If You’re Gonna Do It, Do It Right: Final Thoughts On White Paper

Sorry for starting with an earworm.

Despite its passionate and urgent advocacy, George Michael probably didn’t have planning system reform in mind when he wrote I’m Your Man, but that “If You’re Gonna Do It, Do It Right” chorus has certainly been on an internal loop while writing this post.

We finally nearing the 29 October 2020 deadline for consultation responses in relation to the Planning White Paper.

One small benefit of this Covid-19 period has been the extent of on-screen engagement by some of those behind the proposed reforms, and wider webinar discussions, most of them freely available on YouTube. Congratulations to MHCLG for being prepared to engage in this way.

For me the most illuminating sessions have included (to pick a few):

⁃ Christopher Katkowski QC on Have We Got Planning News For You on 7 August 2020 (13,000 views!) and Christopher being interviewed on 19 October 2020 by Steve Quartermain and Nick Kilby (Cratus). In the second interview, drawing on two and a half months of public discussion during the consultation period, Steve is able to home in on a number of the key unresolved issues. (Particular thanks to Chris for the huge amount of work and thinking he has put into these proposals and for being prepared to speak on so many platforms).

⁃ Steve Quartermain’s hour long discussion with the Secretary of State.

⁃ (I’m biased here) a Town/No 5 chambers webinar on the likely practical implications of the reforms and MHCLG’s director of planning Simon Gallagher participation in a Town webinar on 7 October on the proposed Infrastructure Levy.

What about Parliament? Well, there was a Commons debate on 8 October 2020 into the following motion by Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, Bob Seely:

“I beg to move,

That this House

welcomes the Government’s levelling up agenda and supports appropriate housing development and the Government’s overall housing objectives;

further welcomes the Government’s consultation, Planning for the Future, updated on 6 August 2020, as a chance to reform housing and land use for the public good;

welcomes the Government’s commitment to protect and restore the natural environment and bio-diversity;

and calls on the Government to delay any planned implementation of the changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need proposed by the Government’s consultation, Changes to the Current Planning System, published on 6 August 2020, and Proposal 4 of the Government’s consultation, Planning for the Future, on a standard method for establishing housing requirement, until this House has had the opportunity to hold a debate and meaningful vote on their introduction.”

39 members spoke in the debate – let nobody think that any stage of the proposed reforms will be uncontroversial – many of the members raising individual constituency issues.

The non-binding motion was agreed without a vote, with MHCLG minister Christopher Pincher making assurances in his speech in response that:

“We will reflect carefully on what we have heard and the feedback we receive. As we advance, we will endeavour to keep the House well-informed of these important changes, because make no mistake: they are important. They are what we need to do to deliver 300,000 good-quality new homes a year in the places that need them, and in the long run, they are what we need to do to build back better after covid-19. They are what we need to do to meet the aspirations of the people we serve now and in the generations to come.”

On the same day, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Commons Select Committee launched an inquiry into the future of the planning system in England. The call for evidence has a deadline of 30 October 2020 and invites responses on the following issues:

“ 1 Is the current planning system working as it should do? What changes might need to be made? Are the Government’s proposals the right approach?

2. In seeking to build 300,000 homes a year, is the greatest obstacle the planning system or the subsequent build-out of properties with permission?

3. How can the planning system ensure that buildings are beautiful and fit for purpose?

4. What approach should be used to determine the housing need and requirement of a local authority?

5. What is the best approach to ensure public engagement in the planning system? What role should modern technology and data play in this?

6. How can the planning system ensure adequate and reasonable protection for areas and buildings of environmental, historical, and architectural importance?

7. What changes, if any, are needed to the green belt?

8. What progress has been made since the Committee’s 2018 report on capturing land value and how might the proposals improve outcomes? What further steps might also be needed?”

I’m reluctant to put down here my own concluding thoughts but I supposed they can briefly be summarised as follows:

1. All credit to those who have put so much work into the proposals, and I have no complaint about the objectives set out in the paper. However, the task is too vast to be dealt with as proposed.

2. The so-called white paper falls short of the necessary detail to be any practical account of what changes are proposed. Those behind the proposals admit as much. There are big gaps, which go beyond being details to join the dots but which rather need to be addressed so that there is proof of concept.

3. The next step should be a full white paper, or sequence of white papers (reform of CIL and section 106 for instance is a huge undertaking which needs its own spotlight), developed through more detailed discussion involving a much wider group of (ugh) stakeholders – including wider representation from the development industry, planners (yes, include planners!), local government, communities.

4. If we rush headlong to legislation it will be botched. We know this to be true!

5. The changes are reliant on changes to EIA and SEA procedures, for which we do not yet have any proposals (they are promised “this Autumn”). They need to move forward in tandem. Again, there is not yet any proof of concept. How can the procedures be simplified without watering down protections?

6. On a similar theme, the changes will be facilitated by the local government organisational changes that were to be included in the devolution and local recovery white paper (see my 25 September 2020 blog post). Again, there is merit in proceeding in tandem so that we are clear as to the role for the London Mayor, for combined authorities and indeed for counties (which seem to be featuring again in discussions in the continued absence of any proper regional approach).

7. Some objectives may be able to be achieved by simple changes, for instance introducing model development management policies into the NPPF alongside guidance that local planning authorities should not duplicate these in their individual plans without good reason.

8. The biggest unanswered questions for me are:

⁃ the process by which Government will give each authority the housing number that it must plan for, what proxy there will be for the current duty to co-operate and how the process can be on the one hand swift but on the other hand transparent, fair and open to challenge.

⁃ the practicality of defining all land as opportunity, renewal or protection and particularly: (a) whether outline permission for opportunity areas is achievable as part of the plan process within the timescale and providing a worthwhile level of detail (b) whether an enhanced presumption in favour of the plan for renewal areas will be counter-productive in killing off any development that is not in accordance with the authority’s wishes and (c) what we really mean by protection areas (see Zack Simons’ spot-on 15 October blog post – one in fact of a brilliantly questioning series which deserve detailed answers).

⁃ the proposed infrastructure levy and in particular the realism or otherwise of the “it will be simpler than CIL” mantra.

I hope that we are not proceeding to construction stage with this new planning system, before we have resolved some fundamental structural elements. (Apologies, I know George Michael would have put that better).

Simon Ricketts, 24 October 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Do Your Conditions Have Symmetry In Mind?

A judgment of the Court of the Appeal yesterday – DB Symmetry Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 16 October 2020) – has potentially wide implications.

The court ruled that a condition on a planning permission cannot as a matter of law require land to be dedicated as highway. Unless a realistic interpretation can be given to the condition which avoids that outcome, and if the condition is not considered to be severable from the permission as a whole, in some circumstances the validity of the planning permission may be at risk.

Such a requirement needs instead to be included in that endangered species, the section 106 agreement.

The case arose from the first planning permission to be granted for part of the Swindon New Eastern Villages urban extension (“NEV”), which will eventually comprise 8,000 homes, 40 hectares of employment land and associated retail, community, education and leisure uses. The planning permission in part authorised the construction of a section of spine road envisaged eventually to connect through the wider development.

The report to committee in relation to the planning application explained “that the application site was part of a wider development proposal. It was to “integrate physically and functionally” with adjoining development. The NEV was to come forward as “a series of new interconnected villages.” Each scheme had to demonstrate how it fitted into the wider NEV. The proposal “must provide connections to future development within the [NEV] in the interests of enabling the comprehensive and sustainable development of the NEV as a whole”.

A condition was attached to the planning permission, condition 39:

Roads

The proposed access roads, including turning spaces and all other areas that serve a necessary highway purpose, shall be constructed in such a manner as to ensure that each unit is served by fully functional highway, the hard surfaces of which are constructed to at least basecourse level prior to occupation and bringing into use.

Reason: to ensure that the development is served by an adequate means of access to the public highway in the interests of highway safety.”

The developer took the position that this condition did not require the dedication of the roads as public highway. I do not know why: perhaps wishing to retain greater control over their maintenance as private roads, perhaps wishing to retain the ability to charge a premium to those who might in the future wish to connect into the roads, including other developers.

As explained by Lewison LJ in the judgment, “the developer applied to Swindon for a certificate under section 192 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that the formation and use of private access roads as private access roads would be lawful. Swindon refused the certificate; and the developer appealed. On 6 November 2018 Ms Wendy McKay LLB, an experienced planning inspector, allowed the appeal. She certified that the use of the access roads for private use only would be lawful.”

The council challenged the decision and at first instance Andrews J quashed it.

