London, Friday The 13th

I’ll pass for now on Thursday’s Planning For The Future and indeed Wednesday’s budget. It’s one week at a time at the moment isn’t it? Planning for the future, and the wider politics of planning, has seemed less relevant than planning for a future – the even wider, and deeper, politics of public health and the intersections between virus control, health service capacity, economics and public messaging. You will already have read some other really good summaries and critiques of that document.

But then yesterday in London some fairly momentous things happened along the currently active fault lines as between MHCLG, the Mayor and the boroughs that I have previously written about in various posts.

Directed modifications to London Plan

First, the Secretary of State issued his letter to the Mayor directing that a series of modifications be made to the draft London Plan pursuant to section 337 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. The modifications are set out an annex to the letter, in the form of a table setting out each directed “Modification to Remedy National Policy Inconsistency” with a “Statement of Reasons” alongside each modification. The letter and directed modifications are plainly a material consideration to be taken into account where relevant in the determination of planning applications and appeals.

Momentous but perhaps not surprising in the light of the “shot across the bowsletter that Khan had been sent by Robert Jenrick’s predecessor James Brokenshire on 27 July 2018. When you look back at that letter, the position was set out pretty clearly, in allowing the draft plan to proceed under the 2012 NPPF on condition that post adoption the Mayor would then embark on a review of the plan to reflect the revised NPPF (How far away is that review now? Might it have been better if MHCLG had bitten the bullet and required the Mayor to start again on his plan at that stage, so as to be consistent with the new NPPF?).

Back in 2018:

I am not convinced your assessment of need reflects the full extent of housing need in London to tackle affordability problems.

The Government is […] clear that Plans should be effective, deliverable and consistent with national policy. You will recall that the Government highlighted a number of further issues with your draft Plan in response to your consultation, including that:

⁃ A number of policy areas in the draft that are inconsistent with national policy, such as your policies allowing development on residential gardens and your policy on car parking.

⁃ The detail and complexity of the policies within the draft London Plan have the potential to limit accessibility to the planning system and development.

⁃ The draft Plan strays considerably beyond providing a strategic framework.

⁃ The draft Plan does not provide enough information to explain the approach you will take to ensure your targets are delivered, including collaboration with boroughs and neighbouring areas.

⁃ There are a number of policies in the draft Plan which seek to deal with matters relating to building standards and safety. It is important that there is a consistent approach to setting building standards through the framework of Building Regulations.”

20 months later, following a lengthy examination and inspectors’ report (see my 26 October 2019 blog post More Plans Grounded: West Of England; Sevenoaks; London) the 13 March 2020 direction letter surely in part has the hand of a certain former London Mayor behind it in that as soon as it is past the “Dear Sadiq”, the letter is unforgiving in its content and tone and is a broader attack on the Mayor’s approach to housing:

Every part of the country must take responsibility to build the homes their communities need. We must build more, better and greener homes through encouraging well-planned development in urban areas; preventing unnecessary urban sprawl so that we can protect the countryside for future generations. This means densifying, taking advantage of opportunities around existing infrastructure and making best use of brownfield and underutilised land.

Housing delivery in London under your mayoralty has been deeply disappointing, over the last three years housing delivery has averaged just 37,000 a year; falling short of the existing Plan target and well below your assessment of housing need. Over the same period, other Mayors such as in the West Midlands have gripped their local need for housing and recognised the opportunities this brings, leading significant increases in the delivery of homes.

(an echo there of the Chancellor’s budget speech on 11 March 2020, which referred to “a new £400m Fund for ambitious Mayors like Andy Street in the West Midlands, to build on Brownfield sites…”)

Since you became Mayor, the price of an average new build home in London has increased by around £45,000, reaching £515,000 in 2018, 14 times average earnings. Clearly, the housing delivery shortfall you have overseen has led to worsening affordability for Londoners; and things are not improving, with housing starts falling a further 28 per cent last year compared to the previous.”

Critical strategic sites have stalled, epitomised by your Development Corporation in Old Oak and Park Royal being forced to turn away £250 million of Government funding because of your inability to work successfully with the main landowner. You also turned away £1 billion of investment we offered to deliver Affordable Homes, because of the support and oversight that would accompany this. You have put a series of onerous conditions on estate regeneration schemes for them to be eligible for grant- funding, such as the requirement for residents’ ballots. In attaching such conditions, you are jeopardising housing delivery and this approach will make it significantly more difficult to deliver the Plan’s targets and homes needed.”

(I covered the Old Oak and Park Royal Local Plan saga in my 4 January 2020 blog post Elephant, Dove, Old Oak, RICS. The Mayor published guidelines in August 2018 on applying his requirement (as a pre-condition to grant funding) for residents’ ballots in connection with estate regeneration schemes).

Following the Planning Inspectorate’s investigation of your Plan, they only deem your Plan credible to deliver 52,000 homes a year. This is significantly below your own identified need of around 66,000 homes and well below what most commentators think is the real need of London. As I have set out, the shortfall between housing need in London and the homes your Plan delivers has significant consequences for Londoners.”

Everyone should have the chance to save for and buy their own home so they can have a stake in society. In the short run this requires a proactive stance in building homes for ownership, including Shared Ownership and First Homes, and in parallel delivering a consistently high level of housing supply of all tenures. You should also be looking to deliver homes which people of different ages, backgrounds and situations in life can live in. Your Plan tilts away from this, towards one-bed flats at the expense of all else, driving people out of our capital when they want to have a family.”

(Of course, this is one of the largest and deepest fault lines – as to the relative weight to be given to intermediate affordable housing tenures, including in particular shared ownership and now – covered in my 29 February 2020 blog post – first homes).

Your Plan added layers of complexity that will make development more difficult unnecessarily; with policies on things as small as bed linen. Prescription to this degree makes the planning process more cumbersome and difficult to navigate; in turn meaning less developments come forward and those that do progress slowly. One may have sympathy with some of individual policies in your Plan, but in aggregate this approach is inconsistent with the pro-development stance we should be taking and ultimately only serves to make Londoners worse off.

(Bed linen? Well, Policy H16, Large-scale purpose-built shared living, lists the necessary criteria in order for a development to fall within the policy, and, it is true, one of the criteria is that “communal facilities and services are provided that are sufficient to meet the requirements of the intended number of residents and offer at least:

a) convenient access to a communal kitchen

b) outside communal amenity space (roof terrace and/or garden)

c) internal communal amenity space (dining rooms, lounges)

d) laundry and drying facilities

e) a concierge

f) bedding and linen changing and/or room cleaning services.”

Interestingly the Secretary of State is not directing any changes to H16).

This challenging environment is exacerbated by your empty threats of rent controls, which by law you cannot introduce without Government consent. As we all know, evidence from around the world shows that rent controls lead to landlords leaving the market, poorer quality housing and soaring rents for anyone not covered by the controls.

(Mayor demands powers to bring rents down, 19 July 2019)

I had expected you to set the framework for a step change in housing delivery, paving the way for further increases given the next London Plan will need to assess housing need by using the Local Housing Need methodology. This has not materialised, as you have not taken the tough choices necessary to bring enough land into the system to build the homes needed.”

So what modifications are proposed? As set out in the annex to the letter:

⁃ insertion of “the need for additional family housing” into policy H10.

⁃ references to optimising site capacity into policy D3, including the potential for boroughs to consider positively expansion of existing clusters of high density buildings and expanding Opportunity Area boundaries where appropriate.

⁃ deleting from policy H2 references to in lieu affordable housing contributions from schemes of nine or fewer homes.

⁃ removing the “no net loss of industrial floorspace” requirement from policy E4 and allowing boroughs to “identify opportunities to strategically coordinate development plans to identify opportunities to substitute Strategic Industrial Land where evidence that alternative, more suitable, locations exist”.

⁃ amending green belt and metropolitan open land policies G2 and G3 respectively to make them consistent with national policy.

⁃ introductory passage to be amended encouraging boroughs to review their housing targets where “they have additional evidence that suggests they can achieve delivery of housing above these figures whilst remaining in line with the strategic policies established in this plan

⁃ reintroducing the previous 2016 maximum residential car parking standards.

⁃ watering down the restrictions in policy T6 on retail parking: “G. Boroughs should consider alternative standards where there is clear that evidence that the standards in Table 10.5 would result in (a) A diversion of demand from town centres to out of town centres, undermining the town centres first approach (b) a significant reduction in the viability of mixed-use redevelopment proposals in town centre

⁃ deletion of paragraph 4.1.11 which was critical of the Government’s housing delivery test.

In addition to the modifications, the letter indicates that the Secretary of State is “taking this opportunity to highlight some of the specific areas where I think your Plan has fallen short of best serving Londoners.

⁃ He is “Directing” the Mayor to “work constructively with ambitious London Boroughs and my Department to encourage and support the delivery of boroughs which strive to deliver more housing.”

⁃ “I hope that where your small sites policies are appropriate, you are doing all you can to ensure sites are brought forward.”

⁃ “The Inspectors considered your industrial land policies to be unrealistic; taking an over-restrictive stance to hinder Boroughs’ abilities to choose more optimal uses for industrial sites where housing is in high demand. I am directing you to take a more proportionate stance – removing the ‘no net loss’ requirement on existing industrial land sites whilst ensuring Boroughs bring new industrial land into the supply.”

⁃ “I am concerned that your Plan will be to the detriment of family sized dwellings which are and will continue to be needed across London. This is not just in relation to their provision but also their loss, particularly where family sized dwellings are subdivided into flats or redeveloped entirely. I am therefore Directing you to ensure this is a consideration of London Boroughs when preparing policies and taking decisions in relation to dwelling mix.”

⁃ “It is important that development is brought forward to maximise site capacity, in the spirit of and to compliment the surrounding area, not to its detriment. Sites cannot be looked at in isolation and Londoners need to be given the confidence that high density developments will be directed to the most appropriate sites; maximising density within this framework. Examples of this are gentle density around high streets and town centres, and higher density in clusters which have already taken this approach. I am therefore Directing you to ensure that such developments are consented in areas that are able to accommodate them.”

⁃ In relation to aviation, “the Court of Appeal recently handed down judgment in the judicial review claims relating to the Airports National Policy Statement. The government is carefully considering the complex judgment and so does not consider it appropriate to make any direction in relation to Policy T8 Aviation at the present time. This is without prejudice to my power to make a direction under section 337 at any time before publication of the spatial development strategy, including in relation to Policy T8 Aviation.”

