Dual Purpose

I need to declare an interest as I’ve recently been acting for an electronic communications code operator but…

Ouseley J’s ruling in Westminster City Council v Secretary of State & New World Payphones Limited (5 February 2019) raises more questions than some of the media headlines would suggest.

Background

New World Payphones is the operator of an electronic communications network for the purposes of the Communications Act 2003 and the Town and Country (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

It proposed replacing two existing telephone boxes with a single new kiosk on Marylebone Road. It had made two applications to Westminster City Council: an application under the GPDO for a determination as to whether its prior approval was required for the new kiosk and at the same time an application for express consent under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 for the “display of illuminated digital advertisement panel…as part of new telephone kiosk“. The panel was to be on the rear of the proposed kiosk.

Westminster City Council refused both applications. New World Payphones appealed. The inspector allowed the appeal against refusal of prior approval under the GPDO and refused the appeal against refusal of express consent under the Control of Advertisements Regulations.

Westminster City Council then challenged the decision to allow the prior approval appeal.

The legislation

In brief summary, Class A of Schedule 2 Part 16 of the GPDO gives deemed permission for:

A. Development by or on behalf of an electronic communications code operator for the purpose of the operator’s electronic communications network in, on , over or under land controlled by that operator or in accordance with the electronic communications code consisting of –
(a) the installation, alteration or replacement of any electronic communications apparatus
….”

If the apparatus comprises a public call box, a determination is required from the local planning authority as to whether prior approval is needed for the siting and appearance of the development.

It should also be noted that whilst an illuminated advertisement needs express consent under the Control of Advertisements Regulations, there is automatic deemed consent for a non-illuminated advertisement on one glazed surface of a telephone kiosk, subject to certain restrictions.

Westminster City Council’s submissions

Ouseley J summarised Westminster’s grounds of challenge as follows:

⁃ “the grant of prior approval was outside the powers conferred by the GPDO because the new kiosk was not “for the purpose” of the operator’s electronic communication network, but instead was primarily for the purpose of advertising via the illuminated panel.”

⁃ “the Inspector had ignored an issue which it raised, namely that there was no need for the proposed kiosk. There had to be a need for the proposal before it could come within the scope of permitted development in Class A of Part 16 of the GPDO, and before consideration of its siting and appearance could be relevant. Third, as a form of belt and braces, it contended that the Inspector’s approach to the need for and purpose behind the proposed kiosk was irrational or inadequately reasoned.”

Ground 1

The judge didn’t accept the council’s formulation that that the “provision of communications facility had to be the dominant or primary purpose in order for the development to come within the scope of Part 16” and that the “operator’s purpose was to be identified by the reason for which he proposed the development.” According to the council:

A differently designed and smaller communications facility could be provided were it not for the advertising panel component of the design. This also showed what its dominant purpose was, as did New World Payphones’ statement in its written representations that a kiosk would only be replaced if both prior approval and advertisement consent were granted. The dominant purpose could not be the provision of the electronic communications facility if, in the absence of the advertising panel, the electronic communications facility would not be provided.”

The judge approached the issue in a different way, starting by considering the nature and purpose of the GPDO. “If there were no GPDO, a specific planning application would have to be made for all the developments which benefit from the general permission it gives. A whole array of different types of development, are regarded as fit for permission, subject to specific conditions. For some, and Part 16 Class A is one of them, the relevant material considerations are taken into account in the grant of the general permission, provided that certain specific material considerations are resolved through a specific decision-making process. Those specific considerations vary from one type of development to another. That restricted range of considerations is established because the others have already been resolved in favour of the type of development proposed. The restricted range is clearly tailored to the specific type of development at issue. However, the general range of considerations have not been resolved in relation to a development which does not come within the Class relied on, and the issues for specific consideration have not been tailored to such a development. The definition of the Class has to be interpreted in that light.

In my view, that means that the whole development for which prior approval is sought must fall within the Class relied on, and no part of it can fall outside it. Otherwise, the general permission in the GPDO, and the restricted range of considerations would be applied to development which falls outside the scope of the permission.”