The Court of Appeal disagreed in no uncertain terms, regarding itself as bound by a 1964 Court of Appeal judgment, Hall & Co Ltd v Shoreham by Sea Urban DC:

“In Hall & Co Ltd v Shoreham by Sea Urban DC [1964] 1 WLR 240 sand and gravel importers and the owners and occupiers of land in an area scheduled for industrial development, applied for planning permission to develop part of their land for industrial purposes. The land adjoined a busy main road which was already overloaded. The highway authority intended to widen it at a future date and to acquire for that purpose a strip forming part of the developer’s land. The planning authority granted planning permission subject to a condition requiring the developer to “construct an ancillary road over the entire frontage of the site at their own expense, as and when required by the local planning authority and shall give right of passage over it to and from such ancillary roads as may be constructed on the adjoining land.” It is to be noted that the condition did not require the transfer of the land itself.

This court held that the imposition of that condition was unlawful. At 247 Willmer LJ summarised the developer’s argument as follows:

“It is contended that the effect of these conditions is to require the plaintiffs not only to build the ancillary road on their own land, but to give right of passage over it to other persons to an extent that will virtually amount to dedicating it to the public, and all this without acquiring any right to recover any compensation whatsoever. This is said to amount to a violation of the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights of ownership which goes far beyond anything authorised by the statute.

“The defendants would thus obtain the benefit of having the road constructed for them at the plaintiffs’ expense, on the plaintiffs’ land, and without the necessity for paying any compensation in respect thereof. Bearing in mind that another and more regular course is open to the defendants, it seems to me that this result would be utterly unreasonable and such as Parliament cannot possibly have intended.”

“Harman LJ said at 256: “It is not in my judgment within the authority’s powers to oblige the planner to dedicate part of his land as a highway open to the public at large without compensation, and this is the other possible interpretation of the condition. As was pointed out to us in argument, the Highways Acts provide the local authority with the means of acquiring lands for the purpose of highways, but that involves compensation of the person whose land is taken, and also the consent of the Minister.”

In the light of Hall, Lewison LJ concluded:

“I consider that, at least at this level in the judicial hierarchy, a condition that requires a developer to dedicate land which he owns as a public highway without compensation would be an unlawful condition. Whether the unlawfulness is characterised as the condition being outside the scope of the power because it requires the grant of rights over land rather than merely regulating the use of land; or whether it is a misuse of a power to achieve an objective that the power was not designed to secure; whether it is irrational in the public law sense, or whether it is disproportionate does not seem to me to matter. In my judgment Hall establishes a recognised principle which is binding on this court.”

“If the judge interpreted [advice in a previous Government circular] as authorising the imposition of conditions which not only required a developer to provide an access road, but also to dedicate it to public use as a highway, I consider that she was wrong. Such an interpretation would be flatly contrary to consistent government policy for nearly 70 years. In my judgment Hall does impose an absolute ban on requiring dedication of land as a public highway without compensation as a condition of the grant of planning permission. I also consider, contrary to Mr Harwood’s submission, that there is no difference for this purpose between dedicating a road as a highway and transferring the land itself for highway use. As I have said, the condition in Hall did not require the land itself to be transferred, yet it was still held to be unlawful.”

The reference to “at least at this level in the judicial hierarchy” is interesting – has the council the appetite to apply for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court? Hall was decided in another time and is it right that the operation of conditions should continue to be constrained in this way? Whilst Hall and Symmetry were both cases about conditions that potentially required the dedication of land as highway, the same principle would apply to conditions requiring the dedication, disposal or transfer of land for other purposes, e.g. open space or affordable housing. Care is required! The distinction nowadays between the “imposition” of planning conditions and the “agreement” of section 106 planning obligations is surely somewhat artificial – on major schemes, conditions are negotiated by the parties to almost an equivalent extent as planning obligations may be – and if the applicant isn’t happy with a condition that has been imposed, section 96A and section 73 are always available. Furthermore, Willmer J’s 1964 reference to the relevant condition amounting to a “violation of the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights of ownership which goes far beyond anything authorised by the statute” looks quaint from a 2020 perspective, where the price of planning permission for any significant scheme entails multiple violations of those so-called “fundamental rights” – and, on proposals within areas allocated for comprehensive development, in my view “anti-ransom” arrangements are essential planning prerequisites – why shouldn’t a condition be enabled to achieve that objective?

Once the Court of Appeal had concluded that the condition could not lawfully have the effect of requiring roads to be dedicated as public highway, it needed to consider whether another interpretation could realistically be given to the condition.

“In her decision letter, the inspector expressed her conclusion at [20] as follows: “Whilst the term “highway” usually means a road over which the general public have the right to pass and repass, the phrase “fully functional highway” cannot be divorced from the beginning of the sub-clause which states “shall be constructed in such a manner as to ensure…”. In my view, Condition 39 simply imposes a requirement concerning the manner of construction of the access roads and requires them to be capable of functioning as a highway along which traffic could pass whether private or public. It does not require the constructed access roads to be made available for use by the general public. I believe that a reasonable reader would adopt the Appellant’s understanding of the term “highway” as used in the context of the condition with the clear reference to the construction of the roads as opposed to their use or legal status. The distinct inclusion of the term “public highway” in the reason for imposing Condition 39 reinforces my view on that point.”

Lewison LJ:

“I do not think that the judge really appreciated the consequences of her decision. In my judgment, if the judge was right in her interpretation of the condition, the condition (and probably the whole planning permission) is invalid. In those circumstances, the validation principle comes into play. The question, then, is whether the inspector’s interpretation of condition 39 was realistic (even if not the most obvious or natural one).”

“In my judgment, the interpretation adopted by the inspector is, to put it no higher, a realistic one even if it is not the most natural. The validation principle therefore applies; and condition 39 should be given the meaning that she ascribed to it.”

Surely if the court had not managed to get to this interpretation of the condition it would not have quashed the whole consent? For the council that would have certainly been a “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” moment.

What if the condition had been negatively worded: not to occupy more than x dwellings until defined roads had been constructed and satisfactory arrangements had been made for their adoption as public highway? Any different outcome?

The obvious practical lesson is to document these sorts of dedication and land transfer requirements other than by condition but let’s see if there’s a further appeal.

Simon Ricketts, 17 October 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Adonis blue (image from Wikipedia)

Planning Law For The Future

A Town/Landmark Chambers webinar on the Planning Court in practice and the future implications of the Faulks review is taking place at 5.30pm on 14 October, when I will be joined by Landmark Chambers’ John Litton QC, Tim Buley QC and Jenny Wigley, together with my Town partner Duncan Field. Free registration here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2gsWU81vT7erSoeWqqQ7MQ .

The webinar is in part a follow-on from the development of the Town/Landmark Chambers Case Explorer (a case searching and statistical analysis tool containing every judgment of the Planning Court since its creation in 2014 to June 2020, together with appellate judgments) and in part will consider the likely implications of the Faulks Review Of Administrative Law, which I covered in a 12 September 2020 blog post . The call for evidence deadline of 19 October 2020 is fast approaching.

But what I wanted to give you a taste of in this short post is how, with data scientist Joseph White of legal engineers Simmons Wavelength, we’ve begun to play around with new ways of exploring the contents of the Planning Court Case Explorer, and in particular the ways in which case law develops – the Planning Court Case Network.

The following images illustrate a visualised “citation network” of Planning Court cases. Each circle or ‘node’ represents a case, and each line or ‘edge’ between two nodes represents where one case has cited another (a line that curves clockwise from one case represents where that case has cited another, and a line that curves anti-clockwise represents where it has been cited). The more times a case has been cited, the larger the node.

The lone nodes on the perimeter represent cases that do not cite other cases and which have not been cited in subsequent cases.

Selecting an individual case node allows you to see some case topic keywords (extracted with a data science technique for language processing), a link to Bailii and all “incoming” links (later cases that cite the selected case) and “outgoing” links (earlier cases that the selected case cites itself).

In terms of the network layout, citations between cases draw them closer together, so what naturally emerges is dense groups or ‘clusters’ of cases that are closely related to each other (which is also represented to a certain extent by the colours).

The connections are fascinating. Whilst the data is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate we can see what are the most influential cases: Suffolk Coastal assumes centre stage as the most cited case in the whole network (62 citations!). Champion, has its own network of 30 citations, and Dover District Council v CPRE Kent has 22 citations.

Just pretty images or can I be the first to say… PlanLawTech?!

Simon Ricketts, 10 October 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Learn An Instrument They Said. So I Picked Up The GPDO

At last – the Secretary of State announced on 30 September 2020 that dwellings created by way of permitted development rights will need to comply with the nationally described space standard.