Finally, the Secretary of State wishes to see a “new standard for transparency and accountability for delivery at a local level” and a commitment to work together (regular meetings!) to provide “the fullest account of how the housing market and planning system is performing in London, where there are blockages and what is needed to unblock these, and what tools or actions can be undertaken to further increase housing delivery”.

“Housing in our capital is simply too important for the underachievement and drift displayed under you [sic] Mayoralty, and now in your Plan, to continue.”

To receive such a letter would be a bad start to the day for any Mayor.

Kensington Forum Hotel JR

Shortly after the letter was published, I separately saw a consent order, sealed by the High Court yesterday, 13 March 2020, the effect of which was to record the fact that the Mayor has consented to judgment in the judicial review brought by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea of his decision, having recovered the application, to grant planning permission for the Kensington Forum Hotel development. I have previously referred to the saga in my 26 January 2019 blog post The Secretary Of State & London and my 15 November 2019 blog post Planning Or Politics? Significant London Planning Decisions 2019. You will recall that planning permission was issued by the Mayor the same day as he had held his representation hearing. RBKC had judicially reviewed that permission and on 27 November 2019 secured an order for disclosure. The consent order records that following “a review of the documents disclosed pursuant to that order”, and in the light of RBKC’s case put in its grounds of claim and evidence, the Mayor “concedes that the Decision should be quashed on the basis of Ground 4, in particular that the decision to grant planning permission was made for an improper purpose and having regard to irrelevant considerations; namely that the Secretary of State should not be given the opportunity to call in the application for his own determination”. The Mayor has agreed as part of the order to pay RBKC’s costs in the sum of £90,000.

So the Mayor will now need to reconsider whether to grant planning permission (a further representation hearing) and the Secretary of State will no doubt consider whether to call in the application.

Postponed election

The coup de grace yesterday for the Mayor must surely have been the Government’s announcement that legislation will be introduced to postpone until May 2021 the local, Mayoral and Police & Crime Commissioner elections that were due to take place on 7 May 2020. After all, he would have been a re-election shoe-in this May if the polls are to be believed (eg see Sadiq Khan Has A Massive Lead In The London Mayoral Election According To A New Poll Londonist, 10 March 2020). Next year? Well that’s a long time away.

One last word on Planning For The Future. The Secretary of State promises “an ambitious Planning White Paper in the Spring”. Obviously government has a stretched and blurred definition of the seasons but technically “Spring” starts on 20 March. It’s one week at a time at the moment isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts, 14 March 2020

Personal views, et cetera

A retweet by the Secretary of State. Probably wisely, the Mayor has not yet risen to the bait.

Starter Homes Were A Non Starter – What Future For First Homes?

Government is consulting on the “design and delivery” of First Homes. The deadline for responses is 3 April 2020. First Homes was of course a manifesto pledge and so there are no questions as to whether the concept itself is supportable or indeed practical.

That is a shame, given the failure of the Starter Homes initiative after so much work and public expenditure. As explained in my 4 March 2017 blog post Definitely Maybe: Defining Affordable Housing, an elaborate structure was arrived at by way of chapter 1 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and a technical consultation by the Government in March 2016:

– a legal requirement that 20% of new homes in developments should be starter homes, ie

⁃ to be sold at a discount of at least 20% to open market value to first time buyers aged under 40. 

⁃ Price cap of £250,000 (£450,000 in London)

– The restriction should last for a defined number of years, the first suggestion being five years, replaced with the concept of a tapered restriction to potentially eight years

– Commuted sums in lieu of on site provision for specified categories of development, eg build to rent.

The Government’s response to the technical consultation then significantly watered down the starter home concept, to the extent that the legislation was surplus to requirements (it is still on the statute book, just left hanging):

– There would be no statutory requirement on local planning authorities to secure starter homes, just a policy requirement in the NPPF, which was to be amended accordingly. 

– Rather than requiring that 20% of new homes be starter homes, the requirement would be that 10% of new homes will be “affordable housing home ownership products” so could include shared equity or indeed low cost home ownership. 

– maximum eligible household income of £80,000 a year or less (or £90,000 a year or less in Greater London 

– 15 year restriction

– No cash buyers, evidence of mortgage of at least 25% loan to value

– Only be applicable to schemes of ten units or more (or on sites of more than 0.5h). 

The only reference to starter homes in the February 2019 version of the NPPF is in the glossary’s definition of affordable homes:

b) Starter homes: is as specified in Sections 2 and 3 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and any secondary legislation made under these sections. The definition of a starter home should reflect the meaning set out in statute and any such secondary legislation at the time of plan-preparation or decision-making. Where secondary legislation has the effect of limiting a household’s eligibility to purchase a starter home to those with a particular maximum level of household income, those restrictions should be used.”

Paragraph 64 of the NPPF of course requires:

Where major development involving the provision of housing is proposed, planning policies and decisions should expect at least 10% of the homes to be available for affordable home ownership, unless this would exceed the level of affordable housing required in the area, or significantly prejudice the ability to meet the identified affordable housing needs of specific groups. Exemptions to this 10% requirement should also be made where the site or proposed development:

a) provides solely for Build to Rent homes;

b) provides specialist accommodation for a group of people with specific needs (such as purpose-built accommodation for the elderly or students);

c) is proposed to be developed by people who wish to build or commission their own homes; or

d) is exclusively for affordable housing, an entry-level exception site or a rural exception site.”

Going back to the NPPF affordable housing definition, aside from starter homes the other two listed categories of affordable home ownership are:

c) Discounted market sales housing: is that sold at a discount of at least 20% below local market value. Eligibility is determined with regard to local incomes and local house prices. Provisions should be in place to ensure housing remains at a discount for future eligible households.

d) Other affordable routes to home ownership: is housing provided for sale that provides a route to ownership for those who could not achieve home ownership through the market. It includes shared ownership, relevant equity loans, other low cost homes for sale (at a price equivalent to at least 20% below local market value) and rent to buy (which includes a period of intermediate rent). Where public grant funding is provided, there should be provisions for the homes to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households, or for any receipts to be recycled for alternative affordable housing provision, or refunded to Government or the relevant authority specified in the funding agreement.”

Of these different affordable home ownership options (using the Government jargon, I appreciate that what is “affordable” is an open question), starter homes were abandoned by the Government as a concept after a huge amount of money and time had been spent. The National Audit Office’s Investigation into Starter Homes (4 November 2019) found as follows:

In April 2015, the Conservative Party manifesto committed to “200,000 Starter Homes, which will be sold at a 20% discount and will be built exclusively for first-time buyers under the age of 40”. The November 2015 Spending Review subsequently provided £2.3 billion to support the delivery of 60,000 Starter Homes (of the 200,000 previously announced). The Housing and Planning Act (2016) set out the legislative framework for Starter Homes and the Department ran a consultation on Starter Homes Regulations (the regulations) between March and June 2016.

Between 2015 and 2018, government’s policy towards Starter Homes shifted.

In May 2018, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning stated that the government had spent an estimated £250 million of the Starter Homes Land Fund. In July 2018, the Department clarified that it had spent £250 million buying land to build affordable properties from two funds, the Starter Homes Land Fund and the Land Assembly Fund, with work under way to get the land ready for development, but that building had not yet started.”

“No Starter Homes have been built to date.”

“The Starter Homes legislative provisions are not yet in force.”

“The Department no longer has a budget dedicated to the delivery of Starter Homes.”

“Between 2015-16 and 2017-18, the Department spent almost £174 million preparing sites originally intended for building Starter Homes.”

“In 2015-16, Homes England spent £15.4 million of the Starter Homes 2015 funding preparing brownfield land.”

“Since August 2015 the Department has spent £6.45 million supporting local authorities through the Programme.”

“In 2016-17 and 2017-18, the Department spent £151 million under the

[Starter Homes Land Fund], but the spending has not supported the building of Starter Homes.”

“In 2017-18, the Department spent £97 million from the SHLF, but under [Land Assembly Fund] criteria, on acquiring land needing work and preparing it for the market”

No doubt some of the monies earmarked for starter homes may have ended up going towards other housing and affordable housing initiatives (I am not clear on that) but surely what an embarrassment this is for whoever first came up with the bright idea that was starter homes.

However, moving on from that failure, of course the thing to do is to learn from past mistakes? Why didn’t it work? What could have been done better? This is the essence of “black box thinking”. I was certainly not the only one pointing out the potential complexities that might prove its downfall (See my 21 June 2016 blog post Valuing Starter Homes).

But of course there is a insatiable political hunger for new ideas for manifestos, and in the December 2019 Conservative manifesto a concept of First Homes was trumpeted as the new solution to “making the dream of home ownership a reality for everyone” (to quote from the latest consultation document).

The initiative was formally launched on 7 February 2020 with a one page guide and more detailed consultation document.

The headlines are set out in the guide:

• First Homes are flats and houses built on developments up and down the country. They will be no different from other properties except they will be sold with a discount of at least 30 percent.

• They will be sold to local people who want to stay in the community where they live or work but are struggling to purchase a home at market prices.

• They will be prioritised for first-time buyers, serving members and veterans of the Armed Forces, and key workers, such as nurses, police and teachers.

• The discount will be passed on to future buyers when First Homes are resold so more people can be helped onto the ladder.

Jennie Baker at Lichfields has written an excellent summary First Homes: discounted market housing that actually delivers? (10 February 2020).

There has been widespread concern as to whether this new product (however it may be delivered – and there is going to be a statutory or policy requirement for it to be provided as part of the housing tenure mix on major schemes) will be at the expense of other more needed or more efficient affordable housing products (see for instance the piece by Ruth Davison, chief executive of Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association, First Homes won’t extend homeownership and will decimate supply of homes for those most in need) and of course not “affordable” for many (see for instance Shelter’s comments in the 16 February 2020 Guardian piece Discounted housing scheme out of reach of most first-time buyers) and I personally see as many potential valuation pitfalls as identified with starter homes – and surely there is a greater difficulty “selling” a discount product to purchasers where, unlike with starter homes, that discount will remain in perpetuity.

