Temporary Covid Measures – Planning, Traffic, Local Government: There May Be Trouble Ahead

So friends, here we are, still in the most tedious sequel in the whole franchise: Lockdown 3. Of course, the vaccines will be the eventual way out 💪 this year but can anyone predict how many more months will go by before, in England, we are free from some level of restrictions on our ability to go about our lives?

The planning system has kept going through all of the restrictions of the last ten months, thanks to the determination of local authority staff and councillors, thanks to technology and thanks to the Government in providing for a number of temporary procedural relaxations last Spring. The relaxations were summarised in my 16 May 2020 blog post Stay Alert! A Quick Guide To All Those MHCLG Announcements.

However, there is no reason to be complacent:

⁃ Some temporary measures are due to expire and there is no certainty that they will be extended.

⁃ Covid does not give carte blanche to local authorities to cut corners in their approach to decision making – I deal below with last week’s High Court ruling in relation to Transport for London’s Streetspace plan.

⁃ If initially temporary measures are to be made permanent (rather than just extended to see us through this current saga), that should surely be after careful review and reflection.

I’m going to deal with that last point first. On 16 December 2020 and without prior consultation the Government laid two statutory instruments (Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and Infrastructure Planning (Publication and Notification of Applications etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2020) before Parliament, the effect of which was to make permanent the ability for plan makers and promoters to dispense with making copies of documents physically available for inspection, instead providing them on a website to which consultees are directed, in relation to strategic environmental assessment (i.e. , basically, sustainability appraisals in relation to plans) and in relation to nationally significant infrastructure projects.

As summarised in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the first set of Regulations:

“In addition to publishing documents on a public website, responsible authorities (or the Secretary of State, as the case may be) will now be required to: make available a telephone number for the public to raise enquiries in relation to any documentation published; provide by mail hard copies of any documentation upon request, subject to a reasonable charge and provided it is reasonably practicable to do so given precautions and other measures relating to coronavirus; and provide copies of any documentation by email upon request. Guidance will set out that authorities may also offer electronic copies of documents available on USB flash drive to those with access to a computer but without access to the internet, and that they may wish to consider waiving any charge for hard copies of documents to members of the public who are unable to access the documentation electronically or find it difficult to do so.”

Making these changes permanent without consultation was strongly criticised by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its 21 January 2021 report. This is the summary at the beginning of the report:

“These two instruments remove permanently publication and publicity requirements for certain planning matters that were suspended temporarily last year to assist authorities in taking forward relevant plans, programmes and projects during the pandemic. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) says that it is not aware of any concerns about the changes and that the move to more digital processes has been broadly welcomed, though support for the changes seems to have come largely from those involved professionally in the planning process.

We regret that there was no formal public consultation, as the changes have the potential to reduce physical access to information and the ability to make representations for the general public and in particular for vulnerable or disadvantaged groups or those with poor or no internet connection, in relation to important infrastructure, housing or other projects that may impact on them. The House may wish to ask the Government to update Parliament on the impact of the changes. The possibility that requesting hard copies of potentially complex planning documents may incur an undefined ‘reasonable charge’ also gives cause for concern. Taken as a whole, these proposals seem likely to increase rather than narrow any gap between the planners and the people whose lives may be affected. We also regret that MHCLG has again used secondary legislation to make significant, permanent changes to planning legislation during the pandemic.”

In the body of the report:

“Asked why the instruments had not been extended, as other measures dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, MHCLG told us that, in addition to moving towards a digital planning system, making the changes permanent:

“avoided some uncertainty about whether it would be possible to make Regulations providing for a further extension of all of these measures in a timely way in due course. This is because the measures are made in part under the powers set out in section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 and these powers were only available until the end of the EU Exit Implementation Period (11pm on 31 December 2020)”.

We are not convinced by MHCLG’s explanation. The instruments were laid and came into force before the expiry of relevant powers at the end of the Transition Period, suggesting that MHCLG could have chosen to legislate for a further extension, rather than making the changes permanent. The House may wish to press the Minister for further explanation of the Government’s approach.”

Whilst these specific, initially temporary, publicity relaxations have been made permanent, the wider temporary changes to publicity requirements for planning applications introduced through the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure, Listed Buildings and Environmental Impact Assessment) (England) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning, Development Management, Listed Buildings etc) (England) Regulations 2020 are still due to expire on 30 June 2021 unless extended.

