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).
Why at the moment do ministers conclude so often that they have to reject their inspectors’ recommendations in relation to planning proposals and major infrastructure projects?
Something is clearly wrong when there can be a hugely expensive, time consuming inquiry or examination, followed by a lengthy, considered and reasoned report, only for the decision letter to arrive at a different balance. Is it the fault of inspectors? Has Government not communicated its up to date policy priorities? Are these decisions driven by political convenience? The problem is that we don’t get to find out – the minister’s decision is inevitably as bland as bland, with differences cloaked by “legal cover” explanations as to the different weight applied to particular considerations. Is it any wonder that the losing party so frequently then embarks on a legal challenge?
Anglia Square, Norwich
Yesterday (13 November 2020), Robert Jenrick issued his decision letter refusing, against his inspector’s recommendations, a called in application for planning permission in relation to the proposed development at Anglia Square, Norwich of “up to 1250 dwellings, hotel, ground floor retail and commercial floorspace, cinema, multi-storey car parks, place of worship and associated works to the highway and public realm areas”. The proposal included a 20 storey tower. Inspector David Prentis had held an inquiry over 15 days in January and February 202, providing his 206 page report to the Secretary of State on 6 June 2020. Russell Harris QC appeared for the applicant (Weston Homes and others), Tim Corner QC appeared for Norwich City Council and Historic England (represented by Guy Williams), Save Britain’s Heritage (represented by Matthew Dale-Harris), the Norwich Society and the Norwich Cycling Campaign were all rule 6 parties.
Why was the inspector’s recommendation not accepted?
“The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s assessment at IR468- 469 of the building typologies proposed, and their height. While he recognises that there has been an effort to place the taller buildings within the site rather than on the edges, the Secretary of State considers that the bulk and massing of the built form proposed is not sympathetic to its context. In particular, he is concerned that the frontage to St Crispins Road would include 8, 10 and 12 storey buildings, and he finds, like the Inspector at IR607, that Block F, which would have frontages to Pitt Street and St Crispins Road, would appear strikingly different and unfamiliar, to an extent that would cause harm. The Secretary of State also concurs with the advice of Design South East as quoted in the evidence of Historic England (IR269 and IR474) that:
“with blocks of over 10 storeys, it is only in comparison with the tower that these could be considered low rise, and in the context of the wider city they are very prominent. These blocks are not just tall, but also very deep and wide, creating monoliths that are out of scale with the fine grain of the surrounding historic urban fabric”
He “finds that the tower would be of an excessive size in relation to its context, and does not demonstrate the exceptional quality required by Policy DM3(a).”
The Secretary of State “disagrees with the Inspector on the scale of the heritage benefits of the proposal set out in IR542, specifically the second bullet given his concerns over the design of the proposal. Taking account of the wider heritage impacts of the scheme as set out in paragraphs 27 to 59 of this letter, the Secretary of State disagrees with the Inspector and finds that, while the benefits of the scheme are sufficient to outweigh the less than substantial harm to the listed buildings identified at IR536-540, when considered individually, they do not do so when considered collectively, given the range and number of heritage assets affected, and given the increased harm found in comparison to the Inspector. He therefore finds, like the Inspector, that the proposals would conflict with policy DM9. He has also found conflict with elements of policies JCS1 which states that heritage assets, and the wider historic environment will be conserved and enhanced through the protection of their settings, and conflict with elements of policy DM1 which states that development proposals will be expected to protect and enhance the physical, environmental and heritage assets of the city.”
“Overall the Secretary of State concludes that the benefits of the scheme are not sufficient to outbalance the identified ‘less than substantial’ harm to the significance of the designated heritage assets identified at IR536-537 and in paragraphs 27-59 above. He considers that the balancing exercise under paragraph 196 of the Framework is therefore not favourable to the proposal.”