If you are not now going to MIPIM, why not consider the questions in the consultation paper instead? They neatly encapsulate many of the current uncertainties as to how this is all going to work:

Q1.

a) Do you agree with a minimum discount of 30% (but with local flexibility to set a higher one)?

b) If not, what should the minimum discount be? i. 20%

ii. 40%

iii. Other (please specify)

Q2.

a) Should we set a single, nationally defined price cap rather than centrally dictate local/regional price caps?

b) If yes, what is the appropriate level to set this price cap? i. £600,000

ii. £550,000 iii. £500,000 iv. £450,000

v. Other (please specify)

Q3.

a) If you disagree with a national price cap, should central Government set price caps which vary by region instead?

b) If price caps should be set by the Government, what is the best approach to these regional caps?

i. London and nationwide

ii. London, London surrounding local authorities, and nationwide

iii. Separate caps for each of the regions in England iv. Separate caps for each county or metropolitan area

v. Other (please specify)

Q4.

Do you agree that, within any central price caps, Local Authorities should be able to impose their own caps to reflect their local housing market?

Q5.

Do you agree that Local Authorities are best placed to decide upon the detail of local connection restrictions on First Homes?

Q6.

When should local connection restrictions fall away if a buyer for a First Home cannot be found?

i. Less than 3 months

ii. 3 – 6 months

iii. Longer than 6 months

iv. Left to Local Authority discretion

Q7.

In which circumstances should the first-time buyer prioritisation be waived?

Q8.

a) Should there be a national income cap for purchasers of First Homes?

b) If yes, at what level should the cap be set?

c) Do you agree that Local Authorities should have the ability to consider people’s income and assets when needed to target First Homes?

Q9:

Are there any other eligibility restrictions which should apply to the First Homes scheme?

Q10.

a) Are Local Authorities best placed to oversee that discounts on First Homes are offered in perpetuity?

b) If no, why?

Q11.

How can First Homes and oversight of restrictive covenants be managed as part of Local Authorities’ existing affordable homes administration service?

Q12.

How could costs to Local Authorities be minimised?

Q13.

Do you agree that we should develop a standardised First Home model with local discretion in appropriate areas to support mortgage lending?

Q14.

Do you agree that it is appropriate to include a mortgage protection clause to provide additional assurance to lenders?

Q15.

For how long should people be able to move out of their First Home and let it out (so it is not their main or only residence) without seeking permission from the Local Authority?

i. Never

ii. Up to 6 months

iii. 6- 12 months

iv. Up to 2 years

v. Longer than 2 years vi. Other (please specify)

Q16.

Under what circumstances should households be able to move out of their First Home and let it for a longer time period? (Tick all that apply)

i. Short job posting elsewhere

ii. Deployment elsewhere (Armed Forces)

iii. Relationship breakdown

iv. Redundancy

v. Caring for relative/friend

vi. Long-term travelling

vii. Other (please specify)

Q17.

Do you agree that serving members and recent veterans of the Armed Forces should be able to purchase a First Home in the location of their choice without having to meet local connections criteria?

Q18.

What is the appropriate length of time after leaving the Armed Forces for which veterans should be eligible for this exemption?

i. 1 year

ii. 2 years

iii. 3-5 years

iv. Longer than 5 years

Q19.

Are there any other ways we can support members of the Armed Forces and recent veterans in their ability to benefit from the First Homes scheme?

Q20.

Which mechanism is most appropriate to deliver First Homes?

i. Planning policy through changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and guidance

ii. Primary legislation supported by planning policy changes

Q21.

Which do you think is the most appropriate way to deliver First Homes?

i. As a percentage of section 106 affordable housing through developer contributions

ii. As a percentage of all units delivered on suitable sites

Q22.

What is the appropriate level of ambition for First Home delivery?

i. 40% of section 106

ii. 60% of section 106

iii. 80% of section 106

iv. Other (please specify

Q23.

Do you agree with these proposals to amend the entry-level exception site policy to a more focused and ambitious First Homes exception site policy?

Q24.

a) Do you think there are rare circumstances where Local Authorities should have the flexibility to pursue other forms of affordable housing on entry-level exception sites, because otherwise the site would be unviable?

b) If yes, what would be an appropriate approach for Local Authorities to demonstrate the need for flexibility to allow other forms of affordable housing on a specific entry- level exception site?

Q25.

What more could the Government do to encourage the use of the existing rural exception site policy?

Q26.

What further steps could the Government take to boost First Home delivery?

Q27.

Do you agree that the proposal to exempt First Homes from the Community Infrastructure Levy would increase the delivery of these homes?

Q28.

Do you think the Government should take steps to prevent Community Infrastructure Levy rates being set at a level which would reduce the level of affordable housing delivered through section 106 obligations?

Q29.

a) What equality impacts do you think the First Homes scheme will have on protected groups?

b) What steps can the Government take through other programmes to minimise the impact on protected groups?

Q30.

Do you have any other comments on the First Homes scheme?

Obviously there is a place for discount to market “for sale” products, as part of the affordable housing mix on a major project, and obviously local connection/key worker restrictions need to play an important role, but let’s

⁃ be really careful that the First Homes concept does not squeeze out other affordable housing options for which there may be greater need, or through inefficiency place a greater strain on project viability and consequently the overall monies available for affordable housing

⁃ ensure that the regime is loophole-proof, straight-forward and fair, however mutually inconsistent those aspirations may be (cf CIL)

⁃ (above all else) learn from that Starter Homes failure.

Simon Ricketts, 29 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Jenrick Allows Two Further Large London Appeals, With Costs

Exactly a week after the Westferry Printworks decision letter (see my previous blog post) on 22 January 2020 the Secretary of State allowed two further appeals in relation to significant London residential development projects, this time both decisions following his inspectors’ recommendations, and with costs awards in favour of the appellants, again as recommended by his inspectors.

Given that an award of costs can basically only be made on the basis of unreasonable behaviour by a party to the appeal (see the detailed advice in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance), lessons plainly need to be learned – in fact what happened in both cases was pretty shocking.

North London Business Park site, Barnet

This was an appeal by Comer Homes Group against Barnet Council’s refusal of a hybrid application for planning permission for the phased comprehensive redevelopment of the North London Business Park to deliver a residential led mixed-use development:

• detailed element comprising 376 residential units in five blocks reaching eight storeys, the provision of a 5 Form Entry Secondary School, a gymnasium, a multi- use sports pitch and associated changing facilities, and improvements to open space and transport infrastructure, including improvements to the access from Brunswick Park Road, and

• outline element comprising up to 824 additional residential units in buildings ranging from two to eleven storeys, up to 5,177m2 of non-residential floorspace (Use Classes A1-A4, B1 and D1) and 2.9 hectares of public open space, associated site preparation/enabling works, transport infrastructure and junction works, landscaping and car parking.

This is the Secretary of State’s decision letter and inspector’s report in relation to the appeal and this is the Secretary of State’s decision to make a full costs award against the council, following the inspector’s recommendations.

Members had refused the application against officers’s recommendations.

The council’s failing is set out starkly in the inspector’s costs report: no proper evidence was adduced to support its decision:

Mr Griffiths, Principal Planning Officer at the Council of the London Borough of Barnet, was the Council’s only witness at the Inquiry. He stated, in his proof of evidence, that “It is not the intention for this document to represent my professional opinion and the evidence presented represents the views of elected members of the London Borough of Barnet Planning Committee”.

The proof of evidence focusses on a particular view contained within a TVIA submitted by the Applicant and states that “Within View 11, the 8-storey height of Blocks 1E and 1F stands in harmful juxtaposition with the two-storey height of the properties on Howard Close”. But the proof acknowledges “…that buildings of up to 7 storeys in height could be acceptable in this location therefore it is pertinent to outline the additional harm that would arise from the 8 and 9 storey buildings proposed within the development and why these heights are unacceptable”.

The written evidence fails to substantiate why the extra storey on Blocks 1E and 1F would cause harm and fails to consider the effect of buildings over seven storeys in height elsewhere in the development. The proof simply repeats the assertion made in the sole reason for refusal of the application that “The proposed development, by virtue of its excessive height, scale and massing would represent an over development of the site resulting in a discordant and visually obtrusive form of development that would fail to respect its local context…to such an extent that it would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the area”.

Under cross examination Mr Griffiths refused to answer some questions put to him and to give his professional view on the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area. The Appellant was not thus afforded the opportunity, at the Inquiry, to explore the unsubstantiated assertions made in the proof of evidence and did not learn anything more about members concerns. Crucially, no member of the Planning Committee appeared at the Inquiry to substantiate their views that was unsubstantiated in the proof of evidence.

The Council has failed to produce either written or verbal evidence to substantiate the reason for refusal of the application, and has provided only vague and generalised assertions, unsupported by an objective analysis, about the proposed development’s impact. The Council has behaved unreasonably and the Appellant has incurred unnecessary expense in the appeal process. A full of award of costs against the Council is justified.”

It was hardly surprising that the Secretary of State decided to allow the appeal:

“32. The development plan restricts tall buildings to identified locations, and the proposal would include them on a site not identified as suitable for them. This conflict carries significant weight against the proposal.

33. The proposal has been designed to respect the existing character of the local area, while maximising the potential for delivering homes. It would deliver a replacement secondary school alongside new open space, sports facilities and community space. The local authority is unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land without taking account of this site, and the proposal would provide 1350 new homes. The provision of the housing and the ancillary facilities both carry significant weight in favour of the proposal.

34. The Secretary of State considers that there are material considerations which indicate that the proposal should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan, and therefore concludes that the appeal should be allowed and planning permission granted.”

The inquiry sat for four days in October and November 2018 (why the inordinate delay since then?), with the appellant team comprising Christopher Katkowski QC and Robert Walton (now QC), calling four expert witnesses. The costs award will amount to a sum that would be ruinous for many private sector bodies, well into six figures – because council members took a decision without evidence and without considering whether proper evidence, or a different approach, might be required in the face of an appeal. And a scheme for well over a thousand homes and a school (first applied for in December 2015!) has been delayed for absolutely no reason.

Conington Road, Lewisham

This was an appeal by MB Lewisham Limited against Lewisham Council’s decision to refuse its application for planning permission for the construction of three buildings, measuring 8, 14 and 34 storeys in height, to provide 365 residential dwellings (use class C3) and 554 square metres (sqm) gross of commercial/ community/ office/ leisure space (Use Class A1/A2/A3/B1/D1/D2) with associated access, servicing, energy centre, car and cycle parking, landscaping and public realm works.

This is the Secretary of State’s decision letter and inspector’s report and this is the Secretary of State’s decision to make a partial award of costs against the Mayor of London, and inspector’s report.

