The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Planning Inspector: Courts Support Approach To Setting & Valued Landscape

Two cases last week reminded me as to how difficult the role of the planning inspector is. The two inspectors in question, architect John Gray and solicitor Karen Ridge, both faced conflicting evidence and submissions on issues which were largely matters of evaluation and judgment, albeit within narrow policy tramlines, at inquiries lasting six and eight days respectively. Congratulations are due to them both given that their decisions survived legal challenges – or, following Lord Carnwath’s approach in Suffolk Coastal (“the courts should respect the expertise of the specialist planning inspectors, and start at least from the presumption that they will have understood the policy framework correctly“) and the regular judicial criticism as to “excessive legalism” on the part of claimants, is it simply that the hurdle for a successful challenge is nowadays higher?

In Catesby Estates Limited and Secretary of State v Steer (Court of Appeal, 18 July 2018) at first instance Lang J had quashed John Gray’s decision letter in which he had allowed two appeals by Catesby, one relating to a proposal for up to 400 dwellings and a convenience store and the other for up to 195 dwellings, both on land about a mile away from the grade 1 listed Kedleston Hall.

The arguments at inquiry and subsequently revolved around the extent to which the site should be treated as within the setting of the hall and other designated heritage assets. Since the 1960s, views of the site from the hall and vice versa had been blocked by a belt of trees known as the “Derby Screen”, planted at the time to obstruct views of the expanding suburbs of Derby. Given the protection given to the setting of listed buildings by way of section 66 (1) of the Listed Buildings Act 1990 and the NPPF, supported by Historic England guidance, much turned on that question.

Lang J had agreed with submissions of the claimant and Historic England that “the Inspector adopted an artificially narrow approach to the issue of setting which treated visual connections as essential and determinative. In adopting this approach, the Inspector made an error of law.

However, the Court of Appeal undertook a close examination of the inspector’s reasoning and overturned Lang J’s ruling. They found that the inspector had correctly considered two potential ways of looking at the setting of the hall, one considering visual and physical connections and the other looking at wider historical, social and economic connections. The court determined that he had then gone on to consider all the relevant issues before, in the particular circumstances, arriving at a narrower interpretation. His conclusions did not “betray an unlawful approach, in which considerations other than the visual and physical were disregarded“.

In reaching that conclusion, McFarlane LJ’s judgment in the Court of Appeal does usefully set out the approach to setting that should be taken by decision makers:

Although the “setting” of a listed building is a concept recognized by statute, it is not statutorily defined. Nor does it lend itself to precise definition (see R. (on the application of Williams) v Powys County Council [2017] EWCA Civ 427, at paragraphs 53 to 58). Implicit in section 66 of the Listed Buildings Act, however, is that the setting of a listed building is capable of being affected in some discernible way by development, whether within the setting or outside it. Identifying the extent of the setting for the purposes of a planning decision is not a matter for the court, but will always be a matter of fact and planning judgment for the decision-maker. And as Sullivan L.J. said in R. (on the application of The Friends of Hethel Ltd.) v South Norfolk District Council [2011] 1 W.L.R. 1216, “the question whether a proposed development affects, or would affect the setting of a listed building is very much a matter of planning judgment for the local planning authority” (paragraph 32 of the judgment).”

As McFarlane LJ had set out previously in the Williams case, “the circumstances in which the section 66(1) duty has to be performed for the setting of a listed building will vary with a number of factors – typically, “the nature, scale and siting of the development proposed, its proximity and likely visual relationship to the listed building, the architectural and historic characteristics of the listed building itself, local topography, and the presence of other features – both natural and man- made – in the surrounding landscape or townscape”, and possibly “other considerations too”, depending on “the particular facts and circumstances of the case in hand” (paragraph 53). To “lay down some universal principle for ascertaining the extent of the setting of a listed building” would be, I thought, “impossible”. But – again in the particular context of visual effects – I said that if “a proposed development is to affect the setting of a listed building there must be a distinct visual relationship of some kind between the two – a visual relationship which is more than remote or ephemeral, and which in some way bears on one’s experience of the listed building in its surrounding landscape or townscape” (paragraph 56).

This does not mean, however, that factors other than the visual and physical must be ignored when a decision-maker is considering the extent of a listed building’s setting. Generally, of course, the decision-maker will be concentrating on visual and physical considerations, as in Williams (see also, for example, the first instance judgment in R. (on the application of Miller) v North Yorkshire County Council [2009] EWHC 2172 (Admin), at paragraph 89). But it is clear from the relevant national policy and guidance to which I have referred, in particular the guidance in paragraph 18a-013-20140306 of the PPG, that the Government recognizes the potential relevance of other considerations – economic, social and historical. These other considerations may include, for example, “the historic relationship between places“.”

The judge drew out three points:

First, the section 66(1) duty, where it relates to the effect of a proposed development on the setting of a listed building, makes it necessary for the decision- maker to understand what that setting is – even if its extent is difficult or impossible to delineate exactly – and whether the site of the proposed development will be within it or in some way related to it.”

Secondly, though this is never a purely subjective exercise, none of the relevant policy, guidance and advice prescribes for all cases a single approach to identifying the extent of a listed building’s setting. Nor could it. In every case where that has to be done, the decision- maker must apply planning judgment to the particular facts and circumstances, having regard to relevant policy, guidance and advice. The facts and circumstances will differ from one case to the next.

Thirdly, the effect of a particular development on the setting of a listed building – where, when and how that effect is likely to be perceived, whether or not it will preserve the setting of the listed building, whether, under government policy in the NPPF, it will harm the “significance” of the listed building as a heritage asset, and how it bears on the planning balance – are all matters for the planning decision-maker, subject, of course, to the principle emphasized by this court in East Northamptonshire District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] 1 W.L.R. 45 (at paragraphs 26 to 29), Jones v Mordue [2016] 1 W.L.R. 2682 (at paragraphs 21 to 23), and Palmer (at paragraph 5), that “considerable importance and weight” must be given to the desirability of preserving the setting of a heritage asset. Unless there has been some clear error of law in the decision-maker’s approach, the court should not intervene (see Williams, at paragraph 72). For decisions on planning appeals, this kind of case is a good test of the principle stated by Lord Carnwath in Hopkins Homes Ltd. v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2017] 1 W.L.R. 1865 (at paragraph 25) – that “the courts should respect the expertise of the specialist planning inspectors, and start at least from the presumption that they will have understood the policy framework correctly“.”

In CEG Land Promotions II Ltd v Secretary of State (Ouseley J, 18 July 2018), inspector Karen Ridge had dismissed an appeal in relation to a scheme for up to 175 dwellings and associated development on land adjoining Wendover in Buckinghamshire.

The challenge revolved around two issues:

⁃ Whether the inspector was correct to conclude that there would be “the irrevocable loss of part of a valued landscape” for the purposes of paragraph 109 of the NPPF (which sets out the principle that the planning system should protect and enhance valued landscapes) given that the appeal site itself was not “valued landscape” but rather formed part of a wider “valued landscape”

⁃ whether the inspector had double counted the effects on landscape in weighing up the considerations against grant of planning permission, by taking into taking into account breach of paragraph 109 separate from breach of relevant local plan policies in relation to landscape, together with related points as to whether paragraph 109 amounts to “specific policies” that “indicate that development should be restricted“, to be taken into account in the paragraph 14 “tilted balance”.

Ouseley J introduces consideration of the NPPF with a note of caution as to its status:

In relation to development control, despite some of its language, it is no more than a material consideration, to be taken into account in deciding planning applications under s70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It is a material consideration which may indicate that a decision should be made which does not accord with the development plan; s38(6) Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

After a detailed analysis, Ouseley J found no evidence of “double-counting” harm:

There is a danger of over-analysing decision letters, with the risk that in doing so, error is found where none exists.”

