What Really Is The Meaning Of Lambeth?

We held a dinner party for clients this week and after a certain amount of wine and gossip the conversation turned to a deeper question.

What really is the meaning of Lambeth?

The Supreme Court judgment’s judgment in London Borough of Lambeth v Secretary of State (Supreme Court, 3 July 2019) had been handed down that day.

Who hasn’t felt the same helplessness? You’re faced with a planning permission which does not say what the local planning authority plainly meant it to say. Do you go by what the document says? Or is its literal meaning changed by reference to what the authority intended?

Spoiler alert: Lambeth doesn’t provide the answer. It is specific to its facts. However it does provide another pointer as to the courts’ likely reaction to these sorts of issus. Following the approach of the Supreme Court in Trump International Golf Club Limited v Scottish Ministers (Supreme Court, 16 December 2015), Lord Carnwath indicates:

In summary, whatever the legal character of the document in question, the starting-point – and usually the end-point – is to find “the natural and ordinary meaning” of the words there used, viewed in their particular context (statutory or otherwise) and in the light of common sense.”

The facts of Lambeth are well set out in the Supreme Court’s press summary. A section 73 permission was issued which recited in the description of development the precise change that was authorised to be made to a condition on a previous 2010 permission restricting the types of goods that could be sold from a Homebase store but the local planning authority, whilst reimposing some conditions that were on the 2010 (including a condition imposing a three years’ implementation deadline) neglected to reimpose the condition restricting what types of goods could be sold and neglected to reimpose to other conditions (in relation to refuse and recycling and in relation to management of deliveries and servicing).

I summarised Lang J’s first instance ruling in my 14 October 2017 blog post Flawed Drafting: Interpreting Planning Permissions. She restricted herself to a formalistic interpretation of the permission. There was no condition restricting the types of goods to be sold. The description of development on the permission does not operate as a condition. There was therefore no operative restriction – there was nothing to prevent the shop being turned into, for instance, a food superstore. Some mistake on the part of the authority. Some windfall for the owner of the store, Aberdeen Asset Management. I speculated that the ruling might be overturned by the Court of Appeal but in fact they took the same line, in a judgment by Lewison LJ (Court of Appeal, 20 April 2018).

However, the Supreme Court has allowed the authority’s appeal. It found that the very nature of a section 73 permission is that it grants permission subject to a condition as varied. The document was “clear and unambiguous”, with the description of development setting out the “original wording” of the condition to be varied and the “proposed wording”. ““Proposed wording” in this context must be read as a description of the form of condition proposed in the application and “hereby” approved. In other words, the obvious, and indeed to my mind the only natural, interpretation of those parts of the document is that the Council was approving what was applied for: that is, the variation of one condition from the original wording to the proposed wording, in effect substituting one for the other. There is certainly nothing to indicate an intention to discharge the condition altogether, or in particular to remove the restriction on sale of other than non-food goods.

This reasoning will apply to other situations where the nature of the amendment proposed to a condition is set out precisely in the description of development. Where there is not that precision, clearly there will still be room for argument.

What about the two conditions which were not reimposed? I find this part of the court’s reasoning difficult, or at least potentially opening up further areas of uncertainty:

It will always be a matter of construction whether a later permission on the same piece of land is compatible with the continued effect of the earlier permissions…In this case, following implementation of the 2010 permission, the conditions would in principle remain binding unless and until discharged by performance or further grant. Conditions 2 and 3 were expressed to remain operative during continuation of the use so permitted. The 2014 permission did not in terms authorise non-compliance with those conditions, nor, it seems, did it contain anything inconsistent with their continued operation. Accordingly, they would remain valid and binding – not because they were incorporated by implication in the new permission, but because there was nothing in the new permission to affect their continued operation.”

So a potentially difficult exercise is required on a site with successive permissions (including section 73 permissions) – of working out which conditions from previous permissions continue to apply, even though the planning permission itself may have been superseded.

Two last points:

⁃ What of the reimposed time limit condition? People sometimes get themselves in an intellectual knot in relation to section 73 permissions granted after the physical development authorised by the previous permission has been completed. Does the section 73 permission need to be implemented in some way? Can an authority in fact grant a section 73 permission in these circumstances. Thankfully, the Supreme Court didn’t have any concerns along these lines. It agreed with the Court of Appeal that the condition was invalid, in circumstances where the development had already been carried out.

⁃ another worry sometimes – was the purported permission such a nonsense that it was of no legal effect despite no-one having challenged its validity in the six weeks’ JR time limit? Again, the Supreme Court showed no worries on that score:

If section 73 gave no power to grant a permission in the form described, the logical consequence would be that there was no valid grant at all, not that there was a valid grant free from the proposed condition. The validity of the grant might perhaps have been subject to a timely challenge by an interested third party or even the Council itself. That not having been done, there is no issue now as to the validity of the grant as such. All parties are agreed that there was a valid permission for something. That being the common position before the court, the document must be taken as it is.”

On the facts I do support the outcome. The lower courts’ approach seemed to fly in the face of common sense – of the meaning that any reader of the document (other than a planning lawyer perhaps!) would have given to it. But I do recognise the difficulties that can arise, as identified in a post by Zack Simons.

The tension between literal versus “following the formalities regardless of the words” interpretation will always be there. We have all seen so many variants of permissions that do not quite say what they are meant to say, and who can blame planning officers for sometimes not getting it quite right.

