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

VIP, Biscuits: 2 More Refusals For Major Projects In London

Getting messy isn’t it?” was how I ended my 26 January 2019 blog post The Secretary Of State & London.

Two more decisions to note since that blog post:

VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton

I suspect that this is the first example of a London Mayor calling in an application for his own determination and refusing it. In the final month of his mayorality in April 2016, Boris Johnson had agreed to defer a decision in relation to Bishopsgate Goodsyard, faced with an officer’s recommendation to refuse the application (it ended up never being determined). But Sadiq Khan’s flip flopping over Leopard Guernsey Anchor Propco Limited’s application to the London Borough of Greenwich for planning permission to redevelop the VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton has been quite something else.

This is a scheme that started off as comprising 975 dwellings , together with non-residential floorspace, in buildings ranging from nine to 28 storeys. Following consultation responses and comments from the Mayor in his stage 1 referral report, the 28 storey tower was removed and the amount of housing reduced to 771.

Greenwich officers recommended approval but on 9 July 2018 committee members resolved to refuse it on five grounds, namely overdevelopment, insufficient proportion of family sized housing, lack of a safe access to the business premises next door (a building known as Imex House that houses Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook’s studio) and introduction of noise sensitive uses, failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision and daylight/sunlight deficiencies.

Having considered his officers’ stage 2 report dated 13 August 2018, the Mayor called in the application for his own determination. The report sets out the various improvements that would be sought to the proposals as part of the call in process.

Various amendments were negotiated and secured. Officers’ stage 3 report was published for the representation hearing held on 29 January 2019. The report recommended approval.

But then the bombshell at the end of the representation hearing. Despite having intervened to prevent Greenwich members refusing the application against their officers’ recommendations six months previously, and despite amendments to the scheme proposals having been negotiated to officers’ satisfaction, presumably in line with the Mayor’s instructions (if not, was he not paying attention or something?), the Mayor then announces that he is refusing the application. His reasons for refusal published a few days later on 4 February 2019 in part bear a marked resemblance to those of Greenwich’s planning committee: poor design; unsatisfactory relationship with Imex House and introduction of noise sensitive uses; failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision, and absence of a section 106 agreement to secure affordable housing and other obligations (I’m not sure whether this is a purely procedural reason for refusal or he was actually not satisfied with the affordable package negotiated by his officers: 35%, rising to 40% with grant).

I have no views on the scheme itself, and I accept that of course he must have an open mind during the representation hearing, but what a waste of six months! He says in the letter setting out his reasons for refusal that he “called in this application to subject it to further scrutiny” but that is a poor excuse. He was surely looking to use the particularly useful Mayoral call in power in order to squeeze some further enhancements from the scheme so that, when that had been done by his officers to his satisfaction, he could approve it. In turning it down, where does that leave his officers? And given that applicants are unable to engage with the man himself, can they now be sure that what they are being told by his team is necessary to secure approval will indeed be sufficient?

Bermondsey Biscuit Factory and Bermondsey Campus Site

The decision of the London Borough of Southwark at its planning committee meeting on 6 February 2019 to refuse planning permission for Grosvenor’s 1,342 dwelling build to rent scheme in Bermondsey is another one to be aware of. Members followed the recommendations in the officers’ report, the main reason being that Grosvenor’s affordable housing package was unacceptable, comprising, in summary, that 27.37% of the habitable rooms would be let at an average discount of 25% below market rents, with usual early and late stage viability review mechanisms. (The application indicated that “the depth of discount across the affordable units could vary, with greater discounts offered on some units, but this would require higher rents (up to 80% of market rents) on others to ensure that the overall level of discount does not exceed 25% overall. Grosvenor has described the sum equating to a 25% discount as the ‘subsidy pot’ and suggested whilst this could be distributed in a variety of ways, the impact of the DMR cannot exceed the financial value of that ‘subsidy pot’ “).