Yesterday (12 November 2020) Grant Shapps overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the A3030 Stonehenge DCO. The examining authority comprised no fewer than five inspectors (Wendy McKay, Alan Novitzky, David Richards, Ken Taylor and Edwin Maund).
Why was their recommendation rejected?
“ It is the ExA’s opinion that when assessed in accordance with NPSNN, the Development’s effects on the OUV of the WHS, and the significance of heritage assets through development within their settings taken as a whole would lead to substantial harm [ER 5.7.333]. However, the Secretary of State notes the ExA also accepts that its conclusions in relation to cultural heritage, landscape and visual impact issues and the other harms identified, are ultimately matters of planning judgment on which there have been differing and informed opinions and evidence submitted to the examination [ER 7.5.26]. The Secretary of State notes the ExA’s view on the level of harm being substantial is not supported by the positions of the Applicant, Wiltshire Council, the National Trust, the English Heritage Trust, DCMS and Historic England. These stakeholders place greater weight on the benefits to the WHS from the removal of the existing A303 road compared to any consequential harmful effects elsewhere in the WHS. Indeed, the indications are that they consider there would or could be scope for a net benefit overall to the WHS [ER 5.7.54, ER 5.7.55, ER 5.7.62, ER 5.7.70, ER 5.7.72 and ER 5.7.83].”
“Ultimately, the Secretary of State prefers Historic England’s view on this matter for the reasons given [ER 5.7.62 – 5.7.69] and considers it is appropriate to give weight to its judgment as the Government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment, including world heritage. The Secretary of State is satisfied therefore that the harm on spatial, visual relations and settings is less than substantial and should be weighed against the public benefits of the Development in the planning balance.”
See also his overall conclusions at paragraphs 80 to 86.
Again, as with Anglia Square, the position of Historic England proved influential, as was that of the National Trust and other bodies.
A legal challenge from campaigners appears inevitable.
On 9 July 2020 Grant Shapps also overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the Manston Airport DCO. The examining authority comprised four inspectors (Kelvin MacDonald, Martin Broderick, Jonathan Hockley and Jonathan Manning).
The proposals would permit the reopening and development of Manston Airport, enabling it to become a dedicated air freight facility handling at least 10,000 air cargo movements each year, with the offer of some passenger, executive travel, and aircraft engineering services.
Why was the examining authority’s recommendation to reject the proposals not accepted?
“For the reasons above, the Secretary of State disagrees with the ExA’s recommendation to refuse development consent. As set out above in paragraphs 20 and 21, the Secretary of State considers there is a clear case of need for the Development and this should be given substantial weight. He considers the Development would support the government’s policy objective to make the UK one of the best-connected countries in the world and for the aviation sector to make a significant contribution to economic growth of the UK and comply with the Government’s aviation policy that airports should make the best use of their existing capacity and runways, subject to environmental issues being addressed. Substantial weight is given by the Secretary of State to the conclusion that the Development would be in accordance with such policies and that granting development consent for the Development would serve to implement such policy. The Secretary of State also considers that there are significant economic and socio-economic benefits which would flow from the Development, which should also be given substantial weight.
The Secretary of State accepts that there is the potential for short term congestion and delays on the local road system caused by the Development to occur before appropriate mitigation is delivered; however, he considers that the residual cumulative impacts would not be severe and gives limited weight to these effects. He concludes that the need and public benefits that would result from the Development clearly outweigh the heritage harm and the harm that may be caused to the tourist industry in Ramsgate. The Secretary of State also concludes that with the restrictions imposed by him in the DCO and also through the UUs only limited weight should be given to noise and vibration adverse effects.
For the reasons set out in paragraphs 24-26 above, the Secretary of State is content that climate change is a matter that should be afforded moderate weight against the Development in the planning balance. He does not agree with the ExA that operational matters weigh moderately against the grant of development consent being given for the Development.