For instance, despite the provision in section 73(5) of the 1990 Act, preventing section 73 permissions from varying the time limits that were imposed on the original permission for implementation or reserved matters submissions, the restriction is overlooked from time to time and fresh time limits are set. Once free from the risk of JR, can the new time limits be relied upon? On the approach in Lambeth, my provisional view is that I don’t see why not. The natural and ordinary meaning of the permission is clear and once free from legal challenge surely there is a valid permission. Even where a permission is issued in a flawed state without legal authority, as in the Thornton Hotel case (see my 18 May 2019 blog post Slow Claim Coming: Limiting JRs https://simonicity.com/2019/05/18/slow-claim-coming-limiting-jrs/ ), the courts will apply strict criteria before the validity of a permission to be challenged after the usual deadline.

Two more planning law cases are heading to the Supreme Court. Whilst permission to appeal was refused in the air quality case, Shirley, we can look forward to the Supreme Court justices applying their minds on 22 and 23 July to the vexed area of community benefits in Resilient Energy and, on a date to be fixed, to the question of what is a listed building in Dill.

Aren’t I the life and soul of the dinner party?

Simon Ricketts, 4 July 2019

Personal views, et cetera

It’s a sign.

Accelerated Planning

James Brokenshire’s 13 March 2019 written statement, made alongside the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, includes some important, if sometimes vague, pointers as to how the Government intends to speed up development management processes and housing delivery, although already we have a good sense of what lies ahead in relation to planning appeals that proceed by way of inquiry.

Delivery

My 3 November 2018 blog post covered Sir Oliver Letwin’s recommendations to Government following his review into the “build out of planning permissions into homes“.

The Secretary of State has now confirmed that the Government will “shortly publish additional planning guidance on housing diversification – to further encourage large sites to support a diverse range of housing needs, and help them to build out more quickly“.

He agrees “with the principle that the costs of increased housing diversification should be funded through reductions in residual land values. The Government is committed to improving the effectiveness of the existing mechanisms of land value capture, making them more certain and transparent for all developments. My focus is on evolving the existing system of developer contributions to make them more transparent, efficient and accountable and my department is gathering evidence to explore the case for further reform.”

I will keep the need for further interventions to support housing diversification and faster build out, including amendments to primary legislation, under review. My department will also work closely with Homes England to identify suitable sites and will look for opportunities to support local authorities to further diversify their large sites.”

Development management

My priority now is to ensure faster decision-making within the planning system. My department will publish an Accelerated Planning Green Paper later this year that will discuss how greater capacity and capability, performance management and procedural improvements can accelerate the end-to-end planning process. This Paper will also draw on the Rosewell Review, which made recommendations to reduce the time taken to conclude planning appeal inquiries, whilst maintaining the quality of decisions. I will also consider the case for further reforms to the compulsory purchase regime, in line with our manifesto commitment.”

We wait to see what detailed proposals the green paper will include for the planning application stage and indeed for appeals that proceed by way of written representations or hearings.

Bridget Rosewell’s independent review of planning appeal inquiries was published on 12 February 2019. The executive summary sets out the current statistics as follows:

8. “On average, about 315 planning appeals each year are the subject of an inquiry (inquiry appeals), comprising 2% of the total number of planning appeal decisions. Around 81% of inquiry appeals are decided by planning inspectors on behalf of the Secretary State. The remaining 19% of cases (recovered appeals and called-in applications) are decided directly by the Secretary of State, having regard to an inspector’s report.

9. Although relatively small in number the scale of development, particularly housing development, that is determined through inquiry appeals is significant. In 2017/18 over 42,000 residential units were included in inquiry appeal schemes, of which just over 18,600 units were allowed/approved. This represents 5.4% of the 347,000 total approved residential units in the year 2017-18.

10. In 2017/18, it took an average of 47 weeks for inspector-decided cases from receipt of the appeal to a decision letter being issued. On average, it took 60 weeks from the point of validation of an appeal to the submission on an inspector’s report to the Secretary of State for recovered appeals and 50 weeks (from validation to submission of the inspector’s report) for called-in applications. It then took, on average, a further 17 weeks after the inspector’s report had been submitted for the Secretary of State to issue a decision for recovered appeals and a further 26 weeks for called-in applications. In 2017/18, 111 inquiry appeals were withdrawn before a decision was made.”

MHCLG updated its website page Appeals: how long they take on 14 March 2019. That 47 weeks average referred to in paragraph 10 has now slipped to 50 weeks (if that 50 weeks figure excludes recovered appeals and call-ins).

Bridget Rosewell had 22 recommendations as to how the planning appeal inquiry process can be improved and decisions made quickly:

1.The Planning Inspectorate should ensure the introduction of a new online portal for the submission of inquiry appeals by December 2019, with pilot testing to start in May 2019.

2.The Planning Inspectorate should work with representatives of the key sectors involved in drafting statements of case to devise new pro formas for these statements which can then be added to the new portal and include, where appropriate, the introduction of mandatory information fields and word limits.

3.The process of confirming the procedure to be used should be streamlined. Where an inquiry is requested, appellants should notify the local planning authority of their intention to appeal a minimum of 10 working days before the appeal is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. This notification should be copied to the Inspectorate.

4.The Planning Inspectorate should ensure that only complete appeals can be submitted and ensure that a start letter is issued within 5 working days of the receipt of each inquiry appeal. The start letter should include the name of the inspector who will conduct the appeal.

5.The practice of the Planning Inspectorate leading on the identification of the date for the inquiry should be restored, with all inquiries commencing within 13 to 16 weeks of the start letter.

6.The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) should consult on the merits of appellants contributing towards the accommodation costs of the inquiry.

7.MHCLG and the Planning Inspectorate should substantially overhaul the approach to the preparation of statements of common ground.