A development therefore falls outside the scope of Class A Part 16 if it is not “for the purpose” of the operator’s network. That means, at least in the specific context of a GPDO permission, that a proposed development falls outside it, if part of it falls outside it. It cannot be said that the whole falls within the GPDO. The benefits of the GPDO, a quicker process, the limited range of material considerations, and the restricted range of conditions would be used for a development, part of which they were not intended for, and which had not been judged to merit permission on that basis. A development which is partly “for the purpose” of the operator’s network, and partly for some other purpose, is not a development “for the purpose” of the operator’s network, precisely because it is for something else as well. The single dual purpose development must be judged as a whole.”

I do not consider that the question is whether the dominant purpose is for the operator’s network, although for certain purposes that is how a statutory purpose is judged. In the context of planning law, the concept of dual or mixed uses does not turn on dominant or secondary purposes: thus a farm, when a farm shop was added, would be used for mixed purpose of agriculture and retail; similarly a house with an office use in a part of it, would not be “residential” but a mixed use. The other use would create a mixed or dual use unless it was incidental or ancillary to the identified use, which would mean that it was part of that use and not a separate use at all, or was legally so small as to be of no significance, de minimis. I consider that the GPDO should be analysed by reference to concepts with which planning law is familiar, rather than by dominant or primary /secondary considerations.”

I do not consider that the evidence here could permit of any conclusion other than that the kiosk served a dual purpose. Part of its purpose was for the operator’s network, as a telephone kiosk. Part of it was to be the electrified advertising panel. The panel was for the purpose of displaying advertisements. It was not ancillary or incidental to the kiosk, nor legally insignificant. It does not matter whether it would have been lit if no advertisements were displayed. No relative significance has to be attributed to either part of the dual purpose; it is sufficient if the two purposes exist without the advertising use being ancillary or incidental or of no legal significance.

Ground 2

The judge rejected the council’s argument that it was relevant for a decision maker to consider whether there was a “need” for the kiosk.

The text of Class A was intended to be quite simple, and would not have been intended to import some objective “need” test, or to involve the local authority questioning precisely why the operator “required” the kiosk, and judging how good a reason that was. This would contradict the essential feature of the GPDO which is to narrow the range of considerations which a decision-maker has to consider, in order to streamline certain aspects of the planning system.”

It’s not straight-forward

I say that for a few reasons:

1. The ruling was based on the facts of the case: a proposed illuminated/digital advertisement panel and two applications having been made, one being for the display of an illuminated advertisement. Plainly the ruling can’t read across to every telephone kiosk, even those that allow for a facility to display a non-illuminated advertisement with the benefit of deemed consent under the Control of Advertisement Regulations. After all, what purpose would the deemed consent mechanism (specifically directed at telephone kiosks) serve if any kiosk that allowed for such an advertisement, by definition, did not have prior approval under the GPDO? Kiosks such as the BT image below have long been a familiar part of the UK street scene for many years (ah London 2012…)

The idea that some advertising on the surface of telephone kiosks can be considered to be inherent or ancillary, and indeed specifically is controlled by a code within the Control of Advertising Regulations that has specific criteria as to what advertisements on telephone kiosks should have automatic consent and therefore legally irrelevant at prior approval stage, is surely reflected in previous rulings such as Infocus Public Networks Limited v Secretary of State (Foskett J, 17 December 2010) (a different Infocus case to that which is cited in Ouseley J’s judgment):

As I have indicated, it is this part of the Inspector’s reasoning that I find difficult. If the primary issues for consideration, once the principle of this kind of development is acknowledged, are the siting and appearance of any kiosk, then “appearance” (though apt to include anything attached to the surface of the kiosk) would ordinarily be thought to be the intrinsic appearance of the kiosk itself. The fact that a telephone kiosk is something of a magnet for advertising material is obvious to anyone who walks along a street where telephone kiosks are situated. It has been recognised in a formal sense by the promulgation of the 2007 Regulations. Those Regulations give what would certainly seem to be a self-contained code for the regulation of advertising material generally and, in this particular context, of advertising materials attached to the surface of a telephone kiosk.

