We all had a good, evidence-based, moan about CIL on clubhouse last week.
Stonewater (2) Limited v Wealden District Council (Thornton J, 15 October 2021) is of course only the latest example of the complexities and uncertainties that arise – in particular on the question of application of reliefs and exemptions (the importance and number of which has been driven by the fact that CIL liability is in most cases so significant) but also on the question of how to mesh the operation of the CIL regime with the operation of the planning system without jamming the whole thing up.
Land with planning permission for 169 houses was acquired by Stonewater, a registered provider of affordable housing. The section 106 agreement provided for 59 dwellings within the development to be affordable housing, with a specified tenure mix. The number of affordable housing units was to “comprise 35% of the Dwellings within the Phase (which shall be rounded up to the nearest whole unit”.
Stonewater’s model was more enlightened than that of the developer which had secured the permission. Stonewater “regularly acquires sites which are subject to a section 106 agreement which secure a low or policy compliant level (35%) of affordable housing, with a view to increasing affordable housing delivery to 100%. The Court was told that this is not unusual, and the Claimant is not alone in doing so. Grants from Homes England are based on the principle that registered social housing providers provide additional affordable housing over and above the levels secured in planning obligations.”
Relief from CIL is available for affordable housing via social housing relief. There are criteria set out in regulation 49 of the CIL Regulations which do not include any requirement that the affordable housing is secured by way of section 106 agreement or condition. After all, if there is a clawback period of seven years within which CIL has to be paid with interest if the occupation no longer meets the criteria for relief.
Unsurprisingly, Stonewater sought social housing relief for the whole development, given that it proposed to deliver it all as affordable housing meeting the criteria in regulation 49. The council refused relief on the basis that a varied section 106 agreement would first be required, committing in the agreement for all the dwellings to be delivered as affordable housing. The council later additionally argued that the existing section 106 agreement was to be interpreted as rendering it unlawful for more than 35% of the dwellings to be delivered as affordable housing.
It might be asked why Stonewater didn’t simply enter into the section 106 agreement required – but of course that would have been likely to destroy its entitlement to Homes England funding given that on the face of it there would then be no additionality, and why should it enter into a further agreement if that was not required by the Regulations? Stonewater challenged the council’s decision by way of judicial review. The first issue melted away once the Secretary of State was joined as an interested party and the council conceded that a section 106 agreement obligation that a dwelling be delivered as affordable housing is not a prerequisite to a claim for social housing relief (although it can be useful evidence that the dwellings will be used in a way that meets the criteria for relief) – as did any notion that the relief is discretionary on the part of the authority rather than mandatory. So the only question was whether delivery of more than 35% of the homes would be in breach of the section 106 agreement.
The judge saw the 35% requirement as fixed, not a minimum:
“In my assessment, the language of the document points to an interpretation that the agreement controls the amount of affordable housing that can come forward, by fixing a specific requirement of 59 dwellings or 35% affordable housing. Paragraph 2(iii) of Schedule 1 says that precisely 35% of the units in any phase must be affordable. Accordingly, if the development proceeds in multiple phases, there must be 35% in each phase and thus, inevitably, as a matter of maths, 35% in aggregate. This specific requirement permeates the definitions, which draw a clear distinction between the ‘Affordable Housing Units’ which are “the 59 Dwellings … which shall be for use as affordable housing” and ‘the Private Dwelling Units’ which means everything other than the 59 Dwellings. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 provides the mechanism whereby the Council can exercise control in all cases (not just multiple phases) over the provision of affordable housing. The, broadly defined, Affordable Housing Scheme must be submitted for approval and development may not commence until the Council has approved it.
Accordingly, a scheme which provides less, or more units, of affordable housing would not comply with the section 106 requirement to provide 59 units and hence would be contrary to its terms and to that extent unlawful, albeit the Council would have a discretion to vary the Section 106 agreement or enter into a new agreement.”
I must say I find this a strained interpretation. As the claimant pointed out, there would be no reason in policy to restrict the amount of affordable housing in the scheme – why should the developer not be free to dispose of any of the dwellings at less than market value? Indeed, although not I think mentioned in the judgment, how would such a restriction meet the test in regulation 122? Would an authority really succeed in arguing that a developer was in breach of its section 106 agreement if it disposed of market units at less than market value? Of course not.
The judge asserted that “whilst affordable housing is generally desirable in policy terms, it does not follow that more affordable housing is always desirable without limit. There may be proper planning reasons to prefer a mixed scheme. For example, in this case, the Court’s attention was drawn to extracts from the Planning Officer’s report which suggest the expected CIL receipts from a scheme with 35% affordable housing were relevant to the decision making. The highways authority had expressed concern about the potentially severe impact from the development on the local highway network and considered mitigation was required. It was common ground that the necessary mitigation was to be funded by the CIL receipts from the development. However, it is neither necessary nor appropriate for this court to evaluate any preference for a mixed scheme on the facts of this case. It is sufficient to say that it is in accord with the statutory planning context, and / or “common sense”, to have a section 106 agreement which retains control over the provision of affordable housing. This does not defeat the achievement of more affordable housing since the Council, in the exercise of its planning judgment, may vary the Section 106 to permit this, if persuaded of its desirability.” However, how does this sit with the council’s position that it would grant the relief simply if Stonewater entered into a section 106 agreement varying the previous arrangements and requiring all the dwellings to be affordable?
Surely, instead, this was an overly prescriptive reading of the Regulations on the part of the authority and a strained interpretation of the section 106 agreement on the part of the judge? It is truly depressing to think about how long commencement of development is held up on schemes until disputes such as this are resolved – and how so much money has been wasted on all sides.
Simon Ricketts, 13 November 2021
Personal views et cetera
This week’s Planning Law Unplanned delicacies on clubhouse, at 6pm on Tuesday 16 November, will be Sage and Tulip. We’ll be hearing from Kate Olley, who appeared for Mr Sage in the recent High Court case on the important and topical question as to when planning permission is needed to run a business from home, and we’ll be discussing the Secretary of State’s refusal of planning permission for the Tulip in the City of London. Aside from Kate, our guests include arch-planorak, barrister Zack Simons. Thoughts on the decisions? Then join us, to listen or participate. Link to app here.
“…in a taxing Act one has to look merely at what is clearly said. There is no room for any intendment. There is no equity about a tax. There is no presumption as to a tax. Nothing is to be read in, nothing is to be implied. One can only look fairly at the language used.”
This passage comes from a 1921 case, Cape Brandy Syndicate v IRC, and was quoted this week by Thornton J in the latest case about a self-builder who had unwittingly lost any right to an exemption from the community infrastructure levy: Gardiner v Hertsmere Borough Council (Thornton J, 6 July 2021). (For a previous unfortunate tale see my 19 January 2019 blog post CIL The Merciless).
The purpose of this post is simply to point out again as to how important, but difficult, it is to arrive at an accurate interpretation of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations.
This latest case raised “a point of principle as to whether the self-build exemption provided for in Regulation 54A of the Community Infrastructure Regulations (2010/948) (the CIL Regulations) applies to the grant of planning permission, pursuant to S73A TCPA, for development already carried out.”
Query why there is a self-build exemption in the first place for such large self-build schemes as those which end up in these sorts of disputes, but on a wider basis the case is certainly a warning of the CIL consequences of carrying out development in breach of planning control…
“The Claimant is a self- builder who obtained planning permission for partial demolition of, and extension to, his existing chalet bungalow at 59 Aldenham Avenue, Radlett, Hertfordshire, WD7 8JA (“the Site”). CIL was not payable as the Defendant exempts residential extensions from the levy. The Defendant’s planning officers visited the site during the course of the demolition work and considered that the works undertaken had gone beyond the works authorised by the planning permission. They were of the view that the development was unauthorised. In response the Claimant submitted a new planning application to regularise the demolition works undertaken and to permit the subsequent rebuild now required (as opposed to the former extension) of the house. Planning permission was subsequently granted, part-retrospectively, pursuant to s.73A TCPA for the demolition and the erection of a new detached 6-bed dwelling.
The Defendant [Hertsmere Borough Council] is the charging and collecting authority for CIL in the area of Radlett, Hertfordshire. The Interested Party [the Secretary of State] was joined by order of Mr Justice Holgate and directed to produce written submissions to assist the Court as the claim raises issues of interpretation of the CIL Regulations which may have wider implications.”
The case was despatched by Thornton J in short order:
“It is […] apparent, when the ‘strict criteria’ in Regulation 54B(2) are tested against the grant of planning permission, pursuant to Section 73A TCPA, for development already carried out, that they bar the availability of the exemption for such permission.
Firstly; the claim for an exemption must be made by a person who “intends to build, or commission the building of, a new dwelling” (Reg 54B(2)(a)). The references to ‘intends’ and ‘commission’ are forward looking. They are not consistent with an application by a person who has already built or begun to build a dwelling.