8.a) In every inquiry appeal case, there should be case management engagement between the inspector, the main parties, Rule 6 parties and any other parties invited by the inspector, not later than 7 weeks after the start letter.
(b) Following the case management engagement, the inspector should issue clear directions to the parties about the final stages of preparation and how evidence will be examined, no later than 8 weeks after the start letter.

9.The inspector should decide, at the pre-inquiry stage, how best to examine the evidence at the inquiry and should notify the parties of the mechanism by which each topic or area of evidence will be examined, whether by topic organisation, oral evidence and cross-examination, round-table discussions or written statements.

10.The Planning Inspectorate should ensure all documents for an inquiry appeal are published on the new portal, in a single location, at the earliest opportunity following their submission.

11.The Planning Inspectorate should ensure the timely submission of documents. It should also initiate an award of costs where a party has acted unreasonably and caused another party to incur unnecessary or wasted expense.

12.The Planning Inspectorate should amend guidance and the model letter provided for local planning authorities to notify parties of an appeal, to make it clear that those interested parties who want Rule 6 status, should contact the Inspectorate immediately.

13.The Planning Inspectorate should consult with key stakeholder groups, to update its procedural guidance to set out clear expectations on the conduct of inquiries, based on a consistent adoption of current best practice and technology. Updated guidance should encourage and support inspectors in taking a more proactive and directional approach.

14.The Planning Inspectorate should ensure that its programme for improving operational delivery through greater use of technology fully exploits the opportunities available to enhance the efficiency and transparency of the inquiry event, such as the use of transcription technology for inspectors and publishing webcasts of proceedings.

15.Alongside other recommendations that will improve the transparency and clarity of the process (Recommendations 10, 12, 13 and 14), the Planning Inspectorate should develop a more effective and accessible guide to the inquiry process for interested parties, including members of the public.

16.Programming of inspector workloads should ensure there is enough time to write up the case immediately after the close of the inquiry.

17.a) To minimise the number of cases that need to be decided by the Secretary of State, MHCLG should keep their approach to the recovery of appeals and called- in applications under review. b)The Planning Inspectorate should work with MHCLG to identify ways that technology can be used to speed up the process of preparing the inspector’s report to the Secretary of State.

18.The Planning Inspectorate should submit an action plan to the Secretary of State by April 2019. The action plan should set out how it will ensure that the necessary organisational measures are put in place to deliver the proposed timescale targets and wider improvements by no later than June 2020. This should include the mechanisms by which sufficient inspectors can be made available. The action plan should also set out challenging, but realistic, intermediate milestones to be achieved by September 2019.

19.The Planning Inspectorate should review the issue of withdrawn appeals and consider how this impact on its work can be minimised. To deliver this the Inspectorate should:

(a)  always collect information from appellants about why an appeal is withdrawn

(b)  initiate an award of costs where there is evidence of unreasonable behaviour by a party in connection with a withdrawn appeal

(c)  with the benefit of more detailed information, review whether further steps can be taken to reduce the impact of withdrawals on its resources and other parties.

20.The Planning Inspectorate and MHCLG should regularly discuss the practical impact of new policy and guidance on the consideration of evidence at inquiries, with those parties who are frequently involved in the planning appeal inquiry process.

21.The Planning Inspectorate should adopt the following targets for the effective management of inquiry appeals from receipt to decision

(a) Inquiry appeals decided by the inspector
Receipt to decision – within 24 weeks – 90% of cases Receipt to decision – within 26 weeks – remaining 10% of cases

(b) Inquiry appeals decided by the Secretary of State
Receipt to submission of inspector’s report – within 30 weeks – 100% of cases

22.The Inspectorate should regularly report on its performance in meeting these timescales and what steps it is taking to expedite any cases that take longer.

(a)  The Planning Inspectorate should use its Transformation Programme to ensure there is robust and comprehensive management and business information, which is regularly collected and reported, on all aspects of their operation.

(b)  In developing an improved suite of information the Inspectorate should also:

ensure their digital case management record system records information on key variables in a consistent way

agree with MHCLG a new set of key performance indicators to effectively monitor the inquiry appeal process from end to end, including the availability of senior inspectors. “

These tables give a sense of what we might expect:

The Planning Inspectorate announced on 13 March 2019 that it is carrying out a trial of accelerating a small number of inquiry appeals as part of a pilot of holding inquiries much earlier than at present. For these appeals it will move away from its “bespoke” process whereby PINS invites the parties to agree a programme, including an inquiry date.

Before long we will all have to adapt our approaches to individual appeals in the interests of a more generally speedy process. It will be increasingly difficult to seek to negotiate a later date than PINS proposes (even when the main parties have no objections) in order to accommodate particular team members’ availability.

For the Inspectorate, it’s certainly going to be a period of change. It was announced today, 15 March 2019, that Graham Stallwood, currently chief planning officer at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and chairman of the board of trustees of the RTPI, has accepted a position as PINS’ Director of Operations, commencing in May. Graham – you will be excellent!

For those of us who lodge and coordinate appeals for developer clients, well we are going to need to get to grips with a new IT interface for the submission of appeals and new case management processes but above all find the strength to tell our clients the news that, having been at the heart of strategic thinking in relation to a decision to invest in an appeal and having shaped the statement of case, their favourite QC may not in fact be available for that crucial inquiry…

Simon Ricketts, 15 March 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Speedy Delivery, Richland, Washington, MA

Delivery!

MHCLG’s announcements this week have clarified three separate issues which go to whether the “tilted balance” in paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF applies in relation to applications for planning permission for housing development.

