining the Executive’s actions and decision making on particular issues, by way of ouster provisions in legislation?

Rozenberg:

“Ultimately, the British constitution relies on a delicate balance between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary: all three powers of the state must demonstrate good judgment if we are to be governed under the rule of law”.

The book is also essential background to the current Faulks review of administrative law (see my 12 September 2020 blog post).

The squeals come from those on the wrong side of rulings (of course with litigation that goes with the territory) or who choose to see the issues in too simplistic terms.

Enemies of the people” was of course the infamous Daily Mail headline following the Supreme Court’s judgment in Miller (no 1). To my mind the press release by campaign group Plan B following R (Friends of the Earth Limited) v Heathrow Airport Limited (Supreme Court, 16 December 2020) was at least as bad:

“**Latest news – the Supreme Court betrays us all with its treasonous reversal of the Court of Appeal’s judgement.**

The next edition of Rozenberg’s book surely needs to include a chapter on environmental and climate change issues. The Supreme Court was not “treasonous”! It is appalling and Trumpian to suggest it.

Heathrow

I do not consider that the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Court of Appeal’s ruling – holding that at the time the Secretary of State for Transport designated the Airports National Policy Statement in June 2018 the emissions reductions targets in the Paris Agreement had not formed part of government policy on climate change – was at all unexpected. Its conclusion was based on a plain, detailed, analysis of the position as at that date. My 7 March 2020 blog post on the Court of Appeal ruling can now be consigned to the scrap heap but I did, perhaps too politely, describe the ruling as “surprising” and say that it was “not obvious to me that the Court of Appeal’s conclusions would be safe against an appeal to the Supreme Court”! The Supreme Court sided with the initial findings of Holgate J and Hickinbottom LJ, sitting as a Divisional Court, at first instance.

Planning Court liaison judge Holgate J has a central role in this developing area of case law, revolving around the application of emissions reduction targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 – both sitting alone and as part of a Divisional Court (Whilst usually High Court cases are presided over by a single judge, in particularly important or complex cases the High Court can choose to sit as a Divisional Court, with a High Court judge and a Court of Appeal judge sitting together).

HS2

Earlier in the year, Court of Appeal, in R (Packham) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 31 July 2020) , upheld the first instance rejection by Holgate J and Coulson LJ (also sitting as a Divisional Court) of Chris Packham’s challenge to the Government’s decision to continue with the HS2 project following the review carried out by Douglas Oakervee.

The Court of Appeal:

“ground 3b is whether the Government erred in law by failing to take account of the effect of the project on greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050, in the light of the Government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008.”

“In our view it is impossible to infer from the report any failure by the panel to have regard to the Government’s relevant statutory and policy commitments on climate change. And the Government did not demonstrably commit any such error in making its decision. On this point too, we agree with the Divisional Court. There is nothing to show that the Government either ignored or misunderstood the legal implications of proceeding with HS2 for its obligations relating to climate change, including those arising from the Paris Agreement and under the provisions of the Climate Change Act.”

“… the Oakervee review was not an exercise compelled, or even provided for, in any legislation relating to climate change, in any legislation relating to major infrastructure, or in any legislation at all. It finds no place in the arrangements set in place by the Climate Change Act. Nor does it belong to any other statutory scheme, such as the Planning Act, in which the consequences of major infrastructure development for climate change are explicitly provided for as a necessary feature of decision-making. The same goes for the Government’s own decision on the future of HS2.”

Drax

Following a hearing in November 2020, judgment is yet to be handed down by the Court of Appeal in ClientEarth v Secretary of State, where at first instance Holgate J rejected a challenge to the Drax power station DCO.

Horse Hill

Holgate J handed down judgment last month in another climate change case, R (Finch) v Surrey County Council (Holgate J, 21 December 2020).

This was a challenge to a planning permission granted by Surrey County Council to retain two oil wells at Horse Hill, Hookwood, Horley, Surrey and to drill four new wells, for the production of hydrocarbons over a period of 25 years.

