Neutrality: Government Clambers Off The Fence

Ahead of a late but welcome announcement by the Government, there was a silly headline in The Times this week: Homes crisis ‘worsened by environmental red tape’ (18 July 2022). Yes, we are back to the topic of my 16 July 2022 blog post: nutrient/water neutrality.

It’s good that this huge issue is attracting media attention – and I’ll come on to the Government announcement in a moment – but it is disappointing to see the usual “red tape” sneer.

The problem isn’t the rules or bureaucracy: we have specific areas designated of particular ecological importance and sensitivity, the integrity of some of which is under threat because of the existing levels of nutrients draining into them, from farming (eg fertilisers, animal waste) and from homes (human waste), and the integrity of others which is under threat due to the consequences of over-abstraction of water. These situations haven’t been adequately dealt with by the water companies or government agencies, meaning that even one more home being built in these catchment areas is considered by Natural England to be unacceptable without adequate mitigation in place (which can be difficult, particularly for smaller schemes). The problem isn’t the housebuilding, it’s the pre-existing precarious state of these areas.

It is a big problem, and it has been with us for a long time now (see my previous blog posts).

The Government has been waking up to the issue. Back in March 2022, DEFRA announced some support for affected local planning authorities, Nutrient pollution: reducing the impact on protected sites  (16 March 2022). But this was little comfort to those stuck in the system.

But this week we saw more wide ranging measures announced by DEFRA and DLUHC. Of course they won’t provide an immediate solution, but they are certainly welcome. 

The package of announcements comprises

These are the main measures announced by the Secretary of State:

  • In order to drive down pollution from all development in the relevant catchments, we will be tabling an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This will place a new statutory duty on water and sewerage companies in England to upgrade wastewater treatment works to the highest technically achievable limits by 2030 in nutrient neutrality areas. Water companies will be required to undertake these upgrades in a way that tackles the dominant nutrient(s) causing pollution at a protected site. We are also using feedback from the recent ‘call for evidence’ to water companies to identify where these upgrades could be accelerated and delivered sooner.”
  • Natural England is directed to establish a nutrient mitigation scheme. “Defra and DLUHC will provide funding to pump prime the scheme: this is intended to frontload investment in mitigation projects, including wetland and woodland creation. This will then be recouped through a simple payment mechanism where developers can purchase ‘nutrient credits’ which will discharge the requirements to provide mitigation. Natural England will accredit mitigation delivered through the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme, enabling LPAs to grant planning permission for developments which have secured the necessary nutrient credits…We will announce further details in the autumn when the scheme will launch, and in the meantime, Natural England will be in touch with local authorities and developers.”
  • Longer term, we continue to progress proposals to reform the Habitats Regulations so that impacts on protected sites are tackled up front, focusing on what is best for bringing sites back into favourable status.”
  • We will make clear in planning guidance that judgements on deliverability of sites should take account of strategic mitigation schemes and the accelerated timescale for the Natural England’s mitigation schemes and immediate benefits on mitigation burdens once legislation requiring water treatment upgrades comes into force. DLUHC will revise planning guidance over the summer to reflect that sites affected by nutrient pollution forming part of housing land supply calculations are capable of being considered deliverable for the purposes of housing land supply calculations, subject to relevant evidence to demonstrate deliverability. It will be for decision takers to make judgements about impacts on delivery timescales for individual schemes in line with the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Joanna Averley’s letter goes into more detail as to how the proposed new statutory duty on water companies will help:

The majority of nutrient pollution from residential properties enters waterbodies via treated discharges from wastewater treatment works (WWTW). The performance of WWTW varies based on the limits in environmental permits issued by the Environment Agency, which in turn reflect the environmental requirements of the waterbodies to which the effluent is discharged. The performance of WWTW is therefore the central factor in the level of nutrient pollution associated with existing homes and new development. It is therefore logical that effort on reducing nutrient pollution associated with housing focusses on upgrading WWTW. The statutory obligation for upgrading WWTW, which will be introduced into the LURB, will ensure that WWTW in nutrient neutrality catchments are operating at the highest level of performance, rectifying nutrient pollution at source. This will reduce the pollution from not only new development coming forward, but also from the majority of existing dwellings in affected catchments, representing a significant decrease in overall pollution from housing.

The specific performance levels of the connected WWTW is a major variable when determining the amount of mitigation new development has to secure to achieve nutrient neutrality. Suitable mitigation measures might include constructed wetlands or land use change, which can be land intensive. Under Natural England’s Nutrient Neutrality methodology, the permit limit is used, or where there is no permit limit on nutrient discharges from WWTW, a standard precautionary figure is used (8mg/l for phosphates (P) and 27mg/l for nitrates (N)). The statutory obligation from 2030 will require WWTW to operate at the technically achievable limit (TAL); for phosphates this is 0.25mg/l and nitrates 10mg/l. This action will ameliorate nutrient pollution and significantly reduce the mitigation burden for developments.

The habitat regulations require that mitigation be secured for the lifetime of the development which Natural England consider to be 80-120 years. The obligated upgrades to WWTW required from 2030; will provide clarity from the point of the LURB measures coming into force. For developments this means that the current high level of mitigation will only be required up to the end of 2030. After 2030, the pollution levels via WWTW will be much reduced and so a lower level of mitigation will be required. This reduces the overall mitigation burden on housing developments coming forward in nutrient neutrality catchments.”

This should be welcomed (even if it is so belated and does raise questions as to whether water companies will actually be able to deliver – and at whose cost) but of course there is still the period to 2030 before these new permit limits apply and so it is important that the promised nutrient mitigation scheme is up and running as soon as possible. Housing Today have raised significant concerns on that score in their piece, Government’s nutrient mitigation scheme ‘years away’ (22 July 2022)

Finally, the ministerial statement sets out unambiguously the Government’s position as to whether the Regulations bite on reserved matters applications and applications to discharge pre-commencement conditions: “The Habitats Regulations Assessment provisions apply to any consent, permission, or other authorisation, this may include post-permission approvals; reserved matters or discharges of conditions.” Joanna Averley’s letter promises further planning practice guidance on this issue. 

In the meantime, there is no Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event this week but I am speaking at a clubhouse event arranged by Iain Thomson of Bellona Advisors for 6pm on Monday 25 July 2022 on the subject of Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges, alongside writer Gareth Dennis and Intermodality’s Nick Gallop – join here. And for a taster of what we may cover, here’s Iain’s recent SRFIs blog post.  

Simon Ricketts, 23 July 2022

Personal views, et cetera 

18 July 2