Where the tilted balance applies, Government policy is of course that planning permission should be granted unless:

(i) the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance [being specific categories of policies set out in footnote 6 to the NPPF] provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed; or

(ii) any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.”

Two situations where the tilted balance applies are:

⁃ “where the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites” with an appropriate buffer percentage of 5%, 10% or 20% calculated by reference to paragraph 73 of the NPPF; and

⁃ “where the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing was substantially below [a defined percentage of] the housing requirement over the previous three years” the defined percentage being 25% in the case of Housing Delivery Test results published in November 2018, 45% in the case of results published in November 2019 and 75% in the case of results published in November 2020 and thereafter. (Additionally, the authority needs to publish an action plan where the delivery percentage is less than 95%, “to assess the causes of under-delivery and identify actions to increase delivery in future years“).

Paragraph 177 of the 2018 NPPF disapplies the presumption in favour of sustainable development (and therefore the possibility of the tilted balance applying) where the project requires appropriate assessment under the Conservation of Habitats Regulations, which has proved problematic following the Court of Justice of the European Union’s judgment in People Over Wind, which led to far more projects requiring appropriate assessment.

This week’s announcements have clarified three things:

1. How “deliverable” is defined for the purposes of that first situation.

2. The presumption in favour of sustainable development is no longer disapplied if there is a negative appropriate assessment.

3. What the November 2018 Housing Delivery Test results are for in relation to each English local planning authority (the results not having been, er, delivered on time by MHCLG).

After a long wait, and initial indications that this would all be done before Christmas, on 19 February MHCLG published:

Government response to technical consultation on updates to national planning policy and guidance

housing delivery test 2018 measurement

further revised NPPF

The revisions to the NPPF are limited but care will be needed when referring to decisions and court rulings to be clear as to the relevant policy basis: the 27 March 2012 NPPF, the 24 July 2018 NPPF or the 19 February 2019 NPPF.

What is deliverable?

Footnote 11 to the 2012 NPPF defined “deliverable” as follows:

To be considered deliverable, sites should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years and in particular that development of the site is viable. Sites with planning permission should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that schemes will not be implemented within five years, for example they will not be viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans.”

The degree of probability required, given the words “realistic prospect“, was considered by the Court of Appeal in St Modwen Developments Ltd v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 20 October 2017), where Lindblom LJ said this:

35…Deliverability is not the same thing as delivery. The fact that a particular site is capable of being delivered within five years does not mean that it necessarily will be. For various financial and commercial reasons, the landowner or housebuilder may choose to hold the site back. Local planning authorities do not control the housing market. NPPF policy recognises that…


37… Had the Government’s intention been to frame the policy for the five-year supply of housing land in terms of a test more demanding than deliverability, this would have been done…


38 The first part of the definition in footnote 11—amplified in paras 3–029, 3–031 and 3–033 of the PPG—contains four elements: first, that the sites in question should be ” available now”; second, that they should “offer a suitable location for development now”; third, that they should be ” achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years”; and fourth, that “development of the site is viable ” (my emphasis). Each of these considerations goes to a site’s capability of being delivered within five years: not to the certainty, or—as Mr Young submitted—the probability that it actually will be. The second part of the definition refers to “[sites] with planning permission”. This clearly implies that, to be considered deliverable and included within the five-year supply, a site does not necessarily have to have planning permission already granted for housing development on it. The use of the words “realistic prospect” in the footnote 11 definition mirrors the use of the same words in the second bullet point in paragraph 47 in connection with the requirement for a 20% buffer to be added where there has been “a record of persistent under delivery of housing”. Sites may be included in the five-year supply if the likelihood of housing being delivered on them within the five-year period is no greater than a “realistic prospect”—the third element of the definition in footnote 11 (my emphasis). This does not mean that for a site properly to be regarded as “deliverable” it must necessarily be certain or probable that housing will in fact be delivered upon it, or delivered to the fullest extent possible, within five years.”

The wording in glossary to the 2018 NPPF was made more specific:

“”Deliverable: To be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years. Sites that are not major development, and sites with detailed planning permission, should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years (e.g. they are no longer viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans). Sites with outline planning permission, permission in principle, allocated in the development plan or identified on a brownfield register should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.”

Due to concerns as to potential ambiguity (which I didn’t really see) as to the treatment of non-major development (ie developments of less than ten homes, with a site area of less than 0.5 hectares), the wording has now been changed in the 2019 NPPF to read as follows

“Deliverable: To be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years. In particular:

a)  sites which do not involve major development and have planning permission, and all sites with detailed planning permission, should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years (for example because they are no longer viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans).

b)  where a site has outline planning permission for major development, has been allocated in a development plan, has a grant of permission in principle, or is identified on a brownfield register, it should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years

But there will remain room for argument: “realistic prospect” inevitably requires judgement and the local planning authority’s assessment as to the position of individual sites will always be potentially controversial given its interest (and/or that of objectors to development) in demonstrating an adequate supply so as to avoid the tilted balance. We will no doubt still see cases such as East Cheshire Council v Secretary of State (Deputy Judge Justine Thornton QC, 1 November 2018), East Bergholt Parish Council v Babergh District Council (Sir Ross Cranston, 7 December 2018) and (no transcript available but the link is to a useful Cornerstone summary) R (Chilton Parish Council) v Babergh District Council (Deputy Judge Robin Purchas QC, 2 February 2019.