The procedural position here was a little more complicated. After Lewisham had refused this application, the applicant had submitted a further application for planning permission which sought to address the reasons for refusal. The scheme would secure 20.19% affordable housing by habitable room, which the council accepted, on the basis of viability appraisal, was more than the maximum reasonable provision. The Council resolved to approve the application but the Mayor directed refusal, not satisfied that the viability work justified that level of affordable housing.

By that time the first application had been refused and the appellant revised the scheme to reflect the changes introduced into the second application. Accordingly, whilst the appeal was technically against Lewisham’s initial decision on the first application, in reality the only live issues were those raised by the Mayor on affordable housing and viability, including whether a late stage review mechanism was necessary in line with its policy requirement.

I suspect that you needed to be at the inquiry to appreciate the full horror as events unfolded (I wasn’t) but it appears that the viability case against the appellant’s position completely collapsed at the inquiry following exchange of evidence and cross-examination by Russell Harris QC. But that wasn’t the only problem. Presumably to save costs, the council and the Mayor both engaged the same advocate at the inquiry and, once it understood the real position on viability, the council wished to concede various issues but the Mayor was not willing so to do, meaning that the advocate immediately had a conflict of interest and, mid-inquiry, had to recuse herself from acting for the Mayor! The Mayor’s team continued to participate in the inquiry but without challenging the evidence provided by the appellant.

This is from the inspector’s report on the appellant’s costs application:

On day 2 of the Inquiry, following cross-examination of the Council’s construction costs witness Mr Powling, the advocate representing the Council and the Greater London Authority (GLA) advised that due to a conflict of interest, the GLA would no longer be represented. The GLA however wished to continue with their objections as an unrepresented principal party. Later in the afternoon, following cross-examination by the appellant of Ms Seymour for the GLA, the Council formally withdrew its objections to the proposal on viability grounds. The Council took no further part in the Inquiry.

Where the operation of a direction to refuse is issued, the GLA is to be treated as a principal party. Without the GLA direction, the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL) would have granted a planning permission for a now identical scheme. This appeal only arises thus as a result of the change of the resolution to grant to reflect the terms of the GLA’s direction.

6. In its letter to the Inspectorate indicating its intention to attend, the GLA made it clear that was prosecuting its direction in terms and was expecting LBL to do the same. Therefore for all practical legal and policy purposes, the GLA must be treated as a main party prosecuting the terms of its direction at this appeal. Without that direction LBL would not have opposed this scheme and this inquiry would not have been necessary.

7. Their conduct therefore falls to be considered in accordance with the provisions for principal parties.

8. Its conduct was unreasonable in substantive terms in relation to its directed main reason for refusal. Its conduct during the inquiry was also unreasonable. Both levels of unreasonableness resulted in the inquiry and the appellant having to incur significant unnecessary expense in relation to the affordable housing issue.

9. In substantive terms, the GLA produced no evidence which met or came close to the requirements of the PPG on the issue of construction costs to support its reason for refusal.

10. Its ‘evidence” failed to meet the threshold properly to be called “evidence” It failed to engage with the agreed evidence of others that the construction costs were fair and reasonable and during the proceedings failed to read understand or engage with evidence which clearly established that its evidence was incorrect and unreasonable.

11. In terms of the double count issue, the GLA persisted with its case irrespective of evidence suggesting that it was wrong and in an unreasonable fashion after the only other relevant party advised by Leading Counsel had accepted that the point was simply not properly arguable. It chose not to read and understand the clear evidence, notwithstanding it had insisted on the reason for refusal and that it be a party at the inquiry.”

The Greater London Authority shall pay to MB Homes Lewisham Ltd its partial costs of the inquiry proceedings, limited solely to the unnecessary or wasted expense incurred in respect of the costs of the appeal proceedings related to dealing with the issue of affordable housing after the Council decided not to represent the Greater London Authority, such costs to be taxed in default of agreement as to the amount thereof.”

Oof!

The Secretary’s conclusions on viability were as follows:

“17. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the essential differences on viability between the parties lies in a variation of around £11m in construction costs (including fees and profit); and private residential values (IR127).

Construction costs

18. The Secretary of State notes that CDM (for the GLA) consider build costs to be overstated (IR129). However, the Secretary of State also notes that independent costs estimates produced by 3 firms of costs consultants were within 2 percentage points of each other. He agrees with the Inspector that no evidence has been produced in any later analyses to show that those build costs, or any element of them considered for viability purposes, are unreasonable (IR128-131).

Fees

19. The Secretary of State notes that the level of fees remained a point of difference at the beginning of the Inquiry. The Secretary of State also notes that while detailed analysis of this issue did identify an overstatement of fees of less than £1m, this is far below the overstatement claimed by the Council and GLA. He further notes that, at the Inquiry no evidence was forthcoming from the GLA’s costs witness, CDM, to support their contention that preliminaries are set too high or that the level of professional fees of around 10% would be excessive for a project of this nature. In addition, the Council’s costs witness accepted that if a reasonable preliminaries figure of 17% or so was adopted then the whole argument in support of the £5.5m fees deduction from the overall level of costs fell away (IR132-133).

Profits

20. For the reasons given in IR134-135, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the proposed profit levels are reasonable for this scheme.

21. For the reasons given in IR136 the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that no evidence was offered by the Council or the GLA to counter the appellant’s build costs analysis or the level of fees or profit.

Private residential values

22. The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s analysis in IR137-146 and agrees that the GLA’s suggested values would be unlikely to be achievable in the market (IR144).

23. The Secretary of State also notes that the GLA accepted at the Inquiry that if the £11m alleged surplus on fees and construction costs did not exist, then the claimed remaining £900,000 (IR132) would not have led to a direction to refuse from the Mayor’s office (IR146). For the reasons in IR147, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the 20.2% affordable housing proposed by the appellant is the maximum, if not somewhat more, than what can be reasonably provided, and he accordingly attaches very considerable weight to this benefit of the proposal. He finds no conflict with the requirements of LonP policy 3.12; the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG, Lewisham CS policy 1 and DMLP policy DM7.

Late stage review

24. For the reasons given in IR148-149, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is no pressing case for a late stage review for a scheme such as this, where development is proposed to be completed in a single phase. He finds no conflict with the requirements of LP policy 3.12, the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG, Lewisham CS policy 1 and DMLP policy DM7.

“In favour, the Secretary of State affords very considerable weight to the provision of market and affordable housing. He also affords moderate weight to the positive contribution to the character and appearance of the emerging Lewisham Town centre.”

And no late stage review!

In amongst the horror show for both the council and the Mayor seems to have been some simple lack of communication as between their witnesses. Quoting from the inspector’s summary of Lewisham’s case:

When the appellant’s viability proof was received and reviewed it did not appear that the short reference in paragraph 7.2 to the Gardiner & Theobald review report raised any pertinent issue. This was particularly so as the proof suggested that the appellant’s basis for assessment of costs was unaltered.

As a consequence the Council’s viability witness did not send its costs witness the appellant’s viability proof (which dealt with numerous other issues not relevant to costs estimates). On review at the Inquiry, the Council’s build cost estimate was revised from £107,179,737 to £111,809,368 representing a difference of £4,629,631. The consequence of this was that it changed appraisal A – 2018 Residential Pricing to negative £1,155,982 and Appraisal B – 2017 residential pricing (less HPI) reduced to £ 3,111,251. This still represents a £20m disparity approximately with the appellant’s viability conclusions. It nonetheless reduced the margin of surplus on the Council’s assessment to fall within an acceptable margin of error“.

Oof.

Where would we be without the ability properly to test evidence at inquiry?

Simon Ricketts, 25 January 2020

Personal views, et cetera

PS not to be too London-centric, I should add that on the same day the Secretary of State also allowed an appeal for 850 homes near Tewkesbury.

The appeal stats for 2020 are already going to look more healthy than those for the last two years, which become apparent if you interrogate our Town Legal 2014-2019 housing inquiry appeals data visualisation tool.

Westferry Printworks Decision: LPA Reaction Unprintable

Tower Hamlets Council’s revised CIL charging schedule came into effect on 17 January 2020, imposing borough CIL for the first time on its large allocated sites, so you will appreciate its double disappointment at the Secretary of State allowing the Westferry Printworks site appeal, against the inquiry inspector’s recommendations, in a decision letter dated 14 January 2020. The CIL figure could have been up to £50m, according to evidence given at the inquiry on behalf of the appellant.

The scheme is for a “comprehensive mixed-use redevelopment comprising 1,524 residential units (Class C3), shops, offices, flexible workspaces, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, drinking establishments (Classes B1/A1/A2/A3/A4), community uses (Class D1), car and cycle basement parking, associated landscaping, new public realm and all other necessary enabling works” at Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs.

There has been a furious response from the council. At a full council meeting the following day, 15 January 2020, a resolution was passed to examine “all available options, including a judicial review“. The East London Advertiser reports Mayor John Biggs as saying:

It is a massively tall and dense development. Something of 40 floors on the island is an outrage. By making the decision on Tuesday we also lose a massive sum of money. This development will place a huge impact on the island. It is a scandal and outrageous. We will be doing everything in our power [including] seeking a judicial review.”

The potential impact of borough CIL on the viability of the proposals obviously had been raised by the appellant as a potentially relevant matter, given that it would go to viability. Unsurprisingly, the appellant had sought to include a mechanism within its section 106 agreement for a potential reduction in affordable housing should the Secretary of State’s decision letter be issued after the revised CIL charging schedule had been adopted, a proposal which both the inspector and Secretary of State rejected.

The timing of the decision letter meant that this issue went away – it would have been an interesting one to test, given that the situation often arises where an applicant or appellant is in the hands of the decision maker as to whether permission will be issued before a revised CIL charging schedule comes into effect and why shouldn’t a section 106 agreement mechanism to neutralise the effect be appropriate where the viability appraisal has not taken the potential additional CIL liability into account?

The decision letter was plainly ready to be issued, why should it have been held back?

The appeal had been lodged in relation to an application submitted by Westferry Developments Limited (the owner of the site is Northern & Shell, the development manager is Mace) on 24 July 2018. The appeal was recovered for the Secretary of State’s own determination on 10 April 2019. Tower Hamlets asked for more time to formulate their position in relation to the proposals but this was refused by the Secretary of State, as recorded in a report to a meeting of Tower Hamlets’ strategic development committee on 14 May 2019:

This report is seeking the authority of the committee for officers to defend an appeal which has been submitted to the Secretary of State by the developer. The Secretary of State has imposed a timetable which requires that this report is considered by the Committee on 14th May 2019 in time for the council to submit a Statement of Case by 22nd May 2019 in order to avoid breaching the imposed timetable and making the authority liable for costs for unreasonable behaviour. As the report had not been written when the timetable was imposed, the Council asked Secretary of State to review the timetable and he has declined. These are the special circumstances justifying the urgency.”