Secondly; the claim must be made by someone who has assumed liability to pay CIL in respect of the new dwelling’ (Regulation 54B(2)(a)(ii)). The assumption of liability is a prerequisite to obtaining the exemption. Yet this is not possible for retrospective planning permission granted under Section 73A TCPA, by virtue of Regulation 7(5) and 31 CIL Regulations. Regulation 31 governs the assumption of liability. It refers to “a person who wishes to assume liability in respect of a chargeable development”. The precise use of the words “a chargeable development” make clear that a chargeable development must exist in order for a person to assume liability to pay CIL in respect of it. In other words liability cannot be assumed under Regulation 31, in respect of a chargeable development, until such time as the chargeable development exists. This is necessarily after planning permission has been granted, by virtue of Regulation 9(1). Liability cannot be assumed for something that does not exist and may never exist (if planning permission is not granted).”
“The Claimant’s wife pointed out in correspondence that “our record of engagement with the Council clearly reflects our respect for the [planning] process and that we are exactly the type of residents to whom the CIL exemption is supposed to be available”. In response, the Defendant acknowledged that “the circumstances of this case that caused the CIL liability to be triggered may seem unfair”.
To which Thornton J’s response was the passage at the beginning of this post.
The Lambeth case considered whether a surcharge for late payment of the levy is dependent on the service by a collecting authority of a liability and/or a demand notice and whether, where a revised liability and/or demand notice is issued or served, previously incurred late payment surcharges cease to be payable? In essence, if you were liable to pay CIL but failed to pay it & then only subsequently does the charging authority issue its liability or demand notice, is it fair that the authority can still levy a surcharge for non-payment?
“The Claimant [the London Borough of Lambeth] contends that liability for a late payment surcharge is: a. not contingent on the service of a Liability or Demand Notice; and b. the issue/service of a revised Liability and/or Demand Notice does not have the effect of extinguishing liability for a late payment surcharge which has already been incurred.
The Defendant [the Secretary of State] accepts that the Claimant’s interpretation of the CIL Regulations is correct and concedes the claim.
The Interested Party [Thornton Park (London) Limited] continues to contest the claim. The Interested Party’s case before the Inspector and this Court is that the effect of Regulation 65(9) is that the issue of a revised Demand Notice means that any previously served Demand Notices cease to have effect so a surcharge for late payment can only be imposed 30 days after service of the revised notice, as per Regulation 85(1).
“The essential factual background is as follows: the Claimant granted planning permission for development, for which the Interested Party assumed responsibility for payment of CIL and in respect of which the Claimant duly served a Liability Notice. On 23 November 2018, the Claimant served a Demand Notice stating the amount payable by the Interested Party to be £5,549,963.41 and that the amount was payable in two instalments: on 25 January 2019 and 24 July 2019. Those instalments were not paid. On 18 September 2019, the Claimant granted the Interested Party’s application for a non-material amendment to the planning permission resulting in a change of the chargeable amount. Revised Liability and Demand Notices were served to reflect the changes. On 15 October 2019, the Claimant issued a revised demand notice to include late payment surcharges. The Claimant issued a further revised Liability Notice on 27 November 2019 followed by a revised Demand Notice (including late payment surcharge [of £465,617.67]) on 10 December 2019, to account for further changes to the development and thus to the chargeable amount. In response the Interested Party appealed [successfully] against the payment of the surcharge on the basis that the breach which lead to the imposition of the surcharge had not occurred.”
The council challenged the inspector’s decision. Thornton J concluded that the inspector had “erred in finding that the Claimant had no lawful authority to impose a late payment surcharge with respect to unpaid CIL. Liability for a late payment surcharge is not contingent on the service of a Liability or Demand Notice. The issue/service of a revised Liability and/or Demand Notice does not have the effect of extinguishing liability for a late payment surcharge which has already been incurred.”
As stated by Thornton J in Gardiner, and stated in similar terms in Lambeth:
“The Community Infrastructure Levy is akin to a tax. The proper interpretation of tax legislation requires a close analysis of what, on a purposive construction, the statute actually requires”.
Forget about trying to what work out what might have been equitable. Just read the Regs.
Cheerful point for the future: CIL’s mooted replacement, the Infrastructure Levy, will also be “akin to a tax” and of course will contain a whole new set of trip hazards and uncertainties. Given that there can be little room for flexibility, or consideration of what may be an equitable outcome, at the point of liability, the legislation itself inevitably ends up having to allow, as best it can, for all permutations of situation and that’s where the complexity comes (and grows with every amendment).
Simon Ricketts, 10 July 2021
Personal views, et cetera
Two events coming up this week:
Our clubhouse Planning Law, Unplanned session at 6 pm on Tuesday 13 July, is entitled “JR = VAR? Reviewing judicial review & human rights protections”. What are the Government’s proposals for judicial review & human rights reform and what are the potential practical implications for the planning system in particular? The discussion will be led by Charlie Banner QC (Keating Chambers), Celina Colquhoun (39 Essex Chambers and former member of the Faulks review) and Joshua Rozenberg (honorary QC, leading legal commentator & author of “Enemies of the people: How Judges Shape Society”).
Please feel free to join us, whether to take part in the discussion or just to listen. Invitation to app & event here.
A joint Town Legal and 39 Essex Chambers webinar is also taking place, at 5 pm on Thursday 15 July: Judicial Review & The Planning System in 2021: Practical tips, current trends, what’s round the corner?
Solicitor Alison Trent brought proceedings for judicial review, as a litigant in person, in order to quash a totally unjustified demand notice for £16,389.75 that she received on 21 April 2020 in relation to the construction of a dwelling in Radlett.
Her success represents a loud wake-up call for CIL collecting authorities.
Planning permission was issued on 10 February 2017 for demolition of a house and the construction of a replacement three bedroom dwelling.
Even with a project as simple as this, there is a complicated sequence of notices:
⁃ Under regulation 65(1) of the CIL Regulations 2010 “the collecting authority must issue a liability notice as soon as practicable after the day on which a planning permission first permits development”.
⁃ The person assuming liability for CIL then has to serve an assumption of liability notice and, if appropriate as here, a self build exemption claim form.
⁃ A commencement notice must then be served on the authority before development commences.
When something goes wrong in that sequence, matters invariably get messy.
⁃ There was no evidence that the necessary liability notice had been sent out in 2017 although a draft was on the council’s computer system.
⁃ Ms Trent had unwittingly jumped the gun by purporting to submit a self build exemption form ahead of planning permission being issued and had failed to submit an assumption of liability notice, both mistakes apparently at least partly due to misleading advice she had received from the authority.
⁃ The development took place and, when the authority realised, it issued a liability notice, demand notice and imposed surcharges for failing to submit an assumption of liability notice (surcharge of £50) and failure to submit a commencement notice to the Council (surcharge of £2,500).
Ms Trent had successfully appealed to the Planning Inspectorate against the imposition of the surcharges. The inspector found that (1) the council had failed to issue a liability notice and therefore she had never been in a position to serve an assumption of liability notice – the 2017 notice had never been served and the 2019 notice was not served “as soon as practicable” after planning permission had been issued – and that (2) the deemed commencement date on the demand notice was incorrect. She had also argued that the notices did not meet procedural formalities but the inspector did not need to consider that issue.
Unbelievably, the authority then issued a replacement demand notice, on 21 April 2020, relying on the 2019 liability notice which the inspector had considered not to be valid!
Ms Trent challenged the issue of that demand notice by way of judicial review, arguing as follows:
“In the light of the Inspector’s findings, and the Council’s material misunderstandings or errors of fact and/or errors of law and/or procedure, the Council’s decision to issue the 2020 demand notice, on the basis that the 2019 liability notice was valid, was manifestly improper and/or irrational and/or unfair and unreasonable.
…the Council’s decision to issue the 2020 demand notice, and to maintain its registration on the Land Charges Register for the Property in respect of the alleged CIL liability, was a breach of the Council’s duty under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in that it acted in a manner which was incompatible with her Convention rights under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).”
The judge found as follows (extracts from judgment):
“In my judgment, the Defendant was required to issue and serve statutory notices which complied with the requirements in the CIL Regulations, and to do so in the prescribed sequence. In consequence, the Claimant was not under an obligation to pay the CIL, as required by the 2020 demand notice, unless and until the Defendant had issued and served a valid liability notice, in accordance with regulation 65 of the CIL Regulations.”
“Planning permission was granted on 10 February 2017. So the 2019 liability notice was issued 2 years and 6 months (less 5 days) after the grant of planning permission. I agree with the Inspector that such a long period of time cannot reasonably be described as “as soon as practicable” and this amounted to a breach of the requirement in regulation 65(1). The breach was not waived by the Claimant.
Regulation 65(1) imposes a mandatory requirement without any provision for extensions of time. Time starts to run from the date on which a planning permission first permits development. The phrase “as soon as practicable” gives an authority some flexibility, for example, if the recipients are not readily identifiable or their address known, or if there is an administrative backlog. But in the light of the statutory scheme and its purpose, the expectation must be that any delay would be measured in weeks or months, not years. I consider that the absence of any provision for extensions of time was deliberate, to ensure that authorities comply with the duty in a timely way.”
“In my judgment, it is of fundamental importance to the operation of the statutory scheme that the liability notice is issued and served soon after the grant of planning permission because of the key information it contains about the recipient’s liability to CIL, and the next steps which follow under the scheme. It is not the practice of this Council to provide this information in any other form or at any other time, and I assume that the same applies in other authorities.
I consider that the failure to issue and serve a valid liability notice on the Claimant within the prescribed time period was prejudicial. If the Claimant had received a timely liability notice, in February 2017, it would have alerted her to” the need to apply for exemptions.
