Since then the antagonism seems to have increased and areas of common ground seem to reduced. Planning and heritage processes are frequently just another battleground in this time of global and cultural division.
But I’m just going to pick the most recent item from this week’s news. It’s possible that politics played as much a role as planning in the decision on 1 December 2022 by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets’ Strategic Development Committee, against officers’ recommendations, to refuse planning permission for the redevelopment of Royal Mint Court, near the Tower of London, to establish a new Chinese Embassy (replacing its existing embassy on Portland Place), including “the refurbishment and restoration of the Johnson Smirke Building (Grade II listed), partial demolition, remodelling and refurbishment of Seaman’s Registry (Grade II listed), with alterations to the west elevation of the building, the retention, part demolition, alterations and extensions to Murray House and Dexter House, the erection of a standalone entrance pavilion building, alterations to the existing boundary wall and demolition of substation, associated public realm and landscaping, highway works, car and cycle parking and all ancillary and associated works.”
51 objections had been received, raising a range of planning and non-planning objections. One has a sense of non-planning issues swirling around from the officer’s report which, after summarising the various planning and heritage based objections received, sets out the “non-material considerations” raised by objectors as including:
“Concerned about the building becoming a secret police station
Concerned about the violent assault of protesters at the Manchester Chinese Consulate
Concerned about the actions of the Chinese government in relation to other countries and human rights record
All phone calls and fibre optic cables will be listened to as the site is adjacent to a BT telephone exchange”.
The minutes are not yet available but I understand that the Committee resolved that the proposals would “affect the ‘safety and security’ of residents, such as those at next-door Royal Mint Estate, cause harm to heritage assets, impact the quality of the area as a tourist destination and have an impact on local police resourcing.”
What is going to happen next? The People’s Republic of China has owned the site outright since 2018 and they are hardly going to walk away from the project. Michael Gove could conceivably call the application in before the refusal notice is issued, or China could appeal against the refusal and the appeal would presumably be recovered for his determination following recommendations from an inspector who would hold a public inquiry.
The political sensitivities are surely going to ramp up, no matter what. Perhaps this application should have been called in by the Government at an earlier stage rather than leave committee members with (1) such a difficult decision, balancing local concerns against international diplomatic responsibilities, and (2) such power. But I’m sure the government would have loved to have left this particular hot potato well alone. And they thought that juggling an appearance of dealing with the housing crisis with an appearance of leaving communities in control of local housing numbers was difficult….
In this case Holgate J found that the inspector in granting planning permission had taken into account a legally irrelevant consideration in assessing the level of harm caused to the neighbouring Grade I listed St Ann’s Church (paras 60-79). The inspector’s decision had accounted for the fact that the level of harm to the Church could not be further minimised by a different design. The court held however that even if the level of harm was “minimised” by the current design, this said nothing about what that “minimised” level of harm amounts to – harm to a heritage asset might be “minimised” by the design proposed but nevertheless still be “substantial”. Another reminder of the care that needs to be taken by decision makers in relation to the NPPF heritage test heffalump traps (see also for instance my 12 December 2020 blog post, Where’s The Harm In That? Misreporting Heritage Effects).
The Judge dismissed two further grounds of challenge, including a challenge that the inspector had wrongly considered the likely deliverability of the scheme. Holgate J held that there was no reason why deliverability could not be a material consideration in the determination of a planning application/appeal if relevant to the merits of the proposal – in this case, the site was owned by Homes England and this was relevant to the likelihood of delivery given its statutory function to promote regeneration.
(Thanks to my colleague Emma McDonald for her initial summary of the case for our Town Library Planning Court Weekly Updates (subscribe for free here).
No original work from me at all this week because I’m now going to reproduce Landmark Chambers’ summary of the ruling on this important and recurring issue – I had started to draft my own but it was less concise – for any more than this do read the judgment itself):
“In a judgment handed down at 5.30pm this evening, Mr Justice Holgate has dismissed applications by two local planning authorities to continue injunctions previously granted without notice, which had the effect of preventing the use of hotels in the two authorities’ areas to accommodate asylum seekers (including those being relocated from the overcrowded facility at Manston).
The claims were brought by the two councils under s. 187B Town and Country Planning Act on the basis that using the hotels to accommodate asylum seekers would amount to a material change of use, from use as a hotel to use as a hostel. Noting that the mere fact that a hostel was not in the same use class as a hotel did not of itself establish that the change was “material”, and that the distinction between a hotel and a hostel was “fine”, Holgate J nevertheless accepted that there was a serious issue to be tried. However, applying the American Cyanamid balance of convenience, he concluded that the factors in favour of discharging the injunction clearly outweigh those in favour of continuing it. In particular:
1. The distinction between use as a hostel and use as a hotel was fine. Whether there was a material difference depended upon the planning harm identified by the claimants.
2. There would not be any irreparable damage or harm. The use would not cause any environmental damage or any harm to the amenity of neighbouring uses. The buildings would not be altered and there would be no issues relating to traffic generation.
3. Although there is a public interest in enforcement action being taken against breaches of planning control, the integrity of the planning system is not undermined by the normal enforcement regime, which allows alleged breaches to continue while the merits of an appeal are under consideration.
4. The defendant’s conduct was not a flagrant breach of planning control. There were respectable arguments that planning permission was not needed.
5. The Home office was facing an unprecedented increase in the number of asylum seekers, the vast majority of who it was under a duty to accommodate. Without the ability to contract for the use of hotels there was a real risk of some asylum seekers becoming homeless.
6. In the claim brought by Ipswich, the Council’s concerns about the potential impact on tourism were “tepid”.
7. The proposed use would be temporary in nature. If that turned out not to be the case there were “plenty of other weapons in the LPA’s enforcement armoury to tackle the issue”.”
M&S used to be the bellwether of the retail sector but its proposed demolition and redevelopment of its 456 – 472 Oxford Street store, in preference to refurbishment and extension, is as likely to be a bellwether of decision makers’ approach to carbon efficiency and in particular to justifying the loss of embodied carbon.
Siri, give me a definition of embodied carbon:
“Embodied carbon means all the CO2 emitted in producing materials. It’s estimated from the energy used to extract and transport raw materials as well as emissions from manufacturing processes.
The embodied carbon of a building can include all the emissions from the construction materials, the building process, all the fixtures and fittings inside as well as from deconstructing and disposing of it at the end of its lifetime.” (UCL engineering faculty).
Plainly, maximising the carbon efficiency of new development should be a significant material consideration in the determination of planning applications. But it’s not easy. How, for instance, to weigh longer term operational carbon savings against the one-off carbon costs associated with demolition and rebuild? And how much weight is to be given to carbon saving in the planning process as against other considerations?
You can look in vain for any specific guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework. The “planning for climate change” section (paragraphs 153 to 158) is of course woefully out of date, with an update promised mañana. Climate crisis what crisis?
Even so, the issue was raised by the Secretary of State when he dismissed the Tulip appeal (11th November 2021): “Although considerable efforts have been made to adopt all available sustainability techniques to make the construction and operation of the scheme as sustainable as possible” the result would still amount to “a scheme with very high embodied energy and an unsustainable whole life-cycle.” The Secretary of State also agreed with the Inspector: “that the extensive measures that would be taken to minimise carbon emissions during construction would not outweigh the highly unsustainable concept of using vast quantities of reinforced concrete for the foundations and lift shaft to transport visitors to as high a level as possible to enjoy a view.”
Notwithstanding the lack of national policy guidance, the London Plan does have a policy hook, Policy SI 2:
I want to scoot through the sequence of events so far in relation to the M&S proposal.
Its application for planning permission was submitted to Westminster City Council on 2 July 2021, proposing the demolition of the three buildings that comprise its 456 – 472 Oxford Street store, to make way for a comprehensive redevelopment to provide a building comprising two basement levels, ground and nine upper floors. The proposal would provide an office and retail led mixed use development. The oldest of the buildings, Orchard House, dates from the 1930s. Two comprise basement plus six storeys and one being basement plus seven storeys. Given the changing retail economy, the need for substantial changes to buildings such as this is of course no surprise. The scheme is by architects Philbrow & Partners.
Fred Philbrow stresses the lower lifetime carbon emissions that will arise from the new building, rather than a retrofit:
“It’s not always right to refurbish” old structures, Pilbrow told Dezeen, claiming that the contentious project is akin to trading in a gas guzzler for a Tesla.
“I would liken this to a discussion about a not-very-well-performing diesel car from the 1970s,” he said. “And what we’re trying to do is replace it with a Tesla.“
“In the short term, the diesel car has got less embodied carbon,” he added. “But very quickly, within between nine and 16 years, we will be ahead on carbon because our Tesla will perform better.” (Dezeen, 17 December 2021).
The application was resolved to be approved by Westminster City Council on 23 November 2021, despite last minute objections from Save Britain’s Heritage and others. The report says this on carbon:
“The applicant has submitted a Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessment (WLCA) prepared by Arup, as required by Policy SI2 of the London Plan and City Plan Policy 36.
The WLCA includes a comparative assessment of the whole life carbon emissions of a ‘light touch’ refurbishment versus new build development options. The report sets out that refurbishment option has the lowest embodied carbon impact initially because minimal works (and materials) are required. However, this increases over time due to the required maintenance and poor operational performance of the existing buildings.
The assessment concludes that the new build option is the most efficient scenario, especially through the implementation of the low-carbon opportunities recommended in the report. Whilst it has a higher initial embodied carbon than the refurbishment option as it needs to be built (with a high carbon expenditure) – over its operational lifetime it will require much less maintenance than the refurbishment option and be a more efficient building, providing a betterment from years 15/16.
The GLA in their stage 1 response requested the applicant to complete the GLA’s WLCA assessment template. This has been submitted to the GLA and an update on this position with regard to London Plan policy S12 will be reported verbally at the Committee meeting.”