No doubt there will be an extension if it is needed (and let us hope that it isn’t). What is much more worrying is the imminent expiry on 6 May 2021 of the power for local authorities to hold virtual meetings, provided by Regulation 5 of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 . The concern is that the basis for this temporary relaxation in local government law is Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. Sub-section (3) provides:

The regulations may make provision only in relation to local authority meetings required to be held, or held, before 7 May 2021.

MHCLG’s current view is apparently that power to hold virtual meetings cannot be extended without primary legislation to amend section 78 and this may not be possible – see ‘Councillors could be disenfranchised without remote meetings’ (Local Government Chronicle, 21 January 2021).

This could be a real problem and needs to be grappled with now. I would be very pleasantly surprised if normal life has resumed by 6 May to such an extent that everyone is available to attend planning committee and other meetings in the same way as before the pandemic. Let’s be clear, without virtual planning committee meetings, the planning system (at least on any democratic basis, as opposed to wholesale reliance on officers’ delegated powers) would have shut down for the last ten months.

Finally, on the subject of temporary powers and measures:

⁃ the emergency permitted development right for the NHS and local authorities to provide additional temporary health and local authority facilities introduced by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Coronavirus) (England) (Amendment) Order 2020 has been extended to 31 December 2021.

⁃ the additional allowance for temporary use of land expires on 31 December 2021 and the right for a local authority to hold a market for an unlimited number of days expires on 23 March 2022, both introduced by the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 and then extended by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

⁃ I am not aware of any proposal for any extension of the duration of certain planning permissions and consents beyond that provided for in the Business and Planning Act 2020.

Surely it’s going to take some time and evidence-gathering to work out what the benefits of each of these measures have been, what problems may have arisen and which processes and rights (if any) should now be permanently adopted. For instance, for my part, I see great advantages to the inclusivity that has come with virtual planning committee meetings and indeed appeal inquiries and hearings and I hope that we do not return entirely to old ways. However, we should not be bumped into permanent change without that process of reflection.

The judgment deserves a blog post of its own, but the dangers that arise where decisions are made under the justification of Covid but which have more widespread effects which may not have been properly considered are illustrated starkly by the Streetspace case, R (United Trade Action Group & others) v Transport for London (Lang J, 20 January 2021)

This was a challenge by London taxi drivers to the London Streetspace Plan, the related Interim Guidance to Boroughs and the A10 GLA Roads (Norton Folgate, Bishopsgate and Gracechurch Street, City of London (Temporary Banned Turns and Prohibition of Traffic and Stopping) Order 2020.

As summarised by Lang J:

“The Mayor issued the Plan on 6 May 2020, in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. The Guidance was published by TfL on 15 May 2020. Broadly, the aim of the Plan and the Guidance is to facilitate walking and cycling by providing more dedicated road space for pedestrians and cyclists, and “suppressing” motor vehicle traffic, other than buses.”

“The A10 Order is a traffic management order (“TMO”) made by TfL on 16 July 2020, under section 14(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (the “RTRA 1984”). It is a temporary measure, due to expire by 15 January 2022 at the latest. It imposes extensive restrictions on motor vehicles, other than buses, along the A10 at Bishopsgate and Gracechurch Street in the City of London, from 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays. There are limited exemptions, but not for taxis.”

The judgment contains a detailed account of the effects of Covid lockdown measures on traffic in the City of London and the traffic measures introduced by the Mayor during the period. The contentious nature of decisions which balance priorities as between the use of streets by through traffic and by communities has been one of the political themes of the pandemic, particularly in London. This judgment is going to be carefully scrutinised by all sides in that particular debate. This is an interesting OnLondon piece about the ruling and its implications, High Court ruling means major rethink for Mayor’s ‘seriously flawed’ Streetspace scheme (OnLondon, 21 January 2021) but here are Lang J’s conclusions:

“278. Ground 1: in making and promulgating the Plan and Guidance, the Mayor and TfL failed to distinguish taxis from “general traffic”. In doing so, they failed to have regard to relevant considerations, namely:

a) the distinct status of taxis as a form of public transport, reflected both in law and policy;

b) the role played by taxis in facilitating accessible public transport for those with mobility impairments.

However, Ground 1 did not succeed in respect of the A10 Order.

279. Ground 2: In making the Plan and Guidance and the A10 Order, TfL and the Mayor failed to have proper regard to the public sector equality duty, pursuant to section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010.

280. Ground 3: The economic benefits which taxi drivers derive from their statutory licences, which entitle them to ply for hire throughout London, are a “possession” within the meaning of A1P1 ECHR [article 1 protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights], and so A1P1 is engaged. However, because of the way in which this challenge was formulated, and insufficient evidence, the Claimants failed to establish an interference with their possessions by control of use.

281. Ground 4: The Plan and Guidance and the A10 Order breached the Claimants’ legitimate expectation to pass and repass on London’s roads, and to use lanes reserved for buses.

282. Ground 5: The treatment of taxis in the Plan and Guidance and the A10 Order was irrational.

283. In my judgment, quashing orders rather than declarations are appropriate because of the nature and extent of the unlawfulness which I have identified, which affects not only taxi drivers, but also their passengers. The Plan, the Guidance and the A10 Order all need to be re-considered by the Defendants and substantially amended in the light of my judgment. To reduce disruption, the Defendants can turn their minds to this task now, on a provisional basis, as there will be a stay and a delay whilst they pursue their appeal. If the appeal is unsuccessful, they can apply for further time (if required) to finalise the proposed revised Plan, Guidance and Order before the quashing orders take effect.”

So, watch this (street)space.

In the meantime, another date that is of course looming is 6 May 2021, local government elections. The Government is not presently intending to delay them again. That was particularly clear from MHCLG minister Luke Hall’s 19 January 2021 letter to Croydon Council (again for an explainer about this – campaigners had been pushing the council for a referendum into whether there should be a directly-elected Mayor for Croydon, which the council had been seeking to delay on Covid grounds – see the OnLondon 19 January 2021 piece Croydon: Government tells council it should hold governance referendum on 6 May (OnLondon, 19 January 2021).

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if things were indeed sufficiently normalised by 6 May 2021?! (But, in small font, what if they are not?).

Simon Ricketts, 23 January 2021

Personal views, et cetera

courtesy TfL

Court Costs, Inquiry Costs

Jessie J is no judge and when it comes to litigation costs “forget about the price tag” is poor advice.

Aarhus cost caps

I last blogged about Aarhus Convention cost capping in my 22 June blog post No Time To Be 21: Where Are We With Aarhus Costs Protection? The detail is in that blog post but basically the regime allows a potential claimant in many planning and environmental cases to cap exposure to the other’s side’s costs (if the claim fails) to (subject to case by case variations) £5,000 for an individual and otherwise £10,000. As a quid pro quo, if the claimant succeeds, the claimant can only recover (subject to case by case variations) £35,000 from the other side towards its costs.

A big question, unanswered until this month, was whether these amounts are inclusive or exclusive of VAT. This only matters if the party seeking to recover the costs is not VAT-registered and cannot recover its VAT. But it matters a lot to most individuals and campaign groups.

The issue was decided following written submissions in R (Friends of the Earth) v Secretary of State for Transport (Court of Appeal, 13 January 2021). The background doesn’t matter much but is odd – Friends of the Earth were one of the parties in the Heathrow cases that won in the Court of Appeal against the Secretary of State for Transport, but the case only proceeded to the Supreme Court because interested party Heathrow Airport Limited appealed. Despite the Court of Appeal’s ruling being overturned, Secretary of State for Transport remained on the hook for Friends of the Earth’s costs from the Court of Appeal and, before then, the Divisional Court.

The relevant Aarhus Convention based costs order that had previously been made by the Court of Appeal in the main proceedings was:

The Defendant is to pay the costs of the Claimant in the Divisional Court and in this Court, subject to detailed assessment and a cap of £35,000 in respect of the costs in the Divisional Court, and a cap of £35,000 in respect of the costs in this Court.”

Friends of the Earth submitted that this meant they were due a contribution of £70,000 towards their costs, as well as the VAT element, i.e. £84,000. (Incidentally this is the express statutory position in Northern Ireland – in England and Wales the Civil Procedure Rules are silent on the issue). The Secretary of State submitted that the cap was inclusive of any VAT element.

The Court of Appeal sided with the Secretary of State for four reasons:

“First, that is the natural meaning of the words used in those provisions. The figures are set out as absolute amounts, without qualification.

Secondly, this construction is supported by the history of the consultation exercise and the response to it by the Government in the process which led up to the enactment of CPR 45.43.

Thirdly, it does not seem to us that this would impede or frustrate the implementation in domestic law of the Aarhus Convention. That Convention simply requires that the costs of environmental litigation such as this should not be prohibitive. It does not require a contracting State to specify a particular ceiling, still less to state whether it is inclusive or exclusive of VAT.

Fourthly, the fact that the regulations applicable in Northern Ireland expressly provide for the ceilings to be exclusive of VAT does not assist FoE. Indeed, it suggests that, when the relevant legislative body wished to make the point clear, it was able to, and did so.”

So the bottom line is that the £70,000 entitlement had become an entitlement to £58,333.33 plus the VAT element on that amount.

There is an element of unequal treatment in this – if the party claiming costs were able to recover VAT the cap would in practice apply to its net costs figure, the VAT element only being an issue where the party can’t recover its VAT. Time to amend the CPR to accord with the Northern Ireland position?

Incidentally, I recommend a short YouTube summary on the case by Kings Chambers’ Martin Carter. As I write, the video has had 36 views and Jessie J’s Price Tag has had 731 million views. Come on planoraks!

Other court costs awards

Stepping aside from Aarhus costs capping, the general principle is that “if a party who has been given leave to bring a judicial review claim succeeds in establishing after fully contested proceedings that the defendant acted unlawfully, some good reason would have to be shown why he should not recover his reasonable costs” (Lord Toulson in R (on the application of Hunt) v North Somerset Council (Supreme Court, 22 July 2015) but the court of course always has a wide discretion.

That discretion may well result in no award or a reduced award. Two examples which may serve to manage expectations:

In Tomkins v City of London Corporation (Lang J, 8 December 2020) the claimant challenged the making of an experimental traffic order in relation to Beech Street, which runs under the Barbican Estate. He won on three of eight grounds but was not awarded costs:

The Claimant’s application for the City to pay his costs is refused. Although he succeeded on three of the eight grounds, he did not succeed in quashing the [experimental traffic order]. The Council succeeded on five of the grounds, and the issues on which the Council succeeded occupied the majority of the hearing, and the post-hearing submissions. The City incurred significant costs in preparing and presenting those issues. Their costs far exceed the Claimant’s claim for costs in respect of the grounds on which he was successful. The City is not pressing for its costs, but has instead proposed that there should be no order for costs. In all the circumstances I consider that this is a just and appropriate order.”

(Town Legal’s Town Library summary is here).

In Flaxby Park Ltd v Harrogate Borough Council (Holgate J, 25 November 2020) the claimant had sought to challenge the adoption of part of the Harrogate local plan on three grounds and succeeded on part of one ground. To cut a long story short (literally), Holgate J did not allow the claimant to recover the costs of an original bundle which he considered to be disproportionately lengthy or of the preparation of a witness statement which he determined to be unnecessary, and awarded the claimant 15% of the balance of its costs:

“I do not accept HBC’s submissions that there should be no order as to costs. … It was necessary for FPL to bring proceedings, but they ought to have been on a much more limited scale. Taking into account also the unnecessary expenditure to which HBC has been put in order to resist the substantial parts of the claim where FPL was unsuccessful, FPL should be awarded only 15% of its costs…”

Appeal inquiry costs awards

In Swale Borough Council v Secretary of State (Sir Ross Cranston, 17 December 2020), Swale Council sought unsuccessfully to challenge a costs order made against it by a section 78 appeal inspector

The judgment includes a helpful review of the case law in relation to challenges to inspectors’ awards of costs, leading to the following conclusion by the judge:

“the authorities establish the following propositions:


(i) the Secretary of State is entitled to adopt a policy about costs and having done so his inspectors must apply it;


(ii) the policy is that costs may be awarded against a party for unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense;


(iii) “unreasonable” means unreasonable in the ordinary sense of the word, not unreasonable in a Wednesbury sense;


(iv) a Council’s behaviour may be unreasonable if its refusal of planning permission could not be supported by substantial evidence, but that is not the only test and there may be other relevant factors;


(v) one example is if a developer signs a section 106 agreement; it is accepting that it is reasonable even though the inspector may not be persuaded that it is necessary
.”

