Wouldn’t it be good if Government plans were proper plans, subject to detailed assessment of their environmental effects, including formal assessment of reasonable alternatives and with the requirement for further assessment of material changes? But we lost that argument a long time ago, in R (HS2 Action Alliance) v Secretary of State for Transport (Supreme Court, 22 January 2014). The Supreme Court held that the Government’s January 2012 white paper “High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps” was not subject to any requirement for strategic environmental assessment as it was not a plan that “set the framework” for subsequent decision making.
“DNS is an elaborate description of the HS2 project, including the thinking behind it and the government’s reasons for rejecting alternatives. However, it does not constrain the decision-making process of the authority responsible, which is Parliament. Formally, and in reality, Parliament is autonomous, and not bound by any “criteria” contained in previous Government statements.”
So we were to take it all with a pinch of salt, including images such as this, showing the proposed “Y” route, to Manchester (and ultimately Glasgow) and Leeds (and ultimately Edinburgh via Newcastle):
Bear all this in mind when you read the Department for Transport’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands published on on 18 November 2021. The plan “confirms” £54bn of spending on rail and local transport in the Midlands and North in addition to the £42bn already included for HS2 Phases 1 and 2a between London, the West Midlands and Crewe and has these images showing the journey time savings proposed:
What an opportunity to make good promises as to Levelling Up and Building Back Better.
“It is a £96 billion plan that outlines how major rail projects, including HS2 Phase 2b, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Rail Hub, will be delivered sooner than previous plans so that communities, towns and cities across the North and Midlands are better connected with more frequent, reliable and greener services and faster journey times.
The plan confirms that the government will:
• build 3 new high-speed lines including:
• HS2 from Crewe to Manchester
• HS2 from the West Midlands to East Midlands Parkway, enabling HS2 trains to join existing lines to serve Nottingham and Derby city centres (unlike original plans)
• a new high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire, as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail
• electrify and/or upgrade 3 existing main lines including:
• the Transpennine Main Line between Manchester, Leeds and York
• the Midland Main Line between London St Pancras, the East Midlands, and Sheffield
• upgrading and improving line speeds on the East Coast Main Line
The plan also confirms that the government will progress options to complete the Midlands Rail Hub and spend £100 million to look at how best to take HS2 trains to Leeds, including assessing capacity at Leeds station and starting work on the West Yorkshire mass transit system.”
Piecing together the implications one sees that the previous commitment to build HS2 to Leeds in accordance with that 2012 plan has now become simply an extension to East Midlands parkway with HS2 trains then able to go on existing lines to Nottingham and Derby. The long anticipated “Y” becomes a “\”. As recently as 28 May 2021, New Civil Engineer had reported the Transport Secretary saying exactly the opposite: DfT commits to HS2 eastern leg after months of uncertainty.
There is much else to unpack. Those maps stress journey time reductions (which is of course not the only factor at all in securing an improved rail network) but so much is down to the detail: routes, specifications, delivery timescales and of course (HS2 to Leeds being a perfect example) the risk of elements subsequently simply being lopped off. Any supporting assessment work is simply unavailable (see my opening comments).
As Jonathan identifies, Yorkshire is potentially the biggest loser, with also a retreat from the proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail, a new-build high speed line between Leeds and Manchester. The regional press had a field day:
West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin has written to Grant Shapps setting out the various failings of the proposals, saying that she and other West Yorkshire leaders “are angry and frustrated by the promises that have been seemingly broken. Our communities feel betrayed”. (26 November 2021).
The reconsideration (not yet a final scrapping) of HS2 between the East Midlands and Leeds brings little relief incidentally to those whose homes and businesses have long been blighted – safeguarding of the route will remain whilst further analysis is done.
Manchester of course still gets HS2, but with proposals for a terminus station there, with an above ground, rather than tunnelled, route – long a cause for concern on the part of Andy Burnham: Government planning ‘to put HS2 on stilts through Manchester’ (Guardian, 19 November 2021). Fat chance incidentally of any extension of HS2 to Scotland any more it would appear. The Transport Secretary hardly oozes sympathy in his reactions to Burnham’s concerns:
“If we spend £6bn or £7bn building the station underground at Manchester, we will take away from Liverpool, Leeds, Hull or some of the other places that are calling for money … Manchester is a principal beneficiary of this entire programme and we wish his constituents well in their new journey times.”