The Secretary of State is content that the impacts of the Development in terms of air quality [ER 8.2.28 – 8.2.43]; biodiversity [ER 8.2.44 – 8.2.62]; ground conditions [ER 8.2.76 – 8.2.82]; landscape, design and visual impact [ER 8.2.104 – 8.2.120]; and water resources [ER 8.2.219 – 8.2.227] are of neutral weight in the decision as to whether to make the DCO.
When all the above factors are weighed against each other either individually or in- combination, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the benefits outweigh any adverse impacts of the Development.”
An objector, Jenny Dawes, has challenged the decision. Her crowdfunding page gives some basic information.
The claim was filed on 20 August and was granted permission by the High Court on about 14 October to proceed to a full hearing. It doesn’t seem that a hearing date has yet been set. The barristers are Paul Stinchcombe QC, Richard Wald QC and Gethin Thomas.
Norfolk Vanguard offshore windfarm
On 1 July 2020 Alok Sharma overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the Norfolk Vanguard offshore windfarm DCO. The examining authority comprised four inspectors (Karen Ridge (Lead Member), Caroline Jones, Gavin Jones and Grahame Kean).
Why was their recommendation to reject the proposals not accepted?
“The Secretary of State notes that the ExA determined that consent should not be granted for the proposed Development because of potential impacts on habitats and species afforded protection under the Habitats Directive. In determining that it was not possible on the basis of the information available to it to rule out an AEoI on two sites protected by the Directive – the Flamborough and Filey Coast Special Protection Area and the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area – the ExA concluded that the proposed Development would not be in accordance with NPS EN- 1 and could not therefore be granted consent.
However, in other respects, the ExA concluded that, while there would be impacts arising from the proposed Development across a range of issues (including on local landscape and traffic and transport), those impacts were not of such significance or would be mitigated to such a degree as to be not significant as to outweigh the substantial benefits that would derive from the development of a very large, low carbon, infrastructure project. The ExA notes that, if one set aside the conclusion on Habitats-related issues, then in all other matters, the proposed Development would be in accordance with the National Policy Statements and national policy objectives. This conclusion was subject to some clarification on specific points, including mitigation proposals.
As is set out elsewhere in this submission, in light of the ExA’s Report to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State consulted a range of parties including the Applicant about the Habitats-related issues and other relevant matters that had been raised in the ExA’s Report. On Habitats, further information on potential bird impacts such that the Secretary of State is now able to conclude that, on balance, there would be no Adverse Impact on Integrity for the Flamborough and Filey Coast Special Protection Area and the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area.
The Secretary of State notes that there were a range of views about the potential impacts of the Development with strong concerns expressed about the impacts on, among other things, the landscape around the substation, traffic and transport impacts and potential contamination effects at the site of the F-16 plane crash. However, he has had regard to the ExA’s consideration of these matters and to the mitigation measures that would be put in place to minimise those impacts wherever possible. The Secretary of State considers that findings in the ExA’s Report and the conclusions of the HRA together with the strong endorsement of offshore wind electricity generation in NPS EN-1 and NPS EN-3 mean that, on balance, the benefits of the proposed Development outweigh its adverse impacts. He, therefore, concludes that development consent should be granted in respect of the Development.”
Lang J granted permission on 2 July 2020 in relation to a crowdfunded legal challenge brought by an objector, Ray Pearce.
Drax Power Station Re-Powering Project
These DCO overturn instances are of course not new. On 9 October 2019 Alok Sharma overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the Drax Power Station Re-Powering Project DCO. A challenge to the decision failed: ClientEarth v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 22 May 2020).
Nor of course are such instances new when it comes to planning appeals and call-ins.
Might I suggest that a review be carried out as to why they are occurring so often?
No-one embarks lightly on litigation but there have been two striking examples this week of what it can achieve. Sometimes it doesn’t even need a hearing (first example) and sometimes it’s on the final roll of the dice (second example).
The Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission, against his inspector’s recommendations, for a large development on Docklands – with the decision issued a day before the developer’s CIL liability would have increased by up to £50m – was an eye opener. I covered it, and Tower Hamlets’ reaction, in my 18 January 2020 blog post Westferry Printworks Decision: LPA Reaction Unprintable.
The Council followed through with its threat of a legal challenge to the decision, as did the Mayor of London.
It was frankly surprising to hear this week that the Secretary of State has consented to judgment. I do not think that the consent order itself, which would set out the reasoning agreed by the parties and sealed by the court, is yet in the public domain but there are these two press statements from those involved:
“The consent order reflects the fact that in pre-action correspondence, the Secretary of State explained that the decision letter was issued on 14 January 2020, rather than the following day, so that it would be issued before Tower Hamlets adopted its new local plan and CIL charging schedule. He accepted that the timing of the decision letter, thereby avoiding a substantial financial liability which would otherwise fall on the developer, would lead the fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that he was biased in favour of the developer. He accepted that the decision letter was unlawful by reason of apparent bias and should be quashed. The Mayor/GLA’s challenge was therefore academic, but he agreed to pay their costs. “
Those of us not close to what happened can only speculate but why would the Secretary of State cave in rather than face a hearing? Was he worried as to what might be made public in a trawling over of internal correspondence and notes? Echoes of the Mayor’s recent consenting to judgment in the Kensington Forum case (see my 14 March 2020 blog post, London, Friday the 13th).
The appeal will now need to be redetermined and, which is an expensive consequence for the developer of these events, even if the appeal is allowed second time around, the higher CIL figure will be payable.
I recounted this saga, about a lost pair of urns which were the subject of a listed building enforcement notice, at the time of the Court of Appeal ruling (see my 1 December 2018 blog post Is It A Listed Building? No Statuary Right Of Appeal). I still like the title to the post but the rest of it is now out of date – the effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dill v Secretary of State (Supreme Court, 20 May 2020) was basically to remove the word “no” from my blog post: in defending a listed building enforcement appeal it is now possible to raise the argument that the listed building is not in fact a building (and the court gives some guidance as to what constitutes a “building” for these purposes). See also this excellent summary: Supreme Court rules on the meaning of listed building (39 Essex Chambers, 20 May 2020 – Richard Harwood QC appeared for Mr Dill, instructed by Simon Stanion at Shakespeare Martineau).
Aside from the substantive legal points, which are important, the interesting thing about the case for me is that persistence paid off. The inspector found against him, Singh J at first instance found against him, the Court of Appeal found against him but Mr Dill and his legal team did not give up. The costs of losing would no doubt have been as significant for Mr Dill as the CIL consequences for Tower Hamlets in Westferry.
And whilst the outcome of the case did not remove the spectre for Mr Dill of continued battles – the listed building enforcement notice appeal would now need to redetermined – Lord Carnwath concluded his final judgment before retiring from the Supreme Court with these words:
“I understand that this will be deeply frustrating for Mr Dill. There is as I understand it no suggestion that he acted other than in good faith in disposing of items which he believed to be his own disposable property, and had been so treated by his family for several decades. Since this problem was first drawn to his attention by the local authority in April 2015 he has been attempting to obtain a clear ruling on that issue. On the view I have taken, that opportunity has been wrongly denied to him for five years. Even if his appeal were ultimately to fail, the practicability of restoring the vases to their previous location in the grounds of Idlicote House is uncertain. Accordingly, this court’s formal order for remittal should not prevent the respondents from giving serious consideration to whether in all the circumstances it is fair to Mr Dill or expedient in the public interest to pursue this particular enforcement process any further.”
Well done to the successful claimants and legal teams in both cases. But “snakes and ladders” and “final roll of the dice” analogies are not far off the mark, are they? How to arrive at a system that is more simple and not dependent on expensive, uncertain litigation? Perhaps by reducing the politics (removing the ability for the Secretary of State to recover appeals?), certainly by trying to make sure that legal principles are simpler (if you do the maths, in Dill one inspector and four judges were overruled by five judges, over those narrow “legal exam” questions, following submissions prepared by five barristers and their associated legal teams – the whole process ultimately to be paid for by us, the tax payer, save for those costs which Mr Dill cannot recover).