The resolution was subject to referral to the Mayor of London and completion of a section 106 agreement, including an index linked carbon offset payment of £1,198,134 payable prior to the commencement of development.
On the same day as Westminster’s resolution to grant, Historic England turned down a request by objectors that the building be listed.
The Mayor confirmed on 7 March 2022 that he was not going to intervene. However, Save Britain’s Heritage complained that he had not taken into account representations that they had made, including a report they had commissioned from Simon Sturgis Why a Comprehensive Retrofit Is more Carbon Efficient than the Proposed New Build. Simon had previously advised the Mayor on his emerging carbon policies. [NB see Simon Sturgis’ subsequent comments on this blog post at the foot of the page]
Unusually, the Mayor then decided he was going to reconsider the issue:
“A spokesperson for the Mayor of London, said: ‘In line with London Plan policy on Whole Life Carbon, the question of retention and refurbishment or demolition and new build was considered in the GLA’s assessment of this application, and based on officer advice that there was no sound planning reason to intervene, on 7 March the Mayor made the decision to allow Westminster to determine the application.
‘However, City of Westminster is yet to issue its planning decision, and the GLA has now published its planning guidance on Whole Life Carbon and Circular Economy. In light of this situation GLA officers consider it would be prudent to consider a further Stage 2 report, which would also allow consideration of the detailed report by Simon Sturgis examining the carbon emissions impacts of the proposed demolition. An updated Stage 2 report will be presented for consideration at the Mayor’s meeting on Monday 4 April.’” (Architects Journal, 1 April 2022).
However, his decision on 4 April 2022 was the same – no intervention. The stage 2 report and addendum report are available here.
Given the assessment that the Mayor will have made as against his own policies, more up to date and stringent than those of the Government, it is perhaps disappointing for those who believe in devolved decision making then to read that Michael Gove has, presumably in response to further representations (see eg Save Britain’s Heritage’s letter dated 20 April 2022) issued a holding direction preventing Westminster City Council from issuing planning permission until he has decided whether to call it in. The holding direction, under Article 31 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015, is only a precautionary procedural step to buy time and doesn’t at all mean that the Secretary of State is definitely going to call the application in, just that he is considering whether to do that. Indeed holding directions are not particularly unusual in relation to controversial proposals where the Secretary of State has received requests from objectors for him to use his call in powers. seeking call in. But frankly it’s anybody’s guess what will now happen.
The planning system is certainly curious in its inconsistencies. What about the “demolish and rebuild” permitted development rights for some categories of building, introduced in August 2020? Or that demolition of itself does not usually require formal planning permission?
⁃ climate change considerations should increasingly be central to planning decision making
⁃ but it’s no use the Government reacting in an ad hoc way to specific proposals – up to date, practical, guidance is needed to manage everyone’s expectations – a lengthy call in inquiry is in no-one’s interests
⁃ it shouldn’t be about the easy headlines and twitter pile-ons, but about robust detailed calculations.
⁃ watch how heritage campaign groups continue to accentuate the embodied carbon issue: embodied carbon vs operational savings via more efficient buildings is going to be a constant battleground.
Current events underline why we must never forget the Holocaust. When it comes to what is now happening in Ukraine at least there is more that we could be doing NOW both for the victims and to seek to bring this dreadful intentional slaughter of innocents to an end.
It is utterly frustrating that the planning permission granted for the construction of the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament, has been now quashed due to the failure of the decision maker, and indeed every major participant in the application process, to consider the implications of a local Act of Parliament affecting the gardens, the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900. For this is the outcome of London Historic Gardens Trust v Minister of State for Housing (Thornton J, 8 April 2022). The court has also published this summary.
The judgment repays reading not just on this point but on the issue which often arises in cases involving heritage aspects – what is the threshold for “substantial harm” as defined in the NPPF?
First, the background…
The Government set up the Holocaust Commission in January 2014 “to examine what more should be done in Britain to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved and that the lessons it teaches are never forgotten.”
The Commission carried out a consultation process and recommended in January 2015 that a monument be established, vitally with an accompanying learning centre:
“there should be a striking new memorial to serve as the focal point for national commemoration of the Holocaust. It should be prominently located in Central London to attract the largest possible number of visitors and to make a bold statement about the importance Britain places on preserving the memory of the Holocaust.”
The UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation was created and the then prime minster announced on 27 January 2016 that Victoria Tower Gardens would be the location.
As summarised by the judge:
“Victoria Tower Gardens has considerable cultural, historical and heritage significance. It is located on the north bank of the River Thames immediately south of and adjacent to the Palace of Westminster and Black Rod Garden. It is a Grade II Registered Park and Garden. It contains within it three listed structures; the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst (Grade II listed), the statue of the Burghers of Calais (Grade I listed) and the Buxton Memorial Fountain (Grade II* listed). The site has contained a garden for public recreation since approximately 1880.”
Unusually, Secretary of State made the application for planning permission, in January 2019 (this would have been the late James Brokenshire).
The proposals have always been surprisingly controversial. When Westminster City Council delayed in determining the application, rather than being appealed on the basis of non-determination, the Application was procured to be called in but due to the Secretary of State clearly being “off side”, handling arrangements were arrived at (after previous litigation by the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust) that resulted in the minister of state for housing being the decision maker.
The proposals were approved on 29 July 2021 after a long inquiry.
The decision was challenged by the Trust on what became three grounds when the case came to a full hearing before Thornton J. The grounds before her were as follows:
“Ground 1: Harm to heritage assets
The Planning Inspector and Minister applied the wrong legal test to the issue of whether there will be ‘substantial harm’ to the heritage assets within the Gardens. The correct application of the test would have led inevitably to the conclusion that the harm to the significance of the Buxton Memorial was substantial and which would have led in turn to a very different test for the acceptability of the proposal.”
“Ground 3: The London County Council (Improvements) Act, 1900”
“Ground 4: error of law in relation to alternative sites
The Inspector erred in law in considering that in order to attract significant weight, the merits of any alternatives must be underpinned by a good measure of evidence demonstrating their viability and credibility as such an alternative.”
The issues arising were as follows:
“1) Did the inspector err in his assessment of harm to the historic environment of the Gardens; in particular the setting of the Buxton Memorial?
2) Does the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 impose a statutory prohibition on locating the Memorial in the Gardens?
3) Did the inspector err in his treatment of alternative sites for the Memorial?”
That 1900 Act ground had been considered unarguable at permission stage in the proceedings but the renewed application for permission on that ground had been allowed by Thornton J to be dealt with on a rolled-up basis as part of the main hearing. The twists and turns of litigation never fail to amaze. This proved to be the decisive issue in the whole case. As indicated by the judge:
“In his application to renew, Mr Drabble focussed on section 8(1) of the 1900 Act rather than section 8(8) which had been the focus of submissions before the Permission Judge. As refined by Mr Drabble, the ground is arguable, and I grant permission. Given the refinements to the Trust’s case as developed during oral submissions at the hearing, including the production of the Local Law (Greater London Council and Inner London Borough) Order 1965, I considered it appropriate (and of assistance to the Court) to allow the parties the opportunity to make short written submissions after the hearing.”
So what was this killer point?
By way of brief interjection, the outcome hasn’t gone down well with one previous Secretary of State at least:
Section 8(1) reads as follows:
“(1) “The lands lying to the eastward of the new street described in this Act as consisting in part of widenings of Abingdon Street and Millbank Street which is in this section called “the new street” and between the said street and the new embankment wall shall be laid out and maintained in manner herein-after provided for use as a garden open to the public and as an integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Garden subject to such byelaws and regulations as the Commissioners of Works may determine”
The judge’s interpretation:
“On its ordinary and natural meaning, Section 8(1) of the 1900 Act imposes an enduring obligation to lay out and retain the new garden land for use as a public garden and integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Gardens. It is not an obligation which was spent once the Gardens had been laid out so that the land could be turned over to some other use or be developed or built upon at some point after it had been laid out whenever it suited those subject to the obligation”
Her conclusion was reinforced by detailed consideration of pre-legislative material leading up to the 1900 Act.
Did this restriction on use of the gardens matter, being separate from planning legislation? In her view, yes:
“the 1900 Act is a material consideration because of the impediment it presents to delivery of the Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens and the importance attached by the Inspector to the delivery of the Memorial in the lifetime of Holocaust survivors.”
So the case succeeded on ground 3, and also partly therefore on ground 4:
“I have concluded in relation to Ground 3 that, section 8 of the 1900 Act imposes an enduring statutory obligation to maintain Victoria Tower Gardens as a public garden, This is a material consideration in the context of the Inspector’s emphasis on the importance of the need to deliver the scheme within the lifetime of the Holocaust survivors. The Inspector considered the question of alternative sites and the implications of their deliverability without assessment of the deliverability of the location in Victoria Tower Gardens in the context of the issues now presented by the Court’s construction of the 1900 Act. In the circumstances, as a consequence, to this extent, Ground 4 succeeds.”
What of ground 1, whether the correct test of “substantial harm” was used? I’m going to pass the keyboard to my Town Legal colleague Tom Brooks to explain:
“Ground One sought to challenge the primacy of that long favoured quote of heritage consultants seeking to duck the NPPF test of substantial harm, from Bedford BC v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (High Court, 2012), paras 24-25:
“for harm to be substantial, the impact on significance was required to be serious such that very much, if not all, of the significance was drained away […] an impact which would have such a serious impact on the significance of the asset that its significance was either vitiated altogether or very much reduced.”
In arguing that there was no substantial harm to the Grade II* listed Buxton Memorial at the inquiry, the Secretary of State (as applicant) had relied on this definition from Bedford. In making the same argument, Westminster City Council had preferred the Planning Practice Guidance definition that substantial harm “seriously affects a key element of special architectural or historic interest”.