The Mayor of London had flagged in his stage 1 report: “Whilst the proposed increase in housing supply is strongly supported, in the absence of an independently verified viability position the proposed 27% provision of affordable housing is unacceptable. The applicant must deliver deeper DMR discounts, including London Living Rent

Southwark took an equivalent position but the report to committee is interesting in the way that it (1) transparently sets out the differences between the viability work carried out by the parties’ respective viability consultants (GVA – in old money, now Avison Young – having advised the council after the publication of the Mayor’s stage 1 report) and (2) highlights the differences in build to rent (referred to as PRS, private rental sector, in the committee report) affordable housing policy approach in two dimensions: at GLA vs borough level, and as between adopted and emerging plans. Not an unfamiliar position for any developer but particularly difficult for those promoting build to rent (which is, after all, strongly supported in principle by MHCLG and the Mayor of London) as a relatively new product in terms of determining the appropriate approach to affordable housing.

The viability differences are nicely summarised by Mike Phillips (ex Property Week editor) in his 4 February 2019 Bisnow piece Grosvenor’s Bermondsey Rejection Is A Microcosm Of London’s Affordable Housing Quandary.

As to the complexities arising from varying policy approaches to build to rent, a few extracts from the committee report:

⁃ “London Plan policies 3.11 and 3.12 and draft London Plan Policy H5 seek to maximise the delivery of affordable housing, with the draft London Plan seeking delivery against a strategic target of 50%. Policy H6 of the draft London Plan and the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG prescribe a threshold approach to affordable housing to incentivise swift delivery, and draft London Plan Policy H13 applies this principle to ‘build to rent’ products. In this case, a minimum of 35% affordable housing threshold applies.

⁃ The Mayor’s affordable housing and viability SPG “recognises that Discount Market Rent is an appropriate tenure within PRS developments and considers that the rent level for DMR should be pegged at London Living Rent levels, for households with incomes up to £60,000. The guidance requires affordable housing to be secured in perpetuity, and in addition requires a clawback mechanism if the wider PRS homes are sold out of the Build to Rent sector within 15 years. The clawback is intended to respond to the different financial model applied to the PRS sector and to ensure the developer does not benefit financially if the homes are converted to market sale.”

⁃ The borough’s core strategy “requires that a minimum 35% affordable housing is provided on all residential developments of 10 or more units, with a tenure split in the Bermondsey area of 70:30 social rent: intermediate homes. Applications would be subject to viability assessments if policy compliance is not being offered, with the expectation that as much affordable housing will be provided as is financially viable. The Core Strategy makes no specific reference to PRS housing.”

⁃ The submission version of the New Southwark Plan “requires the affordable ‘DMR’ housing to be secured in perpetuity, and the overall housing development to be secured within the rental sector for at least 30 years” [contrast with the Mayor’s 15 year requirement] with a changed tenure split of 15% social rent and 20% DMR at London Living Rent [contrast to GLA position where it can all be London Living Rent DMR]

Clearly it is going to be key for the parties to resolve their difficulties over viability, whether that requires changes to the scheme or an appeal. This was a decision taken against up to date government guidance on the approach to viability appraisals, the work was relatively transparent and there was not a major difference of principle over benchmark land value. The reality is that the process is not straightforward; there are issues of judgment, particularly when dealing with a relatively untested business model and the need to estimate the rents that will be achievable in an area that will have been significantly changed by way of development. After that, the tenure split question is surely economically subsidiary, although clearly on-site social rented housing will come at greater cost to the scheme’s viability in a number of ways and so there are political choices to be made.

More widely

I’m not sure whether the Secretary of State had either scheme specifically in mind, when he threw his own political pebble into the pond, as reported in the Planner on 31 January 2019: Brokenshire tells GLA to step up (https://www.theplanner.co.uk/news/brokenshire-tells-gla-to-‘step-up’ ). People in glass houses…

In the meantime, the examination continues into the draft London Plan. Hearing sessions are currently considering housing issues, with MHCLG participating. The Just Space website is a useful unofficial resource in relation to the examination, with links to each written statement for each session together with thumbnail-sketch type notes of the session itself.

Lastly, as a postscript to my 26 January 2019 blog post, it has now been reported that Croydon Council as well as possibly the Mayor are supporting Thornsett Group’s challenge of the Secretary of State’s Purley Baptist Church call-in decision.

Still messy, isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts

Personal views, et cetera

Peek Frean biscuits, from Bermondsey.