This is about Robert Jenrick’s 23 October 2019 announcement of the ‘most ambitious heritage preservation campaign for 40 years‘.
Whilst we are in political lock-down, there is time to look at it in more detail and in particular at the concept of locally listed buildings, central to the campaign that Jenrick laid out as Communities Secretary, jointly with the Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan.
The following initiatives were announced, now of course all on pause:
⁃ “The new campaign will challenge every single local authority across England to draw up lists of buildings of significant historical and cultural value to an area, ensuring important local monuments are no longer left neglected and unloved.”
⁃ “Local people will be empowered to nominate heritage assets which are important to them and reflect their local area and identity, supported by a team of heritage experts, funded by £700,000 to help 10 English counties identify areas which need protecting.”
⁃ “Historic England will launch a national campaign on local identity getting the country talking about what defines our heritage.”
⁃ “The Communities Secretary is taking the direct step of contacting every parish council in England to make sure they are conserving the buildings which have played a remarkable role in their local history and need our support.”
⁃ “In addition, a local heritage champion will be appointed to spearhead the campaign and encourage councils to increase local listings.”
I was at the announcement on 23 October, made at a Policy Exchange and Create Streets breakfast event (my, I had imposter syndrome). The transcript of his speech makes interesting reading, particularly the passages I have emboldened:
“I want to encourage local communities and heritage groups to get far more involved in identifying the historic buildings in their area…
… so they can be at the heart of the process of recognising, defining and protecting the buildings they truly value.
Because we know that, where buildings are on local or national heritage lists, they are often shielded from development.
And that, again, builds consent for development and builds better communities.
Until now, this has mostly been the domain of our local planning authorities.
But only 50% of planning authorities even have these lists, and where they do, they are often out of date or incomplete.
This isn’t good enough.
Protecting the historic environment must be a key function of the planning system.
All local planning authorities must play a far more proactive role in supporting local communities and heritage groups to identify and to protect more historic buildings.
In the 1980s, Michael Heseltine reinvigorated our national heritage lists. And now I want to complete that work and to do the same at the local level.
We will start with 10 English counties and support them to complete their local lists and to bring forward more suggestions for the national statutory lists as well.
It will see local people coming forward to nominate the buildings and community assets they cherish –protecting them for future generations.
We’re backing this programme with £500,000 of government investment – giving counties the tools, funding and expertise they need to shift their approach to heritage and conservation up a gear.
To help us do this, we will appoint a National Heritage Advisor to support this vital work and to make sure that Government is actually delivering. I want to thank Marcus Binney, Simon Jenkins and the SAVE team for their input and inspiration for this initiative.
We hope this will help boost conservation efforts in these counties, enabling fresh engagement with local communities and heritage groups.
But our work doesn’t stop there.
We are also working with the Department for Culture and with Historic England on developing an entirely new heritage conservation programme. We are going to be supporting Historic England to develop a new process to enable faster community nominations of important heritage assets in the new Heritage Action Zones.”
If the new Government returns to this thinking, great care is needed in my view to manage the public’s expectations, in two ways:
1. What is local listing in the first place? It is not statutory listing.
2. What criteria are to be applied before buildings are locally listed.
Obviously, locally listed buildings do not qualify for the statutory protection that is given to listed buildings and conservation areas, either by way of additional consenting procedures or the specific policy tests to be met in relation to those statutorily designated heritage assets.
Locally listed buildings comprise non-designated heritage assets for the purposes of the NPPF.
The glossary to the NPPF defines “heritage asset” as follows:
“A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest. It includes designated heritage assets and assets identified by the local planning authority (including local listing).”