Against that background, it seems to me that a Local Planning Authority has ample powers to ensure the discontinuance of advertising that represents a “substantial injury to the amenity of the locality or a danger to members of the public”. There is a right of appeal for the owner or occupier of the site to the Secretary of State. To that extent and upon that basis, I do not consider that the existence of advertising material on a telephone kiosk that is otherwise sited appropriately in the planning context and has an intrinsically acceptable appearance is a material consideration in deciding whether prior approval should or should not have been given to the erection of that kiosk.”

2. Ouseley J rejects the dominant or primary purpose test proposed by the council, in favour of “concepts with which planning law is familiar” in the form of his “dual purpose” test which, as far as I’m concerned, is without any precedent. But then the test seems to come back in his statement that “it is sufficient if the two purposes exist without the advertising use being ancillary or incidental or of no legal significance“. Is this acknowledging the points in my paragraph 1 above?

3. To what extent is the motive of an operator relevant? Perhaps it is straight-forward in the New World Payphones type situation where the operator is making a specific application for the display of advertising alongside the application for the kiosk, but what about in other circumstances where motives can only be discerned from secondary evidence? And taking a step back, do we apply such considerations in relation to other industry business models that are dependent on advertising or sponsorship? Is the London Evening Standard a newspaper? Is Channel 4 News a news programme?

4. What are the implications for other parts of the GPDO? For instance, close to the pockets of local authorities, there is Part 12:

“A.  The erection or construction and the maintenance, improvement or other alteration by a local authority or by an urban development corporation of—

(a) any small ancillary building, works or equipment on land belonging to or maintained by them required for the purposes of any function exercised by them on that land otherwise than as statutory undertakers;

(b) lamp standards, information kiosks, passenger shelters, public shelters and seats, telephone boxes, fire alarms, public drinking fountains, horse troughs, refuse bins or baskets, barriers for the control of people waiting to enter public service vehicles, electric vehicle charging points and any associated infrastructure, and similar structures or works required in connection with the operation of any public service administered by them.”

So presumably one implication of the ruling, on the broad interpretation that some might give it, is that there no longer deemed permission for any bus shelter, refuse bin or seat that allows for advertising? If not, why not?

Permission to appeal

Ouseley J granted the Secretary of State permission to appeal, the test for which is that either (a) the court considers that the appeal would have a real prospect of success; or (b) there is some other compelling reason for the appeal to be heard.

So his judgment is unlikely to be the last word on this subject.

MHCLG consultation paper

I covered MHCLG’s consultation paper Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes in my 8 December 2018 blog post Permitted Development: Painting By Numbers Versus Painting The Sistine Chapel?, at the time not saying much about the proposal to “remove the existing right that allows the installation of, and advertising on, new public call boxes“, because the proposed restriction seemed to me not to fit well with all of the other proposals, which are for extensions of permitted development rights, nor with the theme of supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes.

It would be helpful if MHCLG were to reflect, with DCMS and Ofcom, on what comes from the Court of Appeal’s thinking when any appeal comes before it, before considering further, on the back of a specific consultation paper, whether any legislative change is in fact needed, and if so what. As I mentioned in my previous blog, in my view what is really needed is an updating of the permitted development rights in Part 16 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO to reflect the role of streetside furniture in relation to 3/4G (soon to be 5G and all that 5G will facilitate in terms of smart city functions) and wifi. The “public call box” terminology is certainly old fashioned and misleading. But, to use other old fashioned terminology, there is a big risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Simon Ricketts, 16 February 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Dual purpoises

VIP, Biscuits: 2 More Refusals For Major Projects In London

Getting messy isn’t it?” was how I ended my 26 January 2019 blog post The Secretary Of State & London.

Two more decisions to note since that blog post:

VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton

I suspect that this is the first example of a London Mayor calling in an application for his own determination and refusing it. In the final month of his mayorality in April 2016, Boris Johnson had agreed to defer a decision in relation to Bishopsgate Goodsyard, faced with an officer’s recommendation to refuse the application (it ended up never being determined). But Sadiq Khan’s flip flopping over Leopard Guernsey Anchor Propco Limited’s application to the London Borough of Greenwich for planning permission to redevelop the VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton has been quite something else.