There is no timescale given for when the change will be effected, which will need to be by way of a further statutory instrument amending the 2015 General Permitted Development Order. We have already had four such SIs already this year and further changes are in the queue, such as giving effect to the 14 July 2020 announcement that planning permission will be required for the demolition of theatres, concert halls and live music venues and giving effect to the proposed relaxation of permitted development rights for 5G infrastructure (of which more below). Good luck keeping up! (It’s odd how the Government can keep updating the Planning Practice Guidance but Parliament still does not make available up to date consolidated versions of secondary legislation, whether in our planning law field or for instance in relation to coronavirus measures.)

I dealt with the nationally described space standard in my 23 March 2019 blog post We Have Standards. Since being introduced in 2015, it has been up to each local planning authority to decide whether to adopt the standard as policy in its local plan. Once it is made a legal requirement for permitted development schemes we will have the curious position that in some areas, where authorities have not adopted it as local policy, it will be required for permitted development schemes but not for projects which are pursued by way of a traditional planning application.

It is disappointing that the additional requirement was not introduced in the June and July 2020 statutory instruments, which for instance introduced the additional prior approval requirement of “adequate natural light” (NB “adequate” undefined – wait for the arguments).

Public pressure and a continuing trail of adverse media stories in relation to office to residential schemes presumably have played their part (most recently Rowan Moore’s 27 September Observer piece ‘It’s like an open prison’: the catastrophe of converting office blocks to homes). As for the 30 September timing of the announcement? That’s obvious – later that day a Commons debate took place, as scheduled, in relation to Labour’s motion that the three statutory instruments amending the General Permitted Development Order be revoked. The announcement neutralised one of the most obvious lines of attack. Predictably the motion was defeated, entirely along party lines, 327 votes to 206 votes.

This month will of course see the hearing into the GPDO changes judicial review that I covered in my 5 September 2020 blog post Lights Camera Action: The Planning Changes – Parliamentary Scrutiny, That JR.

And now there is yet another judicial review underway, into the Government’s 22 July 2020 announcement that it proposes to extend “permitted development rights to support the deployment of 5G and extend mobile coverage”. There is a piece about the challenge here: Government faces legal challenge over 5G phone masts ‘safety fears’ (Evening Standard, 1 October 2020). As with the Rights: Community: Action judicial review it is crowd funded. The Rights: Community: Action challenge appears to have raised £12,245 “of £25,000 stretch target from 271 pledges”. The 5G challenge appears to have raised £66,615 pledged “of £150,000 stretch target from 2,004 pledges”.

As with most crowdfunded litigation there is no analysis for potential donors on the crowdjustice website of its prospects of success, or what the judicial review process entails, but there is a link to the prospective claimants’ pre-action letter dated 21 August 2020 which alleges that the consultation process leading to the 22 July 2020 announcement was unlawful and was in breach of the public sector equality duty – and Aarhus Convention costs protection is sought. Without prejudging at all whether there is any basis for the complaints, this all is of course familiar territory in relation to these sorts of claims.

Finally, some plugs:

5.30 pm 7 October 2020

How will the Combined Infrastructure Levy work, how should it work?

(Town Legal with special guest MHCLG’s director of planning, Simon Gallagher)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_HeND28vJQ6STT-FdLz1u_Q

5.30 pm 14 October 2020

PC in 2020 – Has the Planning Court proved a success? What should be its future, and that of judicial review and statutory challenges in the planning system, in the light of the Faulks review?

(Town Legal with Landmark Chambers)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2gsWU81vT7erSoeWqqQ7MQ

And lastly, watch out for a new series by Cratus and Town, Steve Quartermain in Discussion. The first episode is an hour long conversation with Secretary of State Robert Jenrick. More news will appear on the Cratus website.

Simon Ricketts, 3 October 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Linda Manzer’s pikasso guitar

The Devolution Dance: The Planning White Paper & Local Government Reorganisation, Neighbourhood Planning

A quick two-step:

1. Given its relevance to the proposals in the planning white paper, what is the Government’s current thinking on local government reorganisation (details of which are to be set out in the devolution and local recovery white paper)?

2. What role is envisaged for neighbourhood planning in the planning white paper?

Local government reorganisation

The planning white paper’s proposal that each district and borough be handed by MHCLG its own local housing need figure to meet in its plan would clearly be more manageable by Government if there were to be fewer districts and boroughs, or if there were to be more joint planning arrangements and Mayor-led combined authorities (“We also propose that it would be possible for authorities to agree an alternative distribution of their requirement in the context of joint planning arrangements. In particular, it may be appropriate for Mayors of combined authorities to oversee the strategic distribution of the requirement in a way that alters the distribution of numbers, and this would be allowed for.”).

Perhaps we are all putting two and two together and making five but there has been some expectation that with Strictly Come Dancing style choreography the devolution and recovery white paper would sashay in any moment now to propose the acceleration of the current process that has been underway in recent years, locally driven through funding constraints, of the ad hoc amalgamation of individual districts and boroughs into new unitary authorities.

Not quite panic on the dance floor but this prospect is causing temperatures to rise in various quarters, e.g. Leader denies Surrey plan to create largest unitary council in England is ‘county power grab’ (Surrey Live, 5 September 2020) (“Waverley Borough Council’s leader has denounced a county council proposal to create the largest unitary authority in England as “a disaster” and “a power grab by Surrey that should be resisted at all costs“.), Lancashire councils face abolition in shake-up (BBC, 29 July 2020) (“One senior Conservative figure in Lancashire argued the three-way division risked a “bloody civil war” within the party locally.”).

Before having to resign from Government on 8 September 2020, Simon Clarke was the MHCLG minister overseeing the white paper. He gave a speech to the Northern Powerhouse Summit on 15 July 2020:

“This September, the government will therefore be publishing the Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper…which will lay a clear path for levelling up every region of our country.

It will provide a roadmap for establishing a series of new mayors within the next ten years – representing the greatest decentralisation of power in our modern history.

In our towns, cities, and rural counties, we will give local places the ability to come forward with new mayoral devolution deals which work for every community, allowing them to become masters of their own destiny.

The White Paper will also redefine the way in which local government serves its communities by establishing the unitarisation of councils as a vital first step for negotiating these mayoral devolution deals in the future.

A move to unitarisation will streamline the delivery of good governance…”

Strong stuff. But then, possibly in the light of Clarke’s departure, the rumours started that the devolution and recovery white paper was to be delayed – the MJ reported that it was due to be published in October, during the week of the Conservative party conference, but has been “put on the back burner, pending a rethink”. See also LGCplus’ piece on 21 September 2020: Ministers accused of ‘starting fires and walking’ as reorganisation momentum collapses.

The rumours as to timing appear to be inaccurate, given MHCLG minister Lord Greenhalgh’s response to a question in the House of Lords on 22 September 2020:

“We intend to publish the devolution and local recovery White Paper the autumn. This will set out our plans for expanding devolution across England to support economic recovery and levelling up, building on the success of our directly elected combined authority mayors.”

But are we to see a watering down of the strong armed “unitarisation as a vital first step towards mayoral devolution deals” messaging of that Clarke speech? In Greenhalgh’s subsequent responses to questions in the same 22 September session, he seems to play down how radical the proposals will be:

“We are not looking at top-down devolution, but focusing on local city and growth deals as the way forward. We are not looking at top-down devolution, but focusing on local city and growth deals as the way forward.”

“… there will be no blanket abolition of districts and that we will take a locally driven approach and ensure that decision-making is taken as close as possible to the people we are serving.”

So possibly not the big bang argued for in a Centre for Cities report, Levelling up local government in England (11 September 2020), which proposed “redrawing the English political map, replacing the 348 existing authorities with 69 unitary or combined ones with greater powers and resources and whose political boundaries match the economic geography in which people live and work.”

“ • Everywhere will reform — all two-tier systems will be reformed to become single tier, while economic powers held in the lower tier of Mayoral Combined Authorities will move up

• Everywhere will have a directly-elected leader — voters will have a clear choice about who will be in charge and they will have clear four-year mandate to act

• Local government boundaries will match local economic boundaries — they will always be blurry, but the aim should be to contain as much of the local economy within the local authority area as possible — that is the area over which most people locally work and live their lives

• Local government will have the capacity to govern effectively while remaining local — economic powers should be held by local governments covering at least 300,000 people and no more than 800,000. This is to strike a balance between covering the local economy and maintaining a connection with local people and businesses. Lower-tier authorities in Greater London and where there is a Mayoral Combined Authority will focus on personal services and may be smaller than 300,000 people”

Could local government seriously cope with such wholesale change at the same time as swallowing a significantly changed planning system? Is it right to require local authority amalgamations as a pre-condition of funding? Does large scale unitarisation leave a local democratic deficit? But, on the other hand, can the system proposed in the planning white paper have a hope of working with so many individual authorities and without even the current discipline, wonky as it is, of the duty to co-operate? And, for London, what will be the role of the Mayor of London?