The NPPF policy test:
“The effect of an application on the significance of a non-designated heritage asset should be taken into account in determining [a planning] application. In weighing applications that directly or indirectly affect non-designated heritage assets, a balanced judgement will be required having regard to the scale of any harm or loss and the significance of the heritage asset.”
Local plans and neighbourhood plans may well have more locally specific policies in relation to locally listed buildings.
The Government’s planning practice guidance explains how non-designated heritage assets (including locally listed buildings) are to be identified. I have emboldened the passages which are potentially in conflict with the approach identified by the Secretary of State:
“There are a number of processes through which non-designated heritage assets may be identified, including the local and neighbourhood plan-making processes and conservation area appraisals and reviews. Irrespective of how they are identified, it is important that the decisions to identify them as non-designated heritage assets are based on sound evidence.
Plan-making bodies should make clear and up to date information on non-designated heritage assets accessible to the public to provide greater clarity and certainty for developers and decision-makers. This includes information on the criteria used to select non-designated heritage assets and information about the location of existing assets.
It is important that all non-designated heritage assets are clearly identified as such. In this context, it can be helpful if local planning authorities keep a local list of non-designated heritage assets, incorporating any such assets which are identified by neighbourhood planning bodies. (Advice on local lists can be found on Historic England’s website.) They should also ensure that up to date information about non-designated heritage assets is included in the local historic environment record.”
There is a lot of advice already out there! Is it just that the lack of local government resources over recent years has meant that too little attention has been given to local lists? Or is it that the Government is advocating a wholly new, “don’t listen to the experts, what buildings in your community do you cherish?” approach?
I do worry that Jenrick is in danger of overselling local listing by describing it as a process to seek to ensure that buildings are protected “for future generations” or that is likely to lead to them being “shielded from development”. Local listing is presently an objective but relatively light-touch process. The Government can’t have it both ways.
If the strategy is to let a million local listings bloom through a less objective, more community based process, plainly the policy tests to be passed, in relation to proposals that might affect them, need to be loosened: brownfield development will become even more difficult. Or if the strategy is to maintain the policy tests, surely we must ensure that that buildings are only locally listed on “sound evidence”?
And what do we think of the suggestion in the speech that this initiative “builds consent for development”?
Simon Ricketts, 9 November 2019
Personal views, et cetera
Heritage PS: Did you see that Yorkshire case, R (James Hall & Co) v Bradford MDC (HHJ Belcher, 1 November 2019), which confirmed that “negligible” or “minimal” harm still equates to “harm” for the purposes of the heritage tests in the NPPF? Thumbs up for the obviousness of the conclusion, to a question which has previously generated much learned London discussion. A bit of a “you can’t be negligibly or minimally pregnant” moment.
In June 2016, enforcement officers at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets were tipped off that the buildings comprising 2, 4 and 6 East Ferry Road London E14, within the Coldharbour conservation area, had been demolished without planning permission. It is of course a crime, as well as a breach of planning control, to cause or permit demolition of a building in a conservation area without planning permission.
The council wasn’t certain who had done it, although an individual has since admitted responsibility, and it did not prosecute.
As was reported at the time (BBC website, 27 September 2017), the council served various enforcement notices, requiring that within 18 months the owner was to “rebuild the building so as to recreate in facsimile the building as it stood immediately prior to its demolition on 26 June 2016 with reference to the photographs and plans (LBTH file reference PA/84/00512 & PA/81/00497 originals of which are available at the Tower Hamlets Council’s Town Hall)”
In fact there had been a long-running dispute as to who owned the property, which was only resolved in October 2018, in favour of a company called, ironically, Angelic Interiors Limited, which had been in administration since July 2016. Angelic’s administrators appealed against the enforcement notices.
Enforcement appeal decision letter
The inspector, Simon Hand, allowed the appeals in a decision letter dated 17 December 2018.
In order to place Kerr J’s judgment this month into context, it is illuminating to read the decision letter.