The previous Mayor of London (whatever happened to him?) had intervened and granted planning permission for an earlier scheme for the site in 2016 for “comprehensive mixed use redevelopment of 118,738 m2 including buildings ranging from 2-30 storeys (tallest 110 m AOD) comprising: a secondary school, 722 residential units, retail use, restaurant and cafe and drinking establishment uses, office and financial and professional services uses, community uses, car and cycle basement parking, associated landscaping and new public realm“. That planning permission has been implemented by the demolition of the printworks and works to construct a new basement.

The latest application had been on the basis of an offer of 35% affordable housing, although not policy compliant due to the proposed tenure mix, justified by reference to viability appraisal. When the appeal was submitted, unsurprisingly, given that on appeal the decision maker would expect an updated viability appraisal, that offer was withdrawn and at the time of the 14 May 2019 committee meeting there was just an indication that a revised viability assessment would be submitted and that the revised offer would be less than 35%.

The committee resolved that the proposals would have been refused on the following grounds:

⁃ Townscape and visual impact

⁃ Wind Impact on the Docklands Sailing Centre

⁃ Affordable housing – amount

⁃ Housing mix and choice

The inquiry started on 7 August 2019. This was an important appeal for the council, as can be seen from this July 2019 Facebook post from a councillor, encouraging opposition to the proposals:

In the evidence for the inquiry, the affordable housing offer had been reduced to 21% on the basis of an updated viability assessment.

In this summary that follows I am plagiarising some of an internal note prepared by my Town partner Louise Samuel (into which I may now introduce errors, all mine):

• The inspector accepted that the existing permission should be treated as a fallback, which formed an appropriate basis for assessing an alternative use value for the purposes of arriving at a benchmark land value.

• However, the inspector did not agree with how the appellant had calculated the benchmark land value (see IR 507 on for BLV discussion) and considered that the 21% offer was unlikely to be the maximum reasonable provision for the site. He did not, however, set what the maximum reasonable provision would be.

• Whilst Tower Hamlets criticised the appellant for resiling from its previous 35% offer, the Inspector notes that it was clear that the appellant was responding to the Mayor’s fast-track approach (which requires at least 35%) and so took a commercial view despite the fact that it was not supported by the viability assessment at the time. He concluded that this was not, in itself, a reason to reduce the weight to be attached to the Assessment before him (see para 530 of the IR).

• The Inspector’s view was that the consented scheme provided many of the same benefits but without causing the same harm to heritage assets. Because of the consented fallback, the only benefits that carried weight were those in addition to the consented position.

• The Secretary of State agreed that it is likely that the scheme could provide more affordable housing (“21% does not…represent the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing”) but still considered that the additional benefits (compared to the consented fallback scheme) of: (a) housing (802 more units of which 142 would be affordable, with a policy compliant tenure split of 70% affordable rent 30% intermediate); and (b) employment during construction, were enough to grant permission. The Secretary of State gave these benefits significant weight whereas the Inspector had attached moderate weight to these benefits. The Secretary of State took into account that “there is no evidence before him of any other scheme which might come forward or what level of affordable housing might be delivered by any such scheme”.

• The Secretary of State considered these benefits to be enough to outweigh harm to important heritage assets (Grade I Old Royal Naval College; Grade I Tower Bridge; and the Greenwich World Heritage Site).

• The section 106 agreement included both an early and late stage viability review, which means that the percentage of affordable housing may increase, albeit the Inspector criticised the limited effectiveness of these.

An interesting decision in that we would need to go back almost two years to find another recovered appeal for housing development which the Secretary of State has allowed in London. Contrast for instance with the 19 July 2019 Chiswick Curve decision letter, appeal dismissed by the Secretary of State against his inspector’s recommendations, where he gave only moderate weight to the provision of 327 dwellings, whereas the Inspector had given significant weight to the housing offer (the decision has been challenged by the appellant – Louise and colleagues acting), and contrast with for instance the 1 Cambridge Heath Road 10 June 2019 decision letter, again an appeal dismissed against his inspector’s recommendations.

Much to chew over for those promoting, or otherwise engaged with, major projects in London.

Simon Ricketts, 18 January 2020

Personal views, et cetera

 

Image courtesy of Westferry Printworks website

Elephant, Dove, Old Oak, RICS

I thought I would start 2020 by trying to establish some common ground, before then mentioning what happened shortly before Christmas in relation to the Elephant & Castle and Old Oak projects, both controversial in different ways. The questions are long but I hope that the answers are short.

Do we all agree that…

1. more housing is needed for those who cannot afford homes that are being built by the private sector in their local area, even when these are required to be sold or let at significant discounts to market rates – and that what we call that housing (eg social housing/socially rented) and the nature of the body that delivers and manages it (housing associations or other registered providers, local authorities) are secondary issues?

2. the current system of seeking to require developers to deliver that housing (whoever then manages it) is not working and is hugely inefficient, in that: (1) local policy expectations set out in local plans are often not met, due to those expectations being determined not to be viable – leading to prolonged negotiations and local objection (2) the complexities and multitude of inputs to any negotiated section 106 affordable housing package, often including intricate mechanisms to provide for later reviews of the viability position, are at best a costly distraction for all parties (needing to be tooled up with valuation and QS professionals) and at worst are prone to lead to huge delays and, over time, the prospect of renegotiation where the negotiated outcome is not sufficiently attractive to funders, or where (almost inevitably) circumstances have changed during the long course of the process?

3. it is in the public interest for communities within developments to be socially and economically diverse?

4. the system worked more easily when much more Government money was available to support affordable housing by way of grant (without grant obviously a requirement to deliver social housing has a huge impact on the viability of a scheme) and that we need to get back to a system that (1) is simple (2) delivers housing that is truly affordable for those who need it (3) is efficient and (4) does not delay development more generally?

5. government (ie our) money needs to be spent where it can have most beneficial impact and is most needed?

There has been a lot of government tinkering but don’t we have to get back to those fundamentals? I’m not sure that the Government’s promised Social Housing White Paper is going to get us there, given the absence of relevant detail about affordable housing in the Conservatives’ manifesto – talk about owning first homes is a world away from the very different challenges faced by so many.

I’m sorry to be a cracked record – see my 28 May 2017 blog post Affordable Housing Tax or 4 November 2017 blog post Viability Assessment Is Not A Loophole, It’s A Noose. We could look at the idea of expanding CIL to include a social housing contribution, so that local authorities can deliver or procure it, with the option of provision on site counting as works in kind? But I’ve previously been against further rolling out another complex and inefficient regime, ie CIL, and most authorities, hollowed out and stretched as they are, are not currently in any position to deliver or procure social housing at scale. Instead, personally I would simply prefer that we go back to the old way – grants to providers so as to reduce the impact on viability for the developer of providing social housing.

In the meantime, we have to make the current system work. My 8 June 2019 blog post The Bottom Line: Updates On CIL And Viability reported on the RICS professional statement on financial viability in planning, which came into effect on 1 September 2019, and mentioned the revisions made to viability passages of the PPG by the Government on 9 May 2019, reflecting changes to the NPPF that seek to ensure, amongst other things, that detailed viability examination takes place at plan-making stage rather than when applications come forward.

The RICS professional statement sets out the professional responsibilities of the surveyor in the viability appraisal process, to seek to ensure that the surveyor operates with professional independence and integrity throughout. The RICS is now consulting from 13 December 2019 until 9 February 2020 on a draft guidance note Assessing financial viability in planning under the National Planning Policy Framework for England, 1st edition that seeks to set out the methodology to be applied by those professionals, so as to give effect to Government policy.

We are not seeking comments contrasting the government framework with a market-based appraisal. Comments should focus on whether our draft guidance gives effect to government policy and practice guidance, in an administratively efficient way, in order to deliver the objectives of the NPPF.”

Make your views known.

In the meantime…

Elephant & Castle

Delancey’s proposed redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre and London College of Communication has long been controversial. It proposes a large mixed-use development comprising a range of buildings of up to 35 storeys, with a mix of uses including 979 dwellings (proposed to be for rent rather than sale) and accommodation for retail, office, education, assembly and leisure along with a remodelling of the London Underground station. One of the lines of attack for objectors, including the 35% Campaign, has been the perceived lack of “genuinely affordable” housing.

Planning permission was granted by the London Borough of Southwark on 10 January 2019. Just before Christmas, in Flynn v London Borough of Southwark (Dove J, 20 December 2019), the High Court rejected a crowdfunded challenge to the permission brought on behalf of the 35% Campaign. The grounds of challenge all turned on the affordable housing deal that Southwark struck in the section 106 agreement with the developer.

The case doesn’t turn on any particularly interesting legal principles or make any new law. But the facts, set out in careful detail by Dove J, illustrate precisely the concerns that lay behind my attempt just now to establish some common ground:

The policy background is not straightforward, with a changing position both at borough level and at London Plan level.

The Mayor has set out criteria in his 2017 affordable housing and viability SPG for different tenures of affordable housing, including social rent (target rents determined through the national rent regime), affordable rent (rent controls requiring a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent), intermediate (available for rent or sale at a cost above social rent but below market levels – and eligible only to households whose annual income is within a defined range) and intermediate London Living Rent (only available to households renting with a maximum income of £60,000 without sufficient current savings to purchase a home within the local area).

The adopted London Plan requires boroughs to seek the “maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing…when negotiating on individual private residential and mixed use schemes, having regard to” a number of factors, including “development viability” and the “availability of public subsidy”.

Within the Elephant & Castle area, Southwark’s adopted plan seeks a minimum requirement of 35%, on the basis of a split of 50% social rented and 50% intermediate housing. Its emerging plan seeks, in relation to build to rent developments, a different tenure split for the 35%: social rent equivalent (ie social rent level but not managed by registered provider) 34% minimum, affordable rent (aka discount market rent) capped at London Living Rent equivalent 52% minimum, affordable rent (aka discount market rent) for household incomes between £60,000 and £90,000 per year 14% minimum. The lack of social rent reflects the specific nature of build to rent developments, where it is more efficient for all of the housing to remain under single management rather than for a separate registered provider to be introduced.