“In my judgment, as the liability notice is a formal legal document, which imposes a tax liability on the recipient, and places a land charge on the owner’s property, it is of fundamental importance that the recipient is correctly identified by their name. In this case, the liability notice should have been addressed and issued to “Alison Trent”. She should have been identified as the owner of the relevant land. Instead, the Defendant addressed and issued the liability notice to “C/O Alison Trent & Co”. “Alison Trent & Co.” is the Claimant’s business. It has no legal or beneficial interest in No. 40 and does not fall within any of the categories of recipients. I consider that the only plausible explanation for this error was incompetence on the part of the Defendant. As the liability notice was not addressed and issued to the correct person, it is invalid.
The regulations do not contain any provisions to save a non-compliant notice. The Claimant pointed out that this is in contrast to other regulatory schemes such as enfranchisement notices under section 13 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 which may be saved by paragraph 15(1) of Schedule 3.
As a general rule, failure to effect valid service of a liability notice would invalidate a notice. However, in this case, the notice was successfully served on the Claimant, care of the London business address, which was the second of the two addressees she provided on the Land Register. Therefore, despite the failure to serve the Claimant at No. 38 or No. 40, which was in breach of the requirements of the CIL Regulations, I do not consider the failure is of sufficient significance to invalidate the notice.”
Whilst the inspector could not formally quash the 2019 liability notice, “I would expect a responsible authority to have regard to the Inspector’s findings when deciding upon its next steps.”
“The Claimant’s ground of challenge under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR turned on the lawfulness of the 2019 liability notice, and the consequent 2020 demand notice, requiring her to pay the CIL as assessed. As I have found that the notices were not valid, it follows that there would be a breach of A1P1 if the Claimant was required to pay the CIL.”
“In conclusion, the Claimant’s claim for judicial review is allowed. The liability notice issued by the Council on 5 August 2019, and the demand notice issued by the Council on 21 April 2020, are invalid for the reasons set out in this judgment, and are to be quashed.”
So there we have it.
Woe betide any collecting authority that delays unreasonably in serving a liability notice (common in my experience) or addresses it incorrectly. The judgment would imply that the authority may lose the right to serve a liability notice at all (and thereby not be entitled to levy any CIL in relation to the development) if it delays unreasonably in serving a liability notice (in this case there was a delay of two and a half years, but in circumstances where the authority’s records had probably, although wrongly, shown that one had already been served). That had not previously been my understanding and it would be extremely risky for a developer to embark on construction in reliance on that approach, rather than (as is often currently the case) chasing down the late notice so that it can go on the merry-go-round of assumption of liability, securing exemptions and serving the commencement notice. But I can foresee arguments being raised in some situations.
And woe betide this Government if its proposed Infrastructure Levy is as unnecessarily complicated as CIL. First, why do we have a self build exemption in the first place? Secondly, given that we do, it should be obvious from the planning application that the development proposed is likely to qualify. Why the need for any forms at all? Under a properly constructed system, there would be no need for these reeling spools of, of, yes, of red tape – there I’ve said it.
Simon Ricketts, 17 April 2021
Personal views, et cetera
PS This week’s clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session will be a careers special. 6pm, 20 April. As always, message me for more information.
When I saw a limelon for the first time yesterday (some recently marketed lime/melon hybrid since you ask, and tangy and refreshing it is indeed), I naturally thought of the proposed combined infrastructure levy: what on earth is it?
Planning For The Future is of course work in progress and it may be churlish for us to expect it to have all the answers. After all, it is up to us to provide cogent responses to the current consultation process.
But the sections in the document on infrastructure contributions are very light indeed, given the central role that section 106 and the community infrastructure levy play in the current system and the obvious complexity of arriving at a system for a combined infrastructure levy that on the one hand does not choke off various forms of development in some areas by making it unviable and that on the other hand both (1) raises sufficient monies to secure the delivery of necessary social (e.g. affordable housing) and physical infrastructure and also (2) ensures for the benefit of both communities and developers that the infrastructure will actually be provided in the right place, at the right time.
•Update the evidence on the current value and incidence of planning obligations
• Investigate the relationship between CIL and S106
• Understand negotiation processes and delays to the planning process
• Explore the monitoring and transparency of developer contributions
• Understand the early effects and expectations for the changes to developer contributions brought in by the revisions to the NPPF
Chapter 3 (The value of Planning Obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy) sets out some interesting findings:
“• The estimated value of planning obligations agreed and CIL levied in 2018/19 was £7.0 billion. This valuation is premised upon the assumptions identified in the appendix, corresponding to survey validity, respondent representation and the distribution of values.
• When adjusted to reflect inflation the total value of developer contributions in real terms is £500 million higher than in 2016/17, £300 million higher than in 2007/08.
• 67% of the value of agreed developer contributions was for the provision of affordable housing, at £4.7 billion; this is the same proportion as in 2016/17 and is the joint-highest to date.
• 44,000 affordable housing dwellings were agreed in planning obligations in 2018/19. This is a reduction since 2016/17, but the value of this housing has increased over the same period due to an increase in house prices in many areas with higher developer contributions.
• The value of CIL levied by LPAs was £830 million in 2018/19, with a further £200 million levied by the Mayor of London.
• The geographic distribution of planning obligations and CIL is weighted heavily towards the south of England. The South East, South West and London regions account for 61% of the total value. However, the value of developer contributions exacted in London has fallen since 2016/17 – down from 38% to 28% of the total aggregate value.”
There is nothing in the white paper that explicitly draws from the findings of that report in order to arrive at the wholly new mechanism that is proposed.
Some people seem to have picked up the message that the white paper means the end of the community infrastructure levy – a cause for celebration in some parts. But the white paper’s proposal for a combined infrastructure levy to my mind is CIL writ large, potentially just as complex, with a whole new set of rate setting, liability, payment and spending mechanisms and with the express objective of raising more monies than the current system. It warrants its own focus at this point, away from the noise of the other proposals in the white paper.
How to begin to unpick what is proposed in relation to CIL and section 106 planning obligations (and what the proposals in relation to section 106 mean for the delivery of affordable housing in particular)? I wrote down for myself five basic questions:
1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?
2. What will happen to CIL?
3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?
4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?
5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?
In order to try to answer them (in a way which would have to work in relation to all of the proposed consenting routes: DCO, outline planning permission in plan, PiP (if different from outline permission in plan, not sure!), traditional planning permission, PD), then I cut and pasted the relevant passages from the white paper in their entirety (only leaving out the detail of some of the “alternative options” floated and leaving out the questions raised in the consultation). It is easy to read summaries and think “well there must be more detail in the document itself”. It is worth reading these passages to see the totality of the proposals.
After these passages I then see how far we can get in answering my questions.
“The process for negotiating developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure is complex, protracted and unclear: as a result, the outcomes can be uncertain, which further diminishes trust in the system and reduces the ability of local planning authorities to plan for and deliver necessary infrastructure. Over 80 per cent of planning authorities agree that planning obligations cause delay. It also further increases planning risk for developers and landowners, thus discouraging development and new entrants.”
“1.19. Fourth, we will improve infrastructure delivery in all parts of the country and ensure developers play their part, through reform of developer contributions. We propose:
• The Community Infrastructure Levy and the current system of planning obligations will be reformed as a nationally-set value-based flat rate charge (‘the Infrastructure Levy’). A single rate or varied rates could be set. We will aim for the new Levy to raise more revenue than under the current system of developer contributions, and deliver at least as much – if not more – on-site affordable housing as at present. This reform will enable us to sweep away months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements and the need to consider site viability. We will deliver more of the infrastructure existing and new communities require by capturing a greater share of the ulpift [sic] in land value that comes with development.
• We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision.
• We will give local authorities greater powers to determine how developer contributions are used, including by expanding the scope of the Levy to cover affordable housing provision to allow local planning authorities to drive up the provision of affordable homes. We will ensure that affordable housing provision supported through developer contributions is kept at least at current levels, and that it is still delivered on-site to ensure that new development continues to support mixed communities. Local authorities will have the flexibility to use this funding to support both existing communities as well as new communities.
• We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights, so that additional homes delivered through this route bring with them support for new infrastructure.
“4.5. Securing necessary infrastructure and affordable housing alongside new development is central to our vision for the planning system. We want to bring forward reforms to make sure that developer contributions are:
• responsive to local needs, to ensure a fairer contribution from developers for local communities so that the right infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered;
• transparent, so it is clear to existing and new residents what new infrastructure will accompany development;
• consistent and simplified, to remove unnecessary delay and support competition in the housebuilding industry;
• buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.
4.6. The Government could also seek to use developer contributions to capture a greater proportion of the land value uplift that occurs through the grant of planning permission, and use this to enhance infrastructure delivery. There are a range of estimates for the amount of land value uplift currently captured, from 25 to 50 per cent. The value captured will depend on a range of factors including the development value, the existing use value of the land, and the relevant tax structure – for instance, whether capital gains tax applies to the land sale. Increasing value capture could be an important source of infrastructure funding but would need to be balanced against risks to development viability.”
“4.7. We propose that the existing parallel regimes for securing developer contributions are replaced with a new, consolidated ‘Infrastructure Levy’.