There has also previously been much uncertainty as to the circumstances in which the new standard method for assessing local housing need should be used as the basis for assessing whether a five year supply of specific deliverable sites exists in the case of a plan with strategic policies which are more than five years old (unless those strategic policies had been reviewed and found not not to require updating). Footnote 37 in the 2019 NPPF makes clear that the standard method should indeed be used (which reflects the 5 February 2019 decision of the Secretary of State in relation to the Edenthorpe Doncaster called in application, blogged about by Lichfields on 21 February 2019).

Appropriate assessment

Hooray, paragraph 177 now reads:

The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where the plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a habitats site (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), unless an appropriate assessment has concluded that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the habitats site.

The Housing Delivery Test

Well, the results are finally in. The housing delivery test 2018 measurement. According to analysis by Savills:

⁃ no authority is subject this time round to the tilted balance by virtue of delivering less than 25% of its housing requirement over the last three years

⁃ 86 out of 326 authorities are subject to the requirement of a 20% buffer on their five year housing land supply figure as a result of having delivered less than 85% of their housing requirement over the last three years

⁃ 107 out of 326 authorities have to prepare an action plan as a result of having delivered less than 95% of their housing requirement over the last three years.

A future blog post will deal with the “need” side of the equation…

Simon Ricketts, 23 February 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Permitted Development: Painting By Numbers Versus Painting The Sistine Chapel?

Time now to look at some of the proposals to extend permitted development rights and to amend the Use Classes Order that are set out in the Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes consultation paper published alongside the Autumn budget on 29 October 2018, and strongly criticised in Nick Raynsford’s final review of planning in England (November 2018):

The government’s announcement of its intention to extend even further this permissive ‘shadow’ planning process appears to reflect its model for the future direction of the system; and this has real implications for people and for the nature of both planning and planners. This reflects the tension recorded in evidence presented to the Review as to whether planning is a form of land licensing, which implies one set of skills and outcomes, or the much more complex and creative practice of shaping places with people to achieve sustainable development. The former task is like painting by numbers; the latter is like painting the Sistine Chapel. The difference in outcomes for people is equally stark.”

I’m not sure that sort of language (describing traditional planning applications as equivalent to painting the Sistine Chapel, a spectacularly inapt comparison, or indeed TCPA interim chief executive Hugh Ellis’ language in the accompanying press release: “‘Permitted development is toxic and leads to a type of inequality not seen in the Britain for over a century.“) is helpful to the debate.

It seems to me that the two key issues which need to be addressed in relation to permitted development rights that enable additional residential development (whether by way of conversion or construction) are the need for some control at a national or local level over room sizes and the need to provide a proportion of affordable housing whether on site or by way of financial contribution. Aside from those obvious issues (not addressed in the latest consultation paper), what is wrong with the Government looking to streamline development management processes where appropriate? Surely the question is where is the appropriate dividing line. Surely deemed planning permission should be for types of development where, given the public benefit in seeking to encourage them, the local planning authority should not need to question the principle of what is proposed up to a defined scale at a particular location (with more general powers to restrict rights available by way of Article 4 Direction) and where wider issues do not arise that cannot be resolved within a 56 day period for prior approval of specified aspects which are, as far as possible, not open to differing subjective views? Don’t we need to define some sort of principle along these lines before then considering different common types of development?

Allow greater change of use to support high streets to adapt and diversify

The Government proposes that uses in classes A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), and A5 (hot food takeaways) (as well as uses as betting shops, pay day loan shops and laundrettes) should be allowed to change to “office use (B1)” (do they mean “office use” or do they mean B1 which also encompasses light industrial and R&D?). Hot food takeaways will be allowed to change to residential use (C1) as is already the case with the other uses referred to. There would be the requirement for prior approval, as with existing change of use permitted development rights.

Alongside this, the current “pop up” temporary permitted development rights to change the use from shops (A1) financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3), hot food takeaways (A5), offices (B1), non-residential institutions (D1), assembly and leisure uses (D2), betting shops and pay day loan shops to change to shops (A1) financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) or offices (B1) will be extended from two years to three years. The temporary permitted development rights are proposed now to extend to changes to certain community uses, namely as a public library, exhibition hall, museum, clinic or health centre.

All of these proposals are put forward in the context of “supporting the high street” but no geographical limitation to the proposed changes is indicated that would prevent their application to any building in the relevant use, wherever it is located – shades of the original proposal in relation to the office to residential permitted development right, which was couched in terms of underused and empty office premises, when of course the right turned out not to have any such limitation. There is no indication of any floorspace cap. Might a department store, or supermarket, turn into an office? Nor indeed any cap on the proportion of any shopping area that might be converted to offices.

The document goes on to explore whether changes could also be made to the Use Classes Order, namely to:

“simplify the A1 shops use class to remove the current named uses and allow for a broader definition of uses for the sale, display or service to visiting members of the public.”

⁃ consider whether there is “scope for a new use class that provides for a mix of uses within the A1, A2 and A3 uses beyond that which is considered to be ancillary, which would support the diversification of high street businesses. This would replace the existing A1, A2 and A3 and result in a single use class to cover shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes. This would mean that movement between these uses was no longer development and not a matter for the planning system to consider. It would bring greater flexibility but reduce the ability of communities and local planning authorities to distinguish between shops and restaurant uses“.

I agree that these parts of the Use Classes Order potentially need reform (within boundaries – is it really workable for there to be no distinction at all between A1 and A3?) but can’t this be as part of broader reform of the Order? The B, C and D classes all give rise to equivalent issues in that the old distinctions between uses have become increasingly difficult to apply.

A new permitted development right to support housing delivery by extending buildings upwards to create additional homes

This idea has been around since February 2016 without civil servants arriving at draft legislation, which is surely going to be the practical test.