The integrated rail plan and what it does or doesn’t do for levelling up is going to be the topic for this week’s clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session. Guest speakers cover all the bases: from Birmingham the aforementioned Jonathan Stott, from Manchester Urbed’s Vicky Payne, from Leeds barrister Stephanie Hall and from London my Town partner Raj Gupta. Join us via this link.
It is interesting to consider what the Secretary of State has said about design matters in three recent decisions, subsequent to the July 2021 revisions to the NPPF and new national model design code (see my 27 July 2021 blog post Beauty & The Beach).
Following the quashing of his predecessor’s decision to allow the appeal by Westferry Developments Limited in relation to the non-determination by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets of its application for planning permission for 1,524 dwellings and associated development on the former Westferry Printworks site (see my 23 May 2020 blog post) the Secretary of State has now dismissed the appeal in a decision letter dated 18 November 2021.
On design he says this:
“The Secretary of State has given careful consideration to the Inspector’s analysis at IR.A.420-435 and IR.B.235-240 and IR.B.302 in relation to the effect of the scale, height and massing of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the surrounding area. For the reasons given at IR.B.235-236 and IR.B.302 the Secretary of State agrees that the appeal scheme would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area (IR.B.302).
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s assessment at IR.A.436 that the spacing between the proposed towers and the way materials and the detailed design of the facades would bring texture and variety to the appearance of the buildings. However, for the reasons given at IR.B.235-236, the Secretary of State further agrees that the appeal scheme would result in a proposal of excessive height, scale and mass which would fail to respond to the existing character of the place. He further agrees that it would not enhance the local context by responding positively to local distinctiveness and, like the Inspector, considers that the proposal would conflict with LonP 2021 Policy D3 (IR.B.236).
For the reasons given at IR.A.436-438 and IR.B.237, the Secretary of State agrees that although the site is within a Tall Buildings Zone (TBZ) as identified in the development 6 plan, the scale, height and mass of the proposal is such that it would not make a positive contribution to the skyline nor the local townscape or achieve an appropriate transition in scale to buildings of significantly lower height. He further agrees that it would not reinforce the spatial hierarchy of the local and wider context, and would cause harm to the significance of heritage assets, would harm the ability to appreciate a World Heritage Site (WHS) and would compromise the enjoyment of an adjoining water space (IR.B.237). He further agrees at IR.A.436 that the proposal would not be well related to the street scene of Westferry Road (IR.A.436). For the reasons given, he agrees that the proposal would conflict with LonP Policy D9. He also agrees at IR.B.238 that the proposal would conflict with LP 2031 Policy S.DH1 because it would not be of an appropriate scale, height, mass, bulk and form. He further agrees, for the reasons given at IR.B.239, that the proposal would conflict with Policy D.DH6.
The Secretary of State further agrees that for the reasons given at IR.B.240, the proposal would not accord with the design principles set out in site allocation 4.12 (Westferry Printworks) of the LP 2031 and would therefore conflict with site allocation 4.12.
For the reasons given, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR.B.302 that overall, the proposal would not represent high quality design which responds to its context. He further agrees that significant weight should be attached to the harm to the character and appearance of the area because of the degree of harm that would be caused and the wide area over which that harm would be experienced (IR.B.302).
The Secretary of State has taken in to consideration the appellant’s representation of 27 August 2021, including that the proposal is representative of the highest quality design and appearance and that the development would deliver an attractive well-designed landscape masterplan that is easily accessible for pedestrians and cyclists; that trees are integral to the proposed streetscape; and that the proposals will deliver a safe, secure and attractive environment. The appellant considers that the proposed development is compatible with the emphasis in the revised Framework for building and places to be beautiful and sustainable. The Secretary of State has also taken into account the Council’s representation of 26 August 2021. This considers that the amended Framework and the requirement to consider the National Design Guide further reinforces and strengthens the Council’s case, and sets out where the Council considers that the proposal does not align with the principles in the National Design Guide.
For the reasons given in this letter, the Secretary of State considers that overall, the appeal scheme does not reflect local design policies or government guidance on design, and is not in accordance with paragraph 134 of the Framework. This view is further reinforced by his conclusions on heritage issues, below. He considers that the shortcomings of the proposal in terms of the failure to accord with the provisions of the revised Framework carry significant weight against the proposal.”
On behalf of the Secretary of State, the Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher, dismissed an appeal by Bury Street Properties against the refusal by the City of London Corporation for planning permission for a 304 metre high visitor attraction in the City of London. His decision letter dated 11 November 2021 and inspector’s report make fascinating reading.
Zack Simons gave a great summary of the decision on clubhouse last Tuesday and you can listen again here.