The Council had sought to argue that it was wrong for it to be penalised for late withdrawal of its requirement for an affordable housing contribution and for the consequence of a late indication of particular highways concerns but the judge declined to interfere with the judgment of the inspector. For instance, on the second complaint:

In my view this is one of those cases where a different inspector may have reached a different conclusion. However, I cannot conceive that Mr Upton has surmounted the high hurdle necessary to establish that this inspector’s decision was flawed. The case which Mr Village QC put to the inspector was that the Council had not raised what became condition 19, or the further contribution to traffic calming in Darlington Drive/Parsonage Chase, until immediately before the exchange of evidence on 6 January 2020, too late to avoid the preparation of Attwood’s highways evidence. When these were raised as a way forward, Attwood agreed and it was an example of the Council’s failure to review the case promptly following the lodging of the appeal, one of the examples the PPG gives as indicating unreasonable behaviour (at para. 049, referred to earlier).

(Town Legal’s Town Library summary of the case is here).

Simon Ricketts, 16 January 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Judges & Climate Change

Over Christmas, I finally read Joshua Rozenberg’s 2020 book Enemies of the People? How Judges Shape Society.

The book examines the tension inevitably faced by judges in interpreting the law, particularly in areas of public controversy (constitutional issues; “right to death”; family; discrimination; religion; privacy; access to justice): when should the application of common law principles (i.e. rules developed over time by the courts through the doctrine of precedent, as to matters not resolved by legislation) and changing expectations in society as to minimum rights that we should enjoy (a question legitimised to some extent, and in relation to some issues, by principles of statutory interpretation required under the Human Rights Act) lead judges to “make” law? And can Parliament prevent the Judiciary from constraining the Executive’s actions and decision making on particular issues, by way of ouster provisions in legislation?

Rozenberg:

“Ultimately, the British constitution relies on a delicate balance between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary: all three powers of the state must demonstrate good judgment if we are to be governed under the rule of law”.

The book is also essential background to the current Faulks review of administrative law (see my 12 September 2020 blog post).

The squeals come from those on the wrong side of rulings (of course with litigation that goes with the territory) or who choose to see the issues in too simplistic terms.

Enemies of the people” was of course the infamous Daily Mail headline following the Supreme Court’s judgment in Miller (no 1). To my mind the press release by campaign group Plan B following R (Friends of the Earth Limited) v Heathrow Airport Limited (Supreme Court, 16 December 2020) was at least as bad:

“**Latest news – the Supreme Court betrays us all with its treasonous reversal of the Court of Appeal’s judgement.**

The next edition of Rozenberg’s book surely needs to include a chapter on environmental and climate change issues. The Supreme Court was not “treasonous”! It is appalling and Trumpian to suggest it.

Heathrow

I do not consider that the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Court of Appeal’s ruling – holding that at the time the Secretary of State for Transport designated the Airports National Policy Statement in June 2018 the emissions reductions targets in the Paris Agreement had not formed part of government policy on climate change – was at all unexpected. Its conclusion was based on a plain, detailed, analysis of the position as at that date. My 7 March 2020 blog post on the Court of Appeal ruling can now be consigned to the scrap heap but I did, perhaps too politely, describe the ruling as “surprising” and say that it was “not obvious to me that the Court of Appeal’s conclusions would be safe against an appeal to the Supreme Court”! The Supreme Court sided with the initial findings of Holgate J and Hickinbottom LJ, sitting as a Divisional Court, at first instance.

Planning Court liaison judge Holgate J has a central role in this developing area of case law, revolving around the application of emissions reduction targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 – both sitting alone and as part of a Divisional Court (Whilst usually High Court cases are presided over by a single judge, in particularly important or complex cases the High Court can choose to sit as a Divisional Court, with a High Court judge and a Court of Appeal judge sitting together).

HS2

Earlier in the year, Court of Appeal, in R (Packham) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 31 July 2020) , upheld the first instance rejection by Holgate J and Coulson LJ (also sitting as a Divisional Court) of Chris Packham’s challenge to the Government’s decision to continue with the HS2 project following the review carried out by Douglas Oakervee.

The Court of Appeal:

“ground 3b is whether the Government erred in law by failing to take account of the effect of the project on greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050, in the light of the Government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008.”