What If? The Trinity One Case

What if your development were subject to a section 106 agreement that provided for a commuted sum to be paid towards affordable housing, the precise amount payable to be calculated in accordance with a formula; at the date that the agreement was completed in 2003 the formula would have arrived at a commuted sum of between £500,000 and £700,000 but by the time that it was triggered the basis for calculating the formula had been abolished and so there was no way of arriving at an appropriate figure? Would you go to the High Court and Court of Appeal to seek to resist a claim from the local planning authority that was seeking a sum of £533,058 plus interest?

Well that was what the developer did in the Council of the City of York v Trinity One (Leeds) Limited (Court of Appeal, 21 February 2018). Not only that but they pursued a separate section 106BA and BC application and appeal, before the 30 April 2016 deadline for applications under that procedure, to seek to argue that in any event it should be released from the obligation in order to prevent its development from being economically unviable (a process where it is separately currently pursuing a second judicial review). I don’t know the facts beyond what is stated in the Court of Appeal’s judgment but I would suspect that this saga must pretty much have cost the parties in legal fees the sum being fought over and there remains the possibility of the local planning authority losing out on a substantial contribution towards affordable housing. Mediation anyone?

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing but the dispute has arisen from not enough “what if?” questions being asked when the agreement was negotiated in 2003.

The relevant clause in the agreement provided that the commuted sum “shall be calculated on the amount of Social Housing Grant necessary to secure affordable rented homes of an equivalent type and size on another site [in a similar residential area in the City of York] which grant for the avoidance of doubt shall be calculated at normal grant levels from regional TCI tables provided on an annual basis by the Housing Corporation or such equivalent grant calculation current at the time and supported by the Housing Corporation”.

Social Housing Grant was defined as “the grant that may be provided in respect of affordable housing in the Council’s administrative area in accordance with Government and Housing Corporation Guidance.”

Some of you may remember the Total Cost Indicator tables that were previously used by the (now defunct) Housing Corporation as a basis for calculating the level of (now defunct) Social Housing Grant.

The lawyers negotiating the agreement at least had asked themselves what if TCI tables were no longer provided on an annual basis by the Housing Corporation but beyond that there was little imagination as to how far the affordable housing funding arrangements might change: if TCI tables ceased to be published, the calculation was to be done on the basis of “such equivalent grant calculation current at the time and supported by the Housing Corporation”. Hmm. No “what if social housing grant and/or the Housing Corporation cease to exist“? No provision for the parties to agree another reasonable benchmark, with the ability to go to an independent expert in the event of dispute?

The Court of Appeal identified that the issue “turns on the balance between giving effect to the intention of the parties and the language of the contract“. It upheld the ruling of the High Court that the clause was not unenforceable due to the lack of certainty as to how the sum was now to be calculated. The court sets out in some detail the approach to be taken, drawing upon principles articulated by the Supreme Court in Arnold v Britton (Supreme Court, 10 June 2015).

The Supreme Court in that case had considered the interpretation of service charge contribution provisions in the leases of a number of chalets in a caravan park in South Wales, and whether annual increases in service charge were to be calculated on a compound basis, resulting in absurdly high increases. Lord Neuberger summarised the correct approach as follows:

When interpreting a written contract, the court is concerned to identify the intention of the parties by reference to “what a reasonable person having all the background knowledge which would have been available to the parties would have understood them to be using the language in the contract to mean”, to quote Lord Hoffmann in Chartbrook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd [2009] UKHL 38, [2009] 1 AC 1101, para 14. And it does so by focussing on the meaning of the relevant words, in this case clause 3(2) of each of the 25 leases, in their documentary, factual and commercial context. That meaning has to be assessed in the light of (i) the natural and ordinary meaning of the clause, (ii) any other relevant provisions of the lease, (iii) the overall purpose of the clause and the lease, (iv) the facts and circumstances known or assumed by the parties at the time that the document was executed, and (v) commercial common sense, but (vi) disregarding subjective evidence of any party’s intentions.”

Lord Neuberger set out six principles and the Court of Appeal in Trinity One drew particularly the first and sixth:

First, the reliance placed in some cases on commercial common sense and surrounding circumstances (eg in Chartbrook, paras 16-26) should not be invoked to undervalue the importance of the language of the provision which is to be construed. The exercise of interpreting a provision involves identifying what the parties meant through the eyes of a reasonable reader, and, save perhaps in a very unusual case, that meaning is most obviously to be gleaned from the language of the provision.”