The main issue was “whether a developer’s obligation under the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017 No. 571) (“the 2017 Regulations”) to provide an environmental statement (“ES”) describing the likely significant effects of a development, both direct and indirect, requires an assessment of the greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions resulting from the use of an end product said to have originated from that development.” Should the environmental statement in relation to the project have assessed the greenhouse gases “that would be emitted when the crude oil produced from the site is used by consumers, typically as a fuel for motor vehicles, after having been refined elsewhere.” Was that an indirect effect of the development?

Holgate J:

The UK Government’s fundamental objective in relation to climate change is enshrined in s.1(1) of the Climate Change Act 2008 (“CCA 2008”) which, as amended with effect from 27 June 2019, imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for 2050 is at least 100% lower than the 1990 baseline. This is generally referred to as “the net zero target“.

It goes without saying that the extraction of crude oil resulting in the supply of fuel will result in GHG emissions when that end product is used. It is common ground that that is addressed by Government policy on climate change and energy, aimed inter alia at reducing the use of hydrocarbons. The issue raised in the present challenge is whether, by virtue of the 2017 Regulations, it was necessary for the planning authority to go further than apply those policies in its decision on whether to grant planning permission for the development, by requiring those GHG emissions to be estimated and assessed as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) of the development.”

“In my judgment, the fact that the environmental effects of consuming an end product will flow “inevitably” from the use of a raw material in making that product does not provide a legal test for deciding whether they can properly be treated as effects “of the development” on the site where the raw material will be produced for the purposes of exercising planning or land use control over that development. The extraction of a mineral from a site may have environmental consequences remote from that development but which are nevertheless inevitable. Instead, the true legal test is whether an effect on the environment is an effect of the development for which planning permission is sought. An inevitable consequence may occur after a raw material extracted on the relevant site has passed through one or more developments elsewhere which are not the subject of the application for planning permission and which do not form part of the same “project”.

The inevitability that the crude oil to be transported off site will eventually lead to additional GHG emissions when the end product is consumed is simply a response to the defendant’s point that when the oil leaves the site it becomes an indistinguishable part of the international oil market, so that the GHG emissions generated by combustion in vehicles cannot be attributed to any particular oil well or well site. Like the debate between the witness statements as to whether the oil produced on the site would only displace oil production elsewhere or would instead increase overall net consumption, these are forensic arguments about the market consequences of extracting oil at the site which do not address the real legal issues raised by ground 1(a).”

“Although it is not essential to my conclusions on this challenge, I should record in passing that I do not accept the proposition that there are no other measures in place within the UK for assessing and reducing GHG emissions from the combustion of oil products in motor vehicles. The measures include the net zero target in the CCA 2008, and the various matters referred to in [46] to [54] above. The overall responsibility for the economy-wide transition to a low carbon society is the responsibility of the UK Government (Packham at [87]). A range of measures is being pursued to achieve a reduction in the consumption of oil products including road pricing, taxation and future controls on the source of energy which may be used by vehicles. The object of these measures is to reduce substantially the demand for diesel and petrol from UK consumers.

The claimant fairly says that these measures do not affect the consumption of oil products by consumers in other countries. But, on the other hand, the Paris Agreement was signed by many countries throughout the world and it is the responsibility of each such country to determine its contribution to achieving the global target for 2050. Whether these issues are thought to be adequately addressed in other countries, or even in the UK, can provide no guide to the interpretation of our domestic legislation on EIA for the consenting of new development.”

“Essentially, development control and the EIA process are concerned with the use of land for development and the effects of that use. They are not directed at the environmental effects which result from the consumption, or use, of an end product, be it a manufactured article or a commodity such as oil, gas or electricity used as an energy source for conducting other human activities.”

A decision the other way clearly could have had very wide implications – a good example of the boundary between making law and interpreting it.

Campaign groups have of course long used litigation as a means of applying political pressure for change. That is a particular feature of the climate change area, with existing campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and ClientEarth, now joined by the likes of Plan B, the Good Law Project and Rights : Community : Action.

NPSs

The Good Law Project had brought legal proceedings seeking to require the Government to review its energy national policy statements to reflect current climate change targets. Whether or not as a result of those proceedings, the Government has now confirmed that it will do exactly that in its Energy white paper, Powering our net zero future (14 December 2020)

“We will complete a review of the existing energy National Policy Statements (NPS), with the aim of designating updated NPS by the end of 2021.

The suite of energy NPS establish the need for new energy infrastructure and set out a framework for the consideration of applications for development consent. We have decided that it is appropriate to review the NPS, to ensure that they reflect the policies set out in this white paper and that we continue to have a planning policy framework which can deliver the investment required to build the infrastructure needed for the transition to net zero. Work on this review will start immediately, with the aim of designating updated NPS by the end of 2021.

This white paper shows that the need for the energy infrastructure set out in energy NPS remains, except in the case of coal-fired generation. While the review is undertaken, the current suite of NPS remain relevant government policy and have effect for the purposes of the Planning Act 2008. They will, therefore, continue to provide a proper basis on which the Planning Inspectorate can examine, and the Secretary of State can make decisions on, applications for development consent. Nothing in this white paper should be construed as setting a limit on the number of development consent orders which may be granted for any type of generating infrastructure set out in the energy NPS. Other restrictions outside the planning regime (in particular the Emissions Performance Standard) mean that no new coal infrastructure projects can come forward.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Heathrow case, the Good Law Project’s focus immediately turned to the Airports National Policy Statement. On 18 December 2020 a pre-action protocol letter was sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, requesting that he:

“(i) considers whether it is appropriate to review the Airports National Policy Statement on new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the South East of England (NPS) pursuant to section 6 of the Planning Act 2008 (PA 2008); and

(ii) considers whether it is appropriate to suspend all or part of the ANPS pursuant to section 11 of the PA 2008”

in the light, amongst other things, of “significant changes in the science and domestic policy on Climate Change” since the designation of the policy statement in June 2018. A response was requested by 18 January 2021.

In the wake of the Heathrow judgment, Plan B was reported as considering bringing a claim in the European Court of Human Rights. That would in my view be an uphill struggle, particularly at this policy setting rather than development consent stage, although of course it is interesting to see how climate change human rights law has been developing – see for example the Dutch Supreme Court judgment in the Urgenda case (the background is set out in my 28 September 2019 blog post Urgent Agenda/Urgenda written after the Dutch Court of Appeal’s ruling in that case, upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court). Based on articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the court ordered that the state was to reduce greenhouse gases by the end of 2020 by at least 25% compared to 1990.

The Bingham road-map

I’ll end by quoting again from Rozenberg’s book, where he sets out Lord Bingham’s “road-map” of warning signs which should be heeded by judges who are considering making new law:

1. where reasonable and right-minded citizens have legitimately ordered their affairs on the basis of a certain understanding of the law;

2. where, although a rule of law is seen to be defective, its amendment calls for a detailed legislative code, with qualifications, exceptions and safeguards which cannot feasibly be introduced by judicial decisions;

3. where the question involves an issue of current social policy on which there is no consensus within the community;

4. where an issue is the subject of current legislative activity;

5. where the issue arises in a field far removed from ordinary judicial experience.

Discuss!

Simon Ricketts, 9 January 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Brexit & Planning – An Update

This post focuses on the relevance of the provisions of the UK-EU trade and cooperation agreement (“T&CA”) (provisional agreement subject to ratification, 25 December 2020) to the future of the English town and planning system.

The prime minister’s 24 December 2020 statement contained the following passages of particular note:

“We will be able to set our own standards, to innovate in the way that we want, to originate new frameworks for the sectors in which this country leads the world, from biosciences to financial services, artificial intelligence and beyond.

We will be able to decide how and where we are going to stimulate new jobs and new hope.

With freeports and new green industrial zones.

We will be able to cherish our landscape and our environment in the way we choose.

I will leave discussion as to “freeports and new green industrial zones” for another day, interesting as it is to see these references in big picture soundbites. Instead, I want to consider whether, in relation to the environment, we will indeed be able to “set our own standards” and “to cherish our landscape and our environment in the way we choose”.

In my 4 July 2020 blog post Have We Got Planning Newts For You: Back To Brexit I summarised what the legal position will be at 1 January 2021 in relation to EU-derived environmental law.