“In our view it is impossible to infer from the report any failure by the panel to have regard to the Government’s relevant statutory and policy commitments on climate change. And the Government did not demonstrably commit any such error in making its decision. On this point too, we agree with the Divisional Court. There is nothing to show that the Government either ignored or misunderstood the legal implications of proceeding with HS2 for its obligations relating to climate change, including those arising from the Paris Agreement and under the provisions of the Climate Change Act.”

“… the Oakervee review was not an exercise compelled, or even provided for, in any legislation relating to climate change, in any legislation relating to major infrastructure, or in any legislation at all. It finds no place in the arrangements set in place by the Climate Change Act. Nor does it belong to any other statutory scheme, such as the Planning Act, in which the consequences of major infrastructure development for climate change are explicitly provided for as a necessary feature of decision-making. The same goes for the Government’s own decision on the future of HS2.”

Drax

Following a hearing in November 2020, judgment is yet to be handed down by the Court of Appeal in ClientEarth v Secretary of State, where at first instance Holgate J rejected a challenge to the Drax power station DCO.

Horse Hill

Holgate J handed down judgment last month in another climate change case, R (Finch) v Surrey County Council (Holgate J, 21 December 2020).

This was a challenge to a planning permission granted by Surrey County Council to retain two oil wells at Horse Hill, Hookwood, Horley, Surrey and to drill four new wells, for the production of hydrocarbons over a period of 25 years.

The main issue was “whether a developer’s obligation under the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017 No. 571) (“the 2017 Regulations”) to provide an environmental statement (“ES”) describing the likely significant effects of a development, both direct and indirect, requires an assessment of the greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions resulting from the use of an end product said to have originated from that development.” Should the environmental statement in relation to the project have assessed the greenhouse gases “that would be emitted when the crude oil produced from the site is used by consumers, typically as a fuel for motor vehicles, after having been refined elsewhere.” Was that an indirect effect of the development?

Holgate J:

The UK Government’s fundamental objective in relation to climate change is enshrined in s.1(1) of the Climate Change Act 2008 (“CCA 2008”) which, as amended with effect from 27 June 2019, imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for 2050 is at least 100% lower than the 1990 baseline. This is generally referred to as “the net zero target“.

It goes without saying that the extraction of crude oil resulting in the supply of fuel will result in GHG emissions when that end product is used. It is common ground that that is addressed by Government policy on climate change and energy, aimed inter alia at reducing the use of hydrocarbons. The issue raised in the present challenge is whether, by virtue of the 2017 Regulations, it was necessary for the planning authority to go further than apply those policies in its decision on whether to grant planning permission for the development, by requiring those GHG emissions to be estimated and assessed as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) of the development.”

“In my judgment, the fact that the environmental effects of consuming an end product will flow “inevitably” from the use of a raw material in making that product does not provide a legal test for deciding whether they can properly be treated as effects “of the development” on the site where the raw material will be produced for the purposes of exercising planning or land use control over that development. The extraction of a mineral from a site may have environmental consequences remote from that development but which are nevertheless inevitable. Instead, the true legal test is whether an effect on the environment is an effect of the development for which planning permission is sought. An inevitable consequence may occur after a raw material extracted on the relevant site has passed through one or more developments elsewhere which are not the subject of the application for planning permission and which do not form part of the same “project”.

The inevitability that the crude oil to be transported off site will eventually lead to additional GHG emissions when the end product is consumed is simply a response to the defendant’s point that when the oil leaves the site it becomes an indistinguishable part of the international oil market, so that the GHG emissions generated by combustion in vehicles cannot be attributed to any particular oil well or well site. Like the debate between the witness statements as to whether the oil produced on the site would only displace oil production elsewhere or would instead increase overall net consumption, these are forensic arguments about the market consequences of extracting oil at the site which do not address the real legal issues raised by ground 1(a).”

“Although it is not essential to my conclusions on this challenge, I should record in passing that I do not accept the proposition that there are no other measures in place within the UK for assessing and reducing GHG emissions from the combustion of oil products in motor vehicles. The measures include the net zero target in the CCA 2008, and the various matters referred to in [46] to [54] above. The overall responsibility for the economy-wide transition to a low carbon society is the responsibility of the UK Government (Packham at [87]). A range of measures is being pursued to achieve a reduction in the consumption of oil products including road pricing, taxation and future controls on the source of energy which may be used by vehicles. The object of these measures is to reduce substantially the demand for diesel and petrol from UK consumers.