He similarly found nothing wrong with the inspector’s “valued landscape” conclusion:

It would be […] bizarre to adopt a wholly artificial approach to landscape evaluation where, in most cases, a development site is but part of a wider landscape. In my judgment, the Inspector, in the case before me now, has analysed the issue very well and come to the entirely correct conclusion.”

Both judgments, together with the inspectors’ decision letters under challenge, would make good case studies for the current independent review chaired by Bridget Rosewell into the planning appeal inquiry process. Neither development proposal was particularly large but both led to relatively long inquiries. Against the context of unclear, multiple layers of policy and guidance and the predictable dissection by each of the main parties as to policy meaning and application, is there really any room for shortening the process without affecting its quality? Controversial question: Are the layers of abstraction, and the lonely task of sitting down to write a lengthy decision that is bullet-proof in its reasoning, necessary for a high quality process, or simply impeding it?

And regardless of the answer to that question, let us recall that only 2% of planning appeals proceed by way of inquiry and it should surely be at least as important that the Planning Inspectorate urgently reduces its timescales for processing appeals that are conducted by way of written representations or hearings, as well as by way of simpler (ie “non-bespoke”) inquiries, given the statistics set out its latest annual report (12 July 2018).

Simon Ricketts, 20 July 2018

Personal views, et cetera

2 ACV Disputes

The listing of land or buildings as an asset of community value has legal consequences but ones that will seldom be determinative as to an owner’s longterm plans. Whilst disposal of a freehold or long leasehold interest can’t take place without community groups being given an opportunity to bid, there is no obligation to accept any community bid that is made. The listing can be material in relation to the determination of an application for planning permission, but the weight to be attached to the ACV listing is a matter for the decision maker.

So it is interesting to see the extent of litigation that is arising.

There have been many First-tier Tribunal rulings. A 23 June 2016 Public Law Today article by Christopher Cant summarises many of them as at that date and indeed Mr Cant has produced a 300 page guide to the regime, which is up to date as at 8 June 2018.

By way of a recent example of the desperate struggle by pub chains to resist ACV listing of their pubs, Punch Partnership (PML) Limited v Arun District Council (Judge Anthony Snelson, First-tier Tribunal, 7 June 2018) is interesting. The Arun and Adur branch of CAMRA had nominated the Henty Arms, in Ferring, West Sussex. The council had accepted the nomination. Punch sought to rely on a series of technical points in relation to the nature of the nominating body to seek to appeal against the listing:

⁃ First, the “surprising assertion that the Arun and Adur branch of CAMRA…doesn’t exist“, based on the close relationship of branch with the parent organisation. The judge held that there was “nothing in the argument…No authority is cited for the proposition that a branch cannot have legal personality unless it is independent of the ‘parent’ body. A moment’s reflection shows the notion to be unfounded“.

⁃ Secondly, that “the nomination was made without the authority of members of the ‘branch’, and was not a community nomination“. The judge rejects this out of hand: “The idea that the fact that the nomination exercise was handled by a small number of individuals justifies the conclusion that they were acting without authority strikes me as more than a little peculiar. It is in the nature of things that organisations allocate tasks to individuals and do not attempt to perform them collectively. As the evidence overwhelmingly shows, that is what happened here.  The fact that the model constitution requires the branch to operate through a committee does not mean that every decision must be taken by the committee. There is, to my mind, not the first beginnings of an argument that the nomination was unconstitutional, let alone that it was a nullity.”

⁃ Thirdly, that there is no prohibition against the distribution of any surplus to members. The judge found that the legislation only requires that the body “does not” distribute any surplus to its members and there was no challenge to the evidence that surpluses are not distributed to members.

⁃ Fourthly, that any surplus is not applied for the benefit of the local authority area or that of the neighbouring local authority. Again, the judge found that there was nothing in the assertion. In fact any surplus was applied towards the next year’s Worthing Beer Festival and to a publication entitled Sussex Drinker.

⁃ Fifthly, that the branch did not have at least 21 local members. The judge found that “the membership exceeds and [at] all relevant times exceeded 700…of who, 281 had addresses entirely within the area of Arun and neighbouring districts“.

The judge concludes with a withering final paragraph:

Although pressed with immense energy and determination, I am satisfied that this appeal is entirely free of merit. It is founded on an unduly narrow and unrealistic interpretation of legislation which, it should be remembered, was designed to be accessible to citizens from all walks of life, with or without legal representation, as a means of enabling landowners and communities to grapple with the substance of local issues that matter to them.  It would be unfortunate and contrary to Parliament’s intention if this jurisdiction became mired in technicalities and procedural points – and all the more unfortunate if appeals routinely resurrected arguments which have been fully debated and rejected in earlier cases.”

The second example is a ruling of the Court of Appeal, no less, in Banner Homes Limited v St Albans City and District Council (Court of Appeal, 23 May 2018).

A 12 acre field had been owned by Banner Homes since 1996. According to Lady Justice Sharpe in the lead judgment, it “has been used by the local community for more than 40 years for various peaceful and beneficial recreational activities, such as children’s play, walking, kite flying, exercising dogs, and the photography of flora and fauna. Banner Homes did not give express permission or grant a licence for the local community to use the Field (beyond the public footpaths); but it was well-aware the Field was used in this way by the local community, it made no objection, and until recently, it took no steps to stop it.

Following nomination by a local residents’ association the council listed it as an ACV in March 2014. In September 2014, shortly before a review hearing in to the listing was to be conducted by the council, “Banner Homes fenced off the Field so that only the public footpaths could be accessed by members of the public. This remains the position today.

Use of the field beyond the public footpaths was agreed to constitute a trespass. “The single issue that arises in this appeal is whether such unlawful use can constitute a qualifying use (or “actual use” to use the statutory language) for the purpose of listing an asset as an “asset of community value” pursuant to section 88 of the 2011 Act.”

The relevant test under section 88 (1) and (2) of the Localism Act 2011 is whether there is:

“…(a) an actual current use of the building or other land that is not an ancillary use furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, and
(b) it is realistic to think that there can continue to be non-ancillary use of the building or other land which will further (whether or not in the same way) the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community.


(2) For the purposes of this Chapter but subject to regulations under subsection (3), a building or other land in a local authority’s area that is not land of community value as a result of subsection (1), is land of community value if in the opinion of the local authority—
(a) there is a time in the recent past when an actual use of the building or other land that was not an ancillary use furthered the social wellbeing or interests of the local community, and
(b) it is realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years when there could be non-ancillary use of the building or other land that would further (whether or not in the same way as before) the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community
.”

The First-tier Tribunal had rejected in these terms Banner’s argument that it was not realistic to think that there could continue to be use of the field for recreational purposes:

Given the long history of peaceable, socially beneficial (if formally unauthorised) use of the Field, and of the previous views of the owners, I do not consider that it is at all fanciful to think that, in the next five years, there could be non-ancillary use of the land, along the lines that pertained up to September 2014. The timing of the decision to fence the footpaths – coming hard upon the listing under the 2011 Act – strikes me as material. Also of significance is the uncertain present planning position of the land, where a recent application for the grazing of horses has been refused. Whilst I note Banner Homes’ current stated stance, it is not fanciful, given the history of the Field, to think that Banner Homes may well conclude that their relations with the local community will be best served by restoring the status quo or by entering into some form of licence arrangement with the Residents’ Association or similar grouping.”

The Upper Tribunal did not interfere with that finding and permission was not granted to appeal to the Court of Appeal on that point.

So did it matter that the recreational use was unlawful? Douglas Edwards QC for Banner sought to rely on the “in bonam partem” principle, “a principle of construction that presumes against the construction of a statutory provision so as to reward an unlawful action with a benefit, unless a contrary Parliamentary intention is revealed. Absent, he submits, a clear indication to the contrary, Parliament is not to be taken to have intended unlawful conduct to be rewarded by the grant of a right or benefit, as would occur in this case if the listing decision were to be maintained.

