CIL The Merciless

Failing to serve a CIL notice can have huge consequences, as R (Shropshire Council) v Secretary of State (Mr C M G Ockleton, vice president of the Upper Tribunal, sitting as a High Court judge, 16 January 2019) illustrates.

Mr Jones, a self-builder, secured planning permission for a large new home with triple garage. Good news.

He received a liability notice for CIL assessing the amount of CIL that would be payable on commencement of the development as £36,891.43. Bad news.

He then applied for and secured full relief from CIL, relying on the self-building exemption. Good news.

In order not to lose the benefit of the relief, regulation 54B (6) provides that a “person who is granted an exemption for self-build housing ceases to be eligible for that exemption if a commencement notice is not submitted to the collecting authority before the day the chargeable development is commenced.”

You can see what is going to come next.

There was a section 106 agreement under which Mr Jones was obliged to notify the council when works pursuant to the planning permission were to begin, as the commencement date triggered a contribution of £9,000 under the agreement. Mr Jones sent the council an email with a heading referring to the section 106 agreement, notifying the council that works would commence the next day, which the council acknowledged, under the same heading.

Mr Jones didn’t send a separate commencement notice in the form required by the CIL Regulations.

The worst of news: he then receives a demand notice requiring the full £39,891.43 on the ground that the development had commenced without a commencement notice being sent to the council plus a surcharge of £2,500 for “invalid commencement“.

Mr Jones responded with a letter of horror and apology, saying that he knew about the Regulations and thought that he had given sufficient notice of commencement by his email of 10 July. The relevant Council official replied in sympathetic terms but pointing out that the CIL process is separate from the planning process and is controlled very precisely by national regulations in relation to which the local authority had no discretion.”

Mr Jones, then instructed solicitors and counsel (good money after bad) and after various exchanges his representatives appealed against the demand notice (or rather a replacement demand notice that the council issued, given that the deadline for appealing against the first demand notice had passed).

Good news: The inspector allowed his appeal: the inspector “accepted that “on a literal interpretation of the Regulations” the email did not include particulars required by Form 6 (the form specified for the purpose under reg 67) and failed to identify the LN reference, but that the “oversight” was not fatal to Mr Jones’ case, because the email did refer to the relevant site and planning permission and unambiguously specified the intended date of commencement. In these circumstances, at para 10, he held that “in practice, substance, form and all intent and purposes the email communication has the same effect as Form 6”. He said he was content that “the purpose behind CIL reg 67 has been satisfied in spirit at least” and “the apparent failure to strictly comply with the terms of reg 67(2) should be put aside”. There was in any event no prejudice to the collecting authority because it was aware of the date.”

Alarm bells ring – “satisfied in spirit at least” when you are dealing with the CIL Regulations??

Bad news: the council challenges the appeal decision in the High Court and the Secretary of State consents to judgment, leaving poor Mr Jones to fight on. Potentially £40k+ down and now in High Court litigation, with exposure to paying the council’s legal costs if he loses.

Even worse news: the High Court finds for the council:

First, the email did not amount to a valid commencement notice because it did not comply with the requirements of regulation 67 (2, which requires that it must:

(a) be submitted in writing on a form published by the Secretary of State (or a form to substantially the same effect);

(b) identify the liability notice issued in respect of the chargeable development;

(c) state the intended commencement date of the chargeable development; and

(d) include the other particulars specified or referred to in the form.”

Secondly, the case law does “not justify a process of simply looking to see the apparent purpose of the regulations and treating any act fulfilling that purpose as sufficient to comply with them. The Regulations make perfectly clear that the consequence of failure to comply is loss of the exemption; and failure to comply means failure to submit a notice under reg 67.