This is a scheme that started off as comprising 975 dwellings , together with non-residential floorspace, in buildings ranging from nine to 28 storeys. Following consultation responses and comments from the Mayor in his stage 1 referral report, the 28 storey tower was removed and the amount of housing reduced to 771.

Greenwich officers recommended approval but on 9 July 2018 committee members resolved to refuse it on five grounds, namely overdevelopment, insufficient proportion of family sized housing, lack of a safe access to the business premises next door (a building known as Imex House that houses Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook’s studio) and introduction of noise sensitive uses, failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision and daylight/sunlight deficiencies.

Having considered his officers’ stage 2 report dated 13 August 2018, the Mayor called in the application for his own determination. The report sets out the various improvements that would be sought to the proposals as part of the call in process.

Various amendments were negotiated and secured. Officers’ stage 3 report was published for the representation hearing held on 29 January 2019. The report recommended approval.

But then the bombshell at the end of the representation hearing. Despite having intervened to prevent Greenwich members refusing the application against their officers’ recommendations six months previously, and despite amendments to the scheme proposals having been negotiated to officers’ satisfaction, presumably in line with the Mayor’s instructions (if not, was he not paying attention or something?), the Mayor then announces that he is refusing the application. His reasons for refusal published a few days later on 4 February 2019 in part bear a marked resemblance to those of Greenwich’s planning committee: poor design; unsatisfactory relationship with Imex House and introduction of noise sensitive uses; failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision, and absence of a section 106 agreement to secure affordable housing and other obligations (I’m not sure whether this is a purely procedural reason for refusal or he was actually not satisfied with the affordable package negotiated by his officers: 35%, rising to 40% with grant).

I have no views on the scheme itself, and I accept that of course he must have an open mind during the representation hearing, but what a waste of six months! He says in the letter setting out his reasons for refusal that he “called in this application to subject it to further scrutiny” but that is a poor excuse. He was surely looking to use the particularly useful Mayoral call in power in order to squeeze some further enhancements from the scheme so that, when that had been done by his officers to his satisfaction, he could approve it. In turning it down, where does that leave his officers? And given that applicants are unable to engage with the man himself, can they now be sure that what they are being told by his team is necessary to secure approval will indeed be sufficient?

Bermondsey Biscuit Factory and Bermondsey Campus Site

The decision of the London Borough of Southwark at its planning committee meeting on 6 February 2019 to refuse planning permission for Grosvenor’s 1,342 dwelling build to rent scheme in Bermondsey is another one to be aware of. Members followed the recommendations in the officers’ report, the main reason being that Grosvenor’s affordable housing package was unacceptable, comprising, in summary, that 27.37% of the habitable rooms would be let at an average discount of 25% below market rents, with usual early and late stage viability review mechanisms. (The application indicated that “the depth of discount across the affordable units could vary, with greater discounts offered on some units, but this would require higher rents (up to 80% of market rents) on others to ensure that the overall level of discount does not exceed 25% overall. Grosvenor has described the sum equating to a 25% discount as the ‘subsidy pot’ and suggested whilst this could be distributed in a variety of ways, the impact of the DMR cannot exceed the financial value of that ‘subsidy pot’ “).

The Mayor of London had flagged in his stage 1 report: “Whilst the proposed increase in housing supply is strongly supported, in the absence of an independently verified viability position the proposed 27% provision of affordable housing is unacceptable. The applicant must deliver deeper DMR discounts, including London Living Rent

Southwark took an equivalent position but the report to committee is interesting in the way that it (1) transparently sets out the differences between the viability work carried out by the parties’ respective viability consultants (GVA – in old money, now Avison Young – having advised the council after the publication of the Mayor’s stage 1 report) and (2) highlights the differences in build to rent (referred to as PRS, private rental sector, in the committee report) affordable housing policy approach in two dimensions: at GLA vs borough level, and as between adopted and emerging plans. Not an unfamiliar position for any developer but particularly difficult for those promoting build to rent (which is, after all, strongly supported in principle by MHCLG and the Mayor of London) as a relatively new product in terms of determining the appropriate approach to affordable housing.