Proposal 19: The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished.”
“4.8. We believe that the current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.
4.9. This would be based upon a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates. This would address issues in the current system as it would:
be charged on the final value of a development (or to an assessment of the sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. for homes built for the rental market), based on the applicable rate at the point planning permission is granted;
• be levied at point of occupation, with prevention of occupation being a potential sanction for non-payment;
• include a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold ; and
• provide greater certainty for communities and developers about what the level of developer contributions are expected alongside new development.
4.10. The single rate, or area-specific rates, would be set nationally. It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system. Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.
4.11. As a value-based charge across all use classes, we believe it would be both more effective at capturing increases in value and would be more sensitive to economic downturns. It would reduce risk for developers, and would reduce cashflow difficulties, particularly for SME developers.
4.12. In areas where land value uplift is insufficient to support significant levels of land value capture, some or all of the value generated by the development would be below the threshold, and so not subject to the levy. In higher value areas, a much greater proportion of the development value would be above the exempt amount, and subject to the levy.
4.13. To better support the timely delivery of infrastructure, we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster. As with all volatile borrowing streams, local authorities should assure themselves that this borrowing is affordable and suitable.
4.14. Under this approach the London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure.
4.15. In bringing forward the reformed Infrastructure Levy, we will need to consider its scope. We will also consider the impact of this change on areas with lower land values.”
Alternative options proposed: “The Infrastructure Levy could remain optional and would be set by individual local authorities”. “Alternatively, the national rate approach could be taken, but with the aim of capturing more land value than currently, to better support the delivery of infrastructure”
“Proposal 21: The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision
4.20. Developer contributions currently deliver around half of all affordable housing, most of which is delivered on-site. It is important that the reformed approach will continue to deliver on-site affordable housing at least at present levels.
4.21. Affordable housing provision is currently secured by local authorities via Section 106, but the Community Infrastructure Levy cannot be spent on it. With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing.
4.22. This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. [Footnote: As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106. ] First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.
4.23. Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way.
4.24. We would also need to ensure the developer was incentivised to deliver high build and design quality for their in-kind affordable homes. Currently, if Section 106 homes are not of sufficient quality, developers may be unable to sell it to a provider, or have to reduce the price. To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality. It is important that any approach taken maintains the quality of affordable housing provision as well as overarching volumes, and incentivises early engagement between providers of affordable housing and developers. Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site. Through borrowing against further Infrastructure Levy receipts, other sources of funding, or in partnership with affordable housing providers, they could then build affordable homes, enabling delivery at pace.
4.25. Alternative option: We could seek to introduce further requirements around the delivery of affordable housing. To do this we would create a ‘first refusal’ right for local authorities or any affordable housing provider acting on their behalf to buy up to a set proportion of on-site units (on a square metre basis) at a discounted price, broadly equivalent to build costs. The proportion would be set nationally, and the developer would have discretion over which units were sold in this way. A threshold would be set for smaller sites, below which on-site delivery was not required, and cash payment could be made in lieu. Where on-site units were purchased, these could be used for affordable housing, or sold on (or back to the developer) to raise money to purchase affordable housing elsewhere. The local authority could use Infrastructure Levy funds, or other funds, in order to purchase units.”
“Proposal 22: More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy
4.26. It is important that there is a strong link between where development occurs and where funding is spent. Currently, the Neighbourhood Share of the Community Infrastructure Levy ensures that up to 25 per cent of the levy is spent on priorities in the area that development occurred, with funding transferred to parish councils in parished areas. There are fewer restrictions on how this funding is spent, and we believe it provides an important incentive to local communities to allow development in their area. We therefore propose that under this approach the Neighbourhood Share would be kept, and we would be interested in ways to enhance community engagement around how these funds are used, with scope for digital innovation to promote engagement.
4.27. There is scope for even more flexibility around spending. We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax. The balance of affordable housing and infrastructure may vary depending on a local authority’s circumstances, but under this approach it may be necessary to consider ring-fencing a certain amount of Levy funding for affordable housing to ensure that affordable housing continues to be delivered on-site at current levels (or higher). There would also be opportunities to enhance digital engagement with communities as part of decision making around spending priorities. Alternatively, the permitted uses of the Levy could remain focused on infrastructure and affordable housing, as they are broadly are at present. Local authorities would continue to identify the right balance between these to meet local needs, as they do at present.”
“ 5.19. If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”
Back to my questions:
1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?
It is said in the paper that the “current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.” There will no longer be “months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements”. “Section 106 planning obligations [will be] removed”.
The proposals seem to assume that section 106 is simply a mechanism for securing provision of affordable housing and other “developer contributions”. Whilst that is its main role at present, it is a mechanism for a wide range of commitments – see this table from the accompanying study:
The joy of section 106 is its flexibility to circumstances and policy, enabling the applicant commit to commit, in a way that binds successors in title, to all necessary mitigation measures that cannot be secured by way of planning condition and which are necessary to overcome what would otherwise be reasons not to allow the proposed development to proceed. On more complex developments it is the only tried and tested way in which appropriate mechanisms can be arrived at to make sure that, for instance, necessary infrastructure comes forward at the right time and by way of a sensible process, bespoke to the circumstances of the development, agreed between the parties. There is no proposal in the paper (although it has previously been floated by some) that the role of planning conditions could be expanded.
Where financial contributions are paid to a local planning authority under a section 106 agreement they can only be used for the specified purposes, whereas the proposals in relation to the consolidated infrastructure levy appear to be more loose: “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met.”What is meant by “core infrastructure obligations”? The core infrastructure obligations necessary to make a particular development acceptable? If so, then a document will need to be drawn up which surely will be as complex as a section 106 agreement – when will the school come forward, using the developer’s infrastructure levy contribution, how, where and when? Local employment and training measures, provision and maintenance of open space and play areas, carbon reduction commitments, commitments to specified transport improvements and the formulation and implementation of transport plans – are all these to be swept away? If so, the document needs to explain either why this is acceptable and desirable or how these matters will otherwise be addressed.
Additional confusion arises when these bold statements as to the removal of section 106 obligations are then contrasted with the footnote to paragraph 4.22: “As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106”. What does that mean? What would the “covenant on the land” and if the only point is to make sure that the infrastructure levy binds successors in title, why not leave that for the legislation itself?
Is anyone out there clearer at this stage ?
2. What will happen to CIL?
The community infrastructure levy will be replaced by the consolidated infrastructure levy, which will work in various significantly different ways to the current system. For instance:
• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 3 below.
• It will be “levied at point of occupation”.
• “Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.”
• “we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster.” [If a developer needs specific infrastructure to be delivered in order to enable development to proceed, how will this be documented? What if, as is usually the case, the developer would prefer to deliver the infrastructure, e.g. build the school?]
• The “London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure” [Is this retained as in retained under the current CIL system so that in London CIL would continue to operate alongside the new levy, or is this retained as in “rolled into”?]
• “We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights” [This is odd – development pursuant to PD rights is not exempt from CIL at the moment. Is this flagging more widely that exemptions will be removed? That would have been a sensible, simplifying, approach were CIL levels to be reduced, but here we are faced with an increased Infrastructure Levy…]
3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?
• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates”. [Clearly this can’t in any circumstances mean a nationally-set flat rate charge of x per square metres but must mean a nationally-set proportion of (I assume) gross development value.]
• There will be “a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold”. [When would the developer have certainty that the threshold was not exceeded, or indeed as to what the value (and therefore charge) is considered to be, through what procedure and with what rights to appeal against the valuation? Is the valuation a notional one, applying a formula, or an actual valuation?]
• “buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.” [the timing of the valuation date will be critical, as will how to deal with phased and revised schemes and so on].
• “It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system” [so more than £7bn, on the basis of the findings in that study – in a way which will need not to disincentivise owners and developers from carrying out development].
That’s all I can glean from the document. It seems to me that local planning authorities will lose much flexibility, for instance in the setting of differential rates for different types of floorspace (the document does focus to a significant extent on residential development – what rate would be set for, say, offices, logistics or retail, particularly given the weaker relationship between non-residential uses and the delivery of affordable housing, and what about not for profit development – will we need to reintroduce a number of the current CIL exemptions?
4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?
• “With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 5 below.
• “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax.” [So, infrastructure levy surplus receipts (after delivery of “core infrastructure”) become unhypothecated tax receipts – the less the authority spends on infrastructure, the lower it can keep its council tax, hmm…]?
• “If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”
5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?
• “We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision”.
• “This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.” [So presumably the developer could net-off the costs of on-site delivery from its infrastructure levy liability. How is this to be documented? Who adjudicates on the obvious valuation issues arising?]
• “Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way” [How to safeguard against misuse?]
• “To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality.”
• “Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site.” [Back to ensuring a robust valuation process].
Again, maybe it’s just me but I’m left scratching my head. This is a wholly different approach to extracting contributions for affordable housing and for ensuring that they are delivered. Basic questions:
• How will the requirements (quantum, tenure mix, size] be set at policy stage and determined at application stage (in advance of valuations) such that there can be confidence that development will not be stalled through lack of viability?
• Are we moving to a system where all affordable housing is delivered by a local authority nominated housing provider, with less ability for the developer to seek to improve viability?