In that time of pre- planning white paper speculation I noted that reform to the planning system was likely to be predicated on reform to environmental law on environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment and conservation of habitats and species:

“…any move towards a more zoning-based approach, where the development consenting process is simplified by setting detailed parameters at a plan-making or rule-setting level, will face complications due to the need for strategic environment assessment of any plan or programme required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions that sets the framework for subsequent development consents and which is likely to have significant environmental effects – assessment which has become highly prescriptive, particularly in terms of the need to consider, in detail, reasonable alternatives to the selected policy option. Projects which are likely to give rise to significant effects on the environment require environmental impact assessment. It must be shown that plans or projects will not adversely affect defined species of animals or the integrity of defined habitats – with rigorous processes and criteria. Politicians will be bumping up against EU-derived environmental law, and those environmental principles (not yet finalised), at every turn.”

I noted that it would be open to the Government to make changes to EU-derived environmental law from 1 January 2021. Of course “the Government would not have a completely free hand in changing or removing these processes. We are subject to wider international duties, under, for instance the European Convention on Human Rights, the Aarhus Convention, the Paris Agreement (climate), the Espoo Convention (environmental assessment) and the Ramsar Convention (habitats). Trade deals in relation to the export of our goods or services, with the EU and/or other countries and trading blocs, may also require specific commitments.”

Now we have seen the detail of the T&CA, we know what constraints the Government will be under. The main areas of interest start, as far as we are concerned, around page 203:

As for setting our “own standards”, see Article 7.2, on non-regression:

2. A Party shall not weaken or reduce, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the Parties, its environmental levels of protection or its climate level of protection below the levels that are in place at the end of the transition period, including by failing to effectively enforce its environmental law or climate level of protection.

3. The Parties recognise that each Party retains the right to exercise reasonable discretion and to make bona fide decisions regarding the allocation of environmental enforcement resources with respect to other environmental law and climate policies determined to have higher priorities, provided that the exercise of that discretion, and those decisions, are not inconsistent with its obligations under this Chapter”

Environmental levels of protection” means “the levels of protection provided overall in a Party’s law which have the purpose of protecting the environment, including the prevention of a danger to human life or health from environmental impacts, including in each of the following areas:

(a) industrial emissions;

(b) air emissions and air quality;

(c) nature and biodiversity conservation;

(d) waste management;

(e) the protection and preservation of the aquatic environment;

(f) the protection and preservation of the marine environment;

(g) the prevention, reduction and elimination of risks to human health or the environment arising from the production, use, release or disposal of chemical substances; or

(h) the management of impacts on the environment from agricultural or food production, notably through the use of antibiotics and decontaminants.”

Climate level of protection” means “the level of protection with respect to emissions and removals of greenhouse gases and the phase-out of ozone depleting substances. With regard to greenhouse gases, this means:

(a) for the Union, the 40 % economy-wide 2030 target, including the Union’s system of carbon pricing;

(b) for the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom’s economy-wide share of this 2030 target, including the United Kingdom’s system of carbon pricing.”

Article 7.4, environmental and climate change principles:

“1. Taking into account the fact that the Union and the United Kingdom share a common biosphere in respect of cross-border pollution, each Party commits to respecting the internationally recognised environmental principles to which it has committed, such as in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted at Rio de Janeiro on 14 June 1992 (the “1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development”) and in multilateral environmental agreements, including in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, done at New York on 9 May 1992 (the “UNFCCC”) and the and the Convention on Biological Diversity, done at Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 (the “Convention on Biological Diversity”), in particular:

(a) the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies, including through impact assessments;

(b) the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage;

(c) the precautionary approach referred to in Article 1.2(2) [Right to regulate, precautionary approach and scientific and technical information];

(d) the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source; and

(e) the polluter pays principle.

2. The Parties reaffirm their respective commitments to procedures for evaluating the likely impact of a proposed activity on the environment, and where specified projects, plans and programmes are likely to have significant environmental, including health, effects, this includes an environmental impact assessment or a strategic environmental assessment, as appropriate.

3. These procedures shall comprise, where appropriate and in accordance with a Party’s laws, the determination of the scope of an environmental report and its preparation, the carrying out of public participation and consultations and the taking into account of the environmental report and the results of the public participation and consultations in the consented project, or adopted plan or programme.