The Court of Appeal rejected application of the principle, and any reliance on the “notorious” facts of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council v Secretary of State (Supreme Court, 6 April 2011) (Mr Beesley and his hidden house). The “legislative intention is plainly that “actual use”, in this statutory context, should mean what it says“. Whilst she accepted that there may be other cases where the conduct is closer on the facts to those in Welwyn Hatfield, in cases such as this one, “it is hard to couple the word “unlawful” with the activities (or “use”) under consideration, let alone with any suggestion they are engaged in illicitly to obtain a benefit under the Scheme”. In this case Banner knew about the trespasses and indeed the local residents’ group had done much to preserve and enhance the open rural nature of the site.

Lord Justice Davis added:

It has been an unfortunate consequence in this case that, by reason of the nomination, Banner Homes felt constrained, in order to protect its commercial interests as the land owner, to fence off the Field from the public footpaths. It would be a further unfortunate consequence if other land owners, perhaps holding land with a view to potential development in the future, likewise were to feel constrained to restrict public access to their land. That particular unfortunate result which has arisen in this particular case may prove to be an unintended consequence of the 2011 Act. But be that as it may, that can provide, of itself, no reason for departing from the clear statutory purpose behind, and the clear statutory language of, the 2011 Act.”

On the facts, one wonders why the local residents did not apply for registration of the land as a village green, a rather more high powered vehicle for opponents of development, or defenders of the status quo, than the humble ACV. No doubt one of you will tell me but I wonder whether it may be something to do with the “trigger events” introduced by the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 that close out the possibility of registration. I have a copy of the judgment of Deputy Judge David Elvin QC in Cooper Estates Strategic Land Limited v Wiltshire Council (5 July 2018), which is potentially important in the breadth of scope that is given to trigger event 4 (a development plan policy that “identifies the land for potential development“), but will hold off blogging on it until it appears somewhere online.

In the meantime, the procession of ACV listings will continue, much activity and some litigation, but to what end?

Simon Ricketts, 14 July 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Planning Court

Time flies. The Planning Court started life on 6 April 2014, as a specialist list within the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.

The Queen’s Bench Division includes the Administrative Court, which is responsible for public law claims, which are usually pursued by way of judicial review or by way of a quasi- judicial review statutory challenge or appeal, allowed for in a specific piece of legislation. As described in detail in a February 2014 piece by Richard Harwood QC, the Planning Court evolved from the Administrative Court’s fast track procedure which had been established to allocated important planning cases to be heard quickly before specialist judges.

As defined in Part 54 of the Civil Procedure Rules, a ‘Planning Court claim’ means:

“a judicial review or statutory challenge which —

(a) involves any of the following matters —

(i) planning permission, other development consents, the enforcement of planning control and the enforcement of other statutory schemes;

(ii) applications under the Transport and Works Act 1992;

(iii) wayleaves;

(iv) highways and other rights of way;

(v) compulsory purchase orders;

(vi) village greens;

(vii) European Union environmental legislation and domestic transpositions, including assessments for development consents, habitats, waste and pollution control;

(viii) national, regional or other planning policy documents, statutory or otherwise; or

(ix) any other matter the judge appointed under rule 54.22(2) considers appropriate; and

(b) has been issued or transferred to the Planning Court.”

Since February 2017, Holgate J has been the Planning Liaison Judge, overseeing the operation of the Planning Court and allocating cases to judges with appropriate expertise.

His “no nonsense” approach might be discerned from this blistering passage in R (Network Rail Infrastructure Limited v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 8 September 2017):

I regret the need to have to make some observations on the inappropriate manner in which the claim was put before the court. I do so in order to make it plain to litigants that the practices that were followed in this case, and regrettably sometimes in others, are not acceptable. Notwithstanding the clear statement by Sullivan J (as he then was) in R (Newsmith Stainless Ltd) v Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions[2001] EWHC (Admin) 74 at paragraphs 6-10, this claim was accompanied by six volumes comprising over 2,000 pages of largely irrelevant material. The Claimant’s skeleton argument was long, diffuse and often confused. It also lacked proper cross-referencing to those pages in the bundles which were being relied upon by the Claimant. The skeleton gave little help to the court.

Shortly before the hearing the court ordered the production of a core bundle for the hearing not exceeding 250 pages. During the hearing, it was necessary to refer to only 5 or 6 pages outside that core bundle. Ultimately, as will be seen below, the claim succeeds on one rather obvious point concerned with the effect of the Grampian condition in the 2016 permission. But this had merely been alluded to in paragraph 76 and the first two lines of paragraph 77 of the skeleton. Indeed, the point was buried within the discussion of Ground 3 of the claim, a part of the Claimant’s argument to which it does not belong. Nevertheless, Mr Tim Buley, who appeared on behalf of the Defendant, acknowledged that he had appreciated that this point could be raised. He was ready to respond to it.

Certainly, for applications for statutory review or judicial review of decisions by Planning Inspectors or by the Secretary of State, including many of those cases designated as “significant” under CPR PD 54E, a core bundle of up to about 250 pages is generally sufficient to enable the parties’ legal arguments to be made. In many cases the bundle might well be smaller. Even where the challenge relates to a decision by a local planning authority, the size of the bundle need not be substantially greater in most cases.

Prolix or diffuse “grounds” and skeletons, along with excessively long bundles, impede the efficient handling of business in the Planning Court and are therefore contrary to the rationale for its establishment. Where the fault lies at the door of a claimant, other parties may incur increased costs in having to deal with such a welter of material before they can respond to the Court in a hopefully more incisive manner. Whichever party is at fault, such practices are likely to result in more time needing to be spent by the judge in pre-reading material so as to penetrate or decode the arguments being presented, the hearing may take longer, and the time needed to prepare a judgment may become extended. Consequently, a disproportionate amount of the Court’s finite resources may have to be given to a case prepared in this way and diverted from other litigants waiting for their matters to be dealt with. Such practices do not comply with the overriding objective and the duties of the parties (CPR 1.1 to 1.3). They are unacceptable.

The Court has wide case management powers to deal with such problems (see for example CPR 3.1). For example, it may consider refusing to accept excessively long skeletons or bundles, or skeletons without proper cross-referencing. It may direct the production of a core bundle or limit the length of a skeleton, so that the arguments are set out incisively and without “forensic chaff”. It is the responsibility of the parties to help the Court to understand in an efficient manner those issues which truly need to be decided and the precise points upon which each such issue turns. The principles in the CPR for dealing with the costs of litigation provide further tools by which the Court may deal with the inappropriate conduct of litigation, so that a party who incurs costs in that manner has to bear them.”

However, the lack of recent statistics as to the performance of the Planning Court is frustrating.

Anecdotally, I would suspect that there is a small reduction in the overall number of claims, no doubt partly due to the toughened approach to costs protection for claimants since 28 February 2017 . For those claims that are brought, the permission stage appears to be an increasingly difficult hurdle and (particularly with that stage having been introduced since 26 October 2015 into statutory challenges) fewer claims are getting to a full hearing. On the other hand, increasingly, controversial or complex cases are being actively case managed so that they proceed directly to a “rolled up” hearing. Despite the increasingly small pool of specialist judges, we are not seeing particular delays in case listings. However, this is an individual reaction not rooted in data and your experience may be different?

Last month the Ministry of Justice published its quarterly justice statistics (to March 2018) but they do not separate out the performance of the Planning Court.

There is a table showing the success rate of “planning and related” statutory challenges (ie not judicial reviews but applications under specific statutory provisions such as to quash inspectors’ and the Secretary of State’s decision letters, local plans and so on) that went to a full hearing. Most, but not necessarily all, of these will be been heard by the Planning Court. The statistics do indeed show a decreasing number of statutory challenges that go to a full hearing.