Looking back, I covered this proposal most recently on 13 October 2018 in my blog post The Up Right, before that in my 17 March 2017 blog post Permitted Development: À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu and before that in my 15 June 2016 blog post Permitted Development: What Next? However, this latest version of the proposals is certainly the most far-reaching.

The permitted development right would allow additional storeys to be built above buildings in a wide range of uses, including residential, retail and offices. The Government indicates:

We want to explore whether there may also be other buildings whose use is compatible with the introduction of new homes. Given they are usually located in residential areas or high streets, would premises such as health centres and buildings used for community and leisure purposes be suitable for inclusion in the permitted development right? Out of town retail parks with a mix of shopping and leisure uses may also be suitable for upward extensions to provide additional homes.”

The consultation paper asks for “examples of how this permitted development right might be used in practice, and particularly of how the use of local design codes could help to encourage take up of the proposed right and improve the design quality and acceptability of upward extensions.”

It’s sounding complicated already. Then add the question of how far upwards the permitted development right could allow development to go. The consultation paper offers two alternatives, both of which could lead to significant factual disputes:

⁃ “A permitted development right could apply to the airspace above premises in a terrace of two or more joined properties where there is at least one higher building in the terrace. The roof of the premises extending upward would be no higher than the main roofline of the highest building in the existing terrace.”

⁃ “An alternative approach would be to permit upward extensions more widely to a height no higher than the prevailing roof height in the locality. While this may extend the proposed right to a greater number of properties, it would not be possible to define prevailing roofline in regulations. Therefore it would be a matter to be considered by the local authority as part of the prior approval. In doing so, the local authority would be able to define what it considered to be the prevailing roofline taking account of the local building types and heights and the extent of the area over which it should be determined.”

To add to the complications:

Where premises are not on level ground the impact of adding additional storeys can be significantly greater on the amenity of neighbouring premises, for example from overlooking and overshadowing and on the character of the area. We would welcome views on how best to take account of the topography of specific areas.”

The consultation paper proposes that there should be a maximum limit of five storeys from ground level for a building once extended (so the extension could be up to four storeys!). But there would be an even broader permitted development right for purpose built, free standing blocks of flats of over five storeys. “The government would also like a permitted development right to apply to such buildings, and is interested in views, including whether there should be a limit on the number of additional storeys that could be added, for example 5

The permitted development right would allow for the physical works required to construct or install additional storeys on a building. It could also, for instance, allow for “works within the curtilage where it is necessary for access to the additional new homes“.

The prior approval requirements would include appearance, ie “considering whether the proposed development is of good design, adds to the overall quality of the area over its lifetime, is visually attractive as a result of good architecture, responds to the local character and history of the area and maintains a strong sense of place, as set out in paragraph 127 of the National Planning Policy Framework. We expect prior approval on design to be granted where the design is in keeping with the existing design of the building.

Prior approval would also consider the impact of the development on the amenity of neighbouring premises, for example, from obscuring existing windows, reducing access to light or resulting in unacceptable impact on neighbours’ privacy from overlooking. It would also consider measures to mitigate these impacts, and enable the neighbours, including owners and occupiers of premises impacted, to comment on the proposal.

This is asking a lot of the 56 day prior approval process – sounds like a job for a traditional planning application to me.

Finally, yet another extension of the previous proposals: “We are seeking views on whether the proposed right to build upwards to create new homes should additionally allow householders to extend their own homes.”

This all sounds like it’s on a collision course with what the Government has set in train with the establishment of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful‘ Commission.

The permitted development right to install public call boxes and associated advertisement consent

I may come back in a later blog post to the Government’s proposal to remove permitted development rights for the installation of public call boxes. Since earlier blog posts on the subject, I’m now off-side from commenting in detail due to acting for an electronic communications code operator, but I would briefly note that the need for additional apparatus is about enabling electronic communications both present (3G, 4G and wifi) and future (5G) rather than just being about the old phone box concept and in that respect the terminology in Part 16 and the references in the Control of Advertisements Regulations probably do need updating without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Supporting housing delivery by allowing for the demolition of commercial buildings and redevelopment as residential

Well this proposal dates back to October 2015! As with the upwards extensions proposal, is it simply too difficult to draft in legislative form? The wording in the consultation paper is certainly tentative:

⁃ “It may be that a right focused on smaller sites may be more practical...

⁃ Despite the Government having set its face against affordable housing requirements in relation to the office to residential permitted development right, with this right it is said that the Government “would be interested in views on how developer contributions expected towards affordable housing and other infrastructure could be secured.

⁃ “We would welcome views as to the design of a right which could operate effectively to bring sites forward for redevelopment. The responses to these questions will inform further thinking and a more detailed consultation would follow.”

To be provocative, if additional storeys of residential development are to have deemed permission, and if new residential developments are to have deemed permission if they replace commercial buildings, what is the logic for not granting deemed permission for residential development on brownfield land more generally – what is inherently more complex or controversial arising from that than from the development that could come forward under these new rights? Why the prior complications with brownfield land, but not with these other rights, of land having to be placed by a local planning authority on a register before there is permission in principle?

The deadline for consultation responses is 14 January 2019.

Simon Ricketts, 8 December 2018

Personal views, et cetera

A Helpful Case On The Scope Of Section 73

I was pleased to read Finney v Welsh Ministers (Sir Wyn Williams, 15 November 2018), or the Rhydcwmerau wind turbines case, as I hope we’ll call it for ease.