The ground of challenge put to Thornton J, that the inspector had erred by adopting the Bedford test, failed.
Thornton J found that the references to Bedford in the inspector’s heritage analysis “are no more than the Inspector confirming, or cross checking his analysis, conducted by reference to his view of the test as the ‘serious degree of harm to the asset’s significance’, by reference to the case advanced before him […] This is unimpeachable” (para 46)
The inspector’s approach was thus “entirely consistent” with the approach to the NPPF test that had been stipulated in City & County Bramshill Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 2021), summarised by Thornton J as follows:
“The question whether there will be substantial harm to a heritage asset is a matter of fact and planning judgment and will depend on the circumstances. The NPPF does not direct the decision maker to adopt any specific approach to identifying harm or gauging its extent beyond a finding of substantial or less than substantial harm.” (para 47)
The judgment helpfully and eloquently goes on to put to bed the use of Bedford as a test of substantial harm.
The references to the draining away and vitiating of significance are simply Jay J’s “encapsulation of the Inspector’s application of the test of substantial harm” (para 51) in that specific case, and nothing more.
“[The Bedford] judgment does not import a test of ‘draining away’ to the test of substantial harm […] a word like ‘substantial’ in the NPPF means what it says and any attempt to impose a gloss on the meaning of the term has no justification in the context of the NPPF. […] It is not appropriate to treat comments made by a Judge assessing the reasoning of an individual decision maker, when applying the test of ‘substantial harm’ to the circumstances before him/her, as creating a gloss or additional meaning to the test.” (para 53)
Cue hasty edits to heritage impact assessment methodologies across the land.”
Thanks Tom. Now it’s back with me, just to say that this week’s clubhouse session will be at 5pm on Wednesday 13 April 2022 and we will be examining the government’s Energy Security Strategy, with Ben Lewis (Barton Willmore), Rachel Ness (Clearstone Energy), David Hardy (Squire Patton Boggs) and my Town Legal colleagues Duncan Field and Nikita Sellers. Join us here.
The Environment Act 2021 was born on 9 November 2021, over 22 months after the first version of the Bill received its first reading on 30 January 2020 – a gestation period equalled in the animal kingdom only by the African elephant.
One of the less controversial but potentially most useful elements of the Act is Part 7, namely the introduction of a mechanism for land owners to enter into “conservation covenants”. What is this new beast?
In simple terms, a conservation covenant is a private voluntary agreement between a land owner and a local authority or other responsible body designated by the Secretary of State with commitments given by the land owner, enforceable against successors in title, to do or not do specified things on the land that have a “conservation purpose”.
The Law Commission first recommended in a 2014 report that this regime be introduced in legislation, given that existing legal mechanisms each have significant legal and/or practical limitations, for instance planning obligations need to fall within the types of commitment specified in section 106(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and regulation 122 of the CIL Regulations will often be a constraint on the authority’s ability to take the obligation into account in its decision making; restrictive covenants more generally carry with them the constraint of requiring the party with the benefit of the covenant to have an interest in land that will take the benefit of the covenant (the “dominant tenement” as any legal fule kno) and with the covenant having to be a negative obligation in order to be automatically enforceable against successors.
The Commission gave three examples of how conservation covenants might be used:
• “protecting woodland over the generations”
“Example: The owner of an extensive family estate, much of which is forested and used by the public for hiking, intends to leave the land to her children. She wants to ensure that the forest is maintained and that public access continues, but she is not sure that her children – or future generations – would share those priorities”
• “selling heritage property”
“Example: A heritage group has invested funds in buying and restoring a Tudor house. The organisation wishes to sell the property, but wants to ensure that the work it has undertaken, and the heritage value of the property, is preserved.”
• “”protecting a biodiversity offsetting site”
“Example: A local planning authority is faced with a planning application for an affordable housing development. The proposed development site is a wild flower meadow. If the development were to go ahead the meadow would be destroyed completely. In this instance the planning authority is willing to grant planning permission, provided the damage caused to the meadow is offset by the creation and long-term maintenance of a similar site elsewhere.”
DEFRA then carried out a consultation in 2019. Its subsequent response to the consultation process confirmed that it would proceed with legislation, by way of the Environment Bill, and would develop guidance.
The provisions in Part 7 of the Act the provisions do indeed give effect to what was proposed. For a good summary I recommend that you look at the explanatory notes to the Act (pages 132 to 141). Some highlights from that summary:
• It must be apparent from the agreement that the parties intend to create a conservation covenant.
• Any provision must be of a “qualifying kind”, which can take one of two forms. “First, it may require the landowner to do, or not to do, something on specified land in England, or require the landowner to allow the responsible body to do something on such land. Second, it may require the responsible body to do something on such land.” The agreement can also include ancillary provisions.
• The land owner must have a “qualifying estate” in the land – namely a freehold interest or a leasehold estate of more than seven years.
• A conservation purpose “extends to the natural environment of the land, such as plants and animals and their habitats; the land’s natural resources, such as water on the land; the land as a place of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest; and the setting of the land. The reference to setting provides for the protection of land around a conservation site, which may affect its conservation status. For example, the architectural or artistic value of a country house could derive in part from the landscape in which it is set.” This is important! Conservation covenants are not just about nature conservation but can also be used in relation to, for instance, heritage conservation (see back to that second example from the Law Commission report).
• Bodies (including local authorities) need to apply to the Secretary of State to be designated by the Secretary of State to be a responsible body. If not a local body, the applicant body “will, additionally, have to satisfy the Secretary of State that at least some of its main purposes, functions or activities relate to conservation”. Criteria will need to be published by the Secretary of State. (Interesting that local authorities are not automatically designated).
• A conservation covenant is a local land charge and once registered is effective against subsequent owners of the land. It has indefinite effect unless otherwise stated in the agreement (and subject to the length of the relevant lease if entered into by a leaseholder). Enforcement will usually be by way of seeking an injunction or order for specific performance. It can be discharged or modified by agreement or by application to the Upper Tribunal.
• Section 135 (1) “gives the High Court, the county court or the Upper Tribunal, on application of any person interested, the power to make a declaration as to the validity of a conservation covenant, whether land is subject to an obligation under a conservation covenant, who is bound by or has the benefit of such an obligation, and the true construction (that is, meaning) of such an obligation. It will be for the court or the Upper Tribunal to decide whether an applicant has sufficient interest to make an application. The power to make a declaration extends to any agreement or order that modifies a conservation covenant. A person might seek a declaration under subsection (1) in circumstances where they needed to know the status of a conservation covenant – for example, in order to resist an action enforcing a breach or because the land was wanted for a different use.”
There is no news yet as to when the Regulations will be made to bring Part 7 into force. The biodiversity net gain provisions are likely to be a couple of years away from being switched on. Let’s hope that conservation covenants are not that far off, although of course we do need some good guidance to accompany what could prove to be a well-used procedure, because the opportunities for use of conservation covenants are wide: commitments to provide biodiversity net gain off-site are an obvious example but think also about commitments in relation to offsetting to address nitrate, phosphate or water neutrality for instance, as well as commitments which might previously have involved transferring land to a conservation or heritage group – the land will now be able to be retained with long term commitments given by way of a CC.
This week’s Clubhouse session (6pm 7 December) will be a descent into the strange world of planning enforcement. Whatever your perspective, Scott Stemp and Nicola Gooch will be leading us through the murky depths. Stories welcome. Link to app here.
The court has quashed the decision of the Secretary of State (“SST”), against his examining authority’s recommendations, to “grant a development consent order (“DCO”) […] for the construction of a new route 13 km long for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down which would replace the existing surface route. The new road would have a dual instead of a single carriageway and would run in a tunnel 3.3 km long through the Stonehenge part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site (“WHS”)“. I had written about the SST’s decision to grant the DCO in my 14 November 2020 blog post, Minister Knows Best (It is interesting to look back – all three of the DCO decisions I mentioned in that post have now been quashed, the others being Norfolk Vanguard Windfarm (also by Holgate J, in R (Pearce) v Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (18 February 2021) and also in February 2021 the quashing by consent order of the Manston Airport DCO).
The SST’s decision to grant the A303 (Amesbury to Berwick Down) Development Consent Order 2020, to give it its formal title, was challenged on five grounds, some of those with sub-grounds. They were, in full:
(i) The SST failed to apply paragraph 5.124 of the NPSNN (see  above) to 11 non-designated heritage assets;
(ii) The SST failed to consider the effect of the proposal on 14 scheduled ancient monuments (i.e. designated heritage assets);
(iii) The SST failed to consider the effect of the proposal on the setting of the heritage assets, as opposed to its effect on the OUV of the WHS as a whole;
(iv) The SST’s judgment that the proposal would cause less than substantial harm improperly involved the application of a “blanket discount” to the harm caused to individual heritage assets.
Ground 2– lack of evidence to support disagreement with the Panel
“The claimant submits that the SST disagreed with the Panel on the substantial harm issue without there being any proper evidential basis for doing so. Mr. Wolfe QC advances this ground by reference to the SST’s acceptance of the views of IP2 in DL 34, 43, 50 and 80. He submitted that IP2’s representations did not provide the SST with evidence to support his disagreement with the Panel on “substantial harm” in two respects. First, he said that HE only addressed the spatial aspect of the third main issue and did not address harm to individual assets or groups of assets. Second, he submitted that SST had misunderstood IP2’s position: it had never said that the harm would be less than substantial.”
Ground 3 – double-counting of heritage benefits
“The claimant submits that the SST not only took into account the heritage benefits of the scheme as part of the overall balancing exercise required by para. 5.134 of the NPSNN, but also took those matters into account as tempering the level of heritage disbenefit. It is said that this was impermissible double-counting because those heritage benefits were placed in both scales of the same balance.”