What is more problematic is that the data on judicial review does not separately identify Planning Court cases, simply breaking down judicial review cases into “civil – immigration and asylum”, “civil – other” (which includes planning), criminal and “unknown”.

It would be good to have for example reliable statistics as to overall numbers of judicial review claims in the Planning Court, the proportion that fall at the permission hurdle, overall success rates and timescales.

After all, one of the objectives behind the establishment of the court in 2014 was to provide for a speedier process. For “significant” claims there are specific target timescales.

Significant cases are defined as those which:

“(a) relate to commercial, residential, or other developments which have significant economic impact either at a local level or beyond their immediate locality;

(b) raise important points of law;

(c) generate significant public interest; or

(d) by virtue of the volume or nature of technical material, are best dealt with by judges with significant experience of handling such matters.”

Practice Direction 54E, which governs claims in the Planning Court states:

3.4 The target timescales for the hearing of significant (as defined by paragraph 3.2) Planning Court claims, which the parties should prepare to meet, are as follows, subject to the overriding objective of the interests of justice—

(a) applications for permission to apply for judicial review or planning statutory review are to be determined within three weeks of the expiry of the time limit for filing of the acknowledgment of service;

(b) oral renewals of applications for permission to apply for judicial review or planning statutory review are to be heard within one month of receipt of request for renewal;

(c) applications for permission under section 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are to be determined within one month of issue;

(d) planning statutory reviews are to be heard within six months of issue; and

(e) judicial reviews are to be heard within ten weeks of the expiry of the period for the submission of detailed grounds by the defendant or any other party as provided in rule 54.14.”

Anecdotally, yes claims are indeed largely dealt with pretty quickly compared with elsewhere in the High Court but are these specific targets being met? And is the proportion increasing of claims that are failing at the permission stage (and, if so, what does that tell us)?

So, what do the general JR statistics show?

This is an extract from a table showing success rates:

In 2017 there were 4,196 claims lodged. 15% (615) were granted permission on the papers and 59% (2,484) were refused. Of those 2,484 claims, 146 obtained permission at oral renewal stage. Of those 761 claims, only 181 went to a full hearing and of those only 88 were found in favour of the claimant. Of course at each stage, proceedings are often settled, perhaps some were still waiting to be heard and a few may subsequently succeed on appeal, but that is quite some sieving, with only 2% of the total number of claims lodged resulting in a finding for the claimant.

Another table starts to break down those 4,196 claims, showing that well over half of JR claims still relate to immigration and asylum claims. Only 1,722 of them related to other civil claims (ie including Planning Court JR claims).

Who are the defendants? The commentary says this:

Local Authorities had 713 applications lodged against them (third largest recipient), down 6% on the previous year. Of these cases, 216 were granted permission to proceed to final hearing (30% of applications), and of these, 33 were found in favour of the claimant.

Finally, what about timescales? There is just this table:

The cases that went to a full hearing in 2017 took on average 194 days (working days I assume) from being lodged to a final hearing decision, although the figures may end up slightly worse than that if some cases have not yet concluded.

Am I missing a whole level of detail or is this really the best that we have in terms of the High Court’s performance in relation to planning law matters? And are up to date statistics for the Planning Court really not publicly available?

Simon Ricketts, 6 July 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Challenging Plans Before They Are Hatched

Can you challenge a draft local plan in the High Court before it is submitted to the Secretary of State for examination? When does the ouster in section 113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 kick in, which prevents development plan documents from being “questioned in any legal proceedings” except by way of an application for leave made before the end of six weeks beginning with the date that the document is adopted by the local planning authority?

These ouster provisions in legislation cause problems. For instance, in my 4 February 2017 blog post Hillingdon JR: Lucky Strike Out?, I reported on a case where the equivalent provision in relation to challenges to national policy statements under the NSIPs regime was relied upon to strike out a challenge to the Government’s announcement of a decision to publish a draft airports NPS.

R (CK Properties (Theydon Bois) Limited) v Epping Forest District Council (Supperstone J, 29 June 2018) concerned a challenge by a developer to Epping Forest District Council’s decision on 14 December 2017 to proceed with regulation 19 consultation of the submission version of its draft local plan prior to its submission to the Secretary of State for examination.

For those not familiar with the process, in summary authorities first have to carry out consultation in relation to their proposed development plans under Regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 and take that consultation into account in preparing a revised version either for further Regulation 18 consultation or, if they consider that the document is ready for examination, for submission to the Secretary of State – in which case they must then carry out further consultation, under Regulation 19, before submitting the plan along with the representations received in response to that further consultation.

Remember back when many local planning authorities were racing to submit their local plans before a deadline of 31 March 2018, when the Government was indicating that its proposed standardised methodology for assessing housing needs would need to be used for plans submitted after that date? Of course that date then slipped with the delays to the draft revised NPPF to a date which will now be six months after the new NPPF is published but that’s another story.

Epping Forest was one of those authorities rushing to submit its plan, a district where the new standardised methodology would apparently increase the required housing provision over the plan period from some 11,400 to 20,306 homes. Some difference.

CK Properties have a site which was not allocated for residential development. Its complaint in the legal proceedings was that the appendix to the council’s site selection report that assessed the various sites considered for allocation and explaining its reasoning was not available at the time the council made its decision to consult on the submission version of its plan, despite assurances in its statement of community involvement that such background documents would be made available. The claimant secured an order from the Planning Court on 20 March 2018 restraining the council from submitting the plan for examination until the claim had been determined.

At the full hearing, the council sought to argue that regardless of the position in relation to the matters complained of, the effect of section 113 was that any challenge would have to await adoption of the plan.

It’s an important issue – can those aggrieved by a decision by a local planning authority to submit its plan to the Secretary of State for examination, challenge that decision by way of judicial review or do they have to store up their complaint until the plan is finally adopted?

The High Court had previously considered a challenge to a decision taken at an earlier stage in the development plan process in The Manydown Company Limited v Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (Lindblom J, 17 April 2012), allowing judicial review proceedings to be brought of a decision by a council to approve a pre-submission draft core strategy for consultation (the equivalent of what is now the regulation 18 stage under the 2012 Regulations). The judge postulated that the position might be different in relation to the submission draft of a plan but considered that section 113 did not preclude challenges to pre-submission drafts.

Indeed the judge saw good sense not closing out the potential for an early challenge:

In a case such as this, an early and prompt claim for judicial review makes it possible to test the lawfulness of decisions taken in the run-up to a statutory process, saving much time and expense – including the expense of public money – that might otherwise be wasted. In principle it cannot be wrong to tackle errors that are properly amenable to judicial review, when otherwise they would have to await the adoption of the plan before the court can put them right.”

The High Court had also considered in IM Properties Development Limited v Lichfield District Council (Patterson J, 18 July 2014) the different question as to whether judicial review proceedings could be brought in relation to main modifications to a local plan or whether the challenge could only be brought post plan adoption by way of section 113. The court determined that the latter position was correct:

Once a document becomes a Development Plan document within the meaning of section 113 of the 2004 Act the statutory language is clear : it must not be questioned in any legal proceedings except in so far as is provided by the other provisions of the section. Sub-section (11)(c) makes it clear that for the purposes of a Development Plan document or a revision of it the date when it is adopted by the Local Planning Authority is the relevant date from when time runs within which the bring a statutory challenge.

It is quite clear, in my judgment and not inconsistent with the Manydown judgment, that once a document has been submitted for examination it is a Development Plan document. The main modifications which have been proposed and which will be the subject of examination are potentially part of that relevant document. To permit any other interpretation would be to give a licence to satellite litigation at an advanced stage of the Development Plan process.”

Having considered the scope of section 113 and these two previous authorities (neither covering the situation of an authority’s decision to proceed with a submission draft plan), Supperstone J concluded that the authority’s decision to prepare for submission of the plan could indeed be challenged by way of judicial review and was not closed out by section 113.