Finally the judge rejected the submission by Saira Sheikh QC “that in the circumstances of the present case the court should in its discretion refuse to grant relief to the Council. The requirements and the forms for fulfilling them are readily available, were made available to Mr Jones, and he accepted that he knew a commencement notice needed to be given. Only when the consequences of his failure were brought home to him in a substantial charge did Mr Jones claim that an email sent to the Council on an entirely different topic was his attempt to comply with the detailed requirements of which he was aware. There is no trace of any waiver or attempted waiver by the Council, and I do not see that Mr Jones could properly have interpreted the reply to his email in relation to s 106 as a waiver of the obligation to submit a commencement notice if he wished to maintain his self-build exemption. The argument based on the Inspector’s view that the Council should have told him (again) that he needed to submit a commencement notice is without merit: the Inspector was simply wrong about that. No system of administration could survive a duty imposed on a recipient of an email on one subject to remind its sender of all other notices on different subjects that he might want to send. The fact that the penalties are discretionary does not mean that the imposition of CIL itself is discretionary: it is not. The Council seems to have behaved as sympathetically as they could, imposing a minimum interest charge; and maintaining the imposition of the surcharge, in the absence of which Mr Jones would have no right of appeal. His difficulties have been caud maintaining the imposition of the surcharge, in the absence of which Mr Jones would have no right of appeal. His difficulties have been caused entirely by his own acts and I see no good reason to relieve him from the consequences at the expense of the ratepayers of Shropshire.

What an unforgiving process this is. As commented by solicitor David Brock in a tweet when Town Legal circulated this case yesterday:

The complications and traps of the CIL Regulations and self-builders are not really compatible. Which is odd given that Government encourages self- and custom-house building

Of course, the Government will say that it already has proposals in hand to deal with injustices such as this, in its consultation document Reforming developer contributions: Technical consultation on draft regulations. In Mr Jones’ situation there would now be (once the draft regulations are finalised and in force) “a surcharge equal to 20 per cent of the notional chargeable amount or £2,500, whichever is the lower amount.”

Clearly, the proposals will assist but cases such as that of Mr Jones illustrate both the absurdly rigid nature of the system but also the curious approach of charging authorities, on the one hand sympathetic, but on the other hand going out of the way to take court proceedings to overturn an inspector’s decision that might be said to have arrived at a morally right outcome by the wrong legal reasoning (which would admittedly have created a terrible precedent). And as for that sentence in the judgment…

“His difficulties have been caused entirely by his own acts and I see no good reason to relieve him from the consequences at the expense of the ratepayers of Shropshire“.

First of all, whilst mercy is not possible under the regulations and it is difficult to see how the legal answer could have been any different, surely a little sympathy expressed for Mr Jones might have been appropriate and secondly, this betrays some degree of misunderstanding as to the modern system of local government finance and I wonder how much money from CIL receipts Shropshire Council already has sitting in its accounts, to which it now adds this windfall?

Simon Ricketts, 19 January 2019

Personal views, et cetera

PS Good news last week: obviously subscribe to Tom Dobson’s new blog, Man Plans God Laughs, last week’s piece being on that consultation document. (NB pic below is of Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless – who would obviously have enjoyed CIL – rather than of Tom, where the relationship is more nuanced).

Section 106 Agreements & Public Procurement

Faraday v West Berkshire Council (Court of Appeal, 14 November 2018) is essential reading for those advising on development agreements between local authorities and developers: the fact that the developer has the benefit of an option as to whether to take an interest in the relevant land and carry out the development does not prevent the agreement from being treated as a public works contract. Quite a reversal from Holgate J at first instance.

For planners and planning lawyers advising on section 106 agreements, the case is more reassuring than for those struggling with development agreements. The Court of Appeal considered that the position in relation to development agreements was to be distinguished with that in relation to section 106 agreement. It expressed the position more firmly than the High Court had previously needed to in Midlands Co-Operative Society Ltd, R (on the application of) v Birmingham City Council and Tesco Stores Limited (Hickinbottom J, 16 March 2012).

The Midlands Co-Operative case concerned a deal reached between Birmingham City Council and Tesco for the redevelopment of land in Stirchley owned by the council on which there was an indoor bowls and community centre. Part of the arrangements between the council and Tesco included a section 106 agreement to provide and fit-out a replacement community centre and indoor bowls facility. The decisions to enter into a contract to sell the site and to use CPO powers to assist with assembly of the remainder of the development site were challenged by a competing developer, the Co-op, which asserted that the arrangements amounted to a public works contract and that that public procurement requirements had been breached.

Hickinbottom J rejected the challenge, on the basis that whilst the council had exchanged contracts to sell the land to Tesco there was no legally enforceable obligation on Tesco to carry out the works unless it chose to proceed. Whether it proceeded with the scheme was at its discretion.