At the time Delancey’s application first went to committee on 16 January 2018, its proposal was 36% affordable housing based upon habitable rooms, with the 36% made up as follows: 10% social rent equivalent, 46% London Living Rent, 43% discount market rent. The non policy compliant offer (in terms of tenure split) was based on an agreed viability assessment. Despite a recommendation for approval, members deferred a decision until a meeting scheduled for 30 January 2018 at which they intended to formulate reasons for refusal. The day before the follow-up meeting the developer made further proposals in relation to the affordable housing offer and the application was deferred to a subsequent meeting.

The revised proposal was to replace 33 social rent equivalent units with 74 socially rented units, all to be located on the western part of the development and to be owned and operated either by the borough or by a registered provider. This changed the tenure split (of the 35% affordable housing dwellings) to: social rent 24.9%, London Living Rent 27.9%, discount market rent 47.2%.

In June 2018 the offer was increased again. The developer’s consultants indicated that following “in-principle agreement from the GLA to provide grant funding towards the proposed scheme” the number of social rent units could be increased to 116 homes, or 38.1% of the 35% of the units that were to be affordable.

The application was approved at a committee meeting on 3 July 2018. It was acknowledged in the report that the proposed tenure split was still not policy compliant but was justified by way of the agreed viability appraisal. The report also noted that there would need to be a fallback arrangement in the section 106 agreement to cater for the possibility that the developer might choose after all to develop the western part of the development on a for sale rather than for rent basis (in which case the affordable housing requirement for that part of the site would return to 50% social rented, 50% intermediate).

If all of this does not start to give an idea of the inevitable complexity of negotiations on a scheme such as this, then consider the viability appraisal. As is common with a significant longterm development, where application of the more straightforward benchmark land value plus developer’s profit approach does not reflect accurately the financial modelling of a project over time, viability was judged against a minimum internal rate of return for the developer.

The latest RICS draft guidance defines internal rate of return (or “IRR”) as follows:

The rate of interest (expressed as a percentage) at which all future project cash flows (positive and negative) will be discounted in order that the net present value (NPV) of those cash flows, including the initial investment, be equal to zero. IRR can be assessed on both gross and net of finance.”

However, unless I have missed it, there is no guidance anywhere as to when an IRR approach is appropriate and how to arrive at and test the inputs and modelling.

The agreed benchmark was 7.15% IRR, with annual growth to 11% over the construction period. Review mechanisms in the section 106 agreement provide that 50% of any excess are to be applied to increasing the affordable housing provision up to a policy compliant level/tenure split.

The claimant had three grounds of challenge. The first turned on an alleged inaccuracy in the way that the GLA’s offer of funding had been reported – it had not been formally confirmed and discussions were at an “in principle stage”. The second alleged that one of the detailed mechanisms in the section 106 agreement departed from the relevant head of term in the committee resolution. The third related to the mechanism in the section 106 agreement for determining the affordable housing to be provided if the western part of the site turned into a “for sale” development, but a deed of variation had been entered into after the challenge was brought, largely correcting the error that had been identified.

Dove J rejected each of the grounds, whilst accepting that each was arguable. (1) The report did not materially mislead members. (2) The section 106 mechanism was not outside the scope of the committee resolution (“True it is that the solutions arrived at are not a literal interpretation of paragraph 364 [of the report to committee], in that they do not include for the provision of land and a substantial cash dowry to construct the social rented units but, in my judgment, that was not required in order to remain within the scope of the delegation granted by the members”). (3) The approach to the fallback (“for sale”) scenario was “entirely rational and appropriate”. Part of the claimant’s criticism of the arrangements turned on whether the additional affordable housing in these circumstances should be social rented units rather than the social rented equivalent units provided for. The judge saw nothing relevant in the distinction:

In terms of the matters raised by the Claimant the quality of tenure enjoyed by tenants in social rented equivalent properties are, as the nomenclature suggests, equivalent to those in social rented properties. Of course, there may well be nuanced differences between them as a consequence of them being separately defined. Furthermore, they will be managed in different ways as the definition implies. Be all of this as it may, in my view the important point is that the requirement of the officers’ report was a review in terms of affordable housing, and whether the additional habitable rooms were to be provided as social rented or social rented equivalent accommodation was not identified as being in any way a critical point upon which the delegation to the officers of authority to enter into the section 106 obligation turned. Put another way, whatever may be the nuanced differences between social rented equivalent property and social rented units that was not identified as a key requirement in relation to the review mechanism contemplated were the developer to take up the fall-back scenario.”

Will the new guidance make any of this more straight forward? I doubt it. Would proper funding for social rent and social rent equivalent housing? Of course it would.

Old Oak and Park Royal Local Plan

The recent NPPF and PPG changes of course seek to move the viability spotlight to the point at which sites are allocated for development. The Old Oak plan was examined last year under the previous NPPF but viability matters were still centre stage and the inspector’s findings may be an indicator of the detailed scrutiny that is likely to be given to the viability in particular of strategic sites (taken together with proposed policy requirements in terms of infrastructure delivery and affordable housing).

One of the key issues for the inspector was whether the proposed allocation of the 54 acre Cargiant site for residential and associated development was viable. Cargiant had itself attempted development of its site in the past. It had concluded that it would be unviable to contemplate relocating or extinguishing its business and carrying out the development – and took the position that there was no reasonable prospect within the plan period of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (“OPDC”) being in a position to carry out such proposals, even by resorting to compulsory purchase and even with the benefit of £250m Housing and Infrastructure Fund monies which had been agreed in principle to be allocated by MHCLG.

My firm acted for Cargiant and so I will restrict myself to pointing out the level of detail to which the inspector went in his interim findings on viability of Cargiant site proposal (10 September 2019) before concluding that the allocation would be unviable and therefore unsound.

The day after the general election, on 13 December 2019, the OPDC announced that it would change its proposals, which will now leave Cargiant in place:

New focus for Old Oak and Park Royal regeneration:

The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) has today set out a revised approach to deliver tens of thousands of new homes and jobs through collaboration with major public sector landowners.

The regeneration of Old Oak, Park Royal and surrounding areas in west London, has the potential to deliver 25,500 new homes and 65,000 jobs over the next 30 years. OPDC has already approved plans for over 5,000 homes including 1,500 already completed or being built.

The shift in approach has been triggered by recent, rapid increases in industrial land values in west London which mean that it is currently not financially viable to deliver OPDC’s early regeneration plans at Old Oak North. This area, close to the planned new HS2 interchange station, includes the 54-acre site that is owned and operated by Cargiant, which had originally been earmarked for development.

Earlier this year, the Planning Inspector, in his interim report on the OPDC’s draft Local Plan, de-designated the Cargiant site from Strategic Industrial Land, but also concluded that Old Oak North had become commercially unviable for residential-led development at this time.”

Whilst this situation might be taken to be an example of how viability matters can indeed in practice be taken into account at the plan-making stage, I do have concerns:

⁃ There is now a bigger onus on authorities to carry out proper viability work, including work to a sensible level of detail on strategic sites (albeit often with assistance from those promoting those sites for development), and is it actually going to be done?

⁃ Where it is not done, delays will occur in the examination process. At Old Oak, the necessary work had not been done and there was a significant hiatus whilst it was commissioned.

⁃ Development proposals are often not sufficiently worked up, at the stage that the plan is being prepared, so as to enable a sensible viability appraisal to be undertaken. And will developers be prepared always to come clean at the allocation stage as to the challenges they are facing in making the numbers stack up?

⁃ Will there always be participants in the local plan examination process with the motivation and resources to put authorities to proof on the work that has been carried out? If Cargiant hadn’t taken its stance (entailing lawyers and a team of consultants to challenge much of the inputs) I suspect the allocation would have been confirmed without challenge – and then proved over time to be undevelopable.

The next blog post will be shorter, I promise.

Simon Ricketts, 4 January 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Pic credit: Bizarro Comics

Blue Christmas

Duncan Field, Victoria McKeegan and I were speculating in our 16 December 2019 planorama vlog as to what the new Government’s legislative programme and policy priorities are likely to be in relation to planning, infrastructure and the environment

We now have the blueprint, in the form of the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019 and particularly the 151 pages of background notes published the same day.

There is going to be an “ambitious” planning white paper in due course, but what is promised in the meantime in this very blue paper that these notes represent? The government has little excuse not to deliver on what it has set out, given the size of its majority. The most relevant references are as follows:

Housing (pages 48 to 50):

My government will take steps to support home ownership, including by making homes available at a discount for local first-time buyers.”

The Government will support people to realise the dream of homeownership. One of the biggest divides in our country is between those who can afford their own home and those who cannot.

The Government will shortly launch a consultation on First Homes. This will provide homes for local people and key workers at a discount of at least 30 per cent – saving them tens of thousands of pounds.

The discount on First Homes will be secured through a covenant. This means these homes will remain discounted in perpetuity, supporting people now and in the future who aspire to own a home of their own.

The Government will also renew the Affordable Homes Programme, building hundreds of thousands of new homes for a range of people in different places. This will help us prevent people from falling into homelessness while also supporting further people into homeownership.

We will introduce a new, reformed Shared Ownership model, making buying a share of a home fairer and more transparent. This new model will be simpler to understand and better able shared owners to buy more of their property and eventually reach full ownership.

To deliver on the homes this country needs, the Government is committed to building at least a million more homes over this Parliament. In the coming months we will set out further steps to achieve this, including an ambitious Planning White Paper and funding for critical infrastructure.

The Planning White Paper will make the planning process clearer, more accessible and more certain for all users, including homeowners and small businesses. It will also address resourcing and performance in Planning Departments.

The new £10bn Single Housing Infrastructure fund will provide the roads, schools and GP surgeries needed to support new homes. Alongside First Homes, this will ensure local people truly benefit from house building in their area and build support for new developments

To help those who rent, the Government will build a rental system that is fit for the modern day – supporting landlords to provide high quality homes while protecting tenants. The Government’s Better Deal for Renters will fulfil our manifesto commitments to abolish ‘no fault’ evictions and to introduce lifetime deposits, alongside further reforms to strengthen the sector for years to come.

The Government is taking forward a comprehensive programme of reform to end unfair practices in the leasehold market. This includes working with the Law Commission to make buying a freehold or extending a lease easier, quicker and more cost effective – and to reinvigorate commonhold and Right to Manage.

The Government will ensure that if a new home can be sold as freehold, then it will be. We will get rid of unnecessary ground rents on new leases and give new rights to homeowners to challenge unfair charges. The Government will also close legal loopholes to prevent unfair evictions and make it faster and cheaper to sell a leasehold home.