Whilst the claim ultimately failed because the judge did not find any of the grounds of challenge to be made out, the potential implications of the ruling are significant. There is very clearly now a window for judicial review of a local planning authority’s decision to embark on regulation 19 consultation (the formal precursor to submission of the plan for examination). The window closes when the plan is submitted for examination and any subsequent challenge can only be brought once the plan has been adopted. If there are clear grounds for challenge (for instance on the basis of procedural failings in the process to that date) why wait for submission of the plan and its eventual adoption? Indeed, might claimants challenging an adopted plan be criticised and even denied relief if they could have brought proceedings at the earlier stage?

Whilst there is something to be said for the Lindblom LJ (as he now is) view, expressed in Manydown, that early challenge (rather than having potential challenges stored up) can be a good thing, it can surely also be a bad thing if it slows down the process, particularly if, as is so often the case, the challenge is ultimately dismissed.

I assume that one reason why the claimant brought the early challenge in Epping Forest, and secured the interim order obtained from the court preventing submission of the plan until the full hearing had taken place into the challenge, was to seek to ensure that the plan was not submitted until the deadline had passed after which the Government’s standardised methodology for assessing housing needs had been introduced – given that the new methodology would require additional housing sites to be found. However, such have been the delays with the introduction of that methodology and such has been the speed of the court process to date (I do not know whether permission to appeal is being sought) it is very likely that the council will still be in a position to submit its plan on the basis of the old methodology.

Simon Ricketts, 30 June 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Permission Quashed Due To PSED Failure

This year has seen a few cases that will have made developers and decision makers somewhat nervous as to the sheer variety of matters which may give objectors a basis for judicial review, depending of course on the facts in each situation and the reasoning set out for the relevant decision. After, for instance Rainbird (my 12 May 2018 blog post) and People Over Wind (my 20 April 2018 blog post) we now have what I think is the second example of a planning permission being quashed as a result of a local planning authority failing to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (“PSED”) within section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

Section 149 provides as follows:

“(1) A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to—
(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;

(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;

(c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.


(3) Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—


(a) remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are connected to that characteristic;

(b) take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it;
…..


(4) The steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled persons that are different from the needs of persons who are not disabled include, in particular, steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities.
…..


(7) The relevant protected characteristics are—
age;

1. disability;

2. gender reassignment;

3. pregnancy and maternity;

4. race;

5. religion or belief;

6. sex.”

In R (Buckley) v Bath and North East Somerset Council (Lewis J, 20 June 2018) the High Court quashed, on the basis that the PSED in section 149 had not been complied with, an outline planning permission which the local authority had granted for the development of part of the Foxhill Estate by the demolition of up to 542 dwellings and the provision of up to 700 dwellings.

Most of the properties on the estate are owned by a social housing provider, Curo Places Limited, with some properties being leased from other registered social housing providers and others being privately owned. There are currently 414 affordable homes on the site and these would be replaced by 210 affordable homes as part of the redevelopment.

The estate sits alongside the Mulberry Park development, for which planning permission had already been granted for up to 700 homes, including 210 affordable homes. Defined categories of tenants on the Foxhill Estate would be given priority for homes within Mulberry Park.

Whilst the environmental statement and other documents supporting the planning application dealt with socio-economic matters, and the officer’s report to committee also addressed the relevant development plan policy (H8, “affordable housing regeneration schemes”), there was no specific consideration of the PSED in relation to the impact on the elderly and the disabled of losing of their homes. In the circumstances, the relevant questions for the court to grapple with were

⁃ does the PSED apply at outline planning permission stage?

⁃ were PSED issues dealt with in applying policy H8, which had itself been the subject of an equality impact assessment?

⁃ were the issues considered in sufficient detail in any event to comply with the PSED?

⁃ even if there had been a breach, was it highly likely that the outcome would have been the same even without the breach?

The judge held that the duty does apply at outline planning permission stage. The fact that detailed issues, also raising equality considerations, would arise at reserved matters stage did not prevent the duty from arising.

It was not enough that policy H8 was “designed to address issues of equality in the context of affordable housing regeneration schemes which, necessarily, would or might include demolition of properties as part of the process of regeneration“. H8 was too general as a policy automatically to ensure that an application complying with policy H8 met the PSED.

In order to comply with the PSED, it was not essential for the report to committee to refer to it expressly:

In broad terms, the duty is a duty to have due regard to the specified matters not a duty to achieve a specific result. The duty is one of substance, not form, and the real issue is whether the relevant public authority has, in substance, had regard to the relevant matters having regard to the substance of the decision and the authority’s reasoning. The absence of a reference to the public sector equality duty will not, of itself, necessarily mean that the decision-maker failed to have regard to the relevant matters although it is good practice to make reference to the duty, and evidentially useful in demonstrating discharge of the duty.”

The judge found that on balance “the defendant did not in fact have due regard to the impact on the elderly and disabled persons of granting an application which might lead to the demolition of their existing homes…The defendant did not specifically address or have regard to the impact on groups with protected characteristics, in particular the elderly and the disabled, of the loss of their existing home. It may well be that not a great deal would have needed to be said on this matter. It may have been sufficient to draw that matter to the decision-maker’s attention and then the decision-maker could have decided whether the contemplated benefits of the proposed development did outweigh any negative impacts. Ultimately, however, I am persuaded there were matters relevant to the discharge of the public sector equality duty which the relevant decision-maker needed to have due regard to but which were not drawn to the decision-maker’s attention.”

As to whether it was highly likely that the decision would have been the same even if the duty had been complied with, the judge did not feel able to reach that conclusion. He noted that the proposal was controversial. “The ultimate vote was five in favour of the grant of outline planning permission and four against. There would be other options open for addressing the problems of the estate including re-furbishment rather than demolition. In all the circumstance, it cannot be said that it is highly likely that the outline planning permission would have been granted in this particular case if the breach of section 149 of the 2010 Act had not occurred.

As it happens, once the judicial review had been brought, Curo abandoned its demolition plans in favour of refurbishment of the estate and so the purpose of the proceedings was only to seek to ensure, as far as residents were concerned, that that the permission did not remain on the record and capable of implementation at a later stage. However, it still seems to me that the decision to quash was by no means inevitable on the facts. The case is certainly a warning to developers and local planning authorities to be scrupulous in taking into account the implications of proposals for those with section 149 protected characteristics.

The duty of course also applies equally to Inspectors and the Secretary of State in their decision making, as is demonstrated by what I suspect is the only other example of a planning permission being quashed due to breach of the PSED, namely LDRA Limited and others v Secretary of State (Lang J, 6 May 2016). In that case, a planning permission granted on appeal by an inspector for development on the banks of the River Mersey which would restrict access to the river side.

The judge noted that the site was “the only place in the area where public parking next to the river is readily available. The large car park is immediately beside the River Mersey, thus enabling disabled people and their carers to enjoy the river and the fine views across it, and to watch the activities of ships and smaller boats. Disabled people can remain in the car park area (which is built on two levels) or if they are sufficiently mobile, they can proceed a short distance to the riverside promenade (which forms part of the Wirral Circular Trail) either in a wheelchair or on foot. There was clear evidence before the Inspector from several sources that this car park, and the access which it gave to the river, was an amenity which was both regularly used and valued by disabled people (both adults and children with special needs).” She found that “there was a strong argument, based on the written and photographic evidence, that disabled people with impaired mobility would find it very difficult or impossible to go down to the riverside if the development is built because (a) they would be parked too far away; and (b) the footpath down to the riverside, and back up, would be too steep for disabled people and their carers to manage.”