There are some fascinating passages both in the decision letter and in inspector’s David Nicholson’s elegantly written report. Aside from his conclusions on heritage impact (particularly the effect of the proposal on the setting of the Tower of London world heritage site), there is a detailed analysis at paragraphs 32 to 41 of the six criteria for good design set out in paragraph 130 of the NPPF (the six criteria are unchanged from the previous version of the NPPF but it is interesting to see them used in this way):
“…the Secretary of State agrees that the scheme would function properly with regard to delivering a very high level viewing experience together with some exciting fairground-style additions. He further agrees with the Inspector’s comments about the level of skill and effort which has been put into resolving the entrance and exit requirements in such a tight space and the quality of the detailing. However, he agrees with the Inspector’s concerns that the number of visitors would need to be limited to prevent overcrowding at ground level. Overall, he agrees with the Inspector that the extent to which the design would overcome the constraints (of the site) and function well is a matter which should be given moderate weight (IR14.72).
For the reasons given in IR14.73, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that little if any thought has been given to how the building would function over its extended lifetime. He notes that there are no plans for its re-use when it has served its purpose as a viewing tower, or for its demolition. He agrees that if the owner were disinclined with little incentive, it would leave either an unmaintained eyesore or a large public liability, and this counts heavily against its design quality.”
• Visually attractive
“The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector, for the reasons given at IR14.74, that while the quality of the presentation materials is of an exceptional standard, achieving the highest architectural quality goes well beyond the level of detailing and presentation. While he recognises that the quality of the presentation materials has made it easier to appreciate how the scheme is designed and how it impacts on its surroundings, he considers that the quality of the presentation materials is not directly relevant to the quality of the design and does not carry weight in this matter.
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is some comfort that the attention to detail would be followed through into the finished article (IR14.83). For the reasons given at IR14.75-14.83, he agrees with the Inspector that however carefully detailed, in terms of aesthetics the result would be visually compromised, being neither a continuous flowing object, as with the Gherkin, nor a structure of three distinct parts, as with the Monument (IR14.77). He also shares the Inspector’s reservations about the finish to the concrete of the Tulip (IR14.78-14.79). In terms of symmetry, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that while there have obviously been considerable effort and architectural dexterity employed in modelling the top of the building, the way the gondolas, slide and skywalk have been incorporated into the viewing areas has produced a compromised design that is neither a flamboyant expression nor a consistent elegance (IR14.81).
In terms of overall appearance, the Secretary of State, like the Inspector, finds too many compromises to amount to world class architecture. He considers that taking into account his conclusions in paragraphs 35-36 above and paragraph 46 below, the 8 proposal does not draw support from paragraph 126 of the Framework, which promotes the creation of ‘high quality, beautiful and sustainable buildings and places’.”
• Sympathetic to local character and history
“…the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the form and materials of the Tulip at its proposed height and location would be a poor and unsympathetic response to the historical context. He considers that this weighs very heavily against the quality of the design, and has reflected this in the very considerable weight attributed to the heritage harm.”
• Strong sense of place
“The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector, for the reasons given at IR14.88 to 14.90, that the base of the Tulip and the Pavilion would create distinctive spaces and the double height arches between the buttresses would be attractive and welcoming alongside the green wall. He further agrees that the sense of drama and expression of structural forces at the base of the Tulip would be striking, and that the Pavilion would be a bright new building with an exciting roof garden at high level. However, he also agrees that the space around the entrances might feel uncomfortable and shares the Inspector’s reservations about the treatment of the Pavilion’s street elevation and how the ground level functions would be achieved. Overall, he agrees with the Inspector’s conclusions that while the scheme would enhance detailed elements of the existing context it would do so at a cost to openness (IR14.90).”
• Optimise the potential of the site
“For the reasons given at IR14.91, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that while the scheme would develop this windfall site to the full, and considerable skill has gone into overcoming the functional requirements within such a tight site and turning these into attractively detailed elements, nevertheless, this would not overcome the loss of open space and part of the backdrop to the Gherkin.”
• Inclusive and accessible
“…while the scheme would be generally accessible to all, its inclusivity would be limited by the cost of the main attractions.”
The Secretary of State concludes on design that he “agrees with the Inspector that the approach would be a muddle of architectural ideas and would be compromised, and that the unresolved principles behind the design would mean that in many regards it would fall between two stools. He further agrees that the development would not amount to a design of outstanding quality, and that the quality of design would not be nearly high enough as to negate its harm to the settings of heritage assets.”