Of course, as we move towards larger unitary authority areas, thoughts turn to the potentially increased role for neighbourhood planning.

Neighbourhood planning

Someone asked me last week to summarise what the planning white paper meant for neighbourhood planning – would it end up with a greater or a reduced role under the new system? Not an easy question to answer on the basis of what is said in the document but I think we can at least deduce the following:

• neighbourhood planning is to be retained;

• it will in some ways have an enhanced role, including potentially in relation to the preparation of design guides and design codes;

• the Government appears serious about making community engagement more effective, through, for instance, greater use of technology;

• the neighbourhood share of CIL (up to 25%) will be retained under the new combined infrastructure levy;

• but in other ways the communities will have less influence through neighbourhood planning, (1) partly as a consequence of overall housing numbers for local authorities being imposed by Government, (2) partly through development management policies being standardised nationally through the NPPF and (3) partly as a consequence of various types of development approval being removed from the traditional planning application process (for instance growth areas in local plans having the equivalent of outline planning permission and by further expansion of permitted development rights).

There are only two proposals in the white paper that directly focus on the role of neighbourhood planning:

“Proposal 9: Neighbourhood Plans should be retained as an important means of community input, and we will support communities to make better use of digital tools

Since statutory Neighbourhood Plans became part of the system in 2011, over 2,600 communities have started the process of neighbourhood planning to take advantage of the opportunity to prepare a plan for their own areas – and over 1,000 plans have been successfully passed at referendum. They have become an important tool in helping to ‘bring the democracy forward’ in planning, by allowing communities to think proactively about how they would like their areas to develop.

Therefore, we think Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the reformed planning system, but we will want to consider whether their content should become more focused to reflect our proposals for Local Plans, as well as the opportunities which digital tools and data offer to support their development and improve accessibility for users. By making it easier to develop Neighbourhood Plans we wish to encourage their continued use and indeed to help spread their use further, particularly in towns and cities. We are also interested in whether there is scope to extend and adapt the concept so that very small areas – such as individual streets – can set their own rules for the form of development which they are happy to see.

Digital tools have significant potential to assist the process of Neighbourhood Plan production, including through new digital co-creation platforms and 3D visualisation technologies to explore proposals within the local context. We will develop pilot projects and data standards which help neighbourhood planning groups make the most of this potential.”

“Proposal 11: To make design expectations more visual and predictable, we will expect design guidance and codes to be prepared locally with community involvement, and ensure that codes are more binding on decisions about development.

“As national guidance, we will expect the National Design Guide, National Model Design Code and the revised Manual for Streets to have a direct bearing on the design of new communities. But to ensure that schemes reflect the diverse character of our country, as well as what is provably popular locally, it is important that local guides and codes are prepared wherever possible. These play the vital role of translating the basic characteristics of good places into what works locally, and can already be brought forward in a number of ways: by local planning authorities to supplement and add a visual dimension to their Local Plans; through the work of neighbourhood planning groups; or by applicants in bringing forward proposals for significant new areas of development.”

Many of you know much more about local government and neighbourhood planning matters than me – all comments welcome (even if we’re just dancing in the dark).

Simon Ricketts, 25 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Salsa made easy.

GPDO & UCO Amendments: Guidance, Scrutiny

On 18 September 2020 MHCLG amended its guidance to take into account the amendments to the General Permitted Development Order and Use Classes Order that I have covered in recent posts.

So now we have:

⁃ Updated Planning Practice Guidance on when planning permission is needed

⁃ Updated Planning Practice Guidance on town centres and retail

⁃ Updated Planning Practice Guidance on planning application fees to reflect the new permitted development rights to build upwards

⁃ “Key fact sheets” on recent permitted development rights and changes to the Use Classes Order

The new guidance is simply explanatory and I haven’t spotted anything new as to, for instance, the circumstances in which local planning authorities should or should not restrict the operation of the Orders by way of condition.

In the meantime, there remains some Parliamentary focus on the nature of the changes.

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee published a critical report on 10 September 2020:

“These instruments make substantial and wide-ranging changes to planning legislation. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the aim is to encourage and speed up the delivery of housing and to support the economic recovery after the pandemic, especially in relation to England’s high streets. The changes are de-regulatory and concerns have been raised that they could lead to the construction of low-quality housing, an increased concentration of fast food restaurants with an impact on the health of local residents, and reduce the ability of local authorities to shape the character of their high streets. These are issues which the House may wish to explore, including in the context of the Government’s plans for further, more fundamental reform of the local planning system which have been published for consultation. While the Committee notes the Government’s intention to support the economic recovery from the pandemic, the plans for further reform do raise the question whether it would have been more appropriate to take forward the significant and far-reaching changes made by these instruments in a future planning bill, enabling Parliament to scrutinise the changes more fully.”

My 5 September 2020 blog post Lights Camera Action: The Planning Changes – Parliamentary Scrutiny, That JR referred to the motions which Labour has tabled in response to the GPDO changes. A Commons debate is now scheduled for 30 September 2020.

Simon Ricketts, 19 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Faulks Review Of Administrative Law: Call For Evidence

In my 15 August 2020 blog post, Introducing The Planning Court Case Explorer, I referred to the independent review of administrative law chaired by Lord Faulks, that the Government has commissioned. The review has now published, quietly it must be said, a call for evidence on 7 September 2020, with a deadline for responses of noon on 19 October 2020 (to be emailed to IRAL@justice.gov.uk).

The examination question that the review has been given by the Government is this:

“Does judicial review strike the right balance between enabling citizens to challenge the lawfulness of government action and allowing the executive and local authorities to carry on the business of government?”

The review is politically charged. The Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto said this:

“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays. In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.”

Lord Faulks’ standpoint is well-documented.

I suspect their focus will be on the, inevitably politicised, constitutional law litigation that we saw last year. That is an issue which is above this blog’s pay grade, but as a planning lawyer I’m concerned that any reform to administrative law may be to the detriment of the role of the Planning Court in relation to disputes arising under our planning system. And as we begin to move to a new system, the Planning Court will have a crucial role in joining the dots given the inevitable uncertainties that will arise. We need that process to be fast, efficient and, above all, trusted. The oversight of the process by the courts is a vital element in ensuring that our system continues to comply with, for example, the requirements of the Aarhus Convention and of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (and if anyone suggests that these things don’t matter, just wait till their property is compulsorily acquired without justification, or a dodgy planning permission is issued without any proper remedy in the courts).

I just read again the House of Lords rulings in the Alconbury cases (9 May 2001), which concerned the question as to whether various aspects of the planning system as it was at that time met the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, at that point having recently been incorporated into UK law by way of the Human Rights Act 1998. The House of Lords concluded that the system complied with the Convention, but on the basis that an essential element of that system was the supervisory role of the courts in reviewing the lawfulness and rationality of administrative decisions taken in the process.

My nervousness as to where we may eventually end up is accentuated by the current furore over clause 45 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 15 September.

Imagine if the next Town and Country Planning Act rendered non-justiciable any regulations made under that Act? How convenient for a Government keen to proceed fast by way of secondary legislation and no doubt unhappy with the inevitable challenges it faces along the way (of which the Rights Community Action judicial review covered in last week’s blog post is a classic example).

Or if procedural failures in relation to decisions led to a rap over the knuckles for the authority rather than an undoing of what was done outside its powers?

Or if judicial review were codified in statute in such a way as to close out challenges to rationality or challenges on grounds such as bias, or legitimate expectation?

Of course, I hope that all of this is unlikely. I have some residual faith that there remains a basic understanding of the importance of the rule of law. I was pleased to see on Friday that the British Property Federation is canvassing its members in reaction to the call for evidence and I hope that other industry bodies do the same. After all, business needs predictability and to know that it is to be treated fairly – this is not just the domain of campaigners and communities!

If you have specific experiences of the role of judicial review in relation to the planning system, please do consider responding to that call for evidence.