She concluded:

Applying the legal principles set out above, I have concluded that the Inspector did not have due regard to the duty under section 149 in this case. In particular, because of the lack of any detailed consideration of the value of the existing amenity to disabled persons (including, for the immobile, being able to sit in the car and look at the river); the lack of any other comparable amenity in the Birkenhead area; the practical difficulties which would be experienced by persons with restricted mobility and their carers in descending and climbing the steep footpath to the riverside; and the apparent failure to consider whether the loss of the car park would not be merely “less convenient” for disabled persons but might well mean that they would be unable to access the riverside at all. If the Inspector was not fully appraised of the relevant information, he was under an obligation to seek the information required. The statutory equality duty was not mentioned in the planning officers’ report, nor in the Inspector’s decision. Of course, the Inspector could comply with the duty without specifically referring to it. But there is no indication in the decision that the Inspector considered the factors set out in section 149, and tellingly there is no reference, express or implied, to the statutory considerations of removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by disabled persons, and taking steps to meet the needs of disabled persons. I consider it is likely that the Inspector overlooked section 149 in reaching his decision, and thus made an error of law”.

The permission was quashed.

Of course the PSED does not just arise in the context of the determination of planning applications and appeals but generally in the exercise of functions by public authorities (as well as in the exercise of public functions by non-public bodies).

It will be recalled that at first instance (albeit overturned on appeal in Secretary of State v West Berkshire District Council (Court of Appeal, 11 May 2016), Holgate J had quashed the written ministerial statement on minimum affordable housing contribution thresholds and the vacant building credit, partly on the basis of breach of the PSED, given that a disproportionate number of those with protected characteristics were in need of affordable housing, which he did not find had been sufficiently taken into account in the Government’s decision. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that a “relatively broad brush approach” in the equality statement accompanying the WMS was sufficient.

Breach of PSED was also an unsuccessful ground of challenge in the recent judicial review of the Mayor of London’s affordable housing and viability SPG, brought by a group of retirement housing companies (McCarthy & Stone Limited and others v Mayor of London (Ouseley J, 23 May 2018). The judge gave the complaint short shrift:

Mr Warren’s attack is only on one narrow aspect of s149, where he raises a very particular point about the effect of the SPG on the provision by the Claimants of specialist accommodation for the elderly to buy, and hence on those whose protected characteristics could be affected. That point is not actually grappled with in any of the equalities assessments. But the basis for that in Mr Burgess’ evidence ultimately concerns the financing arrangements of the Claimants. “Due regard” for s149 purposes, does not require all possible ways in which someone may be affected, including in this indirect way, to be considered. Still less does it do so when it has not been raised and explained to the degree necessary. It is a very indirect consequence, and not something which one would expect a planning authority to be aware of unless specifically told. “Due regard” does not require an encyclopaedic examination of all the ways, not by any means obvious, in which an equality effect might be argued to arise.

Ms Peters has also explained that she did not accept that the sort of problems which Mr Burgess described were soundly based or significant for the sector. She was entitled to come to that view, and in so doing to conclude that there was no impact of significance to be considered or which had been omitted.

Even if criticism can be made of the form in which the fulfilment of the PSED duty is recorded, and even if there was a point which could have been considered in the course of having “due regard”, I find it impossible to consider that the outcome of its consideration could have been different in view of the rejection by the GLA of the factual basis upon which the Claimants’ rely. It is not for me to resolve that issue. The GLA view is not unreasonable.”

Whilst all cases of course turn on their facts, the Buckley judgment (which incidentally does not cite West Berkshire, McCarthy & Stone or indeed LRDA) does appear to take a tougher stance in relation to the need for proper compliance with the PSED (the facts in LRDA are certainly more stark). The lessons must surely be to ensure that developers and decision makers give specific, careful, consideration as to the potential implications of any project for those with section 149 protected characteristics, implications which may not be immediately obvious, and to ensure that the implications are expressly taken into account in decision making.

Simon Ricketts, 22 June 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Photo credit Bath Newseum

Long Players: Time & Money

Is there more that can be done to encourage timely resolution of issues that arise at planning application stage?

Two prompts for this blog post:

1.Provectus Remediation Limited v Derbyshire County Council (Sir Wyn Williams, 8 June 2018), which considered the circumstances in which an applicant for planning permission is entitled to a full fee refund if the application is not determined within 26 weeks.

2. The Secretary of State’s Lotmead Farm, Swindon decision dated 13 June 2018 to accept his inspector’s recommendation to award the local authority its costs against the appellant for unreasonable behaviour in relation to two appeals – on the basis that the appeal process had been used to “evolve the schemes“, contrary to the Planning Inspectorate’s procedural guide (the Secretary of State having dismissed the appeals in a separate decision letter of the same date).

Planning application refunds

In our ridiculous legislative patchwork you need to look at the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 which amended the 2012 Regulations from 1 October 2013 so as to introduce, as Regulation 9A, the right for an applicant to have its application fee refunded “in the event that the local planning authority fail, or the Secretary of State, in relation to an application made under section 62A of the 1990 Act fails, to determine the application within 26 weeks of the date when a valid application was received by the local planning authority or the Secretary of State, as the case may be.

Regulation 9A (2) provides that the right does not apply where “the applicant and the local planning authority, or, in the case of an application under section 62A of the 1990 Act, the Secretary of State, have agreed in writing that the application is to be determined within an extended period“, the application has been called in, is the subject of an appeal or of judicial review.

In the Provectus case, the claimant had submitted its planning application on 14 September 2014, paying an application fee of £44,000, withdrew the application and resubmitted the application on 22 December 2015 (no additional fee payable due to Regulation 9 of the 2012 Regulations), which was registered by the local planning authority on 25 January 2016. Further environmental information was requested by the authority in April 2016, which was provided (following an extension of time requested by the claimant) in July 2016. On 3 August 2016 the authority requested an extension of time for determining the application and an extension to 7 November 2016 was agreed. Further environmental information was then sought by the authority during the period, the claimant’s agent agreed to that and then was replaced by another agent, which no longer agreed to provide the information, arguing that it had in part already been provided and in part was unnecessary. In December 2016 the claimant appealed on the basis of non-determination and in March 2017 requested that the authority refund the fee.

So in short, a real mess but unfortunately not an unusual sequence of events. From a limited knowledge of events gained solely from the account in the judgment, I would guess that neither side particularly smelt of roses.

The claimant judicially reviewed the decision of the authority to refuse to refund the application fee. The authority took the position that Regulation 9A (2) disapplies the right where the applicant and authority have agreed an extended period for determining the application. The claimant argued that this should not be the case if the application is not then determined within the agreed extended period. To assist their respective stances, both parties’ counsel sought to rely on different parts of the explanatory memorandum that accompanied the 2013 Regulations.

Wholly unsurprisingly, the judge rejected any purposive interpretation:

A refund of a fee paid at the time of a planning application should be made only if a period of 26 weeks has elapsed from the receipt of a valid application and that application has not been determined by the local planning authority. In my judgment, if the applicant and the local planning authority agree in writing that the 26 week period should be extended the planning fee paid by the applicant does not fall to be refunded even if the local planning authority fails to determine the application within the extended period.”

So the claimant did not recover its £44,000 and now faces not only a costs bill from its own lawyers but liability to pay the authority’s costs in relation to the litigation.

The case does highlight a few things:

1. Don’t forget about the right to a refund.

2. Take it into account in your decision making as to whether to agree a time extension.

3. The Regulations plainly risk giving rise to perverse incentives: (1) it is so much safer for an authority if it can agree an extension of time, after which it is not at risk of a fee refund however poor its performance and (2) canny applicants may decline to agree time extensions where an application is running into the sand.

I did wonder to myself why the argument wasn’t made by the claimant that at least 26 weeks had already passed between the submission of a valid application in December 2015 and the agreed time extension but I assume that this wouldn’t have worked given that the formal request under the EIA Regulations for further environmental information would have had the effect of stopping the clock running until the information had been provided and/or that the agreed extension of time for providing that additional environmental information may have itself disapplied Regulation 9A? As ever reality is more complicated than legislation envisages.