Ground 4 – whether the proposal breached the World Heritage Convention
“The claimant contends that the SST’s acceptance that the scheme would cause harm, that is less than substantial harm, to the WHS involved a breach of articles 4 and 5 of the Convention and therefore the SST erred in law in concluding that s.104(4) of PA 2008 was not engaged. It was engaged and so, it is submitted, the presumption in s.104(3) should not have been applied in the decision letter.”
(i) The SST failed to take into account any conflict with Core Policies 58 and 59 of the Wiltshire Plan and with policy 1d of the WHS Management Plan;
(ii) The SST failed to take into account the effect of his conclusion that the proposal would cause less than substantial harm to heritage assets on the business case advanced for the scheme;
(iii) The SST failed to consider alternative schemes in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.
The 39 Essex chambers press statement (this being a case well represented by barristers from that chambers: five of the seven appearing!) summarises the outcome as follows:
“The claim was allowed on two grounds:
· Part of ground 1(iv): that the Minister did not receive a precis of, or any briefing on, heritage impacts where the Examining Authority agreed with Highways England but did not summarise in their report. He therefore could not form any conclusion upon those heritage assets, whether in agreement or disagreement;
· Ground 5(iii): The Examining Authority and the Minister limited their concluded consideration of alternatives to whether an options appraisal had been carried out and whether there was information on alternatives. However, they did not go on to consider the relative merits of the scheme and alternatives, in particular extending the proposed tunnel farther westwards. Mr Justice Holgate considered it was irrational not to have drawn conclusions in relation alternatives, particularly given that third parties had raised them and the Examining Authority had addressed the information about them in its Report. The Judge held that the circumstances were wholly exceptional. In this case the relative merits of the alternative tunnel options compared to the western cutting and portals were an obviously material consideration which the Minister was required to assess and draw conclusions upon.
The Court rejected other grounds of challenge holding:
· There was no failure to consider whether certain archaeological sites were of national importance;
· The effects on certain individual scheduled monuments had been considered;
· The examining authority and the Minister had considered the effect on scheduled monuments and other heritage assets in addition to the World Heritage Site;
· The Minister had correctly understood Historic England’s advice;
· Discussing the recent Court of Appeal judgment in Bramshill the judge considered that in some cases a decision maker could consider the harm and benefits to a particular heritage asset before deciding whether there was net harm to it and that harm could be assessed for different purposes in different parts of guidance. In Stonehenge the court held that there had been no improper double counting or consideration;
· Articles 4 and 5 of the World Heritage Convention confers obligations on member states towards World Heritage Sites. The Court considered that the Convention does not impose an absolute requirement of protection, but that a balance can be drawn against harm and public benefits.
· The Minister had also lawfully considered the development plan, the World Heritage Site Management Plan and the business case.”
For those who may misunderstand the supervisory role of the courts, there was this warning from Holgate J:
“Plainly, this is a scheme about which strongly divergent opinions are held. It is therefore necessary to refer to what was said by the Divisional Court in R (Rights: Community: Action) v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government  PTSR 553 at :- “It is important to emphasise at the outset what this case is and is not about. Judicial review is the means of ensuring that public bodies act within the limits of their legal powers and in accordance with the relevant procedures and legal principles governing the exercise of their decision-making functions. The role of the court in judicial review is concerned with resolving questions of law. The court is not responsible for making political, social, or economic choices. Those decisions, and those choices, are ones that Parliament has entrusted to ministers and other public bodies. The choices may be matters of legitimate public debate, but they are not matters for the court to determine. The Court is only concerned with the legal issues raised by the claimant as to whether the defendant has acted unlawfully.”
The present judgment can only decide whether the decision to grant the DCO was lawful or unlawful. It would therefore be wrong for the outcome of this judgment to be treated as either approving or disapproving the project. That is not the court’s function.”
I thought it might be interesting to pick out some of the passages where Holgate J sets out his reasoning for finding the decision to have been unlawful:
“Here, the SST did receive a precis of the ES [environmental statement] and HIA [heritage impact assessment] in so far as the Panel addressed those documents in its report. But the SST did not receive a precis of, or any briefing on, the parts of those documents relating to impacts on heritage assets which the Panel accepted but did not summarise in its reports. This gap is not filled by relying upon the views of IP2 in the Examination because, understandably, they did not see it as being necessary for them to provide a precis of the work on heritage impacts in the ES and in the HIA. Mr Wolfe QC is therefore right to say that the SST did not take into account the appraisal in the ES and HIA of those additional assets, and therefore did not form any conclusion upon the impacts upon their significance, whether in agreement or disagreement.
In my judgment this involved a material error of law. The precise number of assets involved has not been given, but it is undoubtedly large. Mr Wolfe QC pointed to some significant matters. To take one example, IP1 assessed some of the impacts on assets and asset groupings not mentioned by the Panel as slight adverse and others as neutral or beneficial. We have no evidence as to what officials thought about those assessments. More pertinently, the decision letter drafted by officials (which was not materially different from the final document – see  above) was completely silent about those assessments. The draft decision letter did not say that they had been considered and were accepted, or otherwise. The court was not shown anything in the decision letter, or the briefing, which could be said to summarise such matters. In these circumstances, the SST was not given legally sufficient material to be able lawfully to carry out the “heritage” balancing exercise required by paragraph 5.134 of the NPSNN and the overall balancing exercise required by s.104 of the PA 2008. In those balancing exercises the SST was obliged to take into account the impacts on the significance of all designated heritage assets affected so that they were weighed, without, of course, having to give reasons which went through all of them one by one.”
Ground 5 (iii)
“The focus of the claimant’s oral submissions was that the defendant failed to consider the relative merits of two alternative schemes for addressing the harm resulting from the western cutting and portal, firstly, to cover approximately 800m of the cutting and secondly, to extend the bored tunnel so that the two portals are located outside the western boundary of the WHS.”
“The relevant circumstances of the present case are wholly exceptional. In this case the relative merits of the alternative tunnel options compared to the western cutting and portals were an obviously material consideration which the SST was required to assess. It was irrational not to do so. This was not merely a relevant consideration which the SST could choose whether or not to take into account. I reach this conclusion for a number of reasons, the cumulative effect of which I judge to be overwhelming. “
Holgate J goes on to set out in detail nine reasons on which he relies (see paragraphs 278 to 288 of the judgment).
The Secretary of State has an uneasy summer ahead: whether or not he seeks permission to appeal, is this a scheme he is still wedded to, cheek by jowl with his transport decarbonisation plan and promised review of the National Networks NPS? Awkwardly, the prime minister had only recently referred to the project in his 15 July 2021 levelling up speech as “critical and overdue”.
Can you make a u-turn on a trunk road?
Simon Ricketts, 30 July 2021
Personal views, et cetera
We will be discussing the case on clubhouse on 10 August (link here), our regular Planning Law, Unplanned panellist Victoria Hutton having appeared for the successful claimant. However, this coming Tuesday, 3 August 2021, our topic will be ££ affordable workspace in section 106 agreements: Why? how?££ led by my Town Legal colleague Lucy Morton and leading economist Ellie Evans (Volterra) plus other special guests. Join us! Link here.
“Andrew Wilson, a curator at Tate, wrote on Twitter that this is “another example of the normalisation of money-grabbing philistinism that this government promotes”. Writing on his blog, Charles Saumarez-Smith, the former chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, says that the government “is play-acting, [putting] a superficial veneer over rather brutal capitalists, who are happy to use British history for their own purposes… a hotel for foreign tourists is more important than a bit of living history”.
Saumarez-Smith also criticises the heritage body Historic England, which backed the boutique hotel project, saying: “I hope that the Commissioners of Historic England, who have so conspicuously failed in their public duty, might consider what went wrong: why they did nothing; why they have allowed this to happen in such a conspicuously supine way.” Historic England said in a statement: “We believe that the proposals have the makings of a successful heritage regeneration scheme, and would provide a sustainable future for this important group of listed buildings.”
“The housing secretary has ordered a review of planners’ approach to heritage after a decision was made to allow a 450-year-old bell foundry that cast Big Ben to be turned into a boutique hotel.”
Away from the traditional media, there has inevitably also been much tweeting and perhaps it is apt that the Secretary of State took to twitter to announce that review, the announcement so far taking the form just of the final sentence of this thread of tweets:
The one thing you get from the newspaper headlines is that the foundry is being turned into a hotel. Isn’t it interesting/worrying how these stories take on a life of their own, reduced to compelling headlines.? Of course, it’s inevitable – who has the time to read even the Secretary of State’s 13 May 2021 decision letter and accompanying inspector’s report, let alone any of the underlying documents? The foundry is not being turned into a hotel.
To take a step back…
First, what was the site? As described by the inspector:
“2.2 The entry in the statutory list provides a great deal of information about theWhitechapel (or what it terms the Church) Bell Foundry. It suffices to set out here that it is a Grade II* listed building. However, the situation is complicated, to a degree, by the fact that parts of the overall foundry site are specifically excluded from the listing.
2.3 Put simply, the application site has three main elements. Firstly, there is the front range (including 32 and 34 Whitechapel Road and 2 Fieldgate Street). Secondly, behind that front range, lie the courtyard and old stables and thirdly, beyond those, are the old foundry and former cottages. Together, these elements comprise the Grade II* listed building.
2.4 Beyond that lies what has been termed the 1980s building. This building is specifically excluded from the listing. Beyond and adjacent to the 1980s building are two areas of car park and hardstanding which were not part of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry but are parcels of land that have been assembled by the applicant.”
The foundry use had ceased in 2017.
What are the proposals by the applicant, Raycliff Whitechapel LLP? Again, as described by the inspector:
“4.1 In simple terms, there are two main components of the proposals that can loosely be classified as the listed building and the new building. In terms of the listed building itself, it would play host to a modern foundry, interpretation spaces, a café and events space, workspaces and workshops. The proposed uses and improved circulation are intended to allow the maximum number of people to access and experience the building.