As with any examination questions, do read the initial rubric first:

“The Independent Review of Administrative Law (IRAL) panel invites the submission of evidence on how well or effectively judicial review balances the legitimate interest in citizens being able to challenge the lawfulness of executive action with the role of the executive in carrying on the business of government, both locally and centrally. The panel is particularly interested in any notable trends in judicial review over the last thirty to forty years. Specifically, the panel is interested in understanding whether the balance struck is the same now as it was before, and whether it should be struck differently going forward.

The panel would like to hear from people who have direct experience in judicial review cases, including those who provide services to claimants and defendants involved in such cases, from professionals who practice in this area of law; as well as from observers of, and commentators on, the process. The panel are particularly interested in receiving evidence around any observed trends in judicial review, how judicial review works in practice and the impact and effectiveness of judicial rulings in resolving the issues raised by judicial review.”

So, what matters is direct experiences, evidence and data rather than rhetoric.

These are the specific areas which the review will be considering:

“• Whether the amenability of public law decisions to judicial review by the courts and the grounds of public law illegality should be codified in statute.

• Whether the legal principle of non-justiciability requires clarification and, if so, the identity of subjects/areas where the issue of the justiciability/non-justiciability of the exercise of a public law power and/or function could be considered by the Government.

• Whether, where the exercise of a public law power should be justiciable: (i) on which grounds the courts should be able to find a decision to be unlawful; (ii) whether those grounds should depend on the nature and subject matter of the power and (iii) the remedies available in respect of the various grounds on which a decision may be declared unlawful.

• Whether procedural reforms to judicial review are necessary, in general to “streamline the process”, and, in particular: (a) on the burden and effect of disclosure in particular in relation to “policy decisions” in Government; (b) in relation to the duty of candour, particularly as it affects Government; (c) on possible amendments to the law of standing; (d) on time limits for bringing claims, (e) on the principles on which relief is granted in claims for judicial review, (f) on rights of appeal, including on the issue of permission to bring JR proceedings and; (g) on costs and interveners.”

The call for evidence starts with a questionnaire for “Government Departments” (but which I would suggest is equally relevant for local authorities):

“1. In your experience, and making full allowance for the importance of maintaining the rule of law, do any of the following aspects of judicial review seriously impede the proper or effective discharge of central or local governmental functions? If so, could you explain why, providing as much evidence as you can in support?

a. judicial review for mistake of law

b. judicial review for mistake of fact

c. judicial review for some kind of procedural impropriety (such as bias, a

failure to consult, or failure to give someone a hearing)

d. judicial review for disappointing someone’s legitimate expectations

e. judicial review for Wednesbury unreasonableness

f. judicial review on the ground that irrelevant considerations have been taken into account or that relevant considerations have not been taken into account

g. any other ground of judicial review

h. the remedies that are available when an application for judicial review is successful

i. rules on who may make an application for judicial review

j. rules on the time limits within which an application for judicial review must be made

k. the time it takes to mount defences to applications for judicial review

2. In relation to your decision making, does the prospect of being judicially reviewed improve your ability to make decisions? If it does not, does it result in compromises which reduce the effectiveness of decisions? How do the costs (actual or potential) of judicial review impact decisions?

3. Are there any other concerns about the impact of the law on judicial review on the functioning of government (both local and central) that are not covered in your answer to the previous question, and that you would like to bring to the Panel’s attention?”

No doubt the responses to these questions, from those inevitably on the receiving end of judicial review, will point to the delays and uncertainty caused by legal challenges, but of course that is only one side of the story, which is why it is so important that there are responses from a wide section of business and society to the main questions which I set out below:

“1. Are there any comments you would like to make, in response to the questions asked in the above questionnaire for government departments and other public bodies?

2. In light of the IRAL’s terms of reference, are there any improvements to the law on judicial review that you can suggest making that are not covered in your response to question (1)?

Section 2 – Codification and Clarity

3. Is there a case for statutory intervention in the judicial review process? If so, would statute add certainty and clarity to judicial reviews? To what other ends could statute be used?

4. Is it clear what decisions/powers are subject to Judicial Review and which are not? Should certain decision not be subject to judicial review? If so, which?

5. Is the process of i) making a Judicial Review claim, ii) responding to a Judicial Review claim and/or iii) appealing a Judicial Review decision to the Court of Appeal/ Supreme Court clear?

Section 3 – Process and Procedure

6. Do you think the current Judicial Review procedure strikes the right balance between enabling time for a claimant to lodge a claim, and ensuring effective government and good administration without too many delays?

7. Are the rules regarding costs in judicial reviews too lenient on unsuccessful parties or applied too leniently in the Courts?

8. Are the costs of Judicial Review claims proportionate? If not, how would proportionality best be achieved? Should standing be a consideration for the panel? How are unmeritorious claims currently treated? Should they be treated differently?

9. Are remedies granted as a result of a successful judicial review too inflexible? If so, does this inflexibility have additional undesirable consequences? Would alternative remedies be beneficial?

10. What more can be done by the decision maker or the claimant to minimise the need to proceed with judicial review?

11. Do you have any experience of settlement prior to trial? Do you have experience of settlement ‘at the door of court’? If so, how often does this occur? If this happens often, why do you think this is so?

12. Do you think that there should be more of a role for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Judicial Review proceedings? If so, what type of ADR would be best to be used?

13. Do you have experience of litigation where issues of standing have arisen? If so, do you think the rules of public interest standing are treated too leniently by the courts?”

We have arranged a joint Town Legal/Landmark Chambers webinar at 5.30 pm on 14 October 2020 to consider these questions in the specific context of the planning system, and the operation of the Planning Court. Event and registration details here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2gsWU81vT7erSoeWqqQ7MQ .

Whether you come from the standpoint of a developer, local authority or community representative, when you strip away the legalism (as we will try to do) all of this really does matter in practice – not just in relation to the small minority of matters that end up in the Planning Court, but in relation to the operation of the system as a whole: fair and predictable procedures are only possible if we know that there are rules, and that remedies are available if they are broken. And when challenges are brought, they need to be resolved with speed, fairness and efficiency.

Simon Ricketts, 12 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

PS two other webinars for your diary:

5.30 pm 15 September 2020

Permission In Principle – In Practice

(Town Legal with Landmark Chambers)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_5S0GAe6ySN2zfvsdtjd0uQ

5.30 pm 7 October 2020

How will the Combined Infrastructure Levy work, how should it work?

(Town Legal with special guest MHCLG’s director of planning, Simon Gallagher)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_HeND28vJQ6STT-FdLz1u_Q

The Great Hall, Royal Courts of Justice (courtesy Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Planning For The Future white paper

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 5 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Planning For The Nearer Future: Consultation On Revised Standard Method, First Homes, Small Sites Affordable Homes Threshold & PiP

Still don’t know what I was waiting for

And my time was running wild, a million dead-end streets and

Every time I thought I’d got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

I have said plenty already on the longer term changes proposed by the Government in its Planning for the future white paper (consultation responses deadline 29 October 2020). So I turned myself to face the shorter term proposals set out in Changes to the current planning system: Consultation on changes to planning policy and regulations (consultation responses deadline 1 October 2020). ChangesOne and ChangesTwo respectively perhaps.

The ChangesTwo tracklist:

“• changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need, which as well as being a proposal to change guidance in the short term has relevance to proposals for land supply reforms set out in Planning for the Future;

• securing of First Homes, sold at a discount to market price for first time buyers, including key workers, through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system;

• temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing, to up to 40 or 50 units to support SME builders as the economy recovers from the impact of Covid-19;

• extending the current Permission in Principle to major development so landowners and developers now have a fast route to secure the principle of development for housing on sites without having to work up detailed plans first.”

Kings Chambers’ Constanze Bell hosted a good discussion on the proposals in a 28 August podcast with a panel comprising (Diana Richardson, Gladman), Paul Bedwell (Pegasus), Martin Carter (Kings Chambers) and Jonathan Easton (Kings Chambers).

Changes to the standard method

The Government “proposes a revised standard method for calculating local housing need which will be used as the basis for plans created prior to any changes outlined in Planning for the Future being introduced.”

There will be two steps:

Step 1 – the “baseline for the standard method should be whichever is the higher of 0.5% of existing housing stock in each local authority OR the latest projected average annual household growth over a 10-year period

“The household projections element of the baseline will use the latest ONS national household growth projections for the local authority area (Principal projection, table 406). The projected average annual household growth over a 10-year period (10 consecutive years, with the current year being used as the starting point from which to calculate growth over that period) will be used.”

Step 2 – “We propose the standard method will include two adjustments to the baseline using the workplace-based median house price to median earnings ratio. Initially it is proposed that the ratio for the most recent year for which data is available in order to address current affordability of homes would be used. Then how affordability has changed over the last 10 years of published data would be incorporated, using that same statistic.”