Sixthly, in some cases, an event subsequently occurs which was plainly not intended or contemplated by the parties, judging from the language of their contract. In such a case, if it is clear what the parties would have intended, the court will give effect to that intention. An example of such a case is Aberdeen City Council v Stewart Milne Group Ltd[2011] UKSC 56, 2012 SCLR 114, where the court concluded that ‘any … approach’ other than that which was adopted ‘would defeat the parties’ clear objectives’, but the conclusion was based on what the parties ‘had in mind when they entered into’ the contract (see paras 17 and 22).”

Applying these principles, the Court of Appeal in Trinity One identified that:

⁃ the intention of the parties was that a commuted sum was to be paid.

⁃ the uncertainty related to quantification rather than the principle of payment.

⁃ “It would defeat the underlying purpose of the Agreement if the clause were unenforceable due to lack of certainty. The consequence would be that TOL would receive the benefit of planning permission without providing affordable housing or a commuted sum. In simple terms, that was not the bargain.”

⁃ “…the quantification of that sum should be that which is equivalent to the amount of money which would have been provided had the SHG remained in being. Although this is a departure from the literal words of the contract, this is the only sensible solution to the problem posed by the abolition of the SHG on which the clause is premised. The clause provides that the developer should pay enough money so that the Council can provide equivalent affordable housing: the best the court can do is work out a roughly equivalent figure for that sum.”

⁃ The figure that had been arrived at of £533,508 was a “reasonable attempt to reach a figure equivalent to the SHG which would have been payable before 2006“.

To a non-lawyer this may all seem obvious, but who wants to go to the Court of Appeal to establish what a provision means, just because not enough “what if” questions weren’t asked at the outset?

York Council isn’t yet entirely out of the woods. I mentioned the pending judicial review in relation to the developer’s section 106BC appeal. The Court of Appeal held that if the section 106BC appeal is ultimately successful, it will have retrospective effect notwithstanding that the council’s rights to be paid had already accrued. That seems strange to me, but given that the section 106BA and BC procedure is no longer available, this issue is of limited continuing wider relevance.

So please remain patient when your solicitor asks you yet another series of “what if” questions. In another part of our legal world, the European Medicines Agency is reported to be seeking to set aside its lease at Canary Wharf on the basis that Brexit will amount to an event of frustration. It was reported elsewhere that the “what if” question may in fact have been asked and then set on one side. Now that can be even more awkward.

This blog post is a belated companion to my 14 October 2017 post, Flawed Drafting: Interpreting Planning Permissions.

Simon Ricketts, 8 September 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Permission Quashed Due To PSED Failure

This year has seen a few cases that will have made developers and decision makers somewhat nervous as to the sheer variety of matters which may give objectors a basis for judicial review, depending of course on the facts in each situation and the reasoning set out for the relevant decision. After, for instance Rainbird (my 12 May 2018 blog post) and People Over Wind (my 20 April 2018 blog post) we now have what I think is the second example of a planning permission being quashed as a result of a local planning authority failing to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (“PSED”) within section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

Section 149 provides as follows:

“(1) A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to—
(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;

(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;

(c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.


(3) Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—


(a) remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are connected to that characteristic;

(b) take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it;
…..


(4) The steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled persons that are different from the needs of persons who are not disabled include, in particular, steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities.
…..


(7) The relevant protected characteristics are—
age;

1. disability;

2. gender reassignment;

3. pregnancy and maternity;

4. race;

5. religion or belief;

6. sex.”

In R (Buckley) v Bath and North East Somerset Council (Lewis J, 20 June 2018) the High Court quashed, on the basis that the PSED in section 149 had not been complied with, an outline planning permission which the local authority had granted for the development of part of the Foxhill Estate by the demolition of up to 542 dwellings and the provision of up to 700 dwellings.

Most of the properties on the estate are owned by a social housing provider, Curo Places Limited, with some properties being leased from other registered social housing providers and others being privately owned. There are currently 414 affordable homes on the site and these would be replaced by 210 affordable homes as part of the redevelopment.

The estate sits alongside the Mulberry Park development, for which planning permission had already been granted for up to 700 homes, including 210 affordable homes. Defined categories of tenants on the Foxhill Estate would be given priority for homes within Mulberry Park.