For those reasons, I do not consider that Tesco is now under any legally enforceable obligation to perform any relevant works that mean that the arrangements between it and the Council or any of them (including the contract for the sale of the Community Facility) fall within the scope of “public works contract” for the purposes of the 2006 Regulations; and, hence, the procurement provisions of those Regulations do not apply.

If there had been legally enforceable obligations to perform works, at least the three further potential issues would have arisen, namely (i) whether those obligations were mere planning obligations that would not invoke the provisions of the 2006 Regulations, (ii) whether the 2006 Regulations would not apply, because the main purpose of the arrangement was not the procurement of works, and (iii) whether the 2006 Regulations only give rise to private rights, such that a public law claim based upon them is inappropriate. In the light of my finding that the arrangement involved no legally enforceable obligation to perform works, those issues do not arise in this case; and it is unnecessary for me to consider them further.”

The Court of Appeal in Faraday rejected the notion that if the developer is not under a legally enforceable obligation there cannot be a public works contract. In the lead judgment, Lindblom LJ set out the court’s reasoning as follows:

The touchstone, then, is whether, in substance, the agreement in question, at the date it is concluded, provides for a relevant procurement.

In this case, judged by that test, the development agreement clearly did provide, at the date it was entered into, for a procurement by the council of the development it was intended to deliver. At that date, no further act of procurement by the council remained to be done, for which a lawful public procurement procedure could later be conducted. The time for that had passed. When it entered into the development agreement, the council had nothing more to do to ensure that a “public works contract” would come into being. It had, in fact, done all that it needed to do to procure. It had committed itself contractually, without any further steps being required of it, to a transaction that will fully satisfy the requirements of a “public works contract”. It had committed itself to procuring the development from St Modwen. The development agreement constitutes a procurement in its result, and a procurement without a lawful procurement procedure under the 2004 Directive and the 2006 regulations. The procurement crystallizes when St Modwen draws down the land. The ground lease entered into by St Modwen will contain an unqualified obligation to carry out works, and a corresponding obligation will also be brought into effect in the development agreement itself. The development agreement made that commitment on the part of the council final and provided also for a reciprocal commitment on the part of St Modwen. It did so without a public procurement process, and without affording any opportunity for such a process to be gone through before the “public works contract” materializes. At that stage it would be too late. Thus a “public works contract” will have come into being without a lawful procurement process. The regulation of the council’s actions in procuring the development will have been frustrated.

By entering into the development agreement, therefore, the council effectively agreed to act unlawfully in the future. In effect, it committed itself to acting in breach of the legislative regime for procurement. As Mr Giffin submitted, that is in itself unlawful, whether as an actual or anticipatory breach of the requirements for lawful procurement under the 2004 Directive and the 2006 regulations, or simply as public law illegality, or both. The only other possibility would be that a contracting authority is at liberty to construct a sequence of arrangements in a transaction such as this, whose combined effect is to constitute a “public works contract”, without ever having to follow a public procurement procedure. That would defeat the operation of the legislative regime.”

Whilst it was not necessary to deal with the point for the determination of this case, Lindblom LJ was careful not to suggest that this meant that the section 106 agreement in the Midlands Co-Operative case would on his reasoning have amounted to a public works contract:

The section 106 planning obligation was […] a very different kind of agreement. It had a distinct status and role in the statutory planning scheme. Its purpose was to regulate the development of land for which the local planning authority was granting planning permission. By its terms the developer, and its successors in title, would not be able lawfully to proceed with the development for which planning permission was granted, and in particular would not be able to demolish the existing community facilities on the development site, until it had constructed replacement facilities. The section 106 agreement did not oblige the developer to proceed with the development. But in any case it was not the kind of transaction that is governed by the public procurement regime. By its very nature, it was not a “public works contract”. Its essential object – and its necessary justification in the interests of the proper planning of the local planning authority’s area – was to ensure that the community facilities would be replaced if the planning permission were implemented. Otherwise, the proposed development itself would not have been acceptable, and planning permission should not have been granted for it. As Hickinbottom J. said (in paragraph 116 of his judgment), “the council’s primary objective was of a planning nature – to develop the Site – rather than having performed the works involved in replacing the community facility”. In this case, by contrast, when it entered into the development agreement, the council was not exercising any of the functions of a local planning authority under the statutory planning scheme. It was entering into a contract whose essential object was the execution of the works for which it provided. It therefore fell within the scope of the public procurement regime.”