Precise formula:

The Government proposes the following transitional arrangements: “from the publication date of the revised guidance, authorities which are already at the second stage of the strategic plan consultation process (Regulation 19) are given 6 months to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate for examination. Authorities close to publishing their second stage consultation (Regulation 19), should be given 3 months from the publication date of the revised guidance to publish their Regulation 19 plan and a further 6 months to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate.”

For a detailed analysis of the implications of the new formula see e.g. Lichfields’ blog post Setting a higher standard – a new method for assessing housing needs. (Bethan Haynes, 7 August 2020).

In theory, the new formula could be with us very quickly: “Following the outcome of this consultation, the Government will update the planning practice guidance with the revised standard method for assessing local housing need.

Or could it? There can of course be no “correct” methodology – it’s all political choices as to which factors are considered to be most relevant, standardised into a formula that may or may not work as intended – and there has already a strong backlash from various quarters, for instance Conservative MP for Harborough, Neil O’Brien, The next algorithm disaster – coming to a Conservative constituency near you. This time, it’s housing growth. (ConservativeHome, 24 August 2020), from Chris Young QC and others A Standard Method That Works For The North (LinkedIn post 22 August 2020), and Planning algorithm may destroy suburbia, Tory MPs warn Boris Johnson (Times, 29 August 2020). Press speculation that the Government is already re-thinking is hopefully wide of the mark given that the consultation process hasn’t yet closed and therefore minds must in law remain open, but are we going to see yet another fudged outcome?

First Homes

I summarised the First Homes idea in my 29 February 2020 blog post Starter Homes Were A Non Starter – What Future For First Homes?

Basically they are intended to be a “for sale” product for first time buyers and other qualifying groups, sold at a 30% discount to market value, which must be maintained on re-sale. At that point the Government was consulting on the detail.

This is what it has concluded, subject to this further consultation:

⁃ “a minimum of 25 per cent of all affordable housing units secured through developer contributions should be First Homes. This will be a national threshold, set out in planning policy.”

⁃ “The Government proposes that, under the new system, a policy compliant planning application should seek to capture the same amount of value as would be captured under the local authority’s up-to-date published policy. For instance, a local policy may require 20% affordable housing on site, half of which is shared ownership, and half of which is social rent. The plan viability assessment will set out assumptions on the amount of value captured – for example, a social rent home may be discounted by 50% from market price, and a shared ownership home may be discounted by 20%. This allows the total value captured under the policy to be calculated. This value can then be reallocated to a different affordable housing mix under the new policy.”

⁃ “For the remaining 75% of affordable housing secured through developer contributions, there are two broad options:

• “Option 1: Where a local authority has a policy on affordable housing tenure mix, that policy should be followed, but with First Homes delivering a minimum of 25% of the affordable housing products…”

• “Option 2: A local authority and developer can negotiate the tenure mix for the remaining 75% of units.”

It will be open to authorities to require in their local plans that the discount be 40% or 50% rather than 30% but they will not be able to water down the requirement that 25% of the affordable homes to be provided on site must be First Homes.

Again, the proposal could be with us quickly, initially in the the form of “planning policy changes” (Planning Practice Guidance? NPPF changes? Written ministerial statement?):

“We intend to begin by making planning policy changes, to ensure that clear expectations are set. However, to ensure that First Homes are delivered, nationwide, on a consistent basis, we are keeping under consideration the option to strengthen the policy through primary legislation at a future date. We also intend to introduce an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy for First Homes, to enable delivery prior to wider developer contribution reform. This would require changes to regulations. Lastly, we are also considering significant reforms to the system of developer contributions. We will ensure that First Homes will continue to be delivered under a reformed approach”

However, it seems from the transactional arrangements set out below that the requirement will not immediately take full effect:

56. We recognise that local authorities may need to review the tenure mix for the remainder of the affordable housing that they are seeking to secure. Where local authorities choose to update their tenure mix to reflect this policy, they can do this through a local plan review, although we believe that prioritising the replacement of home-ownership tenures by First Homes will reduce the need for this.

57. We also recognise that there will be a number of local plans and neighbourhood plans that have been prepared based on the existing National Planning Policy Framework and that have reached more advanced stages of the plan-making process. Therefore, local plans and neighbourhood plans that are submitted for Examination within 6 months of this new policy being enacted will not need to reflect the First Homes policy requirements.

58. We also recognise that many developers will have been preparing planning applications under different assumptions. Where significant work has already been undertaken to progress a planning application, including where there has been significant pre-engagement with a local authority on the basis of a different tenure mix of affordable housing, the local authority should have flexibility to accept alternative tenure mixes, although they should consider whether First Homes could be easily substituted for another tenure, either at 25% or a lower proportion.”

Lifting the small sites threshold for SME builders

This could have a significant effect on development. In London, for instance, it will have big repercussions.

“We are proposing to raise the small sites threshold to up to either 40 or 50 new homes through changes to national planning policy and are seeking views on the most appropriate level. These thresholds balance the aim of supporting SMEs with the need to deliver new affordable homes. This will be for an initial period of 18 months in which we will monitor the impact of the raised threshold on the sector before reviewing the approach.”

“ In designated rural areas, we … propose to maintain the current threshold.”

The current threshold is 10 new homes, or site area of 0.5 hectares. The site area threshold will be increased “at the same proportion”, so presumably to 2 or 2.5 hectares (although should in fact the site area increase be less, to reflect likely density of development?).

Again the proposal could be in effect quickly:

“Following the consultation, a decision will be taken on whether to proceed with this approach. If it is taken forward, this could be through the introduction of a Written Ministerial Statement in the Autumn.”

If you are an SME developer with a scheme which may qualify, might it be worth your while seeing how this pans out? Of course it will not be straightforward – we are likely to see some local planning authorities seeking understandably to continue to rely on adopted local plan requirements for affordable housing, choosing to apply less weight to the written ministerial statement, and therefore the potential need to appeal.

Presumably the Government is hoping to see significant take-up, meaning inevitably less affordable housing. That would seem to be a politically-charged trade-off but may in reality simply leapfrog what would otherwise have been a viability process outcome in many instances.

Extending permission in principle

I summarised the current permission in principle regime in my 1 April 2017 blog post Great Expectations: Pip & The Brownfield Land Registers. The Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) (Amendment) Order 2017 subsequently set out the procedure for applying for PiPs. Lichfields’ 2 January 2018 blog post Take a chance on me: what we know about permission in principle on application is another good summary.

Local planning authorities are currently required to maintain brownfield land registers, in two parts.

– Part 1: previously developed land with an area of at least 0.25 hectares that is suitable and available for residential development and where residential development is achievable (all defined terms).

– Part 2: land in Part 1 where the local planning authority has exercised its discretion to enter the land in Part 2 and has decided to allocate the land for residential development having followed defined publicity, notification and consultation procedures. 

If your land is on Part 1 of the register you can currently apply for permission in principle for minor development (basically less than ten dwellings). If your land is on Part 2 of the register you already have permission in principle for the development set out in the register (which must not be large enough to require environmental impact assessment.

There is a further procedure in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, but not yet brought into effect, for automatic permission in principle to stem from allocation in defined categories of statutory development plans rather than just from designation on a brownfield land register.

The Government now proposes “to remove the restriction in the current Permission in Principle regulations on major development”. Although the paper is not specific, this must surely simply mean that permission in principle would now be able to be applied for in relation to major development (although still not development such as to require environmental impact assessment so, unless a negative screening opinion has been obtained, capped at 150 dwellings/5 hectares), as long as the site is on Part 1 of a local planning authority’s brownfield land register.

The paper proposes that there be no cap on the amount of commercial development proposed, although the scheme will need to be “residential-led”. The procedure is quicker than the outline planning application procedure (five weeks determination period, 14 days deadline for responses from statutory consultees).

There is not proposed to be any increase in the information requirements that currently apply to PiP applications for minor development. “However, we would be interested in whether, given the larger scale of development, there should be an additional maximum height threshold parameter, in terms of number of storeys, as part of the Permission in Principle. This would provide greater clarity to the applicant and local planning authority about the scale of housing development that is acceptable for the site, particularly in high density urban areas. Conversely, the inclusion of a maximum height parameter would add further complexity to the determination of Permission in Principle as it starts to bring in design considerations, and may in practice lead to greater confusion – for instance, a high height threshold may only be acceptable for part of the site given the impact on neighbouring dwellings.”

The Government is proposing to adjust the application fee regime to increase the cost saving in comparison with a traditional application for outline planning permission.