Whilst the environmental statement and other documents supporting the planning application dealt with socio-economic matters, and the officer’s report to committee also addressed the relevant development plan policy (H8, “affordable housing regeneration schemes”), there was no specific consideration of the PSED in relation to the impact on the elderly and the disabled of losing of their homes. In the circumstances, the relevant questions for the court to grapple with were

⁃ does the PSED apply at outline planning permission stage?

⁃ were PSED issues dealt with in applying policy H8, which had itself been the subject of an equality impact assessment?

⁃ were the issues considered in sufficient detail in any event to comply with the PSED?

⁃ even if there had been a breach, was it highly likely that the outcome would have been the same even without the breach?

The judge held that the duty does apply at outline planning permission stage. The fact that detailed issues, also raising equality considerations, would arise at reserved matters stage did not prevent the duty from arising.

It was not enough that policy H8 was “designed to address issues of equality in the context of affordable housing regeneration schemes which, necessarily, would or might include demolition of properties as part of the process of regeneration“. H8 was too general as a policy automatically to ensure that an application complying with policy H8 met the PSED.

In order to comply with the PSED, it was not essential for the report to committee to refer to it expressly:

In broad terms, the duty is a duty to have due regard to the specified matters not a duty to achieve a specific result. The duty is one of substance, not form, and the real issue is whether the relevant public authority has, in substance, had regard to the relevant matters having regard to the substance of the decision and the authority’s reasoning. The absence of a reference to the public sector equality duty will not, of itself, necessarily mean that the decision-maker failed to have regard to the relevant matters although it is good practice to make reference to the duty, and evidentially useful in demonstrating discharge of the duty.”

The judge found that on balance “the defendant did not in fact have due regard to the impact on the elderly and disabled persons of granting an application which might lead to the demolition of their existing homes…The defendant did not specifically address or have regard to the impact on groups with protected characteristics, in particular the elderly and the disabled, of the loss of their existing home. It may well be that not a great deal would have needed to be said on this matter. It may have been sufficient to draw that matter to the decision-maker’s attention and then the decision-maker could have decided whether the contemplated benefits of the proposed development did outweigh any negative impacts. Ultimately, however, I am persuaded there were matters relevant to the discharge of the public sector equality duty which the relevant decision-maker needed to have due regard to but which were not drawn to the decision-maker’s attention.”

As to whether it was highly likely that the decision would have been the same even if the duty had been complied with, the judge did not feel able to reach that conclusion. He noted that the proposal was controversial. “The ultimate vote was five in favour of the grant of outline planning permission and four against. There would be other options open for addressing the problems of the estate including re-furbishment rather than demolition. In all the circumstance, it cannot be said that it is highly likely that the outline planning permission would have been granted in this particular case if the breach of section 149 of the 2010 Act had not occurred.

As it happens, once the judicial review had been brought, Curo abandoned its demolition plans in favour of refurbishment of the estate and so the purpose of the proceedings was only to seek to ensure, as far as residents were concerned, that that the permission did not remain on the record and capable of implementation at a later stage. However, it still seems to me that the decision to quash was by no means inevitable on the facts. The case is certainly a warning to developers and local planning authorities to be scrupulous in taking into account the implications of proposals for those with section 149 protected characteristics.

The duty of course also applies equally to Inspectors and the Secretary of State in their decision making, as is demonstrated by what I suspect is the only other example of a planning permission being quashed due to breach of the PSED, namely LDRA Limited and others v Secretary of State (Lang J, 6 May 2016). In that case, a planning permission granted on appeal by an inspector for development on the banks of the River Mersey which would restrict access to the river side.

The judge noted that the site was “the only place in the area where public parking next to the river is readily available. The large car park is immediately beside the River Mersey, thus enabling disabled people and their carers to enjoy the river and the fine views across it, and to watch the activities of ships and smaller boats. Disabled people can remain in the car park area (which is built on two levels) or if they are sufficiently mobile, they can proceed a short distance to the riverside promenade (which forms part of the Wirral Circular Trail) either in a wheelchair or on foot. There was clear evidence before the Inspector from several sources that this car park, and the access which it gave to the river, was an amenity which was both regularly used and valued by disabled people (both adults and children with special needs).” She found that “there was a strong argument, based on the written and photographic evidence, that disabled people with impaired mobility would find it very difficult or impossible to go down to the riverside if the development is built because (a) they would be parked too far away; and (b) the footpath down to the riverside, and back up, would be too steep for disabled people and their carers to manage.”