4. For the purposes of this Chapter, insofar as targets are provided for in a Party’s environmental law in the areas listed in Article 7.1 [Definitions], they are included in a Party’s environmental levels of protection at the end of the transition period. These targets include those whose attainment is envisaged for a date that is subsequent to the end of the transition period. This paragraph shall also apply to ozone depleting substances.

5. The Parties shall continue to strive to increase their respective environmental levels of protection or their respective climate level of protection referred to in this Chapter.”

Article 7.5, enforcement:

“Party shall, in accordance with its law, ensure that:

(a) domestic authorities competent to enforce the relevant law with regard to environment and climate give due consideration to alleged violations of such law that come to their attention; those authorities shall have adequate and effective remedies available to them, including injunctive relief as well as proportionate and dissuasive sanctions, if appropriate; and

(b) national administrative or judicial proceedings are available to natural and legal persons with a sufficient interest to bring actions against violations of such law and to seek effective remedies, including injunctive relief, and that the proceedings are not prohibitively costly and are conducted in a fair, equitable and transparent way.”

Disputes between the EU and UK as to whether one party is in breach of these provisions (in a way which affects trade or investment) may be referred (by the EU or the UK alone, not by individuals) to a panel of experts, whose determination is not binding. Breaches can feed into negotiations as to rebalancing of the obligations as between the parties over time (the agreement is to be reviewed every five years and can indeed be terminated by either party on 12 months’ notice) or can lead to a party imposing tariffs (to be reviewed via arbitration). (Compliance with climate change targets in the Paris agreement is more tightly controlled, given Article COMPROV 5 on page 405, one of the limited number of “essential measures” in the agreement, breach of which can lead to suspension or termination of the agreement).

The Article 7 provisions provide some limited comfort as to non-regression from agreed minimum environmental principles, whilst allowing the parties latitude to achieve those principles by differing means. However, this in reality leaves us dependent on the EU crying foul if the UK is considered to be in breach (not particularly practical and ultimately not legally binding). No longer can we as individuals complain direct to the European Commission or litigate as to breaches in our domestic courts (or indeed request our domestic courts to refer issues to the European Court of Justice).

The UK Government intends to replace the role of the Commission, in receiving and and acting upon complaints, with a new quango, the Office For Environmental Protection. The establishment of the OEP is dependent upon the Environment Bill passing into law and for work then to be done in establishing a set of environmental principles and priorities to guide its work. The Bill hasn’t yet cleared its final Commons stages. In one sign of progress, there is now a potential chair for the organisation: Dame Glenys Stacey selected as preferred Chair for Office for Environmental Protection (DEFRA press statement, 9 December 2020). There is also a current appointment process for non-executive directors (closing date for applications: 12 January 2021). However, there is still going to be a lengthy period where there simply is no practical safety net in the event of regression by the UK government from minimum environmental principles.

As I said in my July blog post: “…if the Government is moving rapidly towards “comprehensive” reform of the planning system, it’s a fair question to ask: What changes are proposed by this Government to these EU-derived regimes from the end of this year?”

The proposals within the planning white paper are indeed dependent on a changed system for strategic environmental assessment and environmental impact assessment. Otherwise the proposed timescales for plan-making and decision-making would be unachievable, as would the idea for granting large development consents routinely by way of growth area allocations in local plans.

Environment minister George Eustice indicated that there would definitely be reform, in his 20 July 2020 speech on environmental recovery:

“Later this autumn we will be launching a new consultation on changing our approach to environmental assessment and mitigation in the planning system. If we can front-load ecological considerations in the planning development process, we can protect more of what is precious.

We can set out which habitats and species will always be off-limit, so everyone knows where they stand. And we can add to that list where we want better protection for species that are characteristic of our country and critical to our ecosystems that the EU has sometimes overlooked– things like water voles, red squirrels, adders and pine martens. We want everyone to be able to access an accurate, centralised body of data on species populations so that taking nature into account is the first, speedy step to an application.”

Did you miss the consultation? No, of course not. These promised announcements are like vapour trails. The government is no doubt drilling down to a greater level of detail as to its reforms to the planning system but there is silence as to what changes are intended to existing systems of environmental protection.