4.2 The new building would be home to a hotel, with 103 bedrooms, a restaurant, a bar, and a roof-top terrace and pool, and a workspace at ground floor level.
4.3 The ground floor across both the listed building and the new building would be open to the public, with the foundry, interpretation spaces and the café in the historic building, the restaurant bar and hotel reception in the new building. The main entrance to the buildings would be common to both.”
Tower Hamlets Council resolved to grant planning permission and listed building consent on the advice of its officers on 14 November 2019 and the Secretary of State then issued a holding direction on 2 December 2019.
The applications were called in by the Secretary of State on January 2020. There was an early hiccup in the process when housing and planning minister Chris Pincher mistakenly told MPs in a debate on 11 June 2020 (seeking to defend the Secretary of State’s position in relation to another scheme in Tower Hamlets, Westferry – now incidentally back at inquiry for redetermination but that’s another story):
“I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I said, it is not unusual for Ministers to look at and call in significant applications, and for them to come to a different conclusion from that of the Planning Inspectorate. My right hon. Friend’s reasons for his decision were clearly outlined in his decision letter of 14 January. He makes it clear that one reason for his decision to allow the application was the very significant number of homes that were going to be built as a result of it, including affordable homes. I might say in response to the hon. Gentleman that in the same week, in an application to the same authority, my right hon. Friend came to a very different conclusion when he refused a planning application made by and supported by the local authority to demolish the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the one that created Big Ben and the Liberty bell. The local authority, the well-known tribunes of the people in Tower Hamlets, wanted to demolish it and build a luxury boutique hotel. My right hon. Friend will always come down on an application based on its merits and in the interests of the people. That is what he did on this occasion and that is what he will always do.”
He later apologised for his mistake – it had only been called in by the Secretary of State, not refused, but an unhelpfully politically charged note in the process for sure.
An inquiry took place, which opened on 6 October 2020 and sat for nine days. The main objectors to the proposals were a group known as Re-Form Heritage, which appeared at the inquiry as a Rule 6 Party, represented by Rupert Warren QC and Matthew Dale-Harris, who called four witnesses including professional evidence on heritage and planning – no “David and Goliath” contest this). Tower Hamlets Council was in support of the proposals (Alexander Booth QC appearing), as was Historic England. David Elvin QC appeared for the applicant.
(Thanks to my Town Legal colleague Tom Brooks for much of the following summary, although any views expressed are mine).
Re-Form argued that:
– Raycliff’s proposals were unacceptable in heritage terms, and would cause, in the language of the NPPF (paras 193-196), “substantial harm” to the significance of the listed building; and
– Re-Form’s alternative vision for the future of the site, as a working foundry for casting both bells and other artistic commissions, was less harmful, so the applications should be refused.
Raycliff’s position was that only a low level of less than substantial harm would be caused by the proposals, that this would be outweighed by their public benefits (heritage and otherwise), and that Re-Form’s idea was undeliverable and unviable.
The inspector concluded that the listed building was “of profound significance” (IR 12.14), noting that all agreed there were elements of the proposals that would cause harm to that significance (IR 12.17), whether substantial (leading to NPPF 194-195) or less than substantial (leading to NPPF 196).
As spelt out by the inspector: the end of the bell foundry business in 2017 was unconnected to the present proposals (“Traditional bell founding on the site…ended for economic reasons mainly to do with a drop in demand for tower bells, and the difficulties, both operational and environmental, the business encountered in operating from a Central London address”); and therefore the starting point for the assessment was a “largely vacant Grade II* listed building that formerly housed traditional bell founding…It is not a situation where a traditional bell foundry is to be closed in order to be replaced by something else”. IR 12.23).
Following the inspector’s conclusion that the proposals cannot be taken to cause harm to the listed building as a result of the closure of the business, the only harm possible was any arising from the physical works now proposed. No harm was found to the other heritage asset in this case, the Whitechapel Conservation Area, and that the hotel extension was said by the inspector to be a “subtle and pleasingly understated” addition (IR 12.52).
The inspector concluded that the harm to the listed building “would be very much at the lower end of the scale of less than substantial” (IR 12.44), would be outweighed by the public benefits of the scheme (albeit with some non-consequential discussion as to how this balancing should be carried out – see below), and so planning permission and listed building consent should be granted.
This advice was accepted by the Secretary of State.
There are some interesting issues arising:
– Obviously, there is no planning control whatsoever to preserve as operational the specific use that was said to be significant in heritage terms – as a “large church bell foundry” (IR 8.46) – clearly the planning system cannot require a business to continue to operate or indeed to prevent other industrial uses of the site, or uses which may be possible by way of permitted development. The Secretary of State concluded that “the end of traditional bell making on the site has…nothing whatsoever to do with the proposals at issue”.
– Re-Form argued that that Raycliff needed to demonstrate that its scheme was the “optimum viable use” of the site (following the reference in NPPF 196). This suggestion was dismissed by the inspector: optimum viable use is an example of the public benefits that are to be weighed against harm in the balancing process, but in such “a situation where the heritage and other public benefits of the proposals so far outweigh the harm they would cause, it appears to me unnecessary” (IR 12.82).
– The inspector followed Bramshill at first instance (Waksman J, 16 December 2019) that not much detail of an alternative scheme for a heritage asset is needed for that scheme to be a relevant consideration. Nonetheless, he found Re-Form’s scheme to be “somewhat sketchy, and lacking in detail [with…] far too many uncertainties” (IR 12.92). Moreover, even if it had been shown to be viable, “the mere presence of an alternative scheme offers no justification to resist a proposal that is otherwise acceptable, and statute and policy compliant” (IR 12.77).
– One of the more surprising aspects of the decision is the inspector going out of his way to endorse the so-called “internal heritage balance” method of assessing heritage harm following Palmer (Court of Appeal, 4 November 2016), despite numerous subsequent judgments emphasising that such an approach should be used with caution (see recently the Court of Appeal judgment on Bramshill which I covered in my 12 March 2021 post).
While the inspector was at pains to make his view clear that such an “internal heritage balance” approach was “perfectly legitimate”, and this was endorsed in the Secretary of State’s letter, it actually made no difference to the conclusion reached.
The inspector thus carried out an initial balancing exercise of heritage harm against heritage benefits, prior to the NPPF 196 test considering the wider public benefits. In doing so, he found that “there would be no harm caused to the special architectural and historic interest of the listed building […and] no need to consider paragraphs 195 or 196 because considered in the round, the proposals would cause no harm to the significance of the designated heritage asset affected” (IR 12.75-12.76).
What the inspector had done, though, was exactly the same as carrying out the NPPF 196 test, and simply stopping after the heritage benefits because the scales were already tipped in their favour, and so there was no need to include the wider public benefits too. In fact, the inspector then carried out the NPPF 196 test doing this anyway (at IR 12.78-12.81), leaving it unclear as to why the “internal heritage balance” approach was taken in the first place.
It’s certainly a topical issue. In the middle of my writing this post, judgment was handed down in Juden v London Borough of Tower Hamlets (Sir Duncan Ouseley, 21 May 2021) – another social media cause celebre, the “mulberry tree” case. See discussion at paragraphs 59 to 87 on ground 3 (“inclusion of heritage benefits when assessing the level of heritage harm”).
– It is common, thanks partly to the shared application form these days, for applications for planning permission and listed building consent to share the same description of development. Unusually, in this case, the inspector sought during the inquiry to understand exactly which works should be the subject of each application, resulting in an amendment to the description for the listed building consent – a useful reminder of the proper scope of listed building consent in section 7 of the Act (for “works which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest”), and that despite their often parallel consideration by planning authorities, they are separate regimes with separate legislative and policy considerations.
Here was a proposal that was supported by Tower Hamlets officers and members, supported by Historic England, recommended for approval by an independent inspector and approved by the Secretary of State (the decision apparently taken by another minister but “on behalf of” the Secretary of State). In the meantime, commentary in social media and the broadsheet newspapers continues to attack the conclusions reached, repeating arguments that have already been rejected throughout this process.
There are plenty of participants to go at of course – the Secretary of State mentions the Planning Inspectorate (why?); Charles Saumarez-Smith (who appeared at the inquiry) alleges that Historic England “conspicuously failed in their public duty” (how?), and as always everyone has a go at the developer, without putting forward any realistic alternative proposals.
What has led to the Secretary of State’s announcement of a “review of how the Planning Inspectorate and planning policy considers and defends heritage”? An attempt to appease, without implementing substantive changes to the current system, those who wish that somehow a different decision could have been reached? Or something more fundamental? If the latter (and I’m struggling to visualise what form that might take), it needs to get hitched pretty quickly to the planning white paper bandwagon.
This week’s 6pm Tuesday 25 May #PlanningLawUnplanned Clubhouse session, provocatively titled, looks more widely at the treatment of planning issues in the media, already with a fascinating list of guest contributors in addition to our usual panel. Invitation to the app here (and, hooray, no longer limited to iphone users).
“A church house, gin house, a school house, outhouse”
To what extent were Ike & Tina Turner also referring to the curtilage of any of those buildings?
“There are some words or expressions which are like an elephant; its essence is difficult to put into words, but you know it when you see it. “Curtilage” is a word of that nature.” – Andrews LJ in this week’s free text book from the courts: Blackbushe Airport Limited v Hampshire County Council (Court of Appeal, 18 March 2021).
The c word appears regularly in legislation, without definition. The Court of Appeal has done us all rather a service by gathering together the previous case law and attempting to arrive at common principles.
For instance, look at section 1 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990: the definition of “listed building” includes “any object or structure within the curtilage of [a listed] building which, although not fixed to the building, forms part of the land and has done so since before lst July 1948”.
And it even appears in the NPPF: the definition of “previously developed land” includes “land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land…”
But what on earth does it mean?