For those in the social rented sector, we will bring forward a Social Housing White Paper which will set out further measures to empower tenants and support the continued supply of social homes. This will include measures to provide greater redress, better regulation and improve the quality of social housing.

This Government has committed to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. The Government will continue to invest in key rough sleeping interventions, building on the progress that we made last year in reducing rough sleeping numbers. The Government will also continue to support those at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping through the continued enforcement of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

Building Safety Bill (pages 51 to 53):

New measures will be brought forward…to improve building safety.

An enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building safety, and in some areas going further by:

Providing clearer accountability and stronger duties for those responsible for the safety of high-rise buildings throughout the building’s design, construction and occupation, with clear competence requirements to maintain high standards.

Giving residents a stronger voice in the system, ensuring their concerns are never ignored and they fully understand how they can contribute to maintaining safety in their buildings.

Strengthening enforcement and sanctions to deter non-compliance with the new regime, hold the right people to account when mistakes are made and ensure they are not repeated.

Developing a new stronger and clearer framework to provide national oversight of construction products, to ensure all products meet high performance standards.

Developing a new system to oversee the whole built environment, with local enforcement agencies and national regulators working together to ensure that the safety of all buildings is improved.

We will also legislate to require that developers of new build homes must belong to a New Homes Ombudsman.

Fire Safety Bill (pages 54 to 55):

New measures will be brought forward…to improve building safety.”

Clarifying that the scope of the Fire Safety Order includes the external walls of the building, including cladding, and fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy.

Strengthening the relevant enforcement powers to hold building owners and managers to account.

Providing a transitional period for building owners and managers (the “responsible person”) and Fire and Rescue Services to put in place the infrastructure for these changes.”

National Infrastructure Strategy (pages 90 to 91):

My government will prioritise investment in infrastructure…”

The National Infrastructure Strategy will be published alongside the first Budget, and will set out further details of the Government’s plan to invest £100 billion to transform the UK’s infrastructure.

The Strategy will set out the Government’s long-term ambitions across all areas of economic infrastructure including transport, local growth, decarbonisation, digital infrastructure, infrastructure finance and delivery.

The Strategy will have two key aims:

To unleash Britain’s potential by levelling up and connecting every part of the country. Prosperity will be shared across all of the UK, and long- standing economic challenges addressed, through responsible and prudent investment in the infrastructure.

To address the critical challenges posed by climate change and build on the UK’s world-leading commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Strategy will also provide the Government’s formal response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2018 National Infrastructure Assessment, which made a series of independent recommendations to government across all sectors of economic infrastructure (transport, energy, digital, waste, water and flood management).”

Rail reform and High Speed Rail 2 (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill (pages 101 to 103)

Last year the Government launched a ‘root and branch’ review of the railways led by Keith Williams. The Review is the first comprehensive assessment of the rail system in a generation and is tasked with making ambitious proposals to reform the rail industry.

The Review is focused on reforms that will put passengers at the heart of the railway, provide value for taxpayers and deliver economic, social and environmental benefits across Britain.

The Government will publish a White Paper informed by the recommendations next year. Among other things, this will end the complicated franchising model to create a simpler, more effective system.

The Government has also committed to a number of major investments in the railway, including:

o Midlands Rail Hub, to improve services around Birmingham and throughout the West and East Midlands;

o Northern Powerhouse Rail;

o Reopening a number of the lines and stations closed under the

Beeching cuts in the 1960s; and,

o Significant upgrades to urban commuter and regional services outside London.

Separate to the wider review of the railway system, the Government awaits the review, of the High Speed Two (HS2) network led by Doug Oakervee which is looking at whether and how to proceed with HS2, including the benefits and impacts; affordability and efficiency; deliverability; and scope and phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Without prejudice to the Oakervee Review’s findings and any Government decisions that follow, it is expected that the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill will be revived in this Parliament. The Bill was first introduced in Parliament in July 2017 and will enable Phase 2a of HS2. The Bill passed through the House of Commons and had completed Second Reading in the House of Lords before the dissolution of the previous Parliament. Following revival it would begin its next stages in the House of Lords.

English Devolution (pages 109 to 110):

My government…will give communities more control over how investment is spent so that they can decide what is best for them.”

We are committed to levelling up powers and investment in the regions across England and allowing each part of the country to decide its own destiny.

This means proposals to transform this country with better infrastructure, better education, and better technology.

We will publish a White Paper setting out our strategy to unleash the potential of our regions, which will include plans for spending and local growth funding.

It will provide further information on our plans for full devolution across England, levelling up powers between Mayoral Combined Authorities, increasing the number of mayors and doing more devolution deals.

These increased powers and funding will mean more local democratic responsibility and accountability.

We remain committed to the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine, and Western Gateway strategies.

Business rates (page 111):

To support business, my government will…bring forward changes to business rates.

The Government is committed to conducting a fundamental review of business rates.

The Government recognises the role of business rates as a source of local authority income and will consider input from the sector as part of the review of business rates. Further details on the review will be announced.

We are committed to increasing the retail discount from one-third to 50 per cent, extending that discount to cinemas and music venues, extending the duration of the local newspapers discount, and introducing an additional discount for pubs.

We will also progress legislation to bring forward the next business rates revaluation by one year from 2022 to 2021 and move business rates revaluations from a five-yearly cycle to a three-yearly cycle. This will allow the Government to press ahead with delivering an important reform that has been strongly welcomed by business.

More frequent revaluations will ensure that business rates bills are more up- to-date reflecting properties’ current rental values. Moving to three-yearly revaluation will make the system more responsive to changing economic conditions.

Environment Bill (pages 112 to 114):

To protect and improve the environment for future generations, a bill will enshrine in law environmental principles and legally-binding targets, including for air quality. It will also ban the export of polluting plastic waste to countries outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and establish a new, world-leading independent regulator in statute.

Establishing new long term domestic environmental governance based on: environmental principles; a comprehensive framework for legally-binding targets, a long term plan to deliver environmental improvements; and the new Office for Environmental Protection.

Improving air quality by setting an ambitious legally-binding target to reduce fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the most damaging pollutant to human health. The Bill also increases local powers to address sources of air pollution and brings forward powers for the Government to mandate recalls of vehicles when they do not meet legal emission standards.

Protecting nature by mandating ‘biodiversity net gain’ into the planning system, ensuring new houses aren’t built at the expense of nature and delivering thriving natural spaces for communities. We will improve protection for our natural habitats through Local Nature Recovery Strategies and give communities a greater say in the protection of local trees.

Preserving our resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a circular economy. These measures include extended producer responsibility, a consistent approach to recycling, tackling waste crime, introducing deposit return schemes, and more effective litter enforcement. We will also ban the export of polluting plastic waste to non- OECD countries, consulting with industry, NGOs, and local councils on the date by which this should be achieved.

Introducing charges for specified single use plastic items. This will build on the success of the carrier bag charge and incentivise consumers to choose more sustainable alternatives.

Managing water sustainably through more effective legislation to secure long- term, resilient water and wastewater services. This will include powers to direct water companies to work together to meet current and future demand for water, making planning more robust, and ensuring we are better able to maintain water supplies.

Climate change (pages 115 to 118):

My government will continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It will continue to lead the way in tackling global climate change, hosting the COP26 Summit in 2020.”

We will build on our progress with an ambitious programme of policy and investment, with our first Budget prioritising the environment. This will help deliver the green infrastructure needed to improve lives and achieve Net Zero, including by investing in carbon capture, offshore wind, nuclear energy, and electric vehicle infrastructure so that individuals are always within 30 miles of a chargepoint. We will make sure we help lower energy bills investing in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. And away from home, we will use our £1 billion Ayrton Fund to develop affordable clean energy for developing countries.

The government will continue to use our position as a global leader in this area by hosting the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow in 2020 (COP26). We will ask our partners to match the UK’s ambition.

With a focus on nature based solutions at our upcoming COP summit, at home we will be substantially increasing our tree-planting commitment and creating a £640 million new Nature for Climate fund.

Our natural environment is one of our greatest assets, and can play a crucial role in the fight against climate change. This government will:

introduce a landmark Environment Bill – the first one in twenty years – that will create an ambitious environmental governance framework for post Brexit, as well as banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries;

establish a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund to help protect our oceans from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing;

lead diplomatic efforts to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030; and,

in our trade negotiations, never compromise on our high environmental protection

We will also ensure that we are protecting our citizens by investing £4 billion in flood defences and lowering energy bills by investing £9.2 billion in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals.

We will increase our ambition on offshore wind to 40GW by 2030, and enable new floating turbines.

We will support decarbonisation of industry and power by investing £800 million to build the first fully deployed carbon capture storage cluster by the mid-2020s; and £500 million to help energy-intensive industries move to low-carbon techniques.

Constitution and democracy (pages 126 to 127):

A Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission will be established. Work will be taken forward to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.”

Setting up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will:

Examine the broader aspects of the constitution in depth and develop proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates. Careful consideration is needed on the composition and focus of the Commission. Further announcements shall be made in due course.

It’s a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.

The usual askew perspectives and commentary will continue here in 2020.

Simon Ricketts, 21 December 2019

Personal views, et cetera

New Cabinet, Poor Doors, No Windows

La Sagrada Familia = our planning system. Never finished, it now has new architects.

I don’t know what new extrusions, reversals or pauses to expect from Robert Jenrick, Esther McVey and the rest of the MHCLG ministerial team yet to be announced.

I do know that Robert Jenrick was a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee which published a report Planning and the broken housing market (19 June 2019). From the introduction:

The government has an ambitious target of delivering 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s, but inherent problems at the heart of the housing planning system are likely to jeopardise this target. If the Government delivers 300,000 new homes per year, this would be a significant increase in the rate of house building, with the number built a year averaging only 177,000 in the period 2005–06 to 2017–18. While the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the Department) has made some recent reforms to the planning system, much more needs to be done and it still does not have a detailed implementation plan for how it will scale-up house building.”

He knows something of the task ahead.

The report also says this:

We were concerned about poor quality in the building of new homes and of office accommodation converted into residential accommodation through permitted development rights. The Department stressed that it was critical that quality was good enough. It agreed that there are issues—particularly when dealing with large office blocks— that the number of homes created out of that office block can be too high, with inadequate space standards and build quality. The Department told us that it has committed to a review of permitted development rights which turn commercial properties into residential accommodation. This review will look at the quality of those homes and what should be built.