Here are some key passages:
“Nos 2-6 were the last surviving remnant of the once large area of Victorian workers housing in Cubitt Town which occupied the whole of the south-eastern side of the Isle of Dogs.”
“There is […] no dispute the removal of the buildings causes less than substantial harm to the Coldharbour conservation area. The conservation area is a designated heritage asset and paragraph 193 of the NPPF makes it clear that great weight should be given to any less than substantial harm to the significance of a heritage asset. Paragraph 194 goes on to say that any loss of significance to a heritage asset should require clear and convincing justification (my emphases). Paragraph 196 explains that where there is less than substantial harm to a heritage asset is should be weighed against the likely public benefits arising from that harm.”
“If they were to be rebuilt then they would undoubtedly be very nice, but the issue is what role do they play in the significance of the conservation area and the answer would seem to me to be very little.”
“Had the demolished buildings been of historic interest in their own right they would have been worth preserving simply for that reason, but they would still have told us little or nothing about Cubitt Town, its development, or its morphology. The development of Cubitt Town does not seem to have been unusual in any way, nor any of its buildings particularly special, it is not until this Inquiry that anyone at the Council has made any mention of it at all. To my mind the dwellings were not the last fragment of a historically significant but now lost development. They were simply three remnant buildings in a sea of modern development. To suggest that this makes it all the more important to preserve them is to adopt a collector’s mentality, particularly as they seemed to have no great historic significance themselves due to the substantial modern changes they had undergone.”
“Both parties accepted the loss of the buildings had caused less than substantial harm to the significance of the conservation area, and I would not like to suggest their loss causes no harm at all, but I consider that the harm is very much at the lowest end of that scale. It was argued that if the site is left vacant or redeveloped there would be no reason to retain it in the conservation area and this would seem to be true, but it does call into question the motivation for extending the conservation area in the first place. Had it been deliberately to protect this remnant of Cubitt Town, then I would have expected somewhere for this to have been explained. I accept the conservation area appraisal is lacking in detail, but if Cubitt Town was of such importance as Mr Froneman argued, then I find it hard to believe the reason for the extension to this allegedly key part of the Isle of Dogs is deliberately not mentioned as the appraisal explains only that the extension was in order to protect Glen Terrace. It seems to me more likely the Council just saw these Victorian looking buildings and took the opportunity to include them, as there was nothing else of any historic interest in the area. Whatever the truth of the matter whether or not the vacant site remains worthy of conservation area status is of little importance in this case.”
The inspector found this to be an area of high housing need and “there would appear to be no constraints that would prevent a housing scheme of significantly greater density than 3 units from being successful on the site.”
“it would seem highly likely that a suitable development proposal could be found and there are no obvious reasons why the landowner would not want to realise the development potential of the site.”
“Paragraph 196 of the NPPF requires that the harm should be weighed against any public benefits. In this case those benefits are the redevelopment of the site with a much larger number of dwellings than would be the case if the demolished houses were rebuilt, including much needed affordable housing, all of which would be in accord with the prevailing policy ethos for the area. I accept these benefits are speculative, but in my view there is a good chance they would be realised. It seems likely to me that even had the buildings still been in place, given their poor condition and lack of any historic significance, they would have been demolished to make way for a comprehensive redevelopment scheme. Consequently, I consider these benefits outweigh the harm identified. The demolition of the three dwellings is thus in accord with the NPPF and the development plan for the area and so I shall grant planning permission accordingly.”
So he found that the potential for redevelopment for housing purposes of the unlawfully cleared site amounted to a sufficient public benefit to outweigh the “great weight” to be attached to the (very much) less than substantial harm that had been caused to the character or appearance of the conservation area.
The council challenged the decision letter.
Kerr J identified the main issue before him as “whether the “public benefits of the proposal” (in the words of NPPF paragraph 196) should extend to likely benefits of new development of a site, facilitated by demolition of buildings on the site, where there is no current application for planning permission to develop the site; or whether those words are restricted to the public benefits of demolishing the buildings, without considering any likely future development.”