The viability differences are nicely summarised by Mike Phillips (ex Property Week editor) in his 4 February 2019 Bisnow piece Grosvenor’s Bermondsey Rejection Is A Microcosm Of London’s Affordable Housing Quandary.

As to the complexities arising from varying policy approaches to build to rent, a few extracts from the committee report:

⁃ “London Plan policies 3.11 and 3.12 and draft London Plan Policy H5 seek to maximise the delivery of affordable housing, with the draft London Plan seeking delivery against a strategic target of 50%. Policy H6 of the draft London Plan and the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG prescribe a threshold approach to affordable housing to incentivise swift delivery, and draft London Plan Policy H13 applies this principle to ‘build to rent’ products. In this case, a minimum of 35% affordable housing threshold applies.

⁃ The Mayor’s affordable housing and viability SPG “recognises that Discount Market Rent is an appropriate tenure within PRS developments and considers that the rent level for DMR should be pegged at London Living Rent levels, for households with incomes up to £60,000. The guidance requires affordable housing to be secured in perpetuity, and in addition requires a clawback mechanism if the wider PRS homes are sold out of the Build to Rent sector within 15 years. The clawback is intended to respond to the different financial model applied to the PRS sector and to ensure the developer does not benefit financially if the homes are converted to market sale.”

⁃ The borough’s core strategy “requires that a minimum 35% affordable housing is provided on all residential developments of 10 or more units, with a tenure split in the Bermondsey area of 70:30 social rent: intermediate homes. Applications would be subject to viability assessments if policy compliance is not being offered, with the expectation that as much affordable housing will be provided as is financially viable. The Core Strategy makes no specific reference to PRS housing.”

⁃ The submission version of the New Southwark Plan “requires the affordable ‘DMR’ housing to be secured in perpetuity, and the overall housing development to be secured within the rental sector for at least 30 years” [contrast with the Mayor’s 15 year requirement] with a changed tenure split of 15% social rent and 20% DMR at London Living Rent [contrast to GLA position where it can all be London Living Rent DMR]

Clearly it is going to be key for the parties to resolve their difficulties over viability, whether that requires changes to the scheme or an appeal. This was a decision taken against up to date government guidance on the approach to viability appraisals, the work was relatively transparent and there was not a major difference of principle over benchmark land value. The reality is that the process is not straightforward; there are issues of judgment, particularly when dealing with a relatively untested business model and the need to estimate the rents that will be achievable in an area that will have been significantly changed by way of development. After that, the tenure split question is surely economically subsidiary, although clearly on-site social rented housing will come at greater cost to the scheme’s viability in a number of ways and so there are political choices to be made.

More widely

I’m not sure whether the Secretary of State had either scheme specifically in mind, when he threw his own political pebble into the pond, as reported in the Planner on 31 January 2019: Brokenshire tells GLA to step up (https://www.theplanner.co.uk/news/brokenshire-tells-gla-to-‘step-up’ ). People in glass houses…

In the meantime, the examination continues into the draft London Plan. Hearing sessions are currently considering housing issues, with MHCLG participating. The Just Space website is a useful unofficial resource in relation to the examination, with links to each written statement for each session together with thumbnail-sketch type notes of the session itself.

Lastly, as a postscript to my 26 January 2019 blog post, it has now been reported that Croydon Council as well as possibly the Mayor are supporting Thornsett Group’s challenge of the Secretary of State’s Purley Baptist Church call-in decision.

Still messy, isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts

Personal views, et cetera

Peek Frean biscuits, from Bermondsey.

What To Do About Poor Air Quality? The Shirley Case

In this week of all Brexit weeks it was interesting to see the approach of the Court of Appeal in a case, R (Shirley) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 25 January 2019), which turned on the practical extent of the Secretary of State’s duty to give effect to the objectives of the Air Quality Directive. The UK is under binding commitments in the Air Quality Directive to improve air quality, transposed into domestic law by way of the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. Was he required to call in for his own determination a planning application for development that would worsen or prolong breaches of limit values in an Air Quality Management Area (“AQMA”) for nitrogen dioxide or PM10?