She concluded:

Applying the legal principles set out above, I have concluded that the Inspector did not have due regard to the duty under section 149 in this case. In particular, because of the lack of any detailed consideration of the value of the existing amenity to disabled persons (including, for the immobile, being able to sit in the car and look at the river); the lack of any other comparable amenity in the Birkenhead area; the practical difficulties which would be experienced by persons with restricted mobility and their carers in descending and climbing the steep footpath to the riverside; and the apparent failure to consider whether the loss of the car park would not be merely “less convenient” for disabled persons but might well mean that they would be unable to access the riverside at all. If the Inspector was not fully appraised of the relevant information, he was under an obligation to seek the information required. The statutory equality duty was not mentioned in the planning officers’ report, nor in the Inspector’s decision. Of course, the Inspector could comply with the duty without specifically referring to it. But there is no indication in the decision that the Inspector considered the factors set out in section 149, and tellingly there is no reference, express or implied, to the statutory considerations of removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by disabled persons, and taking steps to meet the needs of disabled persons. I consider it is likely that the Inspector overlooked section 149 in reaching his decision, and thus made an error of law”.

The permission was quashed.

Of course the PSED does not just arise in the context of the determination of planning applications and appeals but generally in the exercise of functions by public authorities (as well as in the exercise of public functions by non-public bodies).

It will be recalled that at first instance (albeit overturned on appeal in Secretary of State v West Berkshire District Council (Court of Appeal, 11 May 2016), Holgate J had quashed the written ministerial statement on minimum affordable housing contribution thresholds and the vacant building credit, partly on the basis of breach of the PSED, given that a disproportionate number of those with protected characteristics were in need of affordable housing, which he did not find had been sufficiently taken into account in the Government’s decision. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that a “relatively broad brush approach” in the equality statement accompanying the WMS was sufficient.

Breach of PSED was also an unsuccessful ground of challenge in the recent judicial review of the Mayor of London’s affordable housing and viability SPG, brought by a group of retirement housing companies (McCarthy & Stone Limited and others v Mayor of London (Ouseley J, 23 May 2018). The judge gave the complaint short shrift:

Mr Warren’s attack is only on one narrow aspect of s149, where he raises a very particular point about the effect of the SPG on the provision by the Claimants of specialist accommodation for the elderly to buy, and hence on those whose protected characteristics could be affected. That point is not actually grappled with in any of the equalities assessments. But the basis for that in Mr Burgess’ evidence ultimately concerns the financing arrangements of the Claimants. “Due regard” for s149 purposes, does not require all possible ways in which someone may be affected, including in this indirect way, to be considered. Still less does it do so when it has not been raised and explained to the degree necessary. It is a very indirect consequence, and not something which one would expect a planning authority to be aware of unless specifically told. “Due regard” does not require an encyclopaedic examination of all the ways, not by any means obvious, in which an equality effect might be argued to arise.

Ms Peters has also explained that she did not accept that the sort of problems which Mr Burgess described were soundly based or significant for the sector. She was entitled to come to that view, and in so doing to conclude that there was no impact of significance to be considered or which had been omitted.

Even if criticism can be made of the form in which the fulfilment of the PSED duty is recorded, and even if there was a point which could have been considered in the course of having “due regard”, I find it impossible to consider that the outcome of its consideration could have been different in view of the rejection by the GLA of the factual basis upon which the Claimants’ rely. It is not for me to resolve that issue. The GLA view is not unreasonable.”

Whilst all cases of course turn on their facts, the Buckley judgment (which incidentally does not cite West Berkshire, McCarthy & Stone or indeed LRDA) does appear to take a tougher stance in relation to the need for proper compliance with the PSED (the facts in LRDA are certainly more stark). The lessons must surely be to ensure that developers and decision makers give specific, careful, consideration as to the potential implications of any project for those with section 149 protected characteristics, implications which may not be immediately obvious, and to ensure that the implications are expressly taken into account in decision making.

Simon Ricketts, 22 June 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Photo credit Bath Newseum