Eustice gave a few clues as to what the direction of change might be:

“Now EU environmental law always has good intentions but there are also negative consequences to attempting to legislate for these matters at a supranational level. It tends to lead to a culture of perpetual legal jeopardy where national governments can become reluctant to try new things or make new commitments for fear of irreversible and unpredictable legal risks. This in turn creates a culture where there are frankly too many lawyers and not enough scientists and too many reports but not enough action.

So, as we chart a new course for our approach to protecting the environment, we can retain the features that worked and change the features that didn’t. We should recognise that the environment and our ecosystems are a complex web of interactions that mankind will never fully understand let alone manage. We should re-balance the way we approach policy development with more focus on science and technical knowledge and less time fretting about legal risks of doing something new or innovative. We should have fewer reports that say nothing new – but more new ideas that we should actually try.

And we should be willing to try new approaches safe in the knowledge that we have the power to change things again if a policy idea fails. Our targets framework should give us a clear set of objectives to work to but to meet those targets our approach to policy development must be agile or iterative and must create the space for more experimentation and innovation.

If we are to protect species and habitats and also deliver biodiversity net gain, we need to properly understand the science to inform these crucial decisions. And we should ask ourselves whether the current processes are as effective or efficient as they could be.

Is there sufficient access to data and knowledge to know which species should be assessed? If we had better more up to date data about things such as flood risk, habitats, species, and air quality could we design plans for sustainable new projects and developments more effectively and efficiently than we do now? Do we have enough focus on improvements at a landscape scale? Do Local Authorities adopt a consistent approach to the screening process through Environmental Impact Assessment? Do they have the capability to engage over the lifetime of a project?”

I think we can all suggest areas for improvement, but it’s not easy to propose amended procedures that achieve the necessary objectives. Part of the effectiveness of say EIA or SEA has been down to its legal rigour. Where is the balance to be drawn? Personally, judging by the significant changes that the government is consulting upon in another area previously the domain of EU law – public procurement – I do expect to see some radical proposals, that we will all need to reflect upon.

Concluding thoughts:

⁃ It is obviously good news that we have an agreed form of T&CA, subject to ratification by Parliament shortly.

⁃ It is good news to see the high level environmental protections contained within it (and of course they do constrain, albeit to a sensible extent, our ability to “set our own standards”).

⁃ It is concerning to be entering a period from 1 January 2021 when we will have no practical legal protection against UK regression from the environmental principles which previously applied to the UK by way of EU directives to which it was previously a party.

⁃ It is concerning to see the slow progress of the Environment Bill, given the work that then has to be done before the proposed OEP is a functional entity.

⁃ It is concerning that we still do not have the promised consultation as to possible changes to EU-derived environmental law, which was due to be published in Autumn 2020.

It’s really important that any amended system of EIA, SEA and HRA works properly. There are undoubtedly improvements to be made to processes, but also pitfalls to avoid. At the moment the debate is still only at the “motherhood is good” stage.

We have arranged a joint webinar with Keating Chambers at 5.30 pm on 5 January 2021 to examine the practical issues and to be ready to feed in our thoughts. I hope you can join (from Keating) Charlie Banner QC and (from Town Legal) Steve Quartermain CBE, Duncan Field, Safiyah Islam and me – free registration here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_VCsYkhQcSzOm2uqDxN-w8A .

Simon Ricketts, 27 December 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Quantity Street Fudge

On 16 December 2020 the Government abruptly abandoned its proposed revised standard method for calculating local housing need, in the face of political and media pressure from those who saw the method increasing substantially the figure for their particular areas. I covered the consultation as to the proposed revised method in my 29 August 2020 blog post, asking whether we might see a fudged outcome.

My piece referred to press pieces such as the article by Conservative MP for Harborough, Neil O’Brien, The next algorithm disaster – coming to a Conservative constituency near you. This time, it’s housing growth. (ConservativeHome, 24 August 2020)and Planning algorithm may destroy suburbia: Tory MPs warn Boris Johnson. (Times, 29 August 2020). “Mutant algorithm” they all said.