In the lead up to the new premiership, May’s Government seemed to have a renewed focus on the quality of homes and communities. I wanted to write something on the various strands within this theme, if only to capture a series of links to documents, before we lose the thread in a slew of new announcements.

Minimum dwelling sizes

My 23 March 2019 blog post We Have Standards referred to previous Secretary of State James Brokenshire’s March 2019 statement that he intended to “review permitted development rights for conversion of buildings to residential use in respect of the quality standard of homes delivered. […]. We will also develop a ‘Future Homes Standard’ for all new homes through a consultation in 2019 with a view, subject to consultation, to introducing the standard by 2025.”

Theresa May suggested in her 26 June speech to the Chartered Institute of Housing that, whilst it would ultimately be a matter for her successor, the nationally described space standard should apply “by regulation” to all new homes. As explained in my 23 March 2019 blog post, it is presently for each local planning authority to decide whether to incorporate the standard in their local plan as a policy requirement such that an applicant for planning permission then needs to demonstrate compliance.

I do not accept that, in 2019, we can only have sufficient and affordable housing by compromising on standards, safety, aesthetics, and space.

That is why I asked the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission to develop proposals for embedding beautiful, sustainable and human-scale design into the planning and development process.

I look forward to reading the interim report next month.

It is why the Ministry of Housing will shortly be launching a consultation on environmental performance in new build homes, with a Future Homes Standard that will give all new homes world-leading levels of energy efficiency by 2025.

And it is why I want to see changes to regulations so that developers can only build homes that are big enough for people to actually live in.

It was the Addison Act that brought modern space standards to English housing law for the first time.

During the Bill’s second reading, the architect of the standards, Sir Tudor Walters, urged MPs to “take care that the houses planned in the future are planned with due regard to comfort, convenience, and the saving of labour”.

It is a message we would do well to return to today.

Because in the years since, the pendulum has swung back and forth between regulation and deregulation, leading to a situation today where England does have national standards – but ones that are largely unenforceable and inconsistently applied.

Some local authorities include the Nationally Described Space Standard in their local plans, making them a condition of planning permission.

But others do not.

And even where they are applied, as planning policies rather than regulations they are open to negotiation.

The result is an uneven playing field, with different rules being applied with differing levels of consistency in different parts of the country.

That makes it harder for developers to build homes where they are needed most.

And it leaves tenants and buyers facing a postcode lottery – if space standards are not applied in your area, there is no guarantee that any new homes will be of an adequate size.

Now I am no fan of regulation for the sake of regulation.

But I cannot defend a system in which some owners and tenants are forced to accept tiny homes with inadequate storage.

Where developers feel the need to fill show homes with deceptively small furniture.

And where the lack of universal standards encourages a race to the bottom.

It will be up to my successor in Downing Street to deal with this.

But I believe the next government should be bold enough to ensure the Nationally Described Space Standard applies to all new homes.

As a mandatory regulation, space standards would become universal and unavoidable.

That would mean an end to the postcode lottery for buyers and tenants.”

[Creating space for beauty: The Interim Report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission was published in July 2019, sans its now reinstated chairman Sir Roger Scruton, who will be able to influence the tone of the Commission’s final report, due in December 2019. The interim report is a wide-ranging discursive read ending with 30 “policy propositions”. There is much good stuff about, in Theresa May’s words, “embedding beautiful, sustainable and human-scale design into the planning and development process”. None of its policy propositions urge prescription as to dwelling size, although there is this passage within its commentary:

Above all, polling and pricing data show that people are looking for homes that meet their needs and are in the right place. Every academic or commercial study we have been able to find has shown that, other things being held equal, bigger homes are worth more and so are better connected ones. For example, a study of every single property sale in six British cities showed that in, say, Liverpool, every additional bedroom brought an additional £15,000 of value. Similar patterns were visible in Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and London. In their response to our call for evidence, the RIBA also highlighted their polling research into user needs that highlighted the importance of generosity of space, high ceilings, windows that flood principal rooms with light and detail that adds character”.]

Some I know disagree, but to my mind Theresa May’s statement missed the real target in relation to minimum dwelling sizes. At present authorities can apply the nationally described space standard if they so choose. But what authorities cannot prevent (other than by removing the relevant permitted development rights in the first place by way of Article 4 Direction) is the creation of very small dwellings pursuant to the General Permitted Development Order, the adequacy of the accommodation to be created not being one of the matters in relation to which prior approval is required under the Order. Either this needs to be a matter for which prior approval is required or it needs to be addressed by way of separate regulation.

Other minimum standards in relation to permitted development rights schemes

There is still so much misunderstanding as to the operation of permitted development rights. General horror has been expressed as to the permitted development appeal in Watford for the proposed conversion of a light industrial unit to apparently windowless bed-sit/studio accommodation, allowed by an inspector in his decision letter dated 5 July 2019:

Overall, I recognise that the proposed units are small and that, for example, living without a window would not be a positive living environment. However, the provisions of the GPDO 2015 require the decision makers to solely assess the impact of the proposed development in relation to the conditions given in paragraph PA.2. The appellant has also made clear that they are not proposing any external works at this stage.”

Photo: Watford Observer

The absence of any control over size of the proposed dwellings is indeed appalling, see my point above. But I am prepared to bet that the developer, now that he has prior approval to the use of the building as dwellings, will come back with an application for planning permission for the installation of windows and for the general recladding of the building. If it had all been applied for as one planning application, the authority would no doubt have objected to the principle of the change of use – just look at the sequencing of applications with most PD schemes and there is surely nothing wrong in that – the permitted development right just relates to use – and of course does not override other regulatory requirements.

Part B of the Building Regulations requires that every habitable room up to 4.5m from ground level either (1) has an openable window with dimensions of at least 45cm by 45cm, no more than 110cm above the floor or (2) (on the ground floor) opens directly onto a hall leading directly to an exit or (above the ground floor) with direct access to a protected stairway. Adequate ventilation is also required.

Since 20 March 2019 the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 also imposes specific requirements on landlords letting residential property for a period of less than seven years. In determining whether a dwelling is unfit for human habitation regard will be had to, amongst a range of matters, natural lighting and ventilation. MHCLG has published specific guidance for landlords as to the operation of the Act.

In considering whether further legislation or guidance is needed, ministers will need to consider carefully the extent to which the planning system should duplicate systems of protection provided in other legislation and where genuinely there are gaps that would allow unacceptable outcomes.

The Future Homes Standard

What of James Brokenshire’s reference in March of consultation on a proposed Future Homes Standard this year, with a view to introducing the standard by 2025? This was a reference to the commitment in the then Chancellor’s Spring budget to:

A Future Homes Standard, to be introduced by 2025, future-proofing new build homes with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. The new standard will build on the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge mission to at least halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030“.

There has not yet been any consultation. The House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, in its 9 July 2019 report, Energy efficiency: building towards net zero, urged a greater sense of urgency:

We welcome the announcement of a Future Homes Standard. Any attempts by housebuilders to water down the standard should be blocked by the Government. The only barrier precluding housebuilders developing to higher standards before 2025 is a preoccupation with profit margins and shareholder returns. Despite receiving billions in taxpayer funds, most housebuilders will only raise the energy standards of their stock if forced to do so. Progressive housebuilders who want to go further are being held back by the laggards who actively lobby the Government to boost their profits, rather than help meet carbon reduction obligations.

We recommend that the Government legislates for the Future Homes Standard as soon as practically possible—and by 2022 at the very latest—to guarantee that no more homes by 2025 are built that need to be retrofitted. We recommend that the Government considers policy drivers at its disposal to drive early uptake. At a minimum, the Government should put in place a compulsory ‘learning period’ from 2022 in a subset of properties in preparation for the full-scale deployment. The Government should oblige bigger housebuilders to undertake regional demonstration projects to show how they will achieve the standard.”

Communities framework

MHCLG published a “communities framework” on 20 July 2019, entitled By deeds and their results:

How we will strengthen our communities and nation , expressed to be the “next step in refreshing the government’s aspirations for stronger, more confident communities. It provides a framework to build on a range of government activity that is contributing to stronger communities in different ways – from the implementation of the Civil Society Strategy and Integrated Communities Action Plan, to our efforts to boost productivity and inclusive growth through the Industrial Strategy and by supporting local industrial strategies across the country.

It promised that the Government will:

• Hold a national conversation with communities across England about their view of who we are as a nation, their vision for the future of their community and our country, and what local and national government can and should be doing to support their community to thrive.

• Establish a series of Civic Deal pilots to test how the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport put into practice the principles set out in this document in partnership with local areas.

• Publish a Communities White Paper to renew government’s focus on building stronger communities across England. The scope of the White Paper will be developed in partnership with communities and informed by the national conversation and Civic Deal pilots.”

Poor Doors

I referred in my 23 March 2019 blog post to widespread concerns over development projects where affordable housing tenants are prevented from using facilities provided for private market housing residents, for example children’s play areas and entrance/lift lobbies.

The basis for such arrangements may well be economically rational to the developer (preventing service charge leakage and/or preserving a sales premium in relation to the market units), to the registered provider (which would not be in a position to impose service charges high enough to cover the cost of the facilities provided for the market housing) and to the local planning authority (usually keen to protect the profitability of the development so as to secure the maximum amount of affordable housing that can be viably be delivered). But of course there can be wider, more damaging, implications.

On the same day as the communities framework was published, an MHCLG press statement Brokenshire unveils new measures to stamp out ‘poor doors’ announced there would be “measures to tackle stigma and help end the segregation of social housing residents in mixed-tenure developments…planning guidance will be toughened up and a new Design Manual will promote best practice in inclusive design.”

Meanwhile, as to we wait to see what the new ministerial team at MHCLG delivers, the Mayor of London’s new London Plan edges forward. We await the inspectors’ conclusions following their examination sessions but in the meantime the Mayor has published a Consolidated suggested changes version of the plan July 2019.

A specific policy has now been included to require that proposals likely to be used by children and young people should include good quality, accessible play provision that “is not segregated by tenure” (policy S4 B (f)).

Conclusion

With due deference to the list of banned words circulated by Mr Rees-Mogg:

Due to the ongoing change in ministers, with the old lot out, apparently unacceptable and no longer fit for purpose, I can only speculate as to the future of these initiatives. Hopefully I will ascertain more very soon.

I understand your concerns.

Simon Ricketts, Esq. 27 July 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Photo: Go UNESCO