• How can there be any confidence that this mechanism will result in more on-site affordable housing than at present?
Again, thoughts welcome – it’s not that the proposals can’t be made to work, it’s just that much more input is required and, in my view, a cautious approach needs to be taken so as to guard against the inevitable unintended consequences.
The deadline for consultation responses is 29 October. We are likely to be collating a Town response, if only on specific issues such as this. If you would be interested in feeding in your thoughts, then please let me know, although, health warning, we are not in the business of designing fruit by committee!
are probably the three words I most associate with the planning system in England, since you asked.
The main part of this post is a commentary by special guest and fellow Town partner Duncan Field on the Government’s Planning for the future white paper, published on 6 August 2020.
But before we get to that, some initial comments from me on timescales.
The consultation period on the white paper ends on 29 October 2020.
The aspiration in the document is that (subject to time extensions for recent plans) new local plans should be in place by the end of this Parliament, so by Spring 2024. Given that those local plans will take up to 30 months to be put in place under the new system proposed, the necessary primary legislation will need to have been passed and in force, with any necessary accompanying Regulations and guidance, by Autumn 2021.
By way of proxy for legislative timescales, the less ambitious Housing and Planning Act 2016 and Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 each took around seven months to pass through the necessary Parliamentary stages, which would mean introducing a Bill by the beginning of 2021. One perhaps has to look back to the Localism Act 2011 for planning legislation of equivalent complexity. That took eleven months from soup to nuts.
Something is going to have to give – either there is going to be rushed consideration of these proposals, which still need significant refinement, or that “end of this Parliament” aspiration is going to have to be reconsidered before long.
But in any event, things can be expected to move quickly.
The timescales in that document for the four sets of proposals within it are as follows:
· changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need: “Following the outcome of this consultation, the Government will update the planning practice guidance with the revised standard method for assessing local housing need.”
· securing of First Homes through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system: “We intend to begin by making planning policy changes, to ensure that clear expectations are set. However, to ensure that First Homes are delivered, nationwide, on a consistent basis, we are keeping under consideration the option to strengthen the policy through primary legislation at a future date. We also intend to introduce an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy for First Homes, to enable delivery prior to wider developer contribution reform. This would require changes to regulations. Lastly, we are also considering significant reforms to the system of developer contributions. We will ensure that First Homes willcontinue to be delivered under a reformed approach”
· supporting small and medium-sized builders by temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing: “Following the consultation, a decision will be taken on whether to proceed with this approach. If it is taken forward, this could be through the introduction of a Written Ministerial Statement in the Autumn.”
· extending the current Permission in Principle to major development: “Following this consultation, if we introduce Permission in Principle by application for major development, we aim to introduce amending regulations this Autumn, with the regulations expected to come into force by the end of the calendar year. Changes to the fee structure would require separate changes to the Planning Fees Regulations.”
The white paper is in my view a considered document and less radical than might have been expected, although certainly ambitious in its breadth. Proposals spin out of it, one after the other, often just in a sentence or two. There are of course areas where there needs to be further thought or explanation. For me, there are two big ones in particular:
⁃ the way in which housing numbers are to be set by the Government for individual authorities and how to resolve the inevitable tension between a swifter examination process and a process that allows proposals in a plan (and the basis for proposals not being in the plan) to be properly tested (particularly where the plan is going to be the equivalent of a series of outline planning permissions for its growth areas);
⁃ how this new infrastructure levy is really going to work and how obligations are going to be addressed that presently are dealt with by way of section 106 agreement, in particular the delivery of affordable housing.
There will also have to be a clear working through of the respective powers and responsibilities across the system, as between government, strategic authorities, local planning authorities and neighbourhoods.
I must say that I found Chris Katkowski QC’s explanations in the latest Have We Got Planning News For You episode really helpful in bringing the proposals, and the thinking behind them, to life. And, boring to say, there is no substitute for reading the actual document.
Planning for the Future begins with some fairly combative language, referring to “our outdated and ineffective planning system” and drawing comparisons with a patched up building which needs to be torn down.
In truth the Government’s proposals do not go quite as far as that and in practice, to continue with the same analogy, we might end up with a better and more sustainable outcome if we were to save the parts of the “patched up building” which have architectural merit. The biggest problem with the current system is not that it is all inherently bad but that it is not sufficiently resourced; it is a pity that planning reforms by successive Governments have never really grappled with that central issue. The good news on this occasion is that the new system will be accompanied by a comprehensive skills and resources strategy for local authorities and key participants in the system; let’s hope the Government delivers on that.
Further on in the document there are some powerful words from the Secretary of State which bring home just how important a time this is for the planning system and what it can deliver. It is hard to disagree with any of this:
The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected the economic and social lives of the entire nation. With so many people spending more time at home than ever before, we have come to know our homes, gardens and local parks more intimately. For some this has been a welcome opportunity to spend more time in the place they call home with the people they love. For others – those in small, substandard homes, those unable to walk to distant shops or parks, those struggling to pay their rent, or indeed for those who do not have a home of their own at all – this has been a moment where longstanding issues in our development and planning system have come to the fore.
Onto the objectives for reform, which can be summarised as follows:
• Reduce complexity and with it, uncertainty and delay.
• In doing so, deliver a more competitive market with a greater diversity of developers.
• Remove the discretionary nature of individual development management decisions and replace it with a rule-based system of development control.
• In doing so, reduce planning risk and the cost of capital for development.
• Reduce the time it takes to produce a local plan.
• Simplify assessments of housing need, viability and environmental impacts.
• Restore public trust and encourage more widespread public participation.
• Get better at unlocking growth and opportunity, encouraging beautiful new places, supporting town and city centres and revitalising existing buildings as well as new development.
• Harness digital technology.
Linked to this is a long list of desired outcomes including the user experience, home ownership, access to infrastructure, economic growth and innovation.
We then come to the main proposals which the Government intends to bring forward:
1. Local plans
a. These will be simplified so that they only identify land for development, the sites that should be protected and the development that can take place. There would be three categories of land:
i. Growth – sites suitable for comprehensive development which, once allocated, will have outline approval for development.
ii. Renewal – sites where smaller scale development is appropriate, which would benefit from a statutory presumption in favour of development once allocated.
iii. Protected – sites with environmental or cultural characteristics where development should be subject to more stringent controls.
An alternative approach might be a more binary system (growth and renewal with permission in principle versus protected areas) or more scope for the existing development management approach in areas other than those allocated for “growth”.
b. Plans should become digital, visual and map-based, interactive and data rich, using a standardised approach to support open access.
c. Local plans (and neighbourhood plans) will be more focused on giving clear area-specific requirements for land that is allocated for growth and renewal including design codes; generic development management policies and duplication of national policy and guidance needs to be avoided.
d. Plans should be subject to a single test of achieving sustainable development instead of the current tests for soundness and the duty to co-operate. There would be no Sustainability Appraisal and instead this would be replaced by a simplified process for assessing the environmental impact of plans.
e. Local plans would meet housing need by reference to a standard method for establishing housing requirements developed and set at a national level; this would mean distributing the national housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes annually, and one million homes by the end of the Parliament, taking into account local factors including constraints, opportunities and affordability. The Housing Delivery Test would stay.
f. Local plans would have to be brought forward by reference to a fixed 30 month statutory timescale with six stages and individual timings for each stage.
g. Local planning authorities would be under a duty to review their plans every 5 years; powers of intervention would remain such as the issuing of directions and preparation of a plan in consultation with local people.
h. Neighbourhood Plans to be retained but with more focus on form of development to reflect the proposals for Local Plans.
This is a refreshingly clear vision of what local plans might become and a digitalised system would be transformative for the user experience and public engagement. However, there are some big questions around how to encourage strategic planning across local authority boundaries for the bigger than local issues (the Government is open to suggestions), how in practice the “sustainable development” test would work and, linked to that, how robust the new environmental assessment process will be.
Equally as important, what will the effect of these promised changes be on current local plans? Without further incentives or assurances around their continuing effect in any transitional arrangements as we switch over to the new system, there must be a real concern they will be halted in their tracks.
2. Development Management
a. As indicated above, growth areas allocated in a local plan would have outline permission for the principle of development; details would be agreed and full planning permission achieved through a new reserved matters process, a local development order or possibly, on bigger sites, via a development consent order.
b. Renewal areas would benefit from a new statutory presumption in favour of development and would benefit from either a new automatic consenting route where specified forms of development meet design and other prior approval requirements, a faster planning application process or a local or neighbourhood development order.
c. Proposals which do not conform to the local plan in renewal and growth areas could still come forward, exceptionally, through a planning application process.
d. In protected areas, proposals will have to be brought forward via a planning application (subject to any permitted development rights or local development orders) and will be judged against the NPPF.
e. Generally, the development management process will be based on a more streamlined end-to-end process with firm deadlines for determination through a mix of:
ii. Data access;
iii. Shorter and standardised applications with reduced or limited supporting material;
iv. A standardised approach to technical information, conditions and developer contributions; and
v. Delegation of detailed planning decisions to planning officers where the principle of development has been established.
f. The Government will build in incentives for prompt determination of applications by local planning authorities such as deemed approval of some applications or refunds of application fees.
g. The process will still be subject to call-in powers and appeals but the Government expects the volume of call-ins and appeals to reduce over time.
h. There will be encouragement for faster build out by making provision in local plans/design codes for a variety of development types by different builders (picking up on the conclusions of the Letwin Review).