So the Government has decided to stick to its previous 2017 method (just as much of an algorithm, equally “mutant”), one based on out of date household formation figures from 2014 (2014!), but with a heavy handed readjustment of the figures to ensure that they still add up to 300,000 homes (a number which itself has no empirical basis – but reflective of the extent of the, plain to see, housing crisis). The heavy handed-adjustment? To increase the relevant figure by 35% for England’s 20 largest towns and cities, including London.

Imagine if a local planning authority attempted to include housing numbers in its plan in such a way, without evidence! (Or indeed if it introduced a blanket “approve it all” policy equivalent to the effect of the new class E to C3 PD right!).

If anyone knows about planning and housing, it’s Chris Young QC. He had put forward constructive suggestions for improving the proposals given the unduly low numbers the draft revised method would have achieved for much of the north. His subsequent LinkedIn post was incandescent:

“- Confused about the “new” Standard Method?

– Baffled why it fails to address levelling up across the North?

– Mystified why in an economic crisis, Govt would focus on the largest cities where apartment prices are falling?

– Troubled by the urban focus, when overcrowded housing is a key factor for the UK having the highest Covid 19 death rate in Europe?

Well, here’s what just happened

Govt introduced Standard Method 1 in 2017 to make housing targets simpler. But it added up to less than its own 300,000 annual target, and collapsed housebuilding in the North

In August, Govt consulted on a revised version. But it contained a double affordability uplift which piled the numbers into the Shires, causing a Tory revolt

Then experts in this field came up with a more appropriate set of numbers focussing on achieving 300,000 and levelling up the North.

And then Ministers bottled it

They decided to leave the formula, which they know doesn’t work, the same. But add 35% to the major constrained cities nearly all of which are Labour controlled, pinning their hopes on a collapse in the office market and town centres and the use of PD rights

Housing policy in this country is not about housing people. Its now 100% about politics”

I’ve no problem with an urban focus, but what really is the point when those higher numbers will not be achieved, meaning an inevitable failure to achieve the overall target?

Let’s take a step back (watch out for the Christmas tree though).

The Government’s NPPF tells local planning authorities this:

“To determine the minimum number of homes needed, strategic policies should be informed by a local housing need assessment, conducted using the standard method in national planning guidance – unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals. In addition to the local housing need figure, any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas should also be taken into account in establishing the amount of housing to be planned for.” (paragraph 60).

The new standard method is incredibly important, both for this purpose, and because it will form the basis for the new plan-making system proposed in the white paper, where local planning authorities will have to plan, without deviation, for the numbers handed down to them (numbers which will be based on this standard method and then tweaked by government by way of an as yet undevised process).

To understand the detail what has now been introduced, and the justifications given, there are four relevant documents, all published on 16 December 2020:

⁃ press statement, Plan to regenerate England’s cities with new homes 16 December 2020

written ministerial statement

changed planning practice guidance

the Government’s response to the local housing need proposals in “Changes to the current planning system”

The response document tries to downplay the role of the numbers – making them out not to be a “target” but a “starting point”:

“Many respondents to the consultation were concerned that the ‘targets’ provided by the standard method were not appropriate for individual local authority areas. Within the current planning system the standard method does not present a ‘target’ in plan-making, but instead provides a starting point for determining the level of need for the area, and it is only after consideration of this, alongside what constraints areas face, such as the Green Belt, and the land that is actually available for development, that the decision on how many homes should be planned for is made. It does not override other planning policies, including the protections set out in Paragraph 11b of the NPPF or our strong protections for the Green Belt. It is for local authorities to determine precisely how many homes to plan for and where those homes most appropriately located. In doing this they should take into account their local circumstances and constraints. In order to make this policy position as clear as possible, we will explore how we can make changes through future revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework, including whether a renaming of the policy could provide additional clarity.”

Weaselly words! Of course they are a target. This methodology can no longer be said to be a proper methodological assessment of local need based on demographics and household formation rates – if nothing else, the 35% uplift for the major towns and cities puts paid to that. The justification given for the uplift is a policy justification:

“”First, building in existing cities and urban centres ensures that new homes can maximise existing infrastructure such as public transport, schools, medical facilities and shops. Second, there is potentially a profound structural change working through the retail and commercial sector, and we should expect more opportunities for creative use of land in urban areas to emerge. Utilising this land allows us to give priority to the development of brownfield land, and thereby protect our green spaces. And third, our climate aspirations demand that we aim for a spatial pattern of development that reduces the need for unnecessary high-carbon travel.”