In the Blackbushe case the question arose in relation to the operation of the Commons Act. Land can be deregistered as a village green if it can be shown to be “within the curtilage of a building”. The question was, as the airport owner claimed, 115 acres forming the operational part of Blackbushe Airport, could be deregistered on the basis that it is in the curtilage of “a two-storey terminal building, with a footprint of about 360 m2 and an overall floor area of about 760 m2, which serves as the airport’s operational hub.”
The inquiry inspector had accepted the airport’s argument but his decision was quashed by Holgate J. The Court of Appeal agreed with Holgate J:
“If what is meant by “the curtilage of a building” is understood correctly, and all relevant factors are taken into account when determining whether the statutory requirements were satisfied in this case, the answer is no. This extensive area of operational airfield cannot properly be described as falling within the curtilage of the relatively small terminal building.
That common sense conclusion flows inexorably from the correct interpretation of the relevant provisions of the 2006 Act set out above, and their application to the facts. It is also consistent with the approach taken in the authorities in which the question of what falls “within the curtilage of a building” has been considered in other contexts, although none of them was directly concerned with this statute.
In deciding that the statutory criteria were met, the Inspector applied the wrong test by asking himself whether the land and building together “formed an integral part of the same unit” because he found that there was “functional equivalence” between them. That error is perhaps best demonstrated in paragraph 83 of his decision letter, where he described the operational area as “part and parcel with the building and an integral part of the same unit” instead of asking whether the land should be treated as if it were “part and parcel of the building”. The difference is critical, and it led to the Inspector addressing the wrong question, namely, whether the land and building together fell within the curtilage of the airport, rather than whether the land fell within the curtilage of the building.”
“Since it is the building which is to be treated as wrongly registered, the inference can be drawn that the relationship of the land to the building must be sufficiently proximate that a reference to that building – in this case, the terminal building – could be treated, without artifice, as including the land as well. So, for example, a reference to “Keeper’s Cottage” would naturally be taken to include a reference to the cottage garden. A reference to the terminal building at Blackbushe Airport would not be naturally understood as referring to the whole airport, or to 115 acres of operational land of which the terminal building occupies a very small part.
Looking at the matter from another perspective, in order to achieve the deregistration of the terminal building which is deemed by Parliament to have been wrongly registered as common land, whilst it would be reasonable and appropriate to include some of the surrounding land that might be referred to figuratively as “part and parcel of” the building, or “belonging to” the building, it is plainly unnecessary to deregister the whole of the rest of the operational area of the airport.”
“…just as one can tell immediately that a giraffe is not an elephant, it is probably far easier to recognise that something is not within the curtilage of a building than it is to say how far the curtilage extends. The present case is a good illustration.”
“As Holgate J recognised in his judgment at  to , although “curtilage” is not a term of art, but is to be given its ordinary and natural meaning, its meaning is not completely provided by the dictionary. The concept has its origins in a small piece of land attached to a dwelling-house. Holgate J quoted the Oxford English Dictionary (“OED”) definition:
“A small court, yard, garth or piece of ground attached to a dwelling-house, and forming one enclosure with it, or so regarded by the law; the area attached to and containing a dwelling-house and its out-buildings.”
That definition begs the question of what the law would regard as “forming one enclosure” with a dwelling-house, or what is the ambit of the “area” in question.
In any event, as the Judge pointed out, in the 2006 Act (as in other legislation in which the expression is used) the “building” whose curtilage is being considered does not have to be a dwelling-house. Moreover, as will be seen, although the size of the land will be a relevant consideration, the extent of the curtilage of a building may vary with the nature and size of the building. To refer to the area as “small” (or conversely “large”) is not particularly helpful in a context where size is relative. What falls within the curtilage of a manor house, or a large industrial mill, or a factory, may not be the same as what falls within the curtilage of a dwelling house. What falls within the curtilage of a dwelling-house may depend on the size and configuration of the dwelling-house. Even so, proportionality, whilst relevant, may not be definitive; a small cottage will sometimes have a large garden, whereas a large townhouse may have a tiny terrace.”
“… the test is not whether the terminal building could function without an operational airport, nor whether the Application Land was necessary for the functioning of the airport. Nor is the test whether the Application Land and the terminal building together form one part of an operational unit or whether they fall within a single enclosure. The question whether, by reason of the association between them, the law would treat them as if they formed one parcel, or as an integral whole, depends on the application of the “part and parcel” test to the facts of the particular case.”
“Holgate J was right to hold that the phrase “the curtilage of a building” in the 2006 Act requires the land in question to form part and parcel of the building to which it is related. The correct question is whether the land falls within the curtilage of the building, and not whether the land together with the building fall within, or comprise, a unit devoted to the same or equivalent function or purpose, nor whether the building forms part and parcel of some unit which includes that land. He therefore correctly concluded that the Inspector’s decision was fatally flawed by material errors of law.”
In a supporting judgment Nugee LJ added some useful guidance:
“If we want to know what a word’s ordinary meaning is, it is to my mind more helpful to ask how it is used in practice. This is after all what we do with everyday words. We do not know what the word house means because we have looked it up in the dictionary; we know what a house is because we have experience of how the word house is used. In the same way if we want to know what curtilage means, it is helpful to look at examples of how it has been used in practice. Such an exercise may not indicate the outer edges of its meaning with precision, but it does help to illustrate its central meaning.
Fortunately the extensive array of authorities cited to us on this appeal enables us to do this. We find for example that in the case of modest houses, the curtilage would not on the face of it extend to the whole of 10 acres of pasture land let with a cottage (Trim v Sturminster RDC  2 KB 508); that a field used for keeping cows was not part of a house (Pulling v London, Chatham and Dover Railway Co (1864) 3 De G J & S 661); and that paddocks have been held not to be part of the curtilage of houses in both Methuen-Campbell and Burford v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWHC 1493 (Admin). On the other hand the curtilage does include a wall enclosing a recently expanded part of the garden (Sumption v Greenwich LBC  EWHC 2776 (Admin)).
In grander houses, the curtilage would extend to “the house, the stables and other outbuildings, the gardens and the rough grass up to the ha-ha if there was one”, but not to the 100 acre park surrounding a mansion house (Dyer at 358F-G per Nourse LJ); thus it would include a wall forming part of a ha-ha (Watson-Smyth v Secretary of State for the Environment (1992) 64 P&CR 156); and a stable block even some distance away from the main house (Skerritts); but not 64½ acres of a park, meadow land and pasture land (Buck d. Whalley v Nurton (1797) 1 B & P 53); nor a 650m long fence along the driveway (Lowe v First Secretary of State  EWHC 537 (Admin)). Admittedly a devise of a mansion-house to the testator’s wife was held to include three meadows let for grazing in Leach v Leach  WN 79, but in Methuen-Campbell at 543F Buckley LJ said that he did not think, unless there was some special context, that this very liberal construction adopted by Malins V-C was good law.
When one moves away from dwelling-houses we find that the purpose-built residence of a medical superintendent within the boundary of a lunatic asylum was within the curtilage of the asylum (Jepson v Gribble  1 Ex D 151); but firemen’s houses outside the boundaries of the yard to a fire station were not within the curtilage of the fire station (Barwick). A courtyard and access to a warehouse and mill was part of the curtilage (Caledonian Railway Co. v Turcan  AC 256); as was a piece of ground in front of a public house used for access (Marson v London, Chatham and Dover Railway Co (1868) LR 6 Eq 101); and two small open spaces in an oil depot (Clymo); but not a large hardstanding massively in excess of what was necessary for an undertaking in a modest building (Challenge Fencing). To these can be added Calderdale, which concerned a terraced row of houses physically linked to a mill by a bridge and within its boundaries, and which is extensively considered by Andrews LJ above.
A survey such as this is neither scientific nor comprehensive. Nor does it give any indication why in any particular case the Court decided as it did: that requires a consideration of the explanations given by the judge(s) in any particular case. Nor does it take account of the different statutory contexts in which the question may arise. Nor is it any substitute for a careful analysis of the question when it does arise. But that does not mean that it has no value. To my mind it gives a good idea of the concept of what it is for a piece of land to be within the curtilage of a building; it illustrates the natural and ordinary meaning of the word. I will not attempt to define it, but these are all examples of bits of land that go with a building, of “relatively limited” extent (Skerritts), that are “intimately associated” with it (Methuen-Campbell)”
What is so interesting is that whilst the Court of Appeal upheld Holgate J’s first instance judgment, they differed from him in one important respect – he had accepted that “curtilage” could have a broader and more expansive definition for the purposes of listed buildings legislation:
“For the reasons I have already given, I do not consider that the use of “curtilage” in the extended definition of “listed building” is analogous to its use in the de-registration and non-registration provisions in schedule 2 to the 2006 Act. The 2006 Act takes a balanced approach to the protection of, on the one hand, rights of common and public access to commons and town or village greens and, on the other, the interests of the owners of buildings on such land. There is no justification for adopting for the 2006 Act the “broad approach” to defining curtilage which the court expressly employed in Calderdale in order to promote the efficacy of listed building control.”
Contrast with Andrews LJ: “I do not accept that the test in a listed building case is any different…”
The, previously understood, extended definition with regard to listed buildings is reflected in current Historic England guidance – see for example this example they set out:
Surely this approach needs to be viewed with caution in the light of the Court of Appeal’s judgment: an elephant is or is not an elephant, curtilage is or is not curtilage.
Sometimes I think, why buy a legal text book when you can read it in a court judgment? Lindblom LJ has provided some useful practical guidance, in City & Country Bramshill Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 9 March 2021), on how to go about the assessment, required by the NPPF, as to whether development proposals would be likely to cause harm to listed buildings and other heritage assets.
(The case also considers the interpretation of policies in the NPPF against the development of “isolated homes in the countryside” but I’m limiting this blog post to heritage aspects.)