“The Secretary of State has gone on to consider these findings against the revised design policies in the Framework. He concludes that those design elements set out above which weigh against the scheme, both in terms of design process and outcome, have greater weight than the positive elements which have been identified. Overall, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR14.106 that the proposal would not amount to a design of outstanding quality.”
“In particular, The Secretary of State considers that the revisions to the Framework make clear that the creation of high quality, beautiful and sustainable buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve (Framework paragraph 126) and he considers this emphasis on design quality to be an important material consideration in this case.”
“The Secretary of State has further considered whether there is conflict with government guidance on design. In the light of his conclusions above, and for the same reasons, he considers that the proposal is not in accordance with aspects of the National Design Guide, in particular those elements of the Guide dealing with context and resources. He has taken into account the representation of 7 September made on behalf of the appellant which refers to the National Design Guide and the evidence submitted to the inquiry. However, as above, because of significance of the areas of conflict, and the resultant degree of harm, overall he considers that that the proposal does not reflect government guidance on design. He considers that design as a whole carries significant weight against the proposal.”
It is well worth reading the more detailed analysis in inspector David Nicholson’s report. Given public discourse about the “beauty” agenda, reflected in the revised NPPF and national model design code, he makes this interesting comment:
“I did not pursue the notion of beautiful found in the draft NPPF. It is evident, for all the reasons that they set out, that the Appellant and its supporters consider that the scheme would be beautiful while objectors think it would not. While I certainly accept that innovative designs can be beautiful, in other regards I consider that the concept of beauty or otherwise for this appeal is in the eye of the beholder and that any further discussion is unlikely to be helpful”.
Amen to that.
The Secretary of State dismissed an appeal by the Outer Harbour Development Company Partnership in relation to the non-determination by Brighton and Hove City Council of an application for planning permission for phase two of a phased residential-led mixed use development at Brighton Harbour Outer Harbour. On design, the decision letter dated 11 November 2021 includes the following:
“For the reasons given he agrees with the Inspector that the various spaces want for discipline and overall there are not enough ‘events’ or ‘signposts’ to make for a properly legible route across the site (IR11.17). Furthermore, he agrees with the Inspector that in terms of the regularity of the façade treatments, and the homogenous mass that would be created, together with the failure to provide a proper landmark or bookend, the scheme lacks the exuberance and ambition that the best of Brighton’s seaside buildings exhibit. He also agrees that it would not, therefore, be a positive contributor to its context and in many respects, it would fail to take the great opportunity the appeal site presents (IR11.22).”
“The Secretary of State agrees with the Council that the updated NPPF gives even stronger weight to the need to follow local design guidance. For the reasons given in this letter, he agrees with the Council’s assessment of the areas of conflict with the UDF. He has taken into account the Appellant’s representations on the matter. However, given the significance of the areas of conflict, and the resultant degree of harm, particularly in respect of heritage, harm to the setting of the National Park and living conditions, he considers that overall there is conflict with the newly adopted UDF, this being a material consideration in its own right. In the light of this conclusion, he considers that overall the proposal fails to reflect local design policies, as required by paragraph 134 of the Framework. He further considers that it fails to reflect the elements of paragraph 130 relating to layout, the requirement to be sympathetic to local character and history, establishing a strong sense of place and providing a high standard of amenity.
The Secretary of State has further considered whether the proposal reflects government guidance on design. In the light of his conclusions above, and for the same reasons, he considers that the proposal is not in accordance with the aspects of the National Design Guide dealing with context, layout, form, appearance, external appearance and public spaces. He has taken into account the appellant’s statement in their representation of 5 August that the provisions set out in paragraph 134 of the revised Framework are covered within Mr Aspland’s POE, which sets out how the landscape design proposals meet the relevant objectives of the National Design Guide. However, as above, because of significance of the areas of conflict, and the resultant degree of harm, overall he considers there is conflict with the National Design Guide. He therefore agrees with the conclusion in the Council’s representation of 24 August that the proposal does not reflect government guidance on design.
Overall, the Secretary of State considers that the shortcomings in terms of the failure to accord with the provisions of the revised Framework carry significant weight against the proposal.”
Taken together, it is clear that care is needed to ensure that proposals are indeed consistent with the revised chapter 12 (“achieving well-designed places”) of the NPPF. But how? On Tuesday 23 November 2021 at 4.30 pm I’m participating in a Montagu Evans webinar: “Planning for beauty, or the “provably popular”. A new urban design agenda?” which I hope will explore the practical implications. I will be joining Chris Miele (Montagu Evans), Charles Banner QC (Keating Chambers) and leading architect Deborah Saunt, one of the founding directors of DSDHA. If of interest please do register here.
In consequence, there will be no Planning Law Unplanned session on Tuesday. You will have to make do with listening back to last week’s session – featuring Zack Simons, as mentioned above, along with Kate Olley, who discussed last month’s Sage case.
We all had a good, evidence-based, moan about CIL on clubhouse last week.
Stonewater (2) Limited v Wealden District Council (Thornton J, 15 October 2021) is of course only the latest example of the complexities and uncertainties that arise – in particular on the question of application of reliefs and exemptions (the importance and number of which has been driven by the fact that CIL liability is in most cases so significant) but also on the question of how to mesh the operation of the CIL regime with the operation of the planning system without jamming the whole thing up.
Land with planning permission for 169 houses was acquired by Stonewater, a registered provider of affordable housing. The section 106 agreement provided for 59 dwellings within the development to be affordable housing, with a specified tenure mix. The number of affordable housing units was to “comprise 35% of the Dwellings within the Phase (which shall be rounded up to the nearest whole unit”.
Stonewater’s model was more enlightened than that of the developer which had secured the permission. Stonewater “regularly acquires sites which are subject to a section 106 agreement which secure a low or policy compliant level (35%) of affordable housing, with a view to increasing affordable housing delivery to 100%. The Court was told that this is not unusual, and the Claimant is not alone in doing so. Grants from Homes England are based on the principle that registered social housing providers provide additional affordable housing over and above the levels secured in planning obligations.”
Relief from CIL is available for affordable housing via social housing relief. There are criteria set out in regulation 49 of the CIL Regulations which do not include any requirement that the affordable housing is secured by way of section 106 agreement or condition. After all, if there is a clawback period of seven years within which CIL has to be paid with interest if the occupation no longer meets the criteria for relief.
Unsurprisingly, Stonewater sought social housing relief for the whole development, given that it proposed to deliver it all as affordable housing meeting the criteria in regulation 49. The council refused relief on the basis that a varied section 106 agreement would first be required, committing in the agreement for all the dwellings to be delivered as affordable housing. The council later additionally argued that the existing section 106 agreement was to be interpreted as rendering it unlawful for more than 35% of the dwellings to be delivered as affordable housing.
It might be asked why Stonewater didn’t simply enter into the section 106 agreement required – but of course that would have been likely to destroy its entitlement to Homes England funding given that on the face of it there would then be no additionality, and why should it enter into a further agreement if that was not required by the Regulations? Stonewater challenged the council’s decision by way of judicial review. The first issue melted away once the Secretary of State was joined as an interested party and the council conceded that a section 106 agreement obligation that a dwelling be delivered as affordable housing is not a prerequisite to a claim for social housing relief (although it can be useful evidence that the dwellings will be used in a way that meets the criteria for relief) – as did any notion that the relief is discretionary on the part of the authority rather than mandatory. So the only question was whether delivery of more than 35% of the homes would be in breach of the section 106 agreement.
The judge saw the 35% requirement as fixed, not a minimum:
“In my assessment, the language of the document points to an interpretation that the agreement controls the amount of affordable housing that can come forward, by fixing a specific requirement of 59 dwellings or 35% affordable housing. Paragraph 2(iii) of Schedule 1 says that precisely 35% of the units in any phase must be affordable. Accordingly, if the development proceeds in multiple phases, there must be 35% in each phase and thus, inevitably, as a matter of maths, 35% in aggregate. This specific requirement permeates the definitions, which draw a clear distinction between the ‘Affordable Housing Units’ which are “the 59 Dwellings … which shall be for use as affordable housing” and ‘the Private Dwelling Units’ which means everything other than the 59 Dwellings. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 provides the mechanism whereby the Council can exercise control in all cases (not just multiple phases) over the provision of affordable housing. The, broadly defined, Affordable Housing Scheme must be submitted for approval and development may not commence until the Council has approved it.
Accordingly, a scheme which provides less, or more units, of affordable housing would not comply with the section 106 requirement to provide 59 units and hence would be contrary to its terms and to that extent unlawful, albeit the Council would have a discretion to vary the Section 106 agreement or enter into a new agreement.”
I must say I find this a strained interpretation. As the claimant pointed out, there would be no reason in policy to restrict the amount of affordable housing in the scheme – why should the developer not be free to dispose of any of the dwellings at less than market value? Indeed, although not I think mentioned in the judgment, how would such a restriction meet the test in regulation 122? Would an authority really succeed in arguing that a developer was in breach of its section 106 agreement if it disposed of market units at less than market value? Of course not.
The judge asserted that “whilst affordable housing is generally desirable in policy terms, it does not follow that more affordable housing is always desirable without limit. There may be proper planning reasons to prefer a mixed scheme. For example, in this case, the Court’s attention was drawn to extracts from the Planning Officer’s report which suggest the expected CIL receipts from a scheme with 35% affordable housing were relevant to the decision making. The highways authority had expressed concern about the potentially severe impact from the development on the local highway network and considered mitigation was required. It was common ground that the necessary mitigation was to be funded by the CIL receipts from the development. However, it is neither necessary nor appropriate for this court to evaluate any preference for a mixed scheme on the facts of this case. It is sufficient to say that it is in accord with the statutory planning context, and / or “common sense”, to have a section 106 agreement which retains control over the provision of affordable housing. This does not defeat the achievement of more affordable housing since the Council, in the exercise of its planning judgment, may vary the Section 106 to permit this, if persuaded of its desirability.” However, how does this sit with the council’s position that it would grant the relief simply if Stonewater entered into a section 106 agreement varying the previous arrangements and requiring all the dwellings to be affordable?
Surely, instead, this was an overly prescriptive reading of the Regulations on the part of the authority and a strained interpretation of the section 106 agreement on the part of the judge? It is truly depressing to think about how long commencement of development is held up on schemes until disputes such as this are resolved – and how so much money has been wasted on all sides.
Simon Ricketts, 13 November 2021
Personal views et cetera
This week’s Planning Law Unplanned delicacies on clubhouse, at 6pm on Tuesday 16 November, will be Sage and Tulip. We’ll be hearing from Kate Olley, who appeared for Mr Sage in the recent High Court case on the important and topical question as to when planning permission is needed to run a business from home, and we’ll be discussing the Secretary of State’s refusal of planning permission for the Tulip in the City of London. Aside from Kate, our guests include arch-planorak, barrister Zack Simons. Thoughts on the decisions? Then join us, to listen or participate. Link to app here.
I could have been dictating this piece for the overnight typing pool, slipping into the firm’s library to check the case references and tricky spellings, being brought printouts of drafts by a messenger in a firm-logo-branded shirt before the desktop publishing department do their weird stuff on The Firm’s Only Apple Mac.
Those were the days, working in a law factory, as we used dismissively to call our daytime workplace over an overpriced drink in a city bar after hours, incommunicado until the next morning.
Or I could be writing it at home in an hour or two of self-discipline away from an overnight stream of emails and an intertwined social media timeline of planning, law, politics, music, football and hopefully an amusing cat video or ten.
I don’t even know whether writing this blog is work or not.
We’re all grappling more than ever before with questions such as:
⁃ Where are the boundaries between work and home?
⁃ What is the continuing role for formal workspaces when the necessary components for core “office” work are simply a laptop, mobile phone and quiet space; for lockup shops when everyone can be their own etsy or e-bay business, or for studios and workshops where the work carried out may largely rely on nothing more than manual dexterity plus some tech?
⁃ In an age where the average household is having multiple home deliveries of all sorts of goods, what level of business activity is to be regarded as normal or appropriate for a residential area? Can you even generalise – or does it depend on the nature of the area and its dwellings?
⁃ Is this all a Good thing or a Bad thing and to what extent is it any business of the planning system? If it was the industrial revolution that brought about such a sharp delineation between where we live and where we work, are we now in a post-industrial revolution and are there indeed environmental, social and economic benefits to a greater degree of community, as opposed to commuter, living? How to reinvent the office so that it is about unique human communication, rather than as a left behind place, its complex physical functions, systems and gadgets long outsourced to laptop and phone?
Two recent cases led to these thoughts. The main one was Sage v Secretary of State (Sir Duncan Ouseley, 28 October 2021) (I know, one planning law Sage case was confusing enough and here comes another). I very much recommend and won’t repeat our Town Library case summary written by my colleague Stephanie Bruce-Smith (work-related plug: you can still subscribe for free to these brilliant weekly summaries by the Town Legal team of all Planning Court and relevant appellate judgments here).
Sir Duncan Ouseley in his ruling considers whether the advice in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance is correct as to when planning permission is needed “to homework or run a business from home”. The guidance says this:
“Planning permission will not normally be required to home work or run a business from home, provided that a dwelling house remains a private residence first and business second (or in planning terms, provided that a business use does not result in a material change of use of a property so that it is no longer a single dwelling house). A local planning authority is responsible for deciding whether planning permission is required and will determine this on the basis of individual facts. Issues which they may consider include whether home working or a business leads to noticeable increases in traffic, disturbance to neighbours, abnormal noise or smells or the need for any major structural changes or major renovations.”