This vision for the new development management system feels less clear: permission in principle and outline planning permission are used interchangeably in places as a consequence of land being allocated for growth; however, over and above this, there appears to be provision for a “full” planning permission through a new reserved matters system or local development orders or even development consent orders. Would this not remove a lot of the benefit of allocating land for growth? There is also a myriad of possible ways in which land allocated for renewal might gain consent and, in the meantime, we retain the current planning application process as well. If the Government is not careful it might add to the complexity of development management.
Certainly, we can all get on board with the much-needed streamlining of the development management process from end to end, with more standardisation, reducing the quantity of application documents and increased use of digital technology. However, resourcing this change will be key to its success.
3. Building better, building beautiful and sustainable places
Design and place-making is still high up on the Government’s political agenda. Proposals in this space include the following:
a. A National Model Design Code to be published in the Autumn which will work alongside the National Design Guide and the Manual for Streets; together these are expected to have a bearing on design of new communities and to guide decisions on development. (This will be an early entrant into the current planning system.)
b. Local guides and codes are to be prepared wherever possible to reflect local character but need to have input from the local community before they are given any weight in the planning process.
c. A new expert body will be set up to help local authorities make use of design guidance and codes, as well as performing a wider monitoring and challenge role for the sector.
d. The much-heralded “fast-track” for beauty will be achieved through:
i. The NPPF – which will have provision for schemes that comply with local design guides and codes to be approved quickly;
ii. Legislation to require that sites in growth areas should have a masterplan and site-specific code as a condition of the permission in principle which is granted through allocation in the local plan; and
iii. Widening permitted development rights through the use of “pattern books” for different building types.
e. The NPPF will require targeted consideration of measures to support climate change mitigation and adaptation. (In our view, policy has been playing catch-up on climate change for some time – this is long overdue and should be welcomed.)
f. There will be a quicker and simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts, stepping away from the current frameworks such as Strategic Environmental Assessment, Sustainability Appraisal and Environmental Impact Assessment. The key requirements for the new framework will be:
i. early consideration;
ii. clear and easy to understand; and
iii. avoidance of duplication.
A further consultation on this is expected in the Autumn.
g. The Government intends to review and update the planning framework for listed buildings and conservation areas, to ensure their significance is conserved while allowing, where appropriate, sympathetic changes to support their continued use and address climate change.
h. Improvements to the energy efficiency standards for buildings will be brought forward to help meet the 2050 net zero commitment.
The intention here is clear and consistent with the recent focus of the Government on design and beauty in the planning system. The area with the most loaded questions is the promised framework for assessing environmental impact; in our view, there is clear scope to reduce the voluminous and highly technical nature of the current framework but now is not the time to water it down in terms of its ambit and its protective function. We will have to wait until the Autumn to find out more.
There are radical proposals for the funding of infrastructure:
a. Replace S106 obligations and the current version of Community Infrastructure Levy with a new Infrastructure Levy calculated as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory, nationally-set rate or rates (potentially variable by area).
b. This new levy will be charged on the final value of a development (or an assessed sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. build to rent) by reference to the rate in force when planning permission is granted. This would have to be paid before occupation.
c. Local authorities would be able to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure.
d. The London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities could be retained.
e. The Infrastructure Levy Could be extended to capture changes of use without additional floor area and through permitted development.
f. The new levy would be extended to fund affordable housing. Allowance would be made for in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, a capability to deliver on site and wishes to do so. In those circumstances local authorities would be able to specify the form and tenure of the on-site provision. The Government anticipates that there would need to be a considered policy approach to the risk of imbalance between the value of the agreed in-kind delivery and the fluctuating nature of the levy liability, contingent as it will be on the development value.
g. Local authorities could be given more freedom on how they spend the levy.
There is a lot of detail to be worked through here. Setting the new levy at a level which does not deter development (and indeed land supply through the price paid by developers) will be key and a difficult issue to judge.
The Government will also need to be scrupulous in ensuring that affordable housing continues to come forward using levy funds and still comes forward as part of mixed and balanced communities.
The removal of the blunt and inflexible tool that we have come to love or hate in the form of CIL is welcome in our view and with it the removal of a considerable amount of confusing and time-consuming red tape. For practical reasons – not least delivering site-specific solutions for development – we are not sure we are witnessing the end of S106 obligations or an equivalent just yet but they will undoubtedly be slimmed down.
The consultation document ends with a few final proposals and thoughts from Government on the delivery of a new planning system:
a. As a first step there is a parallel consultation on changes to the current system including extension of Permission in Principle (by application to major development), the standard method for assessing local housing need, First Homes and supporting SME builders by temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing. More here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-current-planning-system
b. The Government sees a potential delivery role for development corporations.
c. The reforms are considered likely to reduce judicial review risk.
d. The need for resources and skills is recognised and will be addressed through a comprehensive strategy. In principle, the Government’s view is that the cost of operating the new planning system should be principally funded by the beneficiaries of planning gain – landowners and developers – rather than the national or local taxpayer. Funding may also be achieved through application fees and potentially the new infrastructure levy or- to a limited extent – general taxation.
e. The Government intends to strengthen the powers for local planning authorities to enforce against breach of planning control and provide incentives for enforcement action to be taken.
To end where this overview began, resources are key and a comprehensive strategy to ensure the sufficiency of funding and skills will be very welcome, as long as it does what it says on the tin. This will be vital to the success of the new system.
We know now what the Government wants to achieve. It is up to all of us in the sector to help them make it work and if parts of the system are worthy of retention for their “architectural” merit, to explain why that is, with reference to the Government’s objectives.
No-one embarks lightly on litigation but there have been two striking examples this week of what it can achieve. Sometimes it doesn’t even need a hearing (first example) and sometimes it’s on the final roll of the dice (second example).
The Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission, against his inspector’s recommendations, for a large development on Docklands – with the decision issued a day before the developer’s CIL liability would have increased by up to £50m – was an eye opener. I covered it, and Tower Hamlets’ reaction, in my 18 January 2020 blog post Westferry Printworks Decision: LPA Reaction Unprintable.
The Council followed through with its threat of a legal challenge to the decision, as did the Mayor of London.
It was frankly surprising to hear this week that the Secretary of State has consented to judgment. I do not think that the consent order itself, which would set out the reasoning agreed by the parties and sealed by the court, is yet in the public domain but there are these two press statements from those involved:
“The consent order reflects the fact that in pre-action correspondence, the Secretary of State explained that the decision letter was issued on 14 January 2020, rather than the following day, so that it would be issued before Tower Hamlets adopted its new local plan and CIL charging schedule. He accepted that the timing of the decision letter, thereby avoiding a substantial financial liability which would otherwise fall on the developer, would lead the fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that he was biased in favour of the developer. He accepted that the decision letter was unlawful by reason of apparent bias and should be quashed. The Mayor/GLA’s challenge was therefore academic, but he agreed to pay their costs. “
Those of us not close to what happened can only speculate but why would the Secretary of State cave in rather than face a hearing? Was he worried as to what might be made public in a trawling over of internal correspondence and notes? Echoes of the Mayor’s recent consenting to judgment in the Kensington Forum case (see my 14 March 2020 blog post, London, Friday the 13th).
The appeal will now need to be redetermined and, which is an expensive consequence for the developer of these events, even if the appeal is allowed second time around, the higher CIL figure will be payable.
I recounted this saga, about a lost pair of urns which were the subject of a listed building enforcement notice, at the time of the Court of Appeal ruling (see my 1 December 2018 blog post Is It A Listed Building? No Statuary Right Of Appeal). I still like the title to the post but the rest of it is now out of date – the effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dill v Secretary of State (Supreme Court, 20 May 2020) was basically to remove the word “no” from my blog post: in defending a listed building enforcement appeal it is now possible to raise the argument that the listed building is not in fact a building (and the court gives some guidance as to what constitutes a “building” for these purposes). See also this excellent summary: Supreme Court rules on the meaning of listed building (39 Essex Chambers, 20 May 2020 – Richard Harwood QC appeared for Mr Dill, instructed by Simon Stanion at Shakespeare Martineau).
Aside from the substantive legal points, which are important, the interesting thing about the case for me is that persistence paid off. The inspector found against him, Singh J at first instance found against him, the Court of Appeal found against him but Mr Dill and his legal team did not give up. The costs of losing would no doubt have been as significant for Mr Dill as the CIL consequences for Tower Hamlets in Westferry.
And whilst the outcome of the case did not remove the spectre for Mr Dill of continued battles – the listed building enforcement notice appeal would now need to redetermined – Lord Carnwath concluded his final judgment before retiring from the Supreme Court with these words:
“I understand that this will be deeply frustrating for Mr Dill. There is as I understand it no suggestion that he acted other than in good faith in disposing of items which he believed to be his own disposable property, and had been so treated by his family for several decades. Since this problem was first drawn to his attention by the local authority in April 2015 he has been attempting to obtain a clear ruling on that issue. On the view I have taken, that opportunity has been wrongly denied to him for five years. Even if his appeal were ultimately to fail, the practicability of restoring the vases to their previous location in the grounds of Idlicote House is uncertain. Accordingly, this court’s formal order for remittal should not prevent the respondents from giving serious consideration to whether in all the circumstances it is fair to Mr Dill or expedient in the public interest to pursue this particular enforcement process any further.”
