Let Me Count The Ways

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

I need to fill that gap.

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

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

The procedure covers all types of highway.

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

The procedure just covers footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 15 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Stansted Airport

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

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

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

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


(a) a runway at the airport,

(b) a building at the airport, or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The motion was defeated by 14 votes to 18 votes.

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

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

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

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

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

planning consent for the time being;

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

would be circulated to all members;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Officers recommended the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From lack of sound to lack of soundness…

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

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

But that, friends, is for another blog post.

Simon Ricketts, 8 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Beauty Duty

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

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

These proposals have certainly lost their acceleration.

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

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

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

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

The report sets out its overall aims in three exhortations:

• Ask for Beauty

• Refuse Ugliness

• Promote Stewardship

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

1. Planning: create a predictable level playing field

2. Communities: bring the democracy forward

3. Stewardship: incentivise responsibility to the future

4. Regeneration: end the scandal of left behind place

5. Neighbourhoods: create places not just houses

6. Nature:re-green our towns and cities

7. Education: promote a wider understanding of placemaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

policies play?’ section refers specifically to the establishment

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

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

The model code should include the following elements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The document says this:

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

⁃ townscape

⁃ mixed-use

⁃ building to last

⁃ affordability

⁃ respect for nature

⁃ stewardship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 1 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera