First, a reminder about the Town Library weekly Planning Court updates. You can still register for free to receive a weekly summary of all judgments handed down from the Planning Court (and on appeal from the Planning Court) (those following a final hearing that is – wouldn’t it be great to have permission-stage orders as well…?). There is an on-line index that goes back 4 years and our internal index goes back to the creation of the court in 2014.
“The Court of Appeal has upheld the judgment of the High Court on the question of whether it was unlawful for Surrey County Council not to require the environmental impact assessment (“EIA”) for a commercial crude oil extraction project to include an assessment of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the eventual use of the refined products of that oil as fuel.
The High Court had found that, while it was common ground that an environmental statement should assess both the direct and indirect effects of the development for which planning permission was sought that are likely to be significant, “indirect effects” must still be effects which the development itself has on the environment. It noted that the EIA process was concerned with the use of land for development and the effects of that use; it was not directed at the environmental effects which resulted from the use of an end product.
The Court of Appeal agreed that the Council had not acted unlawfully but while the High Court considered that in the circumstances of this case, the assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the future combustion of refined oil products at the development site was, as a matter of law, incapable of falling within the scope of the EIA for the planning application, the Court of Appeal held that the existence and nature of “indirect” effects would always depend on the particular circumstances of the development under consideration and that establishing what should be included in an environmental statement was for the relevant planning authority. The need for a wider assessment of greenhouse gas emissions may sometimes be appropriate; what needs to be considered is the degree of connection between the development and its putative effects.
In this case, though the project itself was confined to the construction and use of a well site for the commercial extraction of crude oil for onward transport to refineries, the eventual combustion of the refined products of the oil extracted at the site was “inevitable”, not merely “likely” or “possible”. This being so, the Court of Appeal decided that it was for the Council to establish whether, bearing in mind the intermediate stages which would have to occur before combustion could take place, the greenhouse gas emissions which would be generated in that way were properly to be regarded as “indirect” effects of the proposed development. It was not the court’s role in a claim for judicial review to substitute its own view for the planning authority’s on a question of this kind.”
Given that I am not responsible for the summaries, I think I can say that it really is an amazing resource to receive week by week.
Secondly, a reminder about our clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned event happening from 6 to 7.15 pm this Tuesday, 1 March 2022. Did you hear Hashi Mohamed’s radio 4 documentary, Planning, Housing and Politics on 21 February 2022? We thought it would be great to unpack some of the themes, and perhaps some things which weren’t covered, in a longer session. Hashi and some of those who spoke on the programme will be joining us. Do come along to listen or make your views known. Link to app and event here (and there are recordings of many of our recent events available to listen to on the app).
The Government is seeking a general legislative power to shut down particular developers’ activities, with no rights of appeal, no rights to compensation and no published set of the criteria which it would apply.
My 21 January 2022 blog post “Planning Powers” A Pawn In Unsafe Cladding Negotiation explained the Government’s efforts to “persuade” developers to contribute a further £4bn towards remediating unsafe cladding, on top of the residential property developer tax which applies from 1 April 2022 – with the Secretary of State authorised by the Treasury to “use a high-level “threat” of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers as a means of obtaining voluntary contributions from them” with one of the threats used being “restricting access to…the use of planning powers”.
“Tough new measures that will force industry to pay to remove cladding and protect leaseholders from exorbitant costs have been unveiled by Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove today (14 February 2022).
For those in industry not doing the right thing, the government will be able to block planning permission and building control sign-off on developments, effectively preventing them from building and selling new homes.”
“Reflecting the scale of the problem, the government will also be able to apply its new building safety levy to more developments, with scope for higher rates for those who do not participate in finding a workable solution.
The government hopes to not have to use these powers; it wants responsible developers and manufacturers to operate freely and with confidence, to help deliver the homes people need. If they do not act responsibly, they must face commercial and financial consequences.”
Obviously culpable developers need to pay up. But what is proposed is startling to say the least:
So the Secretary of State is seeking the power to prohibit in regulations “persons of a prescribed description from carrying out development” or specified types of development (whether or not they have the benefit of planning permission) as well as the power to “by regulations impose a building control prohibition, as regards buildings or proposed buildings, in relation to persons of a prescribed description” which would prevent them from being able to apply for or be granted building control approval. The Secretary of State would also be able to prescribe “certificates” (not sure what that description is meant to capture) which would not be able to be granted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (and which if granted would be of no effect).
These prohibitions “may be imposed for any purpose connected with—
(a) securing the safety of people in or about buildings in relation to risks arising from buildings, or
(b) improving the standard of buildings.”
The provisions are drafted far too widely. What (unprecedented?) power it would give this Government (and any future Government). Of course, where prohibitions are plainly unjustified (for instance against developers who have done wrong other than not to accede to these demands for a “voluntary” payment or perhaps even if they have made a payment) the regulations could be challenged by way of judicial review (NB we need to keep an eye on ongoing judicial reform!). However, if the legislation were to give the wide discretion currently planned, this would not be easy – any grounds of challenge might need to rely on the limited protections provided by the Human Rights Act (NB we need to keep an eye on… yes, you’re there before me).
I’m concerned that these amendments have been introduced at this late stage in the passage of the Bill, with little advance notice so as to enable proper Parliamentary and more general public scrutiny.
Developers need to meet their liabilities. But this whole exercise seems to be much more of a blunderbuss – aimed at the easiest, biggest, targets and ignoring the significant role that poor regulation (and indeed de-regulation) has played in this whole scandal. Do we really want this legislation on the statute book which could well be misused in the future? Or is it all just a bluff to secure that £4bn?
If anyone would like to participate in a future Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse discussion on the topic, please let me know. 8 March 2022 is a possibility.
In the meantime:
⁃ Spencer Tewis-Allen is leading a discussion on build to rent at 6 pm on 22 February – link to clubhouse app and event here.
Computer analogies about the planning system used to be all the vogue. Remember open-source planning anyone, and all that talk of rebooting? Sadly, the phrase “spinning wheel of death” now comes to mind in relation to so many local plan processes up and down the country, particularly in green belt authority areas.
“We will be providing a further update on our approach to changes in the planning system in the Spring. This will provide further detail on how we will take forward measures to create a modernised and effective planning system that empowers communities to support, and local authorities to deliver, the beautiful, environmentally-friendly development this country needs.
Whilst we understand that many colleagues in local government are looking forward to further detail on the precise details of our changes to planning, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage local authorities to continue work to ensure they have an up-to-date local plan in place in a timely manner.”
Surely something more than words of encouragement to local plan making authorities is needed in the face of what is now a growing systemic issue (thank you to my colleague Stephanie Bruce-Smith for the list, media links and quotes):
• Basildon Councilresolved on 10 February 2022 to withdraw its plan, two years into an examination in public:
“Committee papers released prior to the full council meeting last night said the motion to withdraw the plan was “based upon, in part, to the current Conservative Administration views and beliefs in placing a greater emphasis on protecting the Greenbelt for current and future generations than the previous administration.”
• Welwyn Hatfield Borough Councilresolved on 27 January 2022 to seek to take a different stance to that of the inspector of its local plan, voting down proposed modifications that would have achived the inspector’s required 15,200 homes in favour of a reduced number of 13,279:
“The Leader of the Council said the administration was “stuck between a rock and a hard place” [after backing plan to fight inspector on housing targets], but presented a “viable alternative” which involved less building on the green belt.”
• Hertsmere Borough Council resolved on 26 January 2022 to abandon its draft plan:
“Cllr Bright acknowledged the decision meant the council was unlikely to meet [the 2023 deadline], but said, “this potential decimation of large swathes of the Green Belt has been too much for local people and local councillors to accept”.
• Mid Sussex District Councilresolved on 21 January to delay work on its draft plan:
“The scrutiny committee voted in favour of a motion to discuss the district plan review so that “further work and consideration can take place and the outcome of any change in government policy can be known”, the committee’s chairman said.”
• Ashfield District Councilresolved in November 2021 to pause work on its emerging plan:
“Coun Matthew Relf (Ash Ind), cabinet member for place, planning and economic regeneration on the district council, said: […]
“Now Michael Gove has stated that the very assumptions we were forced to use are out of date and all Government housing policy is being looked at.
“To that end, we will pause the local plan timetable until we get greater clarity.”
• Arun District Councilresolved on 6 October 2021 to pause work on its emerging plan:
“At an Arun District Council planning policy committee on Wednesday (October 6), members voted to put the work on hold [and look again in 6 months’ time].
This was in light of proposed reforms to the planning system as a result of the government’s white paper ‘Planning for the Future’ and the upcoming Planning Bill.”
You may know of other examples. The draft Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead plan of course only squeaked through 22 – 17 on 8 February 2022:
“Cllr Coppinger said it was “the most important paper” he has brought to the council, adding the borough is “desperate” for affordable family housing.
He warned if the local plan is not adopted, government would ‘force’ the council to adopt it as all local authorities must have an updated plan in place.”
We wait to see what consequences, if any, await those authorities which have decided to take a “wait and see” approach, rather than proceed with green belt release.
The Secretary of State has powers to intervene (see my 18 November 2017 blog post Local Plan Interventions) but Joanna Averley’s “encourage” wording seems some way short of that…yet (contrast with this week’s designation of Uttlesford District Council for “not adequately performing their function of determining applications for planning permission for major development”, meaning that applications for planning permission for major development may now be made direct to the Planning Inspectorate). Much of this is all of course the entirely foreseeable consequence of the ongoing uncertainty as to what reforms to the planning system will now be made. We look forward to the Spring, in so many ways.
As a half-term holiday treat, there will be no clubhouse session this week, although recent events are available on replay on the Planning Law Unplanned club page. Spencer Tewis-Allen is planning a “build to rent” themed discussion for 22 February 2022.
There was a customarily short and clear judgment from Holgate J this week as to how decision makers should approach applications for prior approval for the upward extension of buildings under the General Permitted Development Order: CAB Housing Limited v Secretary of State (3 February 2022)
So I’m saying nothing, you will be pleased to hear, about the 2 February 2022 Levelling Up white paper There are plenty of summaries available – and you do need a summary! Or listen to the Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event we held, featuring Catriona Riddell (linkedin piece here), Iain Thomson (linkedin piece here) and Victoria Hutton (linkedin piece here).
Nor anything about mythical Bob, the Government’s 31 January 2022 Benefits of Brexit paper, which seemed to have little new to say in terms of the subject matter of this blog.
Nor anything about the energy price cap – although that does give additional topicality to our our next Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event plugged at the end of this post.
Nor anything about the continuing NIMBY vs YIMBY noise that I got drawn into on twitter this week – although there is at least some link between Holgate J’s judgment & all that: someone came out with the usual trope that a planning system with a large discretionary element to decision making is “good for the lawyers”. I didn’t respond, but thought to myself that a less discretionary system, whether based on zoning or permitted development rights, is of course even better for the lawyers – because it all becomes about where the legal boundary lines are.
When Parliament amended the General Permitted Development Order to allow upwards extensions, subject to defined criteria and limitations together with the need to seek prior approval for certain aspects of the proposals, the description of the matters in relation to which prior approval is required was far too vague. What do matters such as “impact on amenity” and “external appearance” actually mean? Do you take as a given the right to extend up to two storeys upwards and in that context consider external appearance, akin to considering reserved matters with the equivalent of outline planning permission already having been granted for the two storeys, or can issues of principle as to the acceptability of that upwards extension be considered, as long as they relate to amenity or external appearance,? Obviously this is a particularly critical question where the local planning authority may be resistant in principle to upwards extensions – these new rights trumpeted by the Government become rather less meaningful.
The Cab Housing case related to three appeal decisions where the relevant inspector had dismissed appeals in relation to proposals under Class AA of Part 1 of the GPDO (upwards extensions to detatched houses).
Over to Holgate J to explain:
“These challenges raise important issues regarding the true interpretation of Class AA of Part 1. First, are the claimants correct in saying that a planning authority’s control of impact on amenity limited to effects on properties contiguous with, or abutting, the subject property and are those effects limited to overlooking, privacy and loss of light? Alternatively, does that control embrace impact upon all aspects of the amenity of neighbouring premises, as the Secretary of State contends? Second, is the authority’s control of the external appearance of the subject dwelling limited to the “design and architectural features” of its principal elevation and any side elevation fronting a highway, and is it further limited to the effects of those matters upon the subject dwelling itself? The claimants contend for that interpretation and they say that the authority is not allowed to consider the effects of external appearance upon any property outside the subject dwelling. Alternatively, is the correct interpretation, as the Secretary of State contends, that the control covers (1) all aspects of the external appearance of the proposed development, and not simply the two elevations specifically referred to in AA.2(3)(a)(ii)) and (2) impact upon other premises, and not simply the subject dwelling itself?
In the decisions challenged in these proceedings, the Inspectors took the broader approach in relation to external appearance and, in two cases, to amenity. It is common ground that if the claimants’ construction of the GPDO 2015 is correct, then each of the decisions must be quashed as ultra vires. The decisions would have been taken outside the ambit of the powers exercisable by the Inspector. But, if the defendant’s interpretation is correct, then it is also common ground that each of the three Inspectors reached decisions which fell within their powers, their decisions are not otherwise open to legal challenge and the applications for statutory review must be dismissed.
The claimants point out that other Inspectors have taken a different view upon the scope of the controls exercisable in the determination of an application for prior approval under Class AA of Part 1. It has been said that the decision-maker is not allowed to assess the impact of the external appearance of a proposed addition of 1 or 2 storeys on any area outside the subject building, for example, the streetscape. It has also been said that the principle of an upwards extension of up to 2 storeys is “established” by the permitted development right itself, so that the decision on the application for prior approval should not frustrate, or resile from, that principle. Such statements have even been made in relation to other permitted development rights where the GPDO 2015 requires “external appearance” to be controlled, without going on to refer to specific elevations (see e.g. the decision letter dated 6 July 2021 on Kings Gate, 111, The Drive, Hove). If the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the GPDO 2015 is correct, then all these decisions were potentially liable to be quashed on an application under s.288 brought within time. Plainly there are differences of interpretation which need to be resolved. There is also the question: to what extent is it correct to say that the principle of development is established where a permitted development right is subject to prior approval?
The issues in this case also affect the proper construction and ambit of permitted development rights granted by GPDO 2015 under Classes ZA, A, AA, AB, AC and AD of Part 20. These provide for up to two storeys of multiple units of residential units to be erected on top of an existing purpose-built block of flats, or on top of detached or terraced buildings in commercial or mixed use or residential use.
The claimants’ narrower approach to the legal scope of prior approval in these Classes also has implications for non-residential permitted development rights. For example, the right to erect or extend an agricultural building under Class A of Part 6 of Schedule 2 to the GDPO 2015 is potentially subject to control by prior approval in respect of the “external appearance” of the building proposed. If, as some decision-makers have said, that control is limited to assessing the effects of that appearance on the building itself, then it would follow, for example, that the effects of that external appearance on the setting of a listed building nearby could not be controlled. Can this really be right?”
His conclusion was that this was not right:
“(i) Where an application is made for prior approval under Class AA of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO 2015, the scale of the development proposed can be controlled within the ambit of paragraph AA.2(3)(a);
(ii) In paragraph AA.2(3)(a)(i) of Part 1, “impact on amenity” is not limited to overlooking, privacy or loss of light. It means what it says;
(iii) The phrase “adjoining premises” in that paragraph includes neighbouring premises and is not limited to premises contiguous with the subject property;
(iv) In paragraph AA.2(3)(a)(ii) of Part 1, the “external appearance” of the dwelling house is not limited to its principal elevation and any side elevation fronting a highway, or to the design and architectural features of those elevations;
(v) Instead, the prior approval controls for Class AA of Part 1 include the “external appearance” of the dwelling house;
(vi) The control of the external appearance of the dwelling house is not limited to impact on the subject property itself, but also includes impact on neighbouring premises and the locality.”
The judge seeks to downplay the significance of these conclusions:
“The decision of each Inspector was entirely lawful. That is as far as the Court’s function permits this judgment to go. Individual decision-makers will make their own planning judgments applying the prior approval controls, correctly interpreted, to the materials before them. This judgment does not mean that individual decision-makers would be bound to determine the appeals on the three properties the subject of these proceedings in the way that in fact occurred. That is always a matter of judgment for the person or authority taking the decision. I would also add that there is no evidence before the Court to show that the correct interpretation of Class AA of Part 1, along with the related Classes in Part 20, will in practice make it impossible or difficult for developers to rely upon these permitted development rights.”
As it is, given their inherent restrictions and limitations, these new GPDO rights have not yet delivered substantially more homes. Holgate J is of course right that his interpretation will not make it impossible for developers to rely on them – but surely it will make it more difficult in many cases. Despite the analysis in the judgment as to what was said in consultation documents in relation to the new rights, I’m left wondering whether the Government appreciated what confusion these changes would cause and, ultimately, their potentially limited advantages over an application for full planning permission?
As trailed earlier, this week’s Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event will be all about reducing energy use and increasing renewables, with a sparky collection of guests I assure you… 6 pm, Tuesday 8 February 2022, link to app and event here.