The case arose out of a decision letter dated 31 January 2019 by inspector Vicki Hirst into no fewer than 33 appeals against refusals of planning permission and enforcement notices issued by the second respondent, Hart District Council, relating to development at Bramshill Park in Hampshire. The third and fourth respondents to the proceedings, Historic England and the National Trust, were objectors. The inquiry had sat for 26 days.
From Lindblom LJ’s judgment:
“The site, which extends to about 106 hectares, lies between the villages of Hazeley and Eversley. It was previously used as a national and international police training college. On it stands a grade I listed Jacobean mansion and various other buildings. It also contains a grade I registered park and garden. The proposed development included the conversion of the mansion to 16 apartments and the adjoining stable block to five (appeal 1), or its conversion to a single dwelling (appeal 2), or to class B1 office space (appeal 3); the construction of 235 houses in place of some of the existing buildings (appeal 4), 14 more to the south-west (appeal 5), and nine to the north of an existing lake (appeal 6); the use of 51 residential units – once occupied by staff employed at the training college – as separate dwellings (appeal 7), retaining those against which the council had taken enforcement action alleging a material change of use without planning permission (appeals 8 to 33).
The inspector held a long inquiry into the appeals, which ended in February 2018. In her decision letter, dated 31 January 2019, she allowed appeals 2 and 3, granting planning permission for those proposals. She also allowed appeals 15 and 17 to 33, quashing the enforcement notices in those appeals. She dismissed appeals 1, 4 to 14 and 16. In a separate decision letter dated 14 March 2019 she dismissed City & Country Bramshill’s application for costs against the council. City & Country Bramshill challenged her decisions on appeals 4 to 14 and 16, and on the application for costs. Waksman J. upheld the challenges to the decisions on appeals 7 to 14 and 16. He rejected those to the decisions on appeals 4 to 6 and on costs. The appeal before us is against that part of his order. Permission to appeal was granted by Lewison L.J. on 28 February 2020.”
The key dispute before the court in relation to heritage policy was as follows:
“Historic England and the National Trust provided their evidence on the basis that paragraphs 195 and 196 of the [NPPF] would always be engaged where any element of harm was identified. The appellant held that this was not the correct approach […]. The appellant’s case is that an “internal heritage balance” should be carried out where elements of heritage harm and heritage benefit are first weighed to establish whether there is any overall heritage harm to the proposal. Paragraphs 195 and 196 would only be engaged where there is residual heritage harm. This should then be weighed against the public benefits of the scheme.”
I’m now handing the microphone over to my Town Legal colleague, Victoria McKeegan – the rest of this post is largely hers.
So, the key matter was whether, prior to engaging paragraphs 195 and 196 of the NPPF (which apply to cases where a development proposal will lead to substantial / less than substantial harm), an ‘internal heritage balance’ should be carried out where elements of heritage harm and benefit are first weighed up to establish whether there is any overall heritage harm. The appellant argued that this was the case and, as such, that these paragraphs are only engaged where there is residual heritage harm, this then being weighed against the public benefits of the scheme. Put another way, only if “overall harm” (i.e. net harm) emerges from the weighing of “heritage harms” against “heritage benefits” must the “other public benefits” of the development be weighed against that “overall harm“.
On this point, the Court held as follows:
Like the judge, I cannot accept those submissions. It is not stipulated, or implied, in section 66(1), or suggested in the relevant case law, that a decision-maker must undertake a “net” or “internal” balance of heritage-related benefits and harm as a self-contained exercise preceding a wider assessment of the kind envisaged in paragraph 196 of the NPPF. Nor is there any justification for reading such a requirement into NPPF policy. The separate balancing exercise for which Mr Strachan contended may have been an exercise the inspector could have chosen to undertake when performing the section 66(1) duty and complying with the corresponding policies of the NPPF, but it was not required as a matter of law. And I cannot see how this approach could ever make a difference to the ultimate outcome of an application or appeal.
There is also some useful commentary regarding the s66(1) duty and the concepts of ‘harm’ in the NPPF, which I set out below:
1. Matters of weight:
• Section 66(1) duty
Section 66 does not state how the decision-maker must go about discharging the duty to “have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting …”. The courts have considered the nature of that duty and the parallel duty for conservation areas in section 72 of the Listed Buildings Act, and the concept of giving “considerable importance and weight” to any finding of likely harm to a listed building and its setting. They have not prescribed any single, correct approach to the balancing of such harm against any likely benefits – or other material considerations weighing in favour of a proposal. But in Jones v Mordue this court accepted that if the approach in paragraphs 193 to 196 of the NPPF (as published in 2018 and 2019) is followed, the section 66(1) duty is likely to be properly performed.
• NPPF paragraph 193
The concept in paragraph 193 – that “great weight” should be given to the “conservation” of the “designated heritage asset”, and that “the more important the asset the greater the weight should be” – does not predetermine the appropriate amount of weight to be given to the “conservation” of the heritage asset in a particular case. Resolving that question is left to the decision-maker as a matter of planning judgment on the facts of the case, bearing in mind the relevant case law, including Sullivan L.J.’s observations about “considerable importance and weight” in Barnwell Manor.
2. The concepts of “substantial harm” and “less than substantial harm”
The same can be said of the policies in paragraphs 195 and 196 of the NPPF, which refer to the concepts of “substantial harm” and “less than substantial harm” to a “designated heritage asset”. What amounts to “substantial harm” or “less than substantial harm” in a particular case will always depend on the circumstances. Whether there will be such “harm”, and, if so, whether it will be “substantial”, are matters of fact and planning judgment. The NPPF does not direct the decision-maker to adopt any specific approach to identifying “harm” or gauging its extent. It distinguishes the approach required in cases of “substantial harm … (or total loss of significance …)” (paragraph 195) from that required in cases of “less than substantial harm” (paragraph 196). But the decision-maker is not told how to assess what the “harm” to the heritage asset will be, or what should be taken into account in that exercise or excluded. The policy is in general terms. There is no one approach, suitable for every proposal affecting a “designated heritage asset” or its setting.
3. Identifying benefits
Identifying and assessing any “benefits” to weigh against harm to a heritage asset are also matters for the decision-maker. Paragraph 195 refers to the concept of “substantial public benefits” outweighing “substantial harm” or “total loss of significance”; paragraph 196 to “less than substantial harm” being weighed against “the public benefits of the proposal”. What amounts to a relevant “public benefit” in a particular case is, again, a matter for the decision-maker. So is the weight to be given to such benefits as material considerations. The Government did not enlarge on this concept in the NPPF, though in paragraph 196 it gave the example of a proposal “securing [the heritage asset’s] optimum viable use”.
Plainly, however, a potentially relevant “public benefit”, which either on its own or with others might be decisive in the balance, can include a heritage-related benefit as well as one that has nothing to do with heritage. As the inspector said (in paragraph 127 of the decision letter), the relevant guidance in the PPG applies a broad meaning to the concept of “public benefits”. While these “may include heritage benefits”, the guidance confirms that “all types of public benefits can be taken together and weighed against harm”.
Cases will vary. There might, for example, be benefits to the heritage asset itself exceeding any adverse effects to it, so that there would be no “harm” of the kind envisaged in paragraph 196. There might be benefits to other heritage assets that would not prevent “harm” being sustained by the heritage asset in question but are enough to outweigh that “harm” when the balance is struck. And there might be planning benefits of a quite different kind, which have no implications for any heritage asset but are weighty enough to outbalance the harm to the heritage asset the decision-maker is dealing with.
4. Interaction with the overall planning balance and statutory duties
One must not forget that the balancing exercise under the policies in paragraphs 195 and 196 of the NPPF is not the whole decision-making process on an application for planning permission, only part of it. The whole process must be carried out within the parameters set by the statutory scheme, including those under section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (“the 2004 Act”) and section 70(2) of the 1990 Act, as well as the duty under section 66(1) of the Listed Buildings Act. In that broader balancing exercise, every element of harm and benefit must be given due weight by the decision-maker as material considerations, and the decision made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise (see City of Edinburgh Council v Secretary of State for Scotland  1 WLR 1447). Within that statutory process, and under NPPF policy, the decision-maker must adopt a sensible approach to assessing likely harm to a listed building and weighing that harm against benefits.”
Thanks Victoria. Me again now. With the retirement of Lord Carnwath from the Supreme Court, Lindblom LJ is now our most senior “planning” judge. It is good to see him underlining yet again that it is for the decision maker to take a rational course through the various NPPF policy tests, based on judgment and circumstances – surely we all now know that, although great care is required to take into account what the individual paragraphs in the framework require (for what can go wrong see e.g. my 12 December 2020 blog post Where’s The Harm In That: Misreporting Heritage Effects), this should not be an overly technocratic or legalistic exercise with only one correct methodology?
A few recent cases illustrate how vulnerable planning permissions can be to judicial review where there are material errors or omissions in the officer’s report to committee.
R (Wyeth-Price) v Guildford Borough Council (Lang J, 8 December 2020) is a classic example, and Lang J sets out in her judgment a textbook explanation of the legal framework, established by caselaw, in relation to decision making and officers’ reports.
It seems to me that the most risk-prone areas of an officer’s report will be:
⁃ summaries of the conclusions of often detailed and highly technical analysis, where the decision maker must not be “significantly misled” by the summary or indirectly by the material on which the summary is based – classic areas for scrutiny being effects on daylight and sunlight, viability, air quality, and noise
⁃ the interaction with other legal regimes, for example environmental impact assessment, the Conservation of Habitats Regulations or the public sector equality duty
⁃ application of legal or policy tests – classic areas being the NPPF tilted balance, green belt, AONB and heritage.