This all certainly gives additional focus to brownfield land registers (which I last looked at in my 5 January 2018 blog post Brownfield Land Registers: A Bit Of Progress). If you have land that is on Part 1 of a brownfield land register, it will certainly be a procedural route to consider.

Again, we could see the proposal come into effect relatively quickly. “Following this consultation, if we introduce Permission in Principle by application for major development, we aim to introduce amending regulations this Autumn, with the regulations expected to come into force by the end of the calendar year. Changes to the fee structure would require separate changes to the Planning Fees Regulations.”

Of course, this will also be a useful test as to how well permission in principle can be made to work in practice, ahead of the Government’s more ambitious proposals the subject of ChangesOne (and my 7 August 2020 blog post For The Future).

(Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-changes

Simon Ricketts, 29 August 2020

Personal views, et cetera

CIL To Be Replaced By…CIL

When I saw a limelon for the first time yesterday (some recently marketed lime/melon hybrid since you ask, and tangy and refreshing it is indeed), I naturally thought of the proposed combined infrastructure levy: what on earth is it?

Planning For The Future is of course work in progress and it may be churlish for us to expect it to have all the answers. After all, it is up to us to provide cogent responses to the current consultation process.

But the sections in the document on infrastructure contributions are very light indeed, given the central role that section 106 and the community infrastructure levy play in the current system and the obvious complexity of arriving at a system for a combined infrastructure levy that on the one hand does not choke off various forms of development in some areas by making it unviable and that on the other hand both (1) raises sufficient monies to secure the delivery of necessary social (e.g. affordable housing) and physical infrastructure and also (2) ensures for the benefit of both communities and developers that the infrastructure will actually be provided in the right place, at the right time.

The lightness is in contrast to the detailed analysis of the existing position in relation to contributions by way of CIL and section 106 planning obligations that is the subject of a detailed study (143 pages) by respected academics (all those listed on the front page of the document), The Incidence, Value and Delivery of Planning Obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy in England in 2018-19, published alongside the white paper.

The objectives of the study were to

•Update the evidence on the current value and incidence of planning obligations

• Investigate the relationship between CIL and S106

• Understand negotiation processes and delays to the planning process

• Explore the monitoring and transparency of developer contributions

• Understand the early effects and expectations for the changes to developer contributions brought in by the revisions to the NPPF

Chapter 3 (The value of Planning Obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy) sets out some interesting findings:

“• The estimated value of planning obligations agreed and CIL levied in 2018/19 was £7.0 billion. This valuation is premised upon the assumptions identified in the appendix, corresponding to survey validity, respondent representation and the distribution of values.

• When adjusted to reflect inflation the total value of developer contributions in real terms is £500 million higher than in 2016/17, £300 million higher than in 2007/08.

• 67% of the value of agreed developer contributions was for the provision of affordable housing, at £4.7 billion; this is the same proportion as in 2016/17 and is the joint-highest to date.

• 44,000 affordable housing dwellings were agreed in planning obligations in 2018/19. This is a reduction since 2016/17, but the value of this housing has increased over the same period due to an increase in house prices in many areas with higher developer contributions.

• The value of CIL levied by LPAs was £830 million in 2018/19, with a further £200 million levied by the Mayor of London.

• The geographic distribution of planning obligations and CIL is weighted heavily towards the south of England. The South East, South West and London regions account for 61% of the total value. However, the value of developer contributions exacted in London has fallen since 2016/17 – down from 38% to 28% of the total aggregate value.”

There is nothing in the white paper that explicitly draws from the findings of that report in order to arrive at the wholly new mechanism that is proposed.

Some people seem to have picked up the message that the white paper means the end of the community infrastructure levy – a cause for celebration in some parts. But the white paper’s proposal for a combined infrastructure levy to my mind is CIL writ large, potentially just as complex, with a whole new set of rate setting, liability, payment and spending mechanisms and with the express objective of raising more monies than the current system. It warrants its own focus at this point, away from the noise of the other proposals in the white paper.

How to begin to unpick what is proposed in relation to CIL and section 106 planning obligations (and what the proposals in relation to section 106 mean for the delivery of affordable housing in particular)? I wrote down for myself five basic questions:

1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?

2. What will happen to CIL?

3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?

4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?

5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?

In order to try to answer them (in a way which would have to work in relation to all of the proposed consenting routes: DCO, outline planning permission in plan, PiP (if different from outline permission in plan, not sure!), traditional planning permission, PD), then I cut and pasted the relevant passages from the white paper in their entirety (only leaving out the detail of some of the “alternative options” floated and leaving out the questions raised in the consultation). It is easy to read summaries and think “well there must be more detail in the document itself”. It is worth reading these passages to see the totality of the proposals.

After these passages I then see how far we can get in answering my questions.

“The process for negotiating developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure is complex, protracted and unclear: as a result, the outcomes can be uncertain, which further diminishes trust in the system and reduces the ability of local planning authorities to plan for and deliver necessary infrastructure. Over 80 per cent of planning authorities agree that planning obligations cause delay. It also further increases planning risk for developers and landowners, thus discouraging development and new entrants.”

“1.19. Fourth, we will improve infrastructure delivery in all parts of the country and ensure developers play their part, through reform of developer contributions. We propose:

• The Community Infrastructure Levy and the current system of planning obligations will be reformed as a nationally-set value-based flat rate charge (‘the Infrastructure Levy’). A single rate or varied rates could be set. We will aim for the new Levy to raise more revenue than under the current system of developer contributions, and deliver at least as much – if not more – on-site affordable housing as at present. This reform will enable us to sweep away months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements and the need to consider site viability. We will deliver more of the infrastructure existing and new communities require by capturing a greater share of the ulpift [sic] in land value that comes with development.

• We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision.

• We will give local authorities greater powers to determine how developer contributions are used, including by expanding the scope of the Levy to cover affordable housing provision to allow local planning authorities to drive up the provision of affordable homes. We will ensure that affordable housing provision supported through developer contributions is kept at least at current levels, and that it is still delivered on-site to ensure that new development continues to support mixed communities. Local authorities will have the flexibility to use this funding to support both existing communities as well as new communities.

• We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights, so that additional homes delivered through this route bring with them support for new infrastructure.

“4.5. Securing necessary infrastructure and affordable housing alongside new development is central to our vision for the planning system. We want to bring forward reforms to make sure that developer contributions are:

• responsive to local needs, to ensure a fairer contribution from developers for local communities so that the right infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered;

• transparent, so it is clear to existing and new residents what new infrastructure will accompany development;

• consistent and simplified, to remove unnecessary delay and support competition in the housebuilding industry;

• buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.

4.6. The Government could also seek to use developer contributions to capture a greater proportion of the land value uplift that occurs through the grant of planning permission, and use this to enhance infrastructure delivery. There are a range of estimates for the amount of land value uplift currently captured, from 25 to 50 per cent. The value captured will depend on a range of factors including the development value, the existing use value of the land, and the relevant tax structure – for instance, whether capital gains tax applies to the land sale. Increasing value capture could be an important source of infrastructure funding but would need to be balanced against risks to development viability.”

“4.7. We propose that the existing parallel regimes for securing developer contributions are replaced with a new, consolidated ‘Infrastructure Levy’.

Proposal 19: The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished.”

“4.8. We believe that the current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.

4.9. This would be based upon a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates. This would address issues in the current system as it would:

be charged on the final value of a development (or to an assessment of the sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. for homes built for the rental market), based on the applicable rate at the point planning permission is granted;

• be levied at point of occupation, with prevention of occupation being a potential sanction for non-payment;

• include a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold ; and

• provide greater certainty for communities and developers about what the level of developer contributions are expected alongside new development.

4.10. The single rate, or area-specific rates, would be set nationally. It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system. Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.

4.11. As a value-based charge across all use classes, we believe it would be both more effective at capturing increases in value and would be more sensitive to economic downturns. It would reduce risk for developers, and would reduce cashflow difficulties, particularly for SME developers.

4.12. In areas where land value uplift is insufficient to support significant levels of land value capture, some or all of the value generated by the development would be below the threshold, and so not subject to the levy. In higher value areas, a much greater proportion of the development value would be above the exempt amount, and subject to the levy.

4.13. To better support the timely delivery of infrastructure, we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster. As with all volatile borrowing streams, local authorities should assure themselves that this borrowing is affordable and suitable.

4.14. Under this approach the London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure.

4.15. In bringing forward the reformed Infrastructure Levy, we will need to consider its scope. We will also consider the impact of this change on areas with lower land values.”