Before we turn to the ruling, a quick update may be useful on the continuing saga of the Government’s continued failure to prepare a lawful Air Quality Plan in compliance with its duties under the Air Quality Directive (its deadline having been 1 January 2010) since my 4 November 2016 blog post The UK Government & Air Quality (ahem). At the point I wrote the blog post, the Supreme Court had ordered in April 2015 that the Government should prepare a legally compliant Air Quality Plan by the end of 2015, the Government had purported to publish compliant proposals on 17 December 2015 which were then found to be legally inadequate by Garnham J in his judgment in ClientEarth v Secretary of State (No. 2) (Garnham J, 2 November 2016). He gave the Government a further deadline of 31 July 2017.

The Government purported to comply by that deadline but Garnham J held that attempt too was deficient in a number of respects, in R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State (No. 3) (Garnham J, 21 February 2018). He made a declaration as to the deficiencies as against the requirements of the Directive and Regulations, ordered the urgent production of a supplement to rectify the deficiencies and that the balance of the plan should remain in force in the meantime to avoid any delay in its implementation. His judgment concluded:

I end this judgment where I began, by considering the history and significance of this litigation. It is now eight years since compliance with the 2008 Directive should have been achieved. This is the third, unsuccessful, attempt the Government has made at devising an AQP which complies with the Directive and the domestic Regulations. Each successful challenge has been mounted by a small charity, for which the costs of such litigation constitute a significant challenge. In the meanwhile, UK citizens have been exposed to significant health risks.

It seems to me that the time has come for the Court to consider exercising a more flexible supervisory jurisdiction in this case than is commonplace. Such an application was made to me when the November 2016 judgment was handed down. I refused it on that occasion, opting for a more conventional form of order. Given present circumstances, however, I would invite submissions from all parties, both in writing and orally, as to whether it would be appropriate for the Court to grant a continuing liberty to apply, so that the Claimant can bring the matter back before the court, in the present proceedings, if there is evidence that either Defendant is falling short in its compliance with the terms of the order of the Court”.

The Government published a supplement to its plan on 5 October 2018 and as far as I know there has been no legal challenge to it or application back to Garnham J pursuant to his liberty to apply. So we may finally now have a legally compliant Air Quality Plan?

In the meantime, the European Commission has commenced infringement proceedings against the UK and other member states for delays in implementing the Directive.

To bring the narrative right up to date, the Government published its Clean Air Strategy on 14 January 2019, setting out proposed measures that will in due course form part of the forthcoming Environment Bill. On an initial reading there seems to be a deliberate shift away from the areas where the Government has found it difficult to comply with the Air Quality Directive, particularly in relation to polluting emissions from vehicles. From the foreword by Michael Gove:

We often think of air pollution as a problem caused by road transport and industrial level burning of fossil fuels. These are two of the central sources of pollution, but industry and government have worked together to remedy many of the worst problems by incentivising the use of clean fuels and investing in new technology. We have already secured a significant reduction in emissions since the 1970s. But now this trajectory has slowed.

Now we need to tackle other sources of air pollutants that damage human health and the environment. Air pollution can be caused by intensive agricultural food production, heating our homes or even cleaning with certain solvents

Whether that is well based is for others to judge.

But perhaps more of that another day and now back to Shirley. The appeal before the Court of Appeal concerned an application by Corinthian Mountfield Limited for planning permission for 4,000 dwellings and associated development that had been resolved to be approved by Canterbury Borough Council.

Dove J had rejected the appellants’ claim for judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in the application. The Court of Appeal considered three grounds of appeal:

(1) whether the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan complying with Article 23 of the Air Quality Directive would be a sufficient response to breaches of limit values (ground 1 in the appellant’s notice);


(2) whether the Secretary of State had a duty as “competent authority” to use his planning powers to avoid the worsening or prolongation of breaches of the limit values, and was therefore obliged to call in Corinthian Mountfield’s application for planning permission (ground 2); and


(3) whether it was irrational for the Secretary of State to assume that any errors in the city council’s approach could be put right if it reconsidered the application, or could be brought before the court in a claim for judicial review if planning permission were granted (ground 3)
.”