Well done to the successful claimants and legal teams in both cases. But “snakes and ladders” and “final roll of the dice” analogies are not far off the mark, are they? How to arrive at a system that is more simple and not dependent on expensive, uncertain litigation? Perhaps by reducing the politics (removing the ability for the Secretary of State to recover appeals?), certainly by trying to make sure that legal principles are simpler (if you do the maths, in Dill one inspector and four judges were overruled by five judges, over those narrow “legal exam” questions, following submissions prepared by five barristers and their associated legal teams – the whole process ultimately to be paid for by us, the tax payer, save for those costs which Mr Dill cannot recover).
Validation and determination of applications for planning permission
No changes have been made to the timescales for determining planning applications. Developers are however encouraged to agree extensions of the period for determination. Local authorities have been urged to give priority to validating urgent COVID-19 related applications for planning permission and associated consents.
Publicising applications for planning permission
Temporary regulations (expiring on 31 December 2020) were made and came into force on 14 May to supplement existing publicity arrangements for planning applications, listed building consent applications and environmental statements for EIA development. There is now flexibility to take other reasonable steps to publicise applications and environmental statements if the usual specific requirements cannot be discharged relating to site notices, neighbour notifications, newspaper publicity or availability of hard copy documents. Steps can include the use of social media and electronic communications and they must be “proportionate to the scale and nature of the development”. Guidance has also been issued on this topic.
MHCLG has made it clear that planning conditions should not be a barrier to allowing developers and site operators flexibility around construction site working hours to facilitate safe working. Where only short term or modest increases in working hours are required, LPAs are encouraged to use their discretion to not enforce against a breach of working hours conditions. Where longer term measures or other significant changes are required, applications to amend conditions should be made, which LPAs should prioritise and turn around in 10 days. Requests to work up to 9 pm Monday to Saturday should not be refused without very compelling reasons.
Community infrastructure levy
The existing CIL regulations of course allow charging authorities limited flexibility to defer CIL liability. Amendments will be made to the regulations “in due course” to increase flexibility, but that will still depend upon charging authorities deciding to exercise the new discretion available to them. Authorities will be able to defer payments, temporarily disapply late payment interest and provide a discretion to return interest already charged. However, these changes will only apply to small and medium-sized developers with an annual turnover of less than £45 million. It remains to be seen how this limitation will be addressed in the regulations, for example where a special purpose vehicle, potentially offshore, has assumed liability. The new instalment policies for deferred payments will only apply to chargeable development starting after the changes come into effect, but they are anticipated to apply to “phases“ of the development starting after that date. The announcement on 13 May added that “existing flexibilities and the government’s clear intention to legislate should give authorities confidence to use their enforcement powers with discretion and provide some comfort to developers that, where appropriate, they will not be charged extra for matters that were outside of their control.”
Section 106 planning obligations
Local planning authorities are encouraged to consider the deferral of section 106 obligations, e.g. financial payments. This will require variations to existing section agreements and undertakings. Local planning authorities are encouraged generally to take a “pragmatic and proportionate” approach to the enforcement of section 106 planning obligations
PINS issued a further update on 13 May. Site visits are being commenced and PINS is considering whether there are types of cases that can proceed without a site visit. The first digital appeal hearing took place on 11 May as a pilot and PINS is aiming for 20 further examinations, hearings and inquiries in May and June. It is also exploring hybrid options – a mix of in person and by video public/telephone hearings and is considering “social distance” events.
MHCLG is working on ways to address the local plans process in order to meet aspirations to have all local plans in place by 2023. In particular, the use of virtual hearings and written submissions is being considered.
Regulation 12 of the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 prevents any neighbourhood planning referendum from taking place until 6 May 2021. Updated guidance was issued in April allowing neighbourhood plans awaiting referendums to be given significant weight in decision making.
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects
The government is working with consenting departments to support the continuation of decision-making to minimise the impact of current restrictions on the consideration of DCO applications and the Planning Inspectorate has updated its guidance.
Compulsory purchase orders
There is now pragmatic advice as to the service of documents. Acquiring authorities are encouraged to allow more time for responses to requests for information about interests in land or submitting objections to CPO. There is also encouragement to authorities to act responsibly regarding business and residential claimants, particularly regarding the timing of vesting orders and payment of compensation, which is particularly relevant when considering evictions. Authorities are reminded of their obligation to make advance payments of compensation in accordance with statutory time limits given cash flow difficulties which claimants may currently face.
To my mind, this is all welcome and congratulations are due in particular to the relevant civil servants. Of course, there is more to be resolved, for instance the vexed question of extending time limited planning permissions (see my 4 April 2020 blog post Pause Not Delete: Extending Planning Permissions) as well as the Regulations in relation to CIL, but it is good to see this progress. No wonder MHCLG’s Simon Gallagher was prepared to come on this week’s Have We Got Planning News For You!
Of course, after the regulations were brought into force, there was then a pause caused by the 6 May 2010 general election. Would the incoming coalition government scrap, or at least amend and rebadge, the system? In the end the system survived and, according to wikipedia at least, the London Borough of Redbridge was the first to adopt a CIL charging schedule, on 1 January 2012.
So CIL didn’t live through the global financial crisis, or previous recessions, as we have done. I have written before about the inherent inflexibility of the mechanism but, as Miles acknowledges in his piece, the current economic conditions are going to prove the big test for the levy.
He says “CIL’s inflexibility could prove its downfall if the forthcoming downturn is anything other than a short sharp shock. COVID-19 has created the biggest test which CIL has yet faced. If the downturn is lengthy, local authorities may need to hurriedly cut CIL rates to help return development to viability. Or, press the pause button on introducing CIL altogether.”
This may all be so, but there are also other, more nuanced steps which charging authorities could also be taking, with the encouragement of MHCLG, one would hope. For instance:
⁃ The switching on, within charging authorities, of the ability to apply for exceptional circumstances relief – and if there isn’t sufficient movement on this I would argue for its automatic national application by way of a change to the regulations. Whilst ECR is a cumbersome process, and there are state aid considerations to be borne in mind, if these aren’t “exceptional circumstances” what are? And I suspect that the application of ECR will be more palatable than the reintroduction of section 106BA, which enabled developers to reduce or remove section 106 affordable housing obligations on the grounds of viability.
⁃ The introduction of instalment schemes for payment (currently discretionary) and the review of existing instalment schemes to push back timescales.
“Where development has already commenced, CIL demand notices will shortly be re-issued to allow for a 3 month extension to the next instalment due date and to subsequent outstanding instalments. This position will be reviewed towards the end of June and any further extension to instalment payment periods will be communicated. It will take time for notices to be prepared and issued, but this work will be prioritised.
An individual, case by case review of late payment interest and surcharges will be made and a pragmatic approach adopted to support customers in these circumstances.
CIL debt recovery will largely be paused for 3 months and will be reviewed towards the end of June 2020 with a view to extending this position if required.”
Are there any examples of other charging authorities taking an equivalent stance? Clearly there are risks in such an approach and I would be cautious as to the extent that, for example, a funder with millions of pounds at stake, could rely on such a commitment. It is unfortunate that the Regulations are so inflexible as to lead to such sticking-plaster solutions.
Stepping back, unless authorities are now going to move very quickly to propose reduced charging rates and take positive steps in relation to instalment policies and ECR, wouldn’t a solution in current circumstances be for the Government to legislate so as to allow authorities, both in relation to existing permissions and permissions which have not yet been issued, either to (1) defer payment of CIL for a defined period or (2) allow an emergency discount of say 50% to be applied, conditional upon development being commenced within a defined period of time and then completed within a defined period (the period to be agreed with the authority having regard to its projected build programme and if the deadline is missed there would be clawback)? To reduce the extent that the authority is as a consequence unable to deliver essential infrastructure, the Government would need to make additional funding available, because after all the economic and social benefits of ensuring that development gets started again will be immense.
I don’t have the answers – I would welcome your much better ones (except “abolish CIL” – let’s be practical). However, I do know that (1) CIL is a massive, inflexible, cash drain for any development early in its implementation and (2) some additional flexibility would surely reduce the risk that many development projects will remain on hold even once normal life starts to return around us all.
When, as it will, this current terrible phase of the Covid-19 pandemic passes, what needs to be done to ensure that we catch up on efforts to provide housing and resume economic activity?
The main purpose of this blog post, into which a number of my partners at Town have contributed their thoughts (although all errors and omissions are mine), is to try to answer that question.
But first, what is presently being done to make sure that our system continues to operate, efficiently but fairly?