I quoted Chris Young earlier. For an equally brilliant, expert and authoritative analysis how about Lichfields? This is a superb post by Matthew Spry and Bethan Hayes Mangling the mutant: change to the standard method for local housing need on the day of the announcement, including indications as to what the new numbers will mean for the 20 largest towns and cities:

Courtesy of Lichfields

How quickly will the changes come into effect? The Government’s response document says this:

“From the date of publication of the amended planning practice guidance which implements the cities and urban centres uplift, authorities already at Regulation 19, will have six months to submit their plans to the Planning Inspectorate for examination, using the previous standard method. In recognition that some areas will be very close to publishing their Regulation 19 plan, these areas will be given three months from the publication date of the revised guidance to publish their Regulation 19 plan, as well as a further six months from the date they publish their Regulation 19 plan to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate for examination, to benefit from the transition period.

The standard method has a role not only in plan-making, but is also used in planning decisions to determine whether an area has identified a 5 year land supply for homes and for the purposes of the Housing Delivery Test (where strategic policies are more than five years old). Where this applies, the revised standard method (inclusive of the cities and urban areas uplift) will not apply for a period of six months from the publication of the amended planning practice guidance. After 6 months, the new standard method will apply.

For London:

“It is clear that in London, in the medium term, there will need to be a much more ambitious approach to delivering the homes the capital needs. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government expects to agree the London Plan with the Mayor shortly. This new plan, when adopted, will set London’s housing requirement for the next 5 years. The local housing need uplift we are setting out today will therefore only be applicable once the next London Plan is being developed. In order to support London to deliver the right homes in the right places, the government and Homes England are working with the Greater London Authority to boost delivery through the Home Building Fund. Homes England has been providing expertise and experience to support the development of key sites in London. Sites like Old Oak Common, Nine Elms and Inner East London provide opportunities to deliver homes on significant brownfield sites. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will consider giving Homes England a role in London to help meet this challenge, working more closely with the Greater London Authority, boroughs and development corporations to take a more direct role in the delivery of strategic sites in London and the preparation of robust bids for the new National Homebuilding Fund.”

A final musing for the lawyers. It has become a bit of a knee jerk reaction to proposals to question whether strategic environmental assessment was in fact required but…was it?

The criteria were recently set out again in R (Rights : Community : Action) v Secretary of State (Divisional Court, 17 November 2020):

“From the statutory framework it can be seen that a plan or programme is only required to be the subject of an environmental assessment if all four of the following requirements are satisfied:-


(1) The plan or programme must be subject to preparation or adoption by an authority at national, regional, or local level, or be prepared by an authority for adoption, through a legislative procedure by Parliament or Government;


(2) The plan or programme must be required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions;


(3) The plan or programme must set the framework for future development consents of projects; and


(4) The plan or programme must be likely to have significant environmental effects.”

It was held in that case that the GPDO and Use Classes Order changes did not require SEA because they do not set the framework for future development consents.

The previous challenge to NPPF changes in Friends of the Earth v Secretary of State (Dove J, 6 March 2019) had also failed. Dove J held that, whilst it did set the framework for subsequent development consents, the NPPF was not a measure “required by legislative regulatory or administrative provisions“.

But what is wrong with the following analysis?

⁃ criterion 1 – standard method = a plan prepared by government

⁃ criterion 2 – standard method = a plan required by administrative provisions, i.e. required by NPPF paragraph 60

⁃ criterion 3 – standard method sets framework for local plans and for decision making – e.g. onus on the major towns and cities in their next plans to plan for 35% more homes or suffer consequences via the tilted balance and housing delivery test – indeed geographically specific in a way which the NPPF and PPG has previously largely avoided

⁃ criterion 4 – standard method likely to have significant environmental effects – of course.

In any event, wouldn’t some evidence be helpful, as well as a proper assessment of impacts and alternatives, before lurching to a new system that has moved a long way further away from being any methodological assessment of local housing need?

Merry Christmas!

Simon Ricketts, 19 December 2020

Personal views, et cetera