The point is an important practical one – if a project is likely to increase exceedances of pollutant limit values, does that by itself lead to the risk of call in or legal challenge?

“Is the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan complying with article 23 of the Air Quality Directive a sufficient response to breaches of limit values?

Article 13 of the Directive, transposed by Regulation 17 of the Regulations, requires the Secretary of State to ensure that levels of specified pollutants do not exceed defined limit values. In zones where levels are below the limit values the Secretary of State must “ensure that levels are maintained below those limit values and must endeavour to maintain the best ambient air quality compatible with sustainable development“.

Article 23 of the Directive, transposed by Regulation 26 of the Regulations, requires that where exceedances of annual mean limit values of specified pollutants occur, the Secretary of State must draw up and implement an air quality plan to achieve the limit value.

Dove J had “concluded that when the limit values in the Air Quality Directive are exceeded, if article 13 is read with articles 22 and 23, the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan with a view to overcoming those exceedances and keeping their duration as short as possible is the “specific and bespoke remedy”. There was, he said, “no room within the scheme” of the Air Quality Directive for any “freestanding responsibility” to take any specific action on “permits” or “development consents”. He was “unable to read into the legislation any requirement to take particular actions in relation to permits or development consents”.

For the appellants, Mr Robert McCracken Q.C. submitted that the judge had erred in his understanding of the Air Quality Directive and the 2010 regulations. He had failed to adopt a suitably purposive approach, failed to recognize the high level of environmental protection required by EU law, and failed to follow the approach taken by the Court of Justice of the European Union in relevant authority. He had not grasped that the Air Quality Directive requires the taking of action, not merely the preparation of air quality plans, and that the adoption and implementation of an air quality plan is a necessary but not a sufficient response to breaches of limit values…”

As referred to in my 4 November 2016 blog post, this has been Robert McCracken QC’s position for a long time – indeed in my blog post I included a link to his 2015 legal opinion to that effect.

Lindblom LJ examines in detail the Court of Justice of the European Union case law before agreeing with Dove J and rejecting the “purposive approach” argument:

Dove J.’s description of article 23 as providing the “specific and bespoke remedy” for a breach of article 13 therefore seems apt. This does not mean that Member States may not also adopt other measures to address a breach of article 13, in addition to preparing and putting into effect an air quality plan complying with article 23. But nor does it mean that Member States are compelled by any provision of the Air Quality Directive to do that. A demonstrable breach of article 13 does not generate some unspecified obligation beyond the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan that complies with article 23. The case law does not suggest, for example, that in such circumstances a Member State must ensure that land use planning powers and duties are exercised in a particular way – such as by imposing a moratorium on grants of planning permission for particular forms of development, or for development of a particular scale, whose effect might be to perpetuate or increase exceedances of limit values, or by ensuring that decisions on such proposals are taken only at ministerial level“.

Did the Secretary of State have a duty as “competent authority” to use his planning powers to avoid the worsening or prolongation of breaches of limit values?

Again, the answer was no:

I cannot accept that argument. It finds no support in relevant case law. In my view, as Mr Maurici and Mr Pereira submitted, it is not possible to construe the provisions of the Air Quality Directive and the 2010 regulations as constraining the Secretary of State’s very wide discretion either to call in or not to call in an application for planning permission when the limit values under article 13 have not been complied with, or when an air quality plan under article 23 has not yet been put in place or has proved to be deficient or ineffective. The air quality legislation does not do that. It does not have the effect of narrowing the Secretary of State’s call-in discretion in such circumstances, let alone of transforming that discretion into a duty, or of requiring a particular application for planning permission to be refused. None of the provisions of the Air Quality Directive engages with the process of making decisions to authorize individual projects of development. If a proposed development would cause a limit value to be breached, or delay the remediation of such a breach, or worsen air quality in a particular area, neither the Air Quality Directive nor the 2010 regulations states that planning permission must be withheld or granted only subject to particular conditions. These may of course be material considerations when an application or appeal is decided, and so too the measures in an air quality plan for the relevant zone, if there is one, or in an action plan prepared under the Environment Act 1995. But the Air Quality Directive and the 2010 regulations do not, in those or any other circumstances, compel the decision-maker to refuse planning permission, or impose on the Secretary of State an obligation to make the decision himself.”

