Lights Camera Action: The Planning Changes – Parliamentary Scrutiny, That JR

Most of the summer blockbusters were paused from release this summer, except for Tenet, which no-one seems to understand. Oh and the statutory instruments making those major amendments to the GPDO (eg building upwards, and resi development to replace existing commercial buildings) and the Use Classes Order (eg the new class E), which hit our screens just before Parliament rose for the summer recess. The Planning For The Future white paper was published (visually spectacular) after Parliament had risen.

This post looks briefly at the role of Parliament in debating these documents, and at the Rights : Community : Action judicial review of the GPDO and Use Classes Order changes.

The amendments to the General Permitted Development Order and Use Classes Order

We’re talking about the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020/755, The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020/756 and The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020/757 all laid before Parliament on 21 July, ahead of the Commons going into recess the following day, and came into effect on 31 August and 1 September. Parliament returned on 1 September.

The statutory instruments (“SIs”) were made under the negative resolution procedure. This means that although the SIs came into effect on when stated, either House can vote to reject them within 40 sitting days, following a motion (“prayer”) laid by a member of the relevant House. If rejected, the relevant statutory instrument is annulled, i.e. no longer of any legal effect.

There has been no Parliamentary debate so far on any of the SIs, although MHCLG minister Lord Greenhalgh did respond to questions in the Lords on 28 July 2020 (ahead of the Lords going into recess the next day).

Labour has laid a motion against the GPDO SIs, but (1) given the Government’s substantial majority there is surely no realistic likelihood of that succeeding on a vote and (2) the narrative in relation to the changes to the GPDO and Use Classes Order seems to have got hopelessly confused with concerns as to the separate proposals in the white paper in the minds of politicians,the press and the public – see for instance Valerie Vaz, shadow leader of the House of Commons, on 3 September 2020:

“We have prayed against the town and country planning permitted development regulations—I think there are three sets of them. The shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury, has written to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Leader of the House will find time for that debate.

During August Parliament was not sitting, but extremely important announcements were being made. I cannot understand why the Government, who say consistently that Parliament is sovereign, do not come to the House to explain changes in policy. Apparently, algorithms will now be used in planning decisions. That takes away the very nature of making planning decisions—whether relevant considerations are taken into account or whether irrelevant considerations are taken into account—and it undermines administrative law. When you make a decision, you must give reasons.

The Town and Country Planning Association says that 90% of planning applications are approved and there are 1 million unbuilt commissions [sic]. It is time for the shires to rise up and oppose these new policies. Will the Leader of the House ask the current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to come to the House to explain why he is using algorithms to stomp on our green and pleasant land?”

Quite aside from the probably theoretical possibility of any or all of the SIs being annulled, there is also the judicial review that has been brought by a new campaign group, Rights : Community : Action. It describes itself as “a coalition of campaigners, lawyers, planners, facilitators, writers and scientists, united by a shared commitment to tackle the Climate Emergency – with people and for people, and the environment.” There are four protagonists: Naomi Luhde-Thompson (currently on sabbatical from Friends of the Earth), Hugh Ellis (Town and Country Planning Association), Laura Gyte (Oxfam) and Alex Goodman (Landmark Chambers).

The group has put its Statement of Facts and Grounds on line. These are the grounds:

“(1) GROUND 1: In respect of each of the three SIs, the Secretary of State unlawfully failed to carry out an environmental assessment pursuant to EU Directive 2001/42/EC (“the SEA Directive”) and the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 (“the SEA Regulations”).

(2) GROUND 2: In respect of each of the three SIs, the Secretary of State failed to have due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty (“the PSED”) in s.149 of the Equality Act 2010 (“the EA 2010”).

(3) GROUND 3: In respect of each of the three SIs, the Secretary of State failed to consider the weight of the evidence against these radical reforms, including prior consultation responses and the advice of his own experts. This composite ground is divided as follows:

Ground 3a: The Secretary of State failed to conscientiously consider the responses to the consultation on proposed planning reforms which ran from 29 October 2018 to 14 January 2019

Ground 3b: In respect of the two SIs that expand Permitted Development rights (SI 2020/755 and SI 2020/756), the Secretary of State failed to take into account the advice of the government’s own experts: in particular, the findings of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s “Living with Beauty” Report (“The BBBB Report”), and the findings of his own commissioned expert report “Research into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use Permitted Development rights” (“The Clifford Report”).

Ground 3c: In respect of the two SIs that expand Permitted Development rights (SI 2020/755 and SI 2020/756), the Secretary of State adopted an approach which was unfair, inconsistent and/or irrational in the context of the approach taken to similar proposed Permitted Development reforms: namely those relating to the deployment of 5G wireless masts.

Ground 3d: In respect of SI 2020/756, the Secretary of State was required to re- consult before introducing Class ZA. There was a legitimate expectation of re- consultation on the proposal for a permitted development right allowing the demolition and rebuild of commercial properties, arising from an express promise to re-consult which was made in the original consultation document.”

Do read the Statement of Facts and Grounds itself for the detail. The Government has served summary grounds of defence but I do not think that they are on line.

The group is seeking an order “declaring that the decision to lay the SIs was unlawful. The Claimant also seeks an order quashing the SIs for unlawfulness.” It was also initially seeking an order “suspending the operation of the SIs until the disposal” of the claim, but it has now withdrawn that request.

On 2 September 2020 Holgate J made an order listing the claim to be heard in court “for 1.5 days in the period between 8th October 2020 to 15th October 2020”. It will be a “rolled up” hearing, i.e. there has been no decision yet as to whether any of the grounds are arguable. The Planning Court has pulled out all the stops to list the case quickly – after all, if any parts of the SIs were now to be quashed just think of the implications and complications! But there must be a good likelihood of the case going to the Court of Appeal or beyond, particularly if any of the grounds gain any traction. There could be uncertainty for some time.

No doubt the claim will touch various raw nerves amongst some – an attack on the Government’s “fast changes” agenda, part reliance on EU-derived environmental legislation, Aarhus Convention costs capping, crowdfunded litigation, “activist lawyers” – it ticks all the boxes! But let’s see what the court makes of it.

The Planning For The Future white paper

The white paper is of course out for consultation, along with the associated shorter term measures document, so it might be said that they don’t amount to significant policy announcements – but that would surely be simplistic: there is a clear direction of travel. With this in mind, being no expert on Parliamentary conventions and procedure, I have two questions:

1. Surely the announcements should first have been in Parliament if I read this House of Commons Library note on Government policy announcements (18 January 2013) correctly?

2. What is the precise status of Planning For The Future? It is expressed on the face of the document to be a “white paper” but would it not usually therefore be expected to have been tabled in Parliament as a numbered command paper and to include the wording: “Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government by Command of Her Majesty“? On one level, does it matter? But surely it does?

I also note that some of the shorter term measures (covered in last week’s blog post) could take effect soon after the consultation deadline of 1 October (particularly the introduction of the revised standard method – the “algorithm” if you will) so if there is to be any proper, informed, debate in Parliament I would suggest that there is little time to be lost.

Simon Ricketts, 5 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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