That is an important paragraph, because if obligations on developers in section 106 agreements to carry out works were to trigger public procurement requirements, the whole practice of using planning obligations to achieve acceptable development would rapidly have come to a halt. Instead, we have clarity that there is not a problem.

Good news. And also good news that as a planning lawyer I may not now need to focus so much on the Public Procurement (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 – laid before Parliament on 13 December 2018 and prepared with the objective of continuing the current public procurement regime post Brexit.

Simon Ricketts, 12 January 2019

Personal views, et cetera

PS Some chat about the lawyers involved in these cases:

Leading counsel for the unsuccessful claimant in Midlands Co-Operative was David Holgate QC, as he was back in 2012 – and the position as a judge he later took at first instance in Faraday was very much in line with the approach that Hickinbottom J had taken in Midlands Co-Operative in the face of Holgate’s submissions – no legally binding obligation on the part of the developer, therefore no public works contract.

Junior counsel for the city council in Midlands Co-Operative was a very young Charlie Banner, who deservedly becomes Charles Banner QC on 11 March 2019. He was led in Midlands Co-Operative by David Elvin QC, whilst in Faraday Banner would appear for the claimant (and at first instance was given some of the treatment from Holgate that in Midlands Co-Operative Holgate had himself received from Hickinbottom) (with Elvin appearing on the other side for the defendant council).

Photograph via Sothebys

Street Trees

DEFRA published its Protecting and enhancing England’s trees and woodlands consultation paper on 30 December 2018, with a deadline of 28 February 2019 for responses. The proposals include imposing new statutory duties on local authorities:

⁃ “a duty to consult on the felling of street trees

⁃ “a duty to report on tree felling and planting”

Presumably these are intended to be included in the forthcoming Environment Bill and they could justifiably be known as “Sheffield’s Law”. After all they of course have their roots in the peculiar saga there, where the city council and its PFI contractor Amey have been engaged in systematic felling of roadside trees at an unprecedented scale.

I reported in my 17 December 2016 Trees In Court: A Festive Special blog post on the the late Gilbart J’s rejection, in R (Dillner) v Sheffield City Council  (27 April 2016) of a local resident’s challenge to that process. The judge commented: “It may be that those who will be disappointed by the terms of this Judgment will want to see a different legislative regime in place. That is a matter for Parliament, and not for this Court.

The continued felling led to significant protests, with arrests, curiously, made under section section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992. (The Independent Office for Police Conduct subsequently found in August 2018 that the arrests and detention were inappropriate and in December 2018 compensation payments were awarded).

The commitment in the Conservative Party’s manifesto in May 2017 surely specifically had the Sheffield situation in mind:

In addition to the 11 million trees we are planting across our nation, we will ensure that 1 million more are planted in our towns and cities, and place new duties on councils to consult when they wish to cut down street trees.” (my emboldening).

On the back of the Gilbart J ruling, an injunction in relation to continuing protests was ordered by Males J in Sheffield City Council v Fairhall and others (15 August 2017) in the following terms:

“Accordingly I order that the three remaining named defendants must not:

1.
(1) enter any safety zone erected around any tree within the area shown edged red on the plan which will be attached to the order (the area of Sheffield City);
(2) seek to prevent the erection of any safety zone;
(3) remain in any safety zone after it is erected;
(4) knowingly leave any vehicle in any safety zone or intentionally place a vehicle in a position so as to prevent the erection of a safety zone; or
(5) encourage, aid, counsel, direct or facilitate anybody else to do any of the matters in paragraphs 1 – 4 above including by posting social media messages.

2. There will in addition be an order in the same terms against persons unknown being persons intending to enter or remain in safety zones erected on public highways in the city of Sheffield. Such an order is appropriate in accordance with the principle established in Hampshire Waste Services Ltd v Intending Trespassers upon Chineham Incinerator Site [2003] EWHC 1738 (Ch).”

Like Gilbart J, Males J distanced himself from the wider issues:

“I must emphasise that this judgment deals solely with the legal question whether the council is entitled to an injunction. That will include consideration of whether as a matter of law the council is entitled to exclude members of the public from safety zones around trees so that those trees can be felled and whether or to what extent those who object to this course are entitled to maintain a presence within safety zones in order to prevent the work from being carried out. However, I express no view, one way or the other, as to the merits of the council’s tree felling programme or the objectors’ campaign. Those are social and environmental questions which are politically controversial and can only be resolved in a political forum. They are not a matter for this court

Following the June 2017 general election, Michael Gove had of course been brought back into the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In March 2018 he was reported by the BBC as having “accused Sheffield City Council of “environmental vandalism” and promised to do “anything required” to end its controversial tree-felling programme.

Felling paused the day after, although the city council renewed its injunction in July 2018, by way of a High Court ruling (His Honour Judge Robinson, 12 July 2018)

The Yorkshire Post reported on 13 December 2018 that the city council now announced a revised tree management strategy, reducing significantly the amount of felling proposed.

So back to the DEFRA consultation proposals.

Street trees‘ are defined as “managed trees lining the highway within the urban environment“. The duty to consult would not apply to other urban trees such as parks or open spaces.

The idea is that the “local authority” (presumably the local highway authority, although this is not made clear – eg presumably TfL in London in relation to the TfL network?) would consult “on every tree proposed for felling during a four week closed consultation period. A notice inviting consultation to be placed on the tree, letters sent to local residents in close proximity to the tree (100m2). If more than 50% of respondents in the closed consultation disagree with the proposal this will trigger a full public consultation.” Full consultation appears to mean “a notice published in the town hall and online“.

Is this workable? Assuming that there would often need to be a full consultation process, how long would this all take, bearing in mind that the consultation responses would then need to be conscientiously considered by the authority, presumably at a relevant committee meeting held in public with officer’s report and so on, before a legally robust decision could be taken?

There would be exemptions, the scope of which could well lead to dispute:

“1. Dangerous: Tree needs to be felled because it presents an immediate danger and work is urgently needed to remove that danger. Trees that immediately affect the operational use of the footway by people – forcing them to use the carriageway – are considered dangerous for the purposes of this policy.

2. Responding to a pest or disease instance:Removal of a tree is a critical partof the implementation of a management or control programme, following notification by regulatory authority in response to a pest or disease instance.

3. Dead.

4. Damaging:Tree needs to be felled because it is causing significant damage to
the apparatus of a statutory undertaker (such as gas, electricity or water) where urgent access is required for repair; or tree needs to be felled because it can be demonstrated that it is causing significant damage and threatens the integrity of a footpath or carriageway to such an extent that it presents an imminent danger.

5. Young Trees Damaged/Failed:Young trees (up to fifteen years old) which will be replaced within two years. The position of the tree has already been established. Consultation could lead to discussion that undermines that decision when replacement is essentially a maintenance management activity

There is a further complication:

“Trees designated as having special historic or cultural significance would automatically be subject to wider public consultation. To meet this definition trees would have to meet one of the following criteria. The tree may be:

• culturally, historically, ecologically significant – such as veteran trees

• linked to a person or event that is culturally or historically significant
For trees that meet this criteria an extraordinary measure/action or level of resource can be taken or dedicated to its preservation. The local authority may initially be unaware of this significance so a full consultation where significance is suspected or raised as an issue is essential
.”

So yet again we are faced with quite a complex, or at least fiddly and fine grained, regime to deliver on a superficially nice idea – and to what end? If Sheffield City Council had followed these procedures the outcomes could well have been the same.

I also find it strange that there is no mention in the document of the town and country planning regime, for example the role of tree preservation orders and the protection provided to trees in conservation areas. Would not amendments to the planning regime not have been more logical?

The separate proposed duty to report on tree felling and replanting raises a further issue. The document is silent about the intended frequency of reporting but let’s assume it is to be annual. This reporting will not just cover street trees but will be much wider:

Local authorities would be required to record on felling and planting activity for which they are both directly and indirectly responsible, including trees which are felled as part of planning decisions.”

So could we see “local authorities” (by which I assume is meant local highway authorities) have to collect data as to how many trees are to be felled as a result of planning decisions by the local planning authority (that are not even on highway land), or will this only apply to unitary authorities? More thinking required!

I have managed to avoid mention of the separate, much more complex, set of proposals within DEFRA’s other current consultation, on biodiversity net gain (2 December 2018). That also has some major potential implications – these days planners’ eyes need to be on DEFRA as much as MHCLG it seems to me.

Simon Ricketts, 5 January 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Photo courtesy of the Woodland Trust