Was the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in the application irrational?

Given that planning permission had not yet been granted by the city council, it was open to the council to take the application back to committee if it was not called in.

Lindblom LJ held that the Secretary of State’s freedom to exercise his call-in discretion is considerable. “The Secretary of State also knew that if he did not call in the application, the city council would be able to consider it again, taking account of any further representations made to it, and, with the advice of its officers and professional consultants, revisiting the committee’s resolution to grant planning permission. And if planning permission were to be granted, it could be challenged by a claim for judicial review. It was not perverse for the Secretary of State to have these considerations in mind when he made his decision not to call in.”

Lastly, the Court of Appeal considered and rejected for four reasons the appellants’ submission that a reference should be made on the first ground of appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union:

⁃ the appeal failed in any event on the other grounds so a decision on the questions in the reference would not be necessary to enable this court to give judgment;

⁃ the issue was in the court’s view “acte clair” (ie reasonably clear and free from doubt)

⁃ a reference would cause unjustifiable delay in a case where the decision under challenge was procedural, not substantive

⁃ a reference was opposed by all four respondents.

Concluding thoughts

The case is an interesting example of the way in which EU law has become so familiar to the lawyers and judges of our domestic courts. Nearly all of our environmental law is EU-derived. Post-Brexit, when EU-derived legislation such as the Air Quality Standards Regulations will continue to apply (unless and until amended or revoked) on a free-standing basis and without the backing of the Directive, it is inconceivable to imagine that we will not all in practice still draw upon the CJEU’s case law to assist in matters of interpretation.

Over time this may change, once our legislation starts to diverge with that of the EU (we see already the deliberately differing objectives and approaches of DEFRA’s Clean Air Strategy) and once differing strands of judicial interpretation start slowly to open up. It’s going to get complicated. Our judges will always be more resistant to the purposive approach to interpretation – legislation should mean what it says – which is why in our common law system it is so important that our laws are precise rather than broad statements of principle in the way that has led to so much litigation in relation to EU Directives.

The case also illustrates the scale of the hurdles to be cleared in persuading our courts to refer issues to the Court of Justice of the European Union. If there had been a reference in Shirley, could we have completely ruled out the prospect of a surprise finding, à la People Over Wind? I’m still grumbling, five years on, about the Supreme Court’s refusal in the HS2 Action Alliance case to refer the Strategic Environmental Assessment issues that we raised to the CJEU. The risk/prospect of referral is generally a low one.

The earlier ClientEarth sequence of cases (within which there was in fact a reference) raises the separate question as to whether it is sufficient for responsibility for compliance with environmental targets to remain with Parliament and whether the proposed Office for Environmental Protection would have sufficient power as against a future Government that is dragging its heels. Would the OEP be able to fulfil that supervisory role that Garnham J has had to take in the ClientEarth litigation?

But in the meantime, it is helpful to have the Court of Appeal’s clarification that non-compliance by the Government with its international responsibilities does not lead to what would effectively been an embargo on any form of development where it could be argued that there might be an adverse effect on air quality in an AQMA, regardless of the local improvement measures to which the relevant local authorities had committed under the Directive and Regulations, and regardless of the usual statutory requirement for decision makers to determine applications in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. It would have led to decision-making chaos.

But that shouldn’t let anyone off the hook. The onus really must continue to rest with the Government and local authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that roadside emissions are reduced to acceptable levels, no matter how politically unpopular the implications (eg further charging zones, making it more expensive and less convenient to use a polluting vehicle and the reverse for users of public transport – and priority being given to pedestrians and cyclists in our cities). The onus must also rest with developers to seek to ensure that their proposals are, in the language of the draft London Plan, air quality neutral or positive.

Clean air may be invisible but surely, one day, it will be seen as a vote winner?

Simon Ricketts, 2 February 2019

Personal views, et cetera