Wyeth-Price is another in a rich seam of cases where the High Court has quashed a planning permission due to the failure of the officer properly to apply the heritage tests in the NPPF, which must have been frustrating to Bewley Homes, which had achieved, so it thought, planning permission for 73 dwellings at Ash Manor, Ash Green, Guildford, following a committee resolution on 4 December 2019 on the basis of a 49 page officer’s report.
The effect on nearby listed buildings was a central issue in the consideration of the application. To quote from Lang J’s judgment:
“Adjacent to the Site…there is a small complex of historic buildings and farm structures, known as Ash Manor. The largest building within the complex is Grade II* listed and has been converted into two residential dwellings, known as Ash Manor and Old Manor Cottage. The Oast House lies to the south of it and its stables are Grade II listed. To the south of this is a further residential dwelling known as Oak Barn which is also Grade II listed. The significance of Ash Manor is derived from its historic and architectural interest as a moated manor house, thought to have thirteenth century origins, with successive phases of development dating to the sixteenth, seventeenth and mid-twentieth centuries. According to Historic England, the current agricultural and open character of the setting of Ash Manor is one that has remained constant through its history. It advised that the proposed development would cause harm to the setting of the heritage assets, assessed at less than substantial harm.”
“A homeowner in Ash Green is hoping that a new Grade II* listing from Historic England may prevent proposed developments that would surround his moated 13th-century manor house with nearly 200 houses, possibly more if further envisioned development phases are built out.
David Weller, who owns Old Manor Cottage, half of the original medieval Ash Manor House, off Foreman Road, said: “If the proposed developments go ahead the setting of our historic house will be ruined for good.”
The challenge was brought by a local resident who was formerly the chair of the Ash Green Residents’ Association. There were three grounds:
“i) Ground 1: Failure to apply section 66(1) of the PLBCAA 1990 and failure to take account of paragraphs 193 and 194 of the Framework.
ii) Ground 2: Failure to have regard to a relevant consideration, namely, the advice of Surrey Wildlife Trust in respect of a veteran tree at the Site, and acting irrationally in departing from the advice without reasons.
iii) Ground 3: Failure to have regard to material considerations concerning flooding at the Site and/or acting irrationally by ignoring expert evidence on this matter”
Grounds 2 and 3 failed and so I am just focusing on ground 1, relating to section 66(1) of the Listed Buildings Act (“In considering whether to grant planning permission…for development which affects a listed building or its setting, the local planning authority…shall have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses”) and paragraphs 193 and 194 of the NPPF:
“193. When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation (and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be). This is irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm to its significance.
194. Any harm to, or loss of, the significance of a designated heritage asset (from its alteration or destruction, or from development within its setting), should require clear and convincing justification. Substantial harm to or loss of:
a) grade II listed buildings, or grade II registered parks or gardens, should be exceptional;
b) assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, registered battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings, grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, and World Heritage Sites, should be wholly exceptional.”
Lang J sets out the relevant tests and case law in her judgment before summarising the problems with the report:
“The Claimant submitted that the planning officer’s report seriously misled the Planning Committee by failing to advise members on the weight to be given to the harm to heritage assets in the balancing exercise. Although he set out section 66(1) PLBCAA 1990, he did not explain that a finding of harm to a listed building is a consideration to which the decision-maker must give “considerable importance and weight” when carrying out the balancing exercise. He failed to refer at all to paragraph 193 of the Framework, which requires “great weight” to be given to the asset’s conservation and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be. He also failed to refer to paragraph 194 which requires a “clear and convincing justification” for any harm. Applying the approach of Sales LJ in Mordue, the Claimant submitted that there were positive indications in the report that the officer had not taken paragraphs 193 and 194 into account.”
“The planning officer expressly referred to the duty under section 66(1) PLBCAA 1990, both in his advice on the statutory framework and at the critical stage of the balancing exercise. However, he did not advise members on how they were required to apply the section 66(1) duty to the balancing exercise. The application of the section 66(1) duty is not explicitly clear from the wording of section 66(1), as demonstrated by the fact that it was only after the case of Barnwell that it was fully appreciated by experienced planning inspectors and lawyers that section 66(1) imposed a duty to treat a finding of harm to a listed building as a consideration to which the decision-maker must give “considerable importance and weight” when carrying out the balancing exercise and that it was not open to the decision-maker merely to give the harm such weight as he thinks fit, in the exercise of his planning judgment.”
“Can it be inferred that the planning officer in this case took into account paragraphs 193 and 194 of the Framework in the balancing exercise he conducted in his report and thereby enabled members of the Planning Committee to take them into account?
In my view, there were several positive indications to the contrary…”
“Thus, in 2017, members were advised that the effect of section 66(1) PLBCAA 1990 was that a finding of harm to a listed building was a consideration to which the decision-maker must give “considerable importance and weight” when carrying out the balancing exercise. Members were also reminded, for the second time, of the guidance in the Framework that “great weight” should be given to the asset’s conservation – the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be – and that any harm or loss required “clear and convincing justification” for any harm. None of this advice was given in the October 2019 report. The fact that, in 2017, the planning officer was recommending refusal of permission, whereas, in 2019, he was recommending a grant of permission, ought not to have had any bearing on whether or not to include this advice in the report, and it was not suggested that it did.
“I now return to the question whether the advice was seriously misleading, thereby misleading the members in a material way so that, but for the flawed advice, the Planning Committee’s decision would or might have been different. In my judgment, the planning officer must have been aware of the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in Barnwell on the application of the section 66(1) duty to the balancing exercise and the guidance in paragraphs 193 and 194 of the Framework, as it is well-known among professional planners and he advised on it in the 2017 report. However, on a fair reading of his October 2019 report, he did not advise members of the Planning Committee on this guidance and he did not apply it when he undertook the balancing exercise on this occasion.
At the hearing I asked the parties whether an experienced member of the Planning Committee, who had been referred to this guidance in other applications, perhaps even the 2017 application, might have been aware of the guidance, even though it was not to be found in the planning officer’s report. When I raised this possibility with the parties, Mr Williams for the Council did not wish to rely upon it. Mr Fitzsimons for the Claimant rejected it on the basis that busy Committee members relied upon the officer’s report and did not do their own research. On instructions, he said that new members had recently been appointed to the Planning Committee, following elections, and so it could not safely be assumed that they were aware of the guidance, from the 2017 application or any other. It seems to me that if a member of the Planning Committee did consider that the planning officer’s report did not give accurate and/or sufficient advice on how to conduct the balancing exercise, the matter would have been raised at the meetings. The minutes of the two meetings of the Planning Committee do not record that members sought further clarification or guidance on how to conduct the balancing exercise at those meetings. Therefore I conclude that members of the Planning Committee relied only upon the advice given in the planning officer’s reports.”
There was also a short addendum report addressing amendments made to the scheme but this “report repeated the error of advising members to undertake an untilted balancing exercise, weighing the less than substantial harm to the heritage assets against the public benefits of the proposal without apparently taking into account the requirement to accord “considerable importance and weight” to a finding of harm to a listed building and “great weight” to the asset’s conservation, as a Grade II* listed building, and the need for a “clear and convincing justification” for any harm.”
In concluding that the effect of the officer’s balancing exercise was to “play down the part of the exercise represented by [paragraph 193 and 194] and to tilt the balance towards emphasising the absence of substantial harm and the public benefits to be weighed on the other side of the balance“, Lang J draws upon another case earlier this year R (Liverpool Open and Green Spaces Community Interest Company). Liverpool City Council (Court of Appeal, 9 July 2020) where the Court of Appeal quashed planning permission on the basis that there was a “substantial doubt” as to whether the section 66(1) duty had been met where the officer’s report had failed to refer to objections to the proposals from the council’s Urban Design and Heritage Conservation team, a conclusion “only strengthened by the absence, at least from the section of the officer’s report in which his assessment is set out, of any steer to the members that a finding of harm to the setting of the listed building was a consideration to which they must give “considerable importance and weight“.
In fact, omissions from a report of a reference to relevant objections – or misleading inferences from a lack of an objection – are a particularly high risk area. The Court of Appeal in the Liverpool case refer back to R (Loader) v Rother District Council (Court of Appeal, 28 July 2016) where the officer’s “report had indicated that the Victorian Society, which had objected to a previous application, had made no comments on the new proposal. In fact, they had not been consulted. The appellant argued that the committee might have been left, wrongly, with the impression that the Victorian Society were now satisfied with the revised design. This court accepted that “[in] the context of the duty [in section 66(1)], … in taking this misinformation into account, [the committee] could be said to have proceeded on the basis of an error of fact”, but that “the unlawfulness [was] better described as the taking into account of an immaterial consideration” (paragraph 57). This was enough to justify quashing the planning permission (paragraph 58).”
We now have an even more dramatic example in the case of the One Eastside development in Birmingham, a proposal for 667 apartments in a 51 storey tower near Curzon Street station.
The scheme was the subject of a 5 December 2019 Committee report (from page 122 of the pdf) but the resulting planning permission was challenged by nearby land owner LaSalle (See e.g. BD Online Glancy Nicholls tower faces judicial review ((9 November 2020).
Greg Jones QC and Esther Drabkin-Reiter have been acting for LaSalle and it seems from Francis Taylor Building’s 9 December 2020 press statement that the council has consented to judgment on the basis that “an objection to the proposed development made by the Victorian Society was not reported to the Planning Committee and further that the objection made by the Victorian Society went beyond those matters identified by Historic England which were reported to the Planning Committee.”
How precarious a planning permission can be until it has passed the deadline for a legal challenge (time again to tout my proposal that the judicial review pre-action protocol should encourage early identification by claimants of these sorts of points, before planning permission is issued – my 30 May 2020 blog post Revisiting Burkett: Should The JR Pre-Action Protocol Be Updated? – whilst recognising that in some cases, including possibly the One Eastside example, the extent of the errors and omissions may only in fact become clear through the litigation process itself).