Sir Wyn Williams provides the answer to a question I raised in my 3 March 2018 blog post, A Change Is Gonna Come (But Should It Really Need A Fresh Planning Permission?): can you use a section 73 application when the changes to conditions that you are seeking also entail a change to the description of development on the previous permission?

The implied answer from Singh J in R (Wet Finishing Works Limited) v Taunton Deane Borough Council (20 June 2017) was yes but the point was not specifically addressed in his judgment. Sir Wyn Williams has to deal with the point head-on as it was one of the two grounds of challenge.

In the Rhydcwmerau wind turbines case there was a planning permission granted where the description of the development that was thereby approved was as follows:

Installation and 25 year operation of two wind turbines, with a tip height of up to 100m, and associated infrastructure including turbine foundations, new and upgraded tracks, crane hardstandings, substation, upgraded site entrance and temporary construction compound upon a site situated to the north of the village of Rhydcwmerau, Carmarthenshire

The description of development appears simply to have been incorporated in the permission by reference to the description of development on the application form, but I don’t think anything turns on that.

The permission was subject to a number of conditions. Condition 2 provided that the development was to be carried out in accordance with a number of approved plans and documents which were specified. One such was a “figure” described as “3.1 Typical Wind Turbine Elevation 1:500 @ A3“. It is common ground that this showed a wind turbine with a tip height of 100m.”

The promoter of the project then made an application under section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to substitute plan 3.1 with a plan showing a wind turbine with a tip height of 125m. The local planning authority treated the application as valid but refused it. An inspector allowed the promoter’s appeal.

The claimant challenged the inspector’s decision:

“It is argued that the Inspector should not have allowed the appeal because she had no power under section 73 to amend a condition pursuant to which a prior planning permission had been granted which had the effect of directly contradicting the description of the development permitted in that earlier permission. Further or alternatively, the Claimant asserts that the Inspector failed to consider at all (as she should have done in accordance with established legal principles) whether the application before her constituted a “fundamental alteration” of the prior permission“.

On the first ground of challenge, Sir Wyn Williams held that “the only proper interpretation of the judgment in Wet Finishing Works, is that a variation pursuant to section 73 can be lawful notwithstanding that it may necessitate a variation to the terms of the planning permission which preceded the section 73 application.” The section 73 permission was not unlawful simply because necessarily the permission entailed a change to the original description of development which had referred to a tip height of 100m rather than 125m.

He also referred to the test formulated by Sullivan J in R v Coventry City Council, ex p. Arrowcroft Group plc (2001): “the council is able to impose different conditions upon a new planning permission, but only if they are conditions which the council could lawfully have imposed upon the original planning permission in the sense that they do not amount to a fundamental alteration of the proposal put forward in the original application.”

Applying that test to the decision letter:

Although I am not entirely convinced that the Inspector had in mind that it was necessary for her to consider in terms whether the variation sought would create a fundamental alteration to the original proposal I am prepared to conclude, on balance, that she was aware of that obligation and considered it.”

But even if she had not, it was highly likely that the decision would have been the same. “I have no doubt that had the Inspector considered whether the variation to the condition would have constituted a fundamental alteration to the original proposal she would have concluded that it did not. The whole tenor of her decision letter leads inexorably, in my judgment, to that conclusion as a careful reading of it makes abundantly clear.”

So, a pretty clear signpost for us all to follow – particularly a number of local planning authorities which presently take a plainly too restrictive approach to the use of section 73.

Simon Ricketts, 24 November 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Town Library, New Wing: Decision Letters

Town announcement

One of the joys of starting up Town Legal with colleagues has been the opportunity to play with technology so as to see how up to date information relevant to planners and planning lawyers can be made more readily available, with a little bit of focus on where the gaps are. We have constantly asked ourselves what may be useful to increase people’s understanding and ability to predict outcomes, but which may not be fully accessible?

That was the rationale for the Planning Court Judgments weekly update (with its click through to a full, searchable, list of Planning Court judgments since 2014), announced in my 2 August 2018 blog post . The update now has around 370 subscribers. The latest update, for the week ending 16 November 2018, is at this link. Free subscription is still available via this link. I am really grateful for the hard work of Susie Herbert and other Town associates in preparing, to a weekly deadline, the various case summaries.

We can now announce another Town Library service: a weekly list of decision letters issued in the preceding week by the Secretary of State or Planning Inspectorate. The list comprises section 77 and 78 appeals in relation to proposals for major development that have been determined following a public inquiry, rather than informal hearing or written representations. The latest update, for the week ending 16 November 2018 is at this link. Free subscription is available via this link.

This latest service goes beyond the Planning Court judgments service in that it is fully automated. It was again devised by us in association with legal engineers Wavelength Law, drawing upon the Planning Inspectorate’s website. We are grateful to the Planning Inspectorate for its online service and hope that our weekly updates will assist people both in accessing its content and in generally gaining a better understanding of likely appeal outcomes. Not part of the free update service but with Wavelength’s help we can re-cut the PINS data (which we have in a searchable database going back to 2012) in all manner of ways for individual requirements – if this would be useful for a particular project that we are acting on do let me know – or another Town partner.

Please bear with us as we continue to experiment with update formats and continue to iron out various issues but, as always, comments and suggestions are very welcome. We have plenty more strands of development underway.

I have always loved libraries.

Simon Ricketts, 22 November 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Up Right

In his speech to the Conservative party conference on 1 October 2018, James Brokenshire announced that the Government will consult “in due course” on “introducing a new permitted development right to allow property owners to extend certain buildings upwards, while maintaining the character of residential and conservation areas and safeguarding people’s privacy“.

Not that one again?!