Alternative options proposed: “The Infrastructure Levy could remain optional and would be set by individual local authorities”. “Alternatively, the national rate approach could be taken, but with the aim of capturing more land value than currently, to better support the delivery of infrastructure”

“Proposal 21: The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision

4.20. Developer contributions currently deliver around half of all affordable housing, most of which is delivered on-site. It is important that the reformed approach will continue to deliver on-site affordable housing at least at present levels.

4.21. Affordable housing provision is currently secured by local authorities via Section 106, but the Community Infrastructure Levy cannot be spent on it. With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing.

4.22. This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. [Footnote: As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106. ] First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.

4.23. Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way.

4.24. We would also need to ensure the developer was incentivised to deliver high build and design quality for their in-kind affordable homes. Currently, if Section 106 homes are not of sufficient quality, developers may be unable to sell it to a provider, or have to reduce the price. To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality. It is important that any approach taken maintains the quality of affordable housing provision as well as overarching volumes, and incentivises early engagement between providers of affordable housing and developers. Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site. Through borrowing against further Infrastructure Levy receipts, other sources of funding, or in partnership with affordable housing providers, they could then build affordable homes, enabling delivery at pace.

4.25. Alternative option: We could seek to introduce further requirements around the delivery of affordable housing. To do this we would create a ‘first refusal’ right for local authorities or any affordable housing provider acting on their behalf to buy up to a set proportion of on-site units (on a square metre basis) at a discounted price, broadly equivalent to build costs. The proportion would be set nationally, and the developer would have discretion over which units were sold in this way. A threshold would be set for smaller sites, below which on-site delivery was not required, and cash payment could be made in lieu. Where on-site units were purchased, these could be used for affordable housing, or sold on (or back to the developer) to raise money to purchase affordable housing elsewhere. The local authority could use Infrastructure Levy funds, or other funds, in order to purchase units.”

“Proposal 22: More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy

4.26. It is important that there is a strong link between where development occurs and where funding is spent. Currently, the Neighbourhood Share of the Community Infrastructure Levy ensures that up to 25 per cent of the levy is spent on priorities in the area that development occurred, with funding transferred to parish councils in parished areas. There are fewer restrictions on how this funding is spent, and we believe it provides an important incentive to local communities to allow development in their area. We therefore propose that under this approach the Neighbourhood Share would be kept, and we would be interested in ways to enhance community engagement around how these funds are used, with scope for digital innovation to promote engagement.

4.27. There is scope for even more flexibility around spending. We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax. The balance of affordable housing and infrastructure may vary depending on a local authority’s circumstances, but under this approach it may be necessary to consider ring-fencing a certain amount of Levy funding for affordable housing to ensure that affordable housing continues to be delivered on-site at current levels (or higher). There would also be opportunities to enhance digital engagement with communities as part of decision making around spending priorities. Alternatively, the permitted uses of the Levy could remain focused on infrastructure and affordable housing, as they are broadly are at present. Local authorities would continue to identify the right balance between these to meet local needs, as they do at present.”

“ 5.19. If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”

Back to my questions:

1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?

It is said in the paper that the “current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.” There will no longer be “months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements”. “Section 106 planning obligations [will be] removed”.

The proposals seem to assume that section 106 is simply a mechanism for securing provision of affordable housing and other “developer contributions”. Whilst that is its main role at present, it is a mechanism for a wide range of commitments – see this table from the accompanying study:

The joy of section 106 is its flexibility to circumstances and policy, enabling the applicant commit to commit, in a way that binds successors in title, to all necessary mitigation measures that cannot be secured by way of planning condition and which are necessary to overcome what would otherwise be reasons not to allow the proposed development to proceed. On more complex developments it is the only tried and tested way in which appropriate mechanisms can be arrived at to make sure that, for instance, necessary infrastructure comes forward at the right time and by way of a sensible process, bespoke to the circumstances of the development, agreed between the parties. There is no proposal in the paper (although it has previously been floated by some) that the role of planning conditions could be expanded.

Where financial contributions are paid to a local planning authority under a section 106 agreement they can only be used for the specified purposes, whereas the proposals in relation to the consolidated infrastructure levy appear to be more loose: “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met.”What is meant by “core infrastructure obligations”? The core infrastructure obligations necessary to make a particular development acceptable? If so, then a document will need to be drawn up which surely will be as complex as a section 106 agreement – when will the school come forward, using the developer’s infrastructure levy contribution, how, where and when? Local employment and training measures, provision and maintenance of open space and play areas, carbon reduction commitments, commitments to specified transport improvements and the formulation and implementation of transport plans – are all these to be swept away? If so, the document needs to explain either why this is acceptable and desirable or how these matters will otherwise be addressed.

Additional confusion arises when these bold statements as to the removal of section 106 obligations are then contrasted with the footnote to paragraph 4.22: “As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106”. What does that mean? What would the “covenant on the land” and if the only point is to make sure that the infrastructure levy binds successors in title, why not leave that for the legislation itself?

Is anyone out there clearer at this stage ?

2. What will happen to CIL?

The community infrastructure levy will be replaced by the consolidated infrastructure levy, which will work in various significantly different ways to the current system. For instance:

• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 3 below.

• It will be “levied at point of occupation”.

“Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.”

• “we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster.” [If a developer needs specific infrastructure to be delivered in order to enable development to proceed, how will this be documented? What if, as is usually the case, the developer would prefer to deliver the infrastructure, e.g. build the school?]

• The “London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure” [Is this retained as in retained under the current CIL system so that in London CIL would continue to operate alongside the new levy, or is this retained as in “rolled into”?]

• “We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights” [This is odd – development pursuant to PD rights is not exempt from CIL at the moment. Is this flagging more widely that exemptions will be removed? That would have been a sensible, simplifying, approach were CIL levels to be reduced, but here we are faced with an increased Infrastructure Levy…]

3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?

• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates”. [Clearly this can’t in any circumstances mean a nationally-set flat rate charge of x per square metres but must mean a nationally-set proportion of (I assume) gross development value.]

• There will be “a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold”. [When would the developer have certainty that the threshold was not exceeded, or indeed as to what the value (and therefore charge) is considered to be, through what procedure and with what rights to appeal against the valuation? Is the valuation a notional one, applying a formula, or an actual valuation?]

• “buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.” [the timing of the valuation date will be critical, as will how to deal with phased and revised schemes and so on].

• “It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system” [so more than £7bn, on the basis of the findings in that study – in a way which will need not to disincentivise owners and developers from carrying out development].

That’s all I can glean from the document. It seems to me that local planning authorities will lose much flexibility, for instance in the setting of differential rates for different types of floorspace (the document does focus to a significant extent on residential development – what rate would be set for, say, offices, logistics or retail, particularly given the weaker relationship between non-residential uses and the delivery of affordable housing, and what about not for profit development – will we need to reintroduce a number of the current CIL exemptions?

4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?

• “With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 5 below.

• “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax.” [So, infrastructure levy surplus receipts (after delivery of “core infrastructure”) become unhypothecated tax receipts – the less the authority spends on infrastructure, the lower it can keep its council tax, hmm…]?

• “If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”

5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?

• “We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision”.

• “This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.” [So presumably the developer could net-off the costs of on-site delivery from its infrastructure levy liability. How is this to be documented? Who adjudicates on the obvious valuation issues arising?]

• “Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way” [How to safeguard against misuse?]

“To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality.”

• “Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site.” [Back to ensuring a robust valuation process].

Again, maybe it’s just me but I’m left scratching my head. This is a wholly different approach to extracting contributions for affordable housing and for ensuring that they are delivered. Basic questions:

• How will the requirements (quantum, tenure mix, size] be set at policy stage and determined at application stage (in advance of valuations) such that there can be confidence that development will not be stalled through lack of viability?

• Are we moving to a system where all affordable housing is delivered by a local authority nominated housing provider, with less ability for the developer to seek to improve viability?

• How can there be any confidence that this mechanism will result in more on-site affordable housing than at present?

I also recommend George Venning’s LinkedIn piece on the issues arising: Planning Reforms Contain a Poison Pill.

Again, thoughts welcome – it’s not that the proposals can’t be made to work, it’s just that much more input is required and, in my view, a cautious approach needs to be taken so as to guard against the inevitable unintended consequences.

The deadline for consultation responses is 29 October. We are likely to be collating a Town response, if only on specific issues such as this. If you would be interested in feeding in your thoughts, then please let me know, although, health warning, we are not in the business of designing fruit by committee!

Simon Ricketts, 22 August 2020

Personal views, et cetera