It is encouraging to see the great efforts being made by many local planning authorities to keep going with decision making, by way of innovative approaches to decision making and greater use of officers’ delegated powers, and the commitment of so many officers and members, continuing to work from home against a background of other domestic pressures and technological constraints. It will be excellent to see proactive moves by authorities to amend their constitutions, with necessary safeguards such as chief executive oversight, where there are specific rules against certain categories of application being dealt with other than by committee. Some of the options are set out in a piece by barrister Jonathan Easton, Local authority decision making in a time of crises, 19 March 2020. The Government has also confirmed that it “will consider bringing forward legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period” (Robert Jenrick reaffirms support for councils in their coronavirus response, MHCLG press release, 16 March 2020); the Association of Democratic Services Officers and Lawyers in Local Government wrote jointly to the Secretary of State on 17 March 2020 setting out the full extent of changes that would be needed for local government decision making to function properly during this period of social distancing. The quicker the better please!
It is frustrating after the resounding success of the Rosewell reforms to see planning appeal inquiries, as well as informal hearings and local plan examinations, postponed as a result of the virus (see Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Planning Inspectorate guidance – updated 18 March 2020) – but of course the reason is plain. So far the postponements only relate to those scheduled up to 23 April but surely this will roll forward in due course. The Bar has made much of discussions with the Planning Inspectorate for greater use of video conferencing – which is the stock in trade for all of us at the moment – microsoft teams, zoom, you name it, we’re all on it! But keeping the professionals communicating with the inspector in a structured way is one thing – what about the “public” element of a public inquiry? [subsequent addition to blog post: see this subsequent excellent Landmark Chambers paper Fairness and public participation in video or telephone hearings for planning appeals during the COVID-19 crisis]. For all but the most controversial or complex appeals (so perhaps not those which have been recovered by the Secretary of State), should appellants be given the option of having their appeals determined by written representations, even if until now the appeal has been identified as appropriate for a hearing or inquiry?
The courts have also been quick to consider how to respond. An update from the Lord Chief Justice on 17 March 2020 spoke of the “urgent need to increase the use of telephone and video technology immediately to hold remote hearings where possible”, the “considerable flexibility” provided for in the Civil Procedure Rules and the courts’ “immediate aim is to maintain a service to the public, ensure as many hearings in all jurisdictions can proceed and continue to deal with all urgent matters”. Indeed, colleagues had an early taste of this on 19 March, with Deputy High Court Judge Alice Robinson handing down judgment from open court in a section 288 challenge (following a hearing earlier in the week), with the advocates and parties at the other end of the telephone. Clause 53 and Schedule 24 of the Coronavirus Bill (introduced into the House of Commons on 19 March 2020) proposes greater flexibility in relation to the use of live video and audio links, with appropriate protections, for a temporary period of two years (whoch period may be shortened or extended). I also recommend this excellent piece, Tim Buley QC shares his thoughts on the Public law courts during the coronavirus crisis, which pulls together much of what is currently being done, or contemplated.
Some ideas, looking ahead
Just a week or so ago seems like an age away. The Secretary of State set out a range of proposals for further reform of the planning system in his Planning for the future document (12 March 2020). He announced:
“In the Spring, we will publish a bold and ambitious Planning White Paper. It will propose measures to accelerate planning. It will maximise the potential of new technologies to modernise the system. It will make it easier for communities to understand the planning system and play a role in decisions that affect them. Together, the measures it puts forward will set out a pathway to a new English planning system which is fit for the future”.
That talk of a “new English planning system” seemed to herald some of the thinking from the Policy Exchange’s paper Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century (27 January 2020) and, after all, its co-author Jack Airey is now a 10 Downing Street advisor. I wrote a critique of the paper in the Estates Gazette (Let’s rethink the rethink, 5 March 2020) but perhaps I was being a little premature. Because maybe, once all this subsides, it is time to look at for instance:
⁃ the potential for more of a zoning-style approach, which could begin to be introduced fairly simply by placing a proper duty on authorities to prepare brownfield land registers (as well as making it mandatory for local authorities to import into their registers all sites identified by the Government in its promised national brownfield sites map) and then increasing the scope for use of the ‘permission in principle’ procedure e.g. by allowing it to be used for more than just housing-led development and allowing permission in principle to be established through site allocations in a local plan.
⁃ greater use, this time with better safeguards against abuse, of permitted development rights. After all, setting aside the problems caused by that lack of appropriate safeguards, since the permitted development right to convert offices to residential was initially introduced for a temporary three year period from May 2013 (following an initial announcement in the March 2011 budget), many thousands of new homes have been created at much greater speed than traditional planning application routes would have achieved. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Planning For The Future announces that the Government will introduce “new permitted development rights for building upwards on existing buildings by summer 2020, including to extend residential blocks by up to two storeys and to deliver new and bigger homes. We will also consult on the detail of a new permitted development right to allow vacant commercial buildings, industrial buildings and residential blocks to be demolished and replaced with well-designed new residential units which meet natural light standards.” Devil’s question: if we are to have permitted development rights to demolish and rebuild, why not go further and have permitted rights, with equivalent safeguards, to carry out residential development on already cleared brownfield land (as an alternative to the enhanced brownfield land register/permission in principle proposal above)?
Surely, all these ideas will need to be considered, against the backdrop of months of lost housing delivery and a severe knock to economic confidence.
But I would suggest that, ahead of that promised White Paper, which will surely now slip considerably, there are a number of shorter-term measures to make adjustments in order to make up for the time that has been lost as a result of this crisis. In considering these, I recognise the inevitable tension between on the one hand measures that seek to “put on hold” aspects of our system, particularly time limits, and on the other hand measures to keep the system moving.
We need to learn from recent history. In the wake of the global financial crisis, on 1 October 2009 the Government introduced a temporary measure “to make it easier for developers and local planning authorities to keep planning permissions alive for longer during the economic downturn so that they can more quickly be implemented when economic conditions improve.” Guidance as to the operation of the provisions was set out in Greater flexibility for planning permissions (23 November 2009, amended 1 October 2010 and eventually withdrawn 7 March 2014). (The same document gave guidance as to the operation of the helpful section 96A non-material amendments procedure, introduced at the same time.)
We urgently need an equivalent measure reintroduced or, perhaps more simply, an automatic six months’ extension to all planning permission time limit conditions. After all there is already a year’s automatic extension under section 91 (3A) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 where a planning permission is subject to judicial review proceedings. The thinking should extend to other fixed deadlines, for instance in relation to the implementation of compulsory purchase orders and NSIPs.
There are various section 106 obligations which provide for ongoing financial contributions or measures with significant ongoing costs, not linked to progress with stages of development. The Government should surely provide firm guidance to authorities that they must readily agree to the renegotiation of such provisions to take into account the current standstill period if the evidence is, for any specific development, that this is necessary and justified.
In London, there is a particular issue with the early stage viability review mechanism required by the Mayor. The review is triggered if “substantial implementation” (usually development above ground floor level) has not happened within two years of planning permission being issued. Surely we should be avoiding the unnecessary bureaucracy inherent in that process where we can and for most major schemes the 24 months’ deadline is challenging even with a fully deployed design and construction team. Again, boroughs and the Mayor should surely be urged to agree to vary such arrangements so as to allow for an appropriate extension, whether it turns out to be three months, six months, or longer. Flexibility is also urgently needed with agreements that are currently being negotiated and we have been considering various potential drafting options so as to secure that outcome.
Publicity and consultation arrangements for planning applications need to be adapted to fit this world of social distancing and self-isolation: much of this can occur anyway through innovative use social media and other online consultation tools but there should be a temporary lifting of legislative requirements which will currently serve little purpose and may prove difficult to fulfil, such as the deposit of physical copies of Environmental Statements in the community (under Regulation 23 of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017) and the erection of site notices under Article 15 of the Development Management Procedure Order.
Any such proposal would need underwriting from the Government but, as part of any planned economic bounce-back, should there be a year’s window within which schemes can commence free from CIL or with a significant deferment of payments (subject to clawback unless the chargeable development is completed within a specified number of years)? Should the three years period for the “in use” exemption be extended (surely the answer is yes)?
Given the disruption and in some cases the reduction in the capability of local authorities to determine planning applications and in light of the current postponement of hearings and inquiries by PINS there must also be a case for easing the burden on the current system and deferring costs for applicants and would-be appellants by introducing a temporary extension of the statutory period for determination of planning applications and the time limit for appealing against refusal or deemed refusal of planning permission under Articles 34 and 37 of the Development Management Procedure Order.
There will surely need to be adjustments to the operation of the housing delivery test so as not to unfairly penalise authorities facing, for no fault of their own, a slow down in housing starts.
Some have called for the Government to suspend litigation deadlines and limitation periods for the duration of the crisis. It is difficult to see how an across the board standstill would not cause substantial injustices, but should the usual judicial review and statutory challenge periods be extended in relation to decisions taken after a specified date, or perhaps for a temporary period to extend the deadline to three months?
Finally, taking into account the consequences of its social distancing measures, the Government has already announced on 17 March 2020 that permitted development rights will be extended for a period of 12 months to allow the temporary change of use of pubs, bars and restaurants to hot-food take aways; one can readily see that further temporary extensions of permitted development rights might be necessary – e.g. change of use of offices, industrial buildings or warehouses to use for the sale of food and other convenience goods and change of use of hotels and hostels to hospitals or healthcare centres. Planning law will need to be nimble.
It’s times like these we learn to live again.
Simon Ricketts, 21 March 2020
Personal views, et cetera
With thanks to my partners and colleagues at Town. If any of these ideas chime with other organisations’ thoughts, please speak to any of us.
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.