My second ever blog post, on 15 June 2016, Permitted Development: What Next? summarised the February 2016 consultation paper jointly published by DCLG and the previous Mayor of London, which sought views on proposals “to increase housing supply in the capital by allowing a limited number of additional storeys to be built up to the roofline of an adjoining building through permitted development rights, local development orders or development plan policies”. The paper set out in some detail the criteria and prior approval requirements which would apply.

Nothing then happened, perhaps due to the change in Mayor and the ministerial changes that followed the June 2016 referendum, or perhaps it was always going to be a difficult piece of legislation to draft in a way that arrived at a mechanism that would be simpler for developers than a traditional planning application but which secured necessary amenity protections.

My 17 March 2018 blog post Permitted Development: À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu reported on the conflict between on the one hand a ministerial policy statement on 5 February 2018 which appeared to make it clear that the initiative (now across England, not just London) would be dealt with by policy, within the NPPF and then on the other hand Sajid Javid’s speech launching the draft revised NPPF on 5 March 2018 which had this passage:

And there are also other areas in which we’re ready to go further to take the delivery of housing up a gear.

Including a new permitted development right for building upwards to provide new homes”.

Paragraph 118 (e) of the new NPPF does specifically address upwards extensions: Planning policies and decisions should “support opportunities to use the airspace above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes. In particular, they should allow upward extensions where the development would be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene, is well- designed (including complying with any local design policies and standards), and can maintain safe access and egress for occupiers.”

In the light of the Javid speech, the Brokenshire announcement was not a big surprise but I do wonder how the permitted development will be drafted so as to avoid the obvious issues that arise and why that NPPF statement isn’t considered to be sufficient.

The RTPI’s response to the announcement on 2 October 2018 was surely right, in which its chief executive, Victoria Hills, said:

Densification of built-up areas can bring about much needed housing supply, but quality is as important as numbers. Blanket height extensions come with issues that have potentially serious impact on streetscape and people’s access to light. National policy can provide a favourable steer, but local communities should be able to set standards which enable higher buildings to make a positive contribution to housing supply.”

There is no indication as to when the consultation will take place. For instance, is the Chancellor’s 29 October Autumn budget statement too soon?

It is interesting that Brokenshire did not take the opportunity at the party conference also to reheat the Autumn 2017 budget policy paper announcement that “the government will consult on introducing… a permitted development right to allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with homes“.

In the meantime, the existing office to residential permitted development right continues to be controversial.

Earlier this year, the RICS published a research paper, Extending permitted development rights in England: the implications for public authorities and communities (1 May 2018)

The study estimated that “between 86,665 and 95,045 dwellings (depending on how student accommodation is classified) might potentially have been created under the extended PD rights between 2010 and 2017. The bulk of these additional dwellings arises from small-scale (less than 10 units created) conversions from commercial uses (including offices) to residential use and from agricultural buildings use to residential use.

These small schemes have been broadly distributed (largely in locations with relatively low property values) through cities and towns without any marked regional patterning. The large-scale conversions of office and other commercial uses to residential use that are a key matter of concern to policy makers are less important with regard to the overall number of dwellings delivered and are overwhelmingly concentrated near the cores of major urban areas. These large scale office conversions (excluding student accommodation) are concentrated in the South East. The scale of PD occurring entirely within the industrial and commercial use classes is relatively modest.

Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) compared the direct costs and benefits to local authorities of extended PD rights with the outcomes of an identical development that had obtained formal planning permission. The key findings were that:

The largest estimated financial impact is the loss in affordable housing contributions. This amounted to about £42.5m.

The benefits arising from savings in staffing costs within planning departments (£14m) are not enough to offset the loss of fees (£22m).

Overall, this part of the analysis estimates that the direct financial impact of the extension of PD rights is a net loss to all the Local Authorities across England of around £50m.”

The research indicates that office to residential conversions under PD have also produced a higher amount of poor quality housing than schemes governed through full planning permission.”

But the mechanism still has its cheer leaders. Conservative MP Nick Herbert wrote a piece in the Standard, Permitted development is key to race to build homes on 8 October criticising the London Mayor for encouraging, in the draft London Plan, boroughs to use article 4 directions to remove the permitted development right.

Then a penny dropped. Nick Herbert is chairman of a think tank, called The Project for Modern Democracy. Who should be the research director for the “Planning Change” strand of the think tank’s work but Alex Morton? As set out on the Project for Modern Democracy’s website:

“Alex was Special Adviser to then Prime Minister (David Cameron) for two and a half years, focused on housing, planning, and local government. He also drafted the Conservative 2015 Manifesto on those areas. Prior to working in No.10, he led on housing and planning at the Policy Exchange think tank.”

He was lobbying for a permitted development right to convert offices to residential as long ago as 2011 in a Policy Exchange paper, More Homes: Fewer Empty Buildings.

Morton has now published a short paper, A backwards step on Permitted Development (26 September 2018) on which the Nick Herbert article was based. The piece seeks to rebut criticisms of the office to residential permitted development right, particularly that it has led to shortages of business space, lower affordable housing and “unsuitable homes“. Read it for yourself but I found it a pretty weak analysis. I also found it strangely inconsistent with a comment piece he had written in the Independent in 2013, which contained passages like this:

Finally, there are unnecessary and unhelpful side-shows like the extensions debacle last week, which stripped immediate neighbours of their powers to object to major changes next door, and which even most supporters of planning liberalisation felt went too far.

I wonder what the Project for Modern Democracy thinks about the proposed Up Right?

Simon Ricketts, 13 October 2018

Personal views, et cetera