The judge did not find this to be an easy case:
“It is counter-intuitive to propose that unlawful (and criminal) demolition of buildings forming part of a conservation area, harming the significance of that conservation area, can do more good than harm. No sensible planning application to demolish would be made on that basis and a planning consultant suggesting such an application would soon be short of clients.
Still, for the inspector’s decision to be lawful, and for the challenges to fail, it has to be a defensible conclusion that demolition without replacement, leaving the site razed to the ground and vacant, without any replacement development, and doing harm to the significance of the conservation area, is more good than bad. Baldly stated in that way, the proposition is remarkable.
My first thought on hearing argument was that the proposition cannot be correct. If only demolition is on the table, and demolition is harmful, how then can it do more good than harm? Can it be good and bad at the same time, and more good than bad?”
The judge concluded that it was simply a matter for factual evaluation for the inspector.
“I accept the respondents’ interpretation of the heritage provisions in the NPPF with a degree of hesitation. I am conscious that it is a liberal construction and not a strict pro-heritage construction such as the council is advocating. Nevertheless, on balance I think the respondents’ is the correct one, bearing in mind that the NPPF provisions are statements of policy not law and the language of the provisions is not restricted in the way the council contends.”
He considered whether the inspector’s decision could be said to have been irrational:
“I reject the council’s free standing contention that, quite apart from the interpretation of the NPPF provisions, it was irrational to decide that the market would produce suitable and beneficial housing development soon. It is true that the inspector could not say what type of development that would be, nor that it would certainly occur; but those were points he was entitled to weigh when considering the public benefit side of the balance.
I do not see any want of rationality in reasoning that the site would soon attract developers like flies to a honeypot and that this would probably have led to demolition of the three houses soon anyway. The circumstantial evidence supporting that finding was not lacking: the prime location, the pressing need to build housing in the borough, the appetite shown by other housing developments nearby, the indicative Turner scheme and the intention to sell and strong likelihood of sale of the site for development.”
Lastly, he considered whether the inspector’s decision was adequately reasoned:
“As for the reasons challenge, did the inspector properly set out his thinking? Manifestly, he did. The reasoning need not be discursive. It is commendably succinct but clear and full. He explained exactly why he was confident that delivery of the public benefit he anticipated could be left to the market. He made all the points I have just mentioned, in support of his conclusion. The council cannot complain that it does not know why it lost the appeals.
I did consider carefully whether the reasoning touches adequately on the possibility of a development scheme that would leave the three houses intact, whereby the developer would build round them and keep them in place. If the inspector had simply assumed, without considering the issue properly, that the public benefits derived from anticipated development would be lost unless the demolition were permitted, that could have been a flaw in the reasoning.
However, I have concluded that the inspector did adequately, though briefly, consider this point and that it was a matter for his planning judgment. His consideration of likely development proposals such as the one illustrated by the Turner scheme (involving 22 new dwellings) included the council’s 2005 discussions which would have involved demolition of the three houses.”
He dismissed the challenge, albeit with a final bit of judicial hand-wringing:
“I do so without much enthusiasm, reminding myself that the enforcement system is remedial not punitive. I must put aside the affront to the rule of law and criminal activity seen in this case, as well as the loss of the three houses and their contribution to our historic environment, however limited some may consider it. My discomfort does not make the inspector’s decision unlawful and I must and do uphold it.”
Plainly, unlawful actions should in principle not go unpunished and it is disappointing that there have been no prosecutions.
Plainly also, Angelic’s administrators now have an unearned windfall by virtue of a cleared site for development with no obligation to reconstruct the buildings that others had unlawfully demolished on the site.
That is not to say that the enforcement notices should have stood and that replicas of these apparently unexceptional buildings should have been required, simply to discourage others from similar conduct, but what is there in this unfortunate chain of events to encourage appropriate behaviour on the part of future Angelics?