Sound sensible to you? Then be wary, because the judge disagreed. He considered that the passage in brackets at the end of the first sentence is expressed too widely and also that the question of environmental impact (the matters referred to in the second sentence) is of limited relevance.
The facts as summarised by the judge were as follows:
“Mr Sage, lives in a two-storey semi-detached house with a garden, about 20 metres deep, in a residential street in a primarily residential area of Beckenham in the London Borough of Bromley. At the rear of his garden is a timber out-building, with windows, which is used in part as a garden shed, and in part as a gym. Mr Sage keeps gym equipment there including a treadmill, cross-trainer, weights, balls, bench, and punch bag. It has no toilet or showering facilities. The garden, and the shed, can be accessed via a passage to the side of the house, shared with the neighbouring property. Mr Sage uses the gym himself and he permits family and friends to use it. He has used the gym part of the shed since 2016 for his business as a personal trainer, for paying clients, who attend at the premises.”
Bromley had refused Mr Sage’s application for a certificate of lawful use, disagreeing that either the use was ancillary to the primary residential use of his property or that that the use fell within section 55 (2)(d) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990: “the use of any buildings or other land within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse for any purpose incidental to the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse as such;…“
(In passing, it’s not just about working from home, be careful about your hobbies: “Wallington v Secretary of State for Wales (1991) 62 P&CR 150, CA, concerned an enforcement notice alleging that the keeping of 44 dogs as a hobby was not incidental to the use of a dwelling house “as such”, that is as a dwellinghouse. The notice was upheld and the dogs limited to 6. The fact that the owner genuinely regarded this as a hobby “cannot possibly suffice to prove by itself” that the purpose was incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house as a dwellinghouse. Significance had to be given to the words “as such”.”)
An inspector dismissed Mr Sage’s appeal and he challenged that decision.
“This latter Guidance suffers from two main problems. The first question is what use is being made of the land, including its ancillary uses, and, in the case of a dwelling house, whether any purposes to which it is put are reasonably incidental to its use as a dwelling house. The passage in brackets at the end of the first sentence of this guidance is correct but too readily capable of leading to the concept, of a material change of use or a purpose incidental to the use of dwellinghouse as such, being misunderstood. This is because a business use in a dwellinghouse may well be secondary to the primary residential use of the dwellinghouse; but may still create a material change of use, be for a non-incidental purpose. A secondary use will involve a material change of use of the dwellinghouse to a mixed or composite use, as was found to have occurred here, unless it is so secondary that it is merely ancillary to the residential use as a dwelling house such that there is still just that one use; or in the case of a dwelling house, the purpose at issue is reasonably incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house as such. This is a crucial point which the Guidance ignores or blurs badly.
Second, a material change of use can be made without any adverse environmental impact at all. Treating environmental impact as the seemingly crucial issue for the judgment as to whether a material change of use has occurred, or a purpose is reasonably incidental is not consistent with clearly established law. The crucial test is whether there has been change in the character of the use. Environmental impact can be relevant as evidence that a material change has occurred, because a use of the new character may be capable of yielding environmental impacts or have done so already. The Guidance as written is apt to mislead as to what the real question is, and as to the true but limited relevance of environmental impact.
Once the use of the outbuilding for the business of a personal training studio for paying visitors is accepted as an ancillary to or reasonably incidental to the use of a dwellinghouse as such, the difficulty of measuring the materiality of a change in the scale of the activities or their mode of operation points to the limitations of using environmental impact as the measures not of impact but of materiality of the change of use. It appears quite difficult to contend that using the garden for exercise, warming up and warming down, post-exercise conversation, refreshment, or using the outbuilding with the doors open in hotter weather or if the air-conditioning is inadequate, or enabling visitors to traipse to the lavatory and back, involves a material change of use, when use of the outbuilding for 6 days a week for personal training did not. This is the more so if others, who are not commercial clients, do so. It is difficult to see that an increase in numbers and disturbance would be of itself a material change of use. The neighbours might change; a new owner of the house could intensify the use. There could be, as here, a local difference of view about the effect of the business. This all is grist to the mill of the limitations of the role of environmental impact in resolving the materiality of a change in use and the incidental nature of the additional use. The Guidance is far too loose to reflect the true focus of the question at issue.”