Using the appeal system to “evolve” a scheme

Where there is lack of engagement on the part of a local planning authority, what real remedy is there aside from an appeal? And yet Annexe B of the Planning Inspectorate’s procedural guide seeks to encourage resolution of issues before an appeal has been submitted, reflecting the advice in the Planning Practice Guidance:

Before making any appeal the party seeking permission should first consider re-engaging with the local planning authority to discuss whether any changes to the proposal would make it more acceptable and likely to gain permission. It is possible that a further planning application may be submitted without charge. However, this will depend on the circumstances of each case, so parties should ask the local planning authority for further details.”

Annexe M of the PINS procedural guide states:

M.2.1 If an appeal is made the appeal process should not be used to evolve a scheme and it is important that what is considered by the Inspector is essentially what was considered by the local planning authority, and on which interested people’s views were sought.

M.2.2 Where, exceptionally, amendments are proposed during the appeals process the Inspector will take account of the Wheatcroft Principles when deciding if the proposals can be formally amended. In the ‘Wheatcroft’ judgment22 the High Court considered the issue of amendments in the context of conditions and established that “the main, but not the only, criterion on which… judgment should be exercised is whether the development is so changed that to grant it would be to deprive those who should have been consulted on the changed development of the opportunity of such consultation”. It has subsequently been established that the power to consider amendments is not limited to cases where the effect of a proposed amendment would be to reduce the development.

M.2.3 Whilst amendments to a scheme might be thought to be of little significance, in some cases even minor changes can materially alter the nature of an application and lead to possible prejudice to other interested people.

M.2.4 The Inspector has to consider if the suggested amendment(s) might prejudice anyone involved in the appeal. He or she may reach the conclusion that the proposed amendment(s) should not be considered and that the appeal has to be decided on the basis of the proposal as set out in the application.”

The position in which the developer found itself at the Lotmead Farm appeals was that it had sought pre-application advice from Swindon Borough Council over a period from December 2013 to May 2015 in relation to a proposal for up to 2,600 homes together with associated development, on a site with a strategic allocation in the local plan. An application for outline planning permission for the whole scheme as well as an application for outline permission for an initial phase of 200 homes were made on 30 April 2015. The council made a series of requests for further information and for extensions of time. The council refused the applications on 30 June 2016 at a point where the developer was seeking to resolve or at least narrow the issues.

After submitting appeals against the refusals the developer then made a series of amendments to the proposals to seek to address the reasons for refusal. At a pre-inquiry meeting the developer indicated the scope of the amendments that would be made and that an ES addendum would shortly be publicised. The inspector postponed the inquiry to allow participants in the inquiry to have sufficient preparation time. The amendments apparently were then more significant than had been identified. The changes included an additional 2 form entry primary school, an increase in the red line area, changes to the transport proposals, to all of the parameter plans and to the illustrative masterplan and green infrastructure parameter plans. “Moreover, over the following months additional amendments and information were submitted by the appellant and corrections were made to submitted documents“. The ES addendum entailed six of the topic areas being superseded.

In his report on the appeals, the inspector sets out the amendments in detail before stating at paragraph 10.14:

In conclusion, the amended schemes are very significantly different to those determined by the Council and have evolved considerably during the course of the appeals. To use the appeal process in this way is contrary to Procedural Guidance and does not sit comfortably with the Wheatcroft principle. There are no exceptional circumstances to justify this approach. No specific case of prejudice has been highlighted but compliance with the Procedural Guidance is the best way to ensure no-one is disadvantaged through the appeal process.”

She considered that it was appropriate to consider the appeals on the basis of the originally submitted proposals, although (since the appeals had been recovered for the Secretary of State’s own determination) she considered the proposed revisions in detail as well in case the Secretary of State took a different approach. She recommended that the appeals be dismissed, whether or not the revised proposals were considered.

In his decision letter, the Secretary of State accepted the recommendation that the revised proposals should not be considered:

13. The Secretary of State has given careful consideration to the Inspector’s analysis at IR10.1-10.15. The Secretary of State has taken into account that all parameter plans and the illustrative masterplans were amended (IR10.6). The Secretary of State has further taken into account that the ES also was substantially reviewed, with six of the topic chapters being superseded. The Secretary of State has further taken into account at IR10.7 that further amendments were made including proposals for access, surface water management, trees and landscaping. For the reasons given at IR10.6-10.7, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR10.7 that the evolution of the proposals results in an overall very considerable change to the schemes and to the quality of the supporting information.

14. For the reasons given at IR10.6-10.7, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR10.8 that the amended schemes are not the schemes determined by the local planning authority in June 2016 and on which interested people’s views were sought (IR10.8). The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the narrowing of the areas of dispute was of assistance to the efficient running of the inquiry but was carried out very late in the day. He further agrees that the approach adopted by the appellant during the course of the appeals has not been in accordance with procedural guidance (IR10.8).

15. As such, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR10.9 that the changes to the proposals in the Masterplan and the Phase 1 appeals are sufficiently material that consultation on the amendments would be essential.

16. The Secretary of State has taken into account the Inspector’s conclusions on consultation at IR10.10-10.13. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR10.14 that the amended schemes are very significantly different to those determined by the Council and have evolved considerably during the course of the appeals. He further agrees that to use the appeal process in this way is contrary to procedural guidance and does not sit comfortably with the Wheatcroft principle and there are no exceptional circumstances to justify this approach; and agrees that no specific case of prejudice has been highlighted but compliance with the procedural guidance is the best way to ensure no-one is disadvantaged through the appeal process (IR10.14). He concludes, in agreement with the Inspector, that the appeals should be determined on the basis of the original proposals (IR10.15).”

A separate report and decision letter addressed an application for costs that was made by the borough council. The inspector recommended that a full award of costs be allowed:

Unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense, as described in the Planning Practice Guidance, has been demonstrated in that:

• appeals were made on the original schemes when there was no reasonable prospect of success, and

• the appeal process was used to evolve the schemes, which was contrary to Procedural Guidance.”

She noted that if amendments to the proposals had been pursued through another application “there would be a greater probability of compromise on both sides, outside of the adversarial appeal process. The normal development management process has been avoided.”

The Secretary of State agreed.

Perhaps here the circumstances were exceptional but I do worry whether this is the right direction for the planning system to be heading in – although I appreciate that the Government and the Planning Inspectorate would prefer a clean, front-loaded appeal process that is only used as a last resort. If anything may conceivably focus a local planning authority on resolving matters with an applicant, it is the risk that its position may come under scrutiny at inquiry. I do not know if this was the case at Lotmead Farm but sometimes it is impossible to ascertain what the authority’s position is, or what changes to a scheme may be considered acceptable. If the developer has to wait for a refusal notice and start again with a further application before appealing, without the ability to bring matters to a head by way of the appeal and changes made as part of the appeal process, appealing becomes increasingly impractical as an option (and the authority knows it).

Of course there has to be a limit to the scale of any amendments made at the appeal stage. But as long as the amendments are fully consulted upon is there really such a problem if they improve the scheme and ensure that permission can be granted by the inspector or Secretary of State rather than a further application being required? Not only do we now have an appeal process that is increasingly slow, we have a process that is increasingly impractical in relation to complex schemes, where interation is inevitable and surely no bad thing.

At least through its appeal, notwithstanding not achieving permission and having an expensive adverse award of costs against it, the Lotmead Farm developer did manage to narrow various issues with the authority and third parties, and secure detailed comments from the inspector on various elements of its proposals, some negative, some negative, but sufficient presumably now to form the firm basis for a further application. The inspector even identified a series of elements of the section 106 package that did not comply with regulation 122 and which presumably will not be included next time round (which will save a substantial sum). It is just a shame that there is not the ability to secure, more nimbly, equivalent independent expert input during the application stage itself so as to resolve differences – rather than tie everyone up in a slow, expensive and adversarial process.