The claimant fairly says that these measures do not affect the consumption of oil products by consumers in other countries. But, on the other hand, the Paris Agreement was signed by many countries throughout the world and it is the responsibility of each such country to determine its contribution to achieving the global target for 2050. Whether these issues are thought to be adequately addressed in other countries, or even in the UK, can provide no guide to the interpretation of our domestic legislation on EIA for the consenting of new development.”

“Essentially, development control and the EIA process are concerned with the use of land for development and the effects of that use. They are not directed at the environmental effects which result from the consumption, or use, of an end product, be it a manufactured article or a commodity such as oil, gas or electricity used as an energy source for conducting other human activities.”

A decision the other way clearly could have had very wide implications – a good example of the boundary between making law and interpreting it.

Campaign groups have of course long used litigation as a means of applying political pressure for change. That is a particular feature of the climate change area, with existing campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and ClientEarth, now joined by the likes of Plan B, the Good Law Project and Rights : Community : Action.

NPSs

The Good Law Project had brought legal proceedings seeking to require the Government to review its energy national policy statements to reflect current climate change targets. Whether or not as a result of those proceedings, the Government has now confirmed that it will do exactly that in its Energy white paper, Powering our net zero future (14 December 2020)

“We will complete a review of the existing energy National Policy Statements (NPS), with the aim of designating updated NPS by the end of 2021.

The suite of energy NPS establish the need for new energy infrastructure and set out a framework for the consideration of applications for development consent. We have decided that it is appropriate to review the NPS, to ensure that they reflect the policies set out in this white paper and that we continue to have a planning policy framework which can deliver the investment required to build the infrastructure needed for the transition to net zero. Work on this review will start immediately, with the aim of designating updated NPS by the end of 2021.

This white paper shows that the need for the energy infrastructure set out in energy NPS remains, except in the case of coal-fired generation. While the review is undertaken, the current suite of NPS remain relevant government policy and have effect for the purposes of the Planning Act 2008. They will, therefore, continue to provide a proper basis on which the Planning Inspectorate can examine, and the Secretary of State can make decisions on, applications for development consent. Nothing in this white paper should be construed as setting a limit on the number of development consent orders which may be granted for any type of generating infrastructure set out in the energy NPS. Other restrictions outside the planning regime (in particular the Emissions Performance Standard) mean that no new coal infrastructure projects can come forward.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Heathrow case, the Good Law Project’s focus immediately turned to the Airports National Policy Statement. On 18 December 2020 a pre-action protocol letter was sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, requesting that he:

“(i) considers whether it is appropriate to review the Airports National Policy Statement on new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the South East of England (NPS) pursuant to section 6 of the Planning Act 2008 (PA 2008); and

(ii) considers whether it is appropriate to suspend all or part of the ANPS pursuant to section 11 of the PA 2008”

in the light, amongst other things, of “significant changes in the science and domestic policy on Climate Change” since the designation of the policy statement in June 2018. A response was requested by 18 January 2021.

In the wake of the Heathrow judgment, Plan B was reported as considering bringing a claim in the European Court of Human Rights. That would in my view be an uphill struggle, particularly at this policy setting rather than development consent stage, although of course it is interesting to see how climate change human rights law has been developing – see for example the Dutch Supreme Court judgment in the Urgenda case (the background is set out in my 28 September 2019 blog post Urgent Agenda/Urgenda written after the Dutch Court of Appeal’s ruling in that case, upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court). Based on articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the court ordered that the state was to reduce greenhouse gases by the end of 2020 by at least 25% compared to 1990.

The Bingham road-map

I’ll end by quoting again from Rozenberg’s book, where he sets out Lord Bingham’s “road-map” of warning signs which should be heeded by judges who are considering making new law:

1. where reasonable and right-minded citizens have legitimately ordered their affairs on the basis of a certain understanding of the law;

2. where, although a rule of law is seen to be defective, its amendment calls for a detailed legislative code, with qualifications, exceptions and safeguards which cannot feasibly be introduced by judicial decisions;

3. where the question involves an issue of current social policy on which there is no consensus within the community;

4. where an issue is the subject of current legislative activity;

5. where the issue arises in a field far removed from ordinary judicial experience.

Discuss!

Simon Ricketts, 9 January 2021

Personal views, et cetera