There is then this final fascinating passage:
“I also appreciate that there are many forms of service offered within a dwelling house, from private tuition, including in music or singing, child minding, medical services. I accept that what is normal or reasonably incidental now may have shifted with changes in work habits as a result of Covid. This is not relevant to this particular case. And an important distinction would have to be drawn between working from home, where work-related visitors were few and far between, and working from home which took the form of routine and frequent work-related visitors, notably customers. However, the question of how much actual noise the music or maths teacher and pupil make, how much actual disturbance is generated by young children or dogs being minded, is not the touchstone of the materiality of the change of use, although it may point to a nature or degree of use which is materially different from that of a dwellinghouse or its incidental purposes. One is a residential use, and the other is a residential and commercial use. Of course, they both may vary in their intensity and impact, but one cannot be controlled through the need for planning permission and the other can and should be.”
How is this distinction really to be drawn, clearly, in practice?
The second case is a judgment of the Central London County Court. AHGR Ltd v Kane Laverack (HHJ Johns QC, 27 September 2021). The judgment is unreported but summarised in County Court at Central London considers Live/Work units (Landmark chambers, 27 October 2021). Nostalgia time for some of us – “live/work units” are now a rather outmoded concept but were once given favourable policy status by certain London authorities in specific areas.
“ The concept took off in London during the late 1990s. The concept was initially welcomed by many planning officers as they saw it meeting multiple employment and housing objectives. Initially proposals were by individual and artists, however developers soon became involved as it became seen as a means of securing planning permission in areas where existing zonings made development difficult.
There was a gradual disillusionment with the concept and many planners began to see the concept as a ‘fig leaf’ for primarily housing schemes. Policies in most boroughs have significantly tightened.
Some developers are quite open that Live/Work is simply a ruse for securing planning permission. There is widespread evidence of large scale residential reversion and little evidence of continued employment occupancy, other than in areas where there is a strong market for small offices where units are more likely to revert to employment use. The search for examples of good ‘work/ live’ practice has proven a largely barren one.”
AHGR was a landlord and tenant case which concerned the proper interpretation of a user clause in a lease required use “as a live/work unit in accordance with the terms and conditions of the planning permission”.
Excitingly for us lawyers, but leading to a rather curious outcome, it revolved around the interpretation of “/“: does “live/work” means “live and work” or “live and/or work”? A salutary lesson for users of the dreaded slash…
To quote from the summary:
“The live/work unit had been built out as a flat, without apparent regard to the requirements set out in building regulations for commercial premises at the time. The user clause required use “as a live/work unit in accordance with the terms and conditions of the planning permission”. The Defendants (a barrister and doctor) had resided in the live/work unit primarily as their home, albeit that they had undertaken various work-related activities in their open-plan living space and spare room, such as writing books, publishing papers, and undertaking triaging and consultation of patients by phone. There was no designated work space in the unit and despite inspections over the years, no objections had been raised by the landlord’s agents to such use.”
“After a 4 day trial, HHJ Johns QC dismissed the claim. He concluded the planning permission meant “live and/or work”. The construction of the planning permission was central to the construction of the leasehold covenant and particular regard was had to: (i) the planning policy background to the permission, (ii) the absence of conditions, (iii) the fact that the plans marked the whole area as live/work, (iv) the fact that other plans referred to in the permission used a “/” to indicate “and/or”, (v) the planning framework (including the fact that a breach of planning control can have criminal sanctions) (vi) the fact that a “live and/or work” construction still serves a purpose of allowing a business to be run from the premises; and (vii) how the planning permission had been implemented. A 1999 Supplementary Planning Guidance document, which was relied on by the Claimant, did not alter that interpretation.
The Judge also held that if the clause had mandated work, the planning permission did not require running a business from the unit and the activities undertaken by the Defendants were sufficient.”
Given that the whole purpose of “live/work units” was to require an element of employment use, rather than just use for residential purposes the judgment does not sit well with any purposive approach to interpretation of the documents but life, and the nature of work, has certainly moved on.
I wrote a long time ago about the many definitional problems within the Use Classes Order C-classes, in my 1 July 2016 blog post Time To Review The “C” Use Classes? Those problems are multiplying. What new boundary lines do we need, if any?
Simon Ricketts, 6 November 2021
Personal views, et cetera
Our clubhouse session this Tuesday at 6pm will be another good one: CIL horror stories. Story tellers will include Tom Dobson, Zenab Hearn, Claire Petricca-Riding, Professor Samer Bagaeen and Graham Cridland. Link here.