Simon Ricketts, 15 June 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Judicious Review?

It’s the examination season: daughter, university finals; son, A levels; me, asked by a journal for my thoughts on the interim report published by the Raynsford Review (Planning 2020: Interim report of the Raynsford review of Planning in England May 2018). I’m sharing my first thoughts with you so please set me right, because I really don’t want just to write a piece damning the whole process with faint praise.

I wrote a blog post on 28 August 2017, Another Review when the review was announced, instigated by the Town and Country Planning Association “to identify how the Government can reform the English planning system to make it fairer, better resourced and capable of producing quality outcomes, while still encouraging the production of new homes.”

The review’s chair, Nick Raynsford, is the right person for the role. His professional life inside and outside Parliament has focused on planning and housing issues.

However, I was sceptical as to the governmental appetite for further significant reform of the planning system and queried the role of any recommendations without endorsement from the major political parties. That scepticism increased when the next month the Labour party announced its own review of the planning system (see my 30 September 2017 blog post Mending The Planning System (Has Anyone Tried Switching It Off And On Again?). I also queried the role of any fundamental review of the planning system outside any wider political vision:

The planning system is a machine, big cogs, little cogs, to deliver the government of the day’s social, economic and environmental objectives. Unless the review is just to be about process, what objectives are to be assumed in framing recommendations?

Turning to the interim report published last month. It’s all to play for because a “final round of feedback” is sought by 16 July 2018.

The 71 page document is strong on the evolution of the modern planning system from 1947, previous reviews and on summarising the current system. It recounts the numerous public events and meetings held by the review team and the 197 submissions of evidence received, before setting out seven “emerging policy themes“, nine “basic questions which define the direction of reform” and, provisionally, nine “propositions for a new planning system“.

So we have (each accompanied in the document by explanatory text):

Emerging policy themes

• the degree to which the current system is delivering on
its objectives;

• how much power spatial planning should have
(positive and negative);

• how the balance of planning powers should be
distributed between central and local government;

• the right spatial structure for planning, including local
government structure and boundaries;

• the degree to which communities should have
meaningful control over their own local environment,
and the nature of community rights; and

• issues of betterment and fair land taxation.

Basic questions which define the direction of reform

What is the justification for a spatial planning system in

a market economy?

What is purpose of a spatial planning system, and how should this be expressed?

What should the scope and powers of the spatial planning system be?

What should the governance arrangements for these structures and institutions be, and what role, and how much power, should there be for the citizen in decision-making?

What are the basic outcomes that people can expect from the planning process?

Can we simplify the legal structures of planning?
What institutional structures are required to support

spatial planning?
What taxation or charging measures are necessary to

deal with the economic impact of land use regulation?

What sorts of skills, practice and culture do planners

need to support the system?

Propositions for a new planning system

Proposition 1: Planning in the public interest

Proposition 2: Planning with a purpose

Proposition 3: A powerful, people-centred planning system

Proposition 4: A new covenant for community participation

Proposition 5: A new commitment to meeting people’s basic needs

Proposition 6: Simplified planning law

Proposition 7: Alignment between the agencies of English planning

Proposition 8: A fairer way to share land values

Proposition 9: A new kind of creative and visionary planner

The conclusion of the analysis in the work so far is that planning is “at a historically low ebb“. It is in a worse state than it has been for 75 years and that “the last thing that is needed is more short-term tinkering with the nuts and bolts. Instead, what is required is a deep and hard look at the fundamentals – what should be the purpose of planning, how can it best be structured to deliver the outcomes that the country needs, and how can all parties be engaged most constructively in the process?

You begin to see the breadth and ambition of the project. But if wholesale change is to be prompted by a process that is not sponsored by government or government-in-waiting, there is a huge job of work to be done by the review panel between now and the final report, which is to be published in the Autumn for the party conferences.

First, avoid generalities. Set out with quantified evidence why and where the planning system is not delivering. What detailed points were made in the responses and do they reflect the views of all participants in the planning process?

Secondly, bring the issues to life. The interim review in tone is part academic, part old-fashioned tub-thumping, empty of people, empty of place. If you want to see how to do it, read The Secret Barrister’s devastatingly detailed critique of the modern criminal justice system.

Thirdly, set the problems and gripes that we have with our planning system in context. The planning system may appear at times and in places to be on its knees, or dysfunctional in the way that it operates. But in comparison with areas of public administration, whisper it quietly, it may not be so bad. I have mentioned the criminal justice system, but the health service, benefits, the rating system even (having just read Jerry Schurder’s 8 June 2018 blog post What we could learn from the rest of the world – if only the Government was interested). I have practised under every iteration of the planning system since 1985. If there was a golden age, it was before then I assure you. And yet, by and large, outcomes are fair (if slow), people have their say, development happens or doesn’t happen. Let’s also set our system in an international context – how is our English system performing as compared to the rest of the United Kingdom or Europe?

Fourthly, recognise and reflect on the inherent contradictions. The interim report talks of giving the public a greater say in decision-making but then of a new commitment to meeting people’s basic needs such as the right to a home and of the “deployment of modernised Development Corporations to deal with particularly demanding issues such as flood risk, economic renewal, and population change“. It talks of simplified planning laws but then of a four tier system of neighbourhood, local, regional and national alongside development corporations and of new interventions to share land values.

Fifthly, give appropriate emphasis to the need to encourage the production of new homes, specifically referred to in the remit of the review. So far I see little in the interim report that would give that encouragement. Indeed, the document strongly criticises the current permitted development right to convert office uses to residential, without any detailed analysis of whether the disbenefits do indeed outweigh the benefit acknowledged in the report (between 86,665 and 95,045 units delivered between 2010 and 2017).

Sixthly, explain how we are going to get from here to there. The document reports the planning system as having “been in an almost constant state of flux over the past decade and a half” but how would we reform the system to Version Raynsford without equivalent upheavals? And if we assume that there is no prospect of wholesale change within the shelf life of the report, what might be less ambitious, but still helpful, interventions?

Seventhly, acknowledge that the next ten years will see enormous changes, whether economic-political (Brexit, possibly), social (how we live, work, shop) and technological (spatial implications but also the changes that plantech will bring to the very processes of planning and public engagement).

In the meantime, utopian thinking shouldn’t deflect us from events which may have more immediate implications.

First, Sir Oliver Letwin’s build-out review is continuing at pace. It is looking to “explain the significant gap between housing completions and the amount of land allocated or permissioned in areas of high housing demand, and make recommendations for closing it”. Sir Oliver has indicated that he will publish “analytical work by the end of June in the form of a Draft Analysis. This will contain only a description of the problem and of its causes

Secondly, MHCLG will be publishing this month a consultation paper in relation to further potential widening of permitted development rights. The review panel won’t enjoy that I’m sure.

Thirdly, practical thinking continues on land value capture. Commons HCLG Committee on Land Value Capture held an oral evidence session on 4 June 2018 (read the transcript) with a further session on 11 June at which the TCPA’s Hugh Ellis (who should take huge credit for the work that he has put into the Raynsford review process) will appear, alongside others including lawyers Barry Denyer-Green, Stephen Ashworth and Vicky Fowler.

Fourthly, the Labour party continues to announce policy reviews, most recently in April, Housing For The Many.

All of this is interesting of course (and, despite my carping, the Raynsford interim report is an impressive and illuminating piece of work) but until there is a very different political climate (with the time and power to think about big, complicated changes for the public good – and even then town and country planning should take its place in the queue), we plainly will need to carry on making the best of the current system. It creaks, but it isn’t broken. Of course, at the very least, consolidation of the legislation would be helpful, but at present even that seems an impractical dream.

Views?

Simon Ricketts, 9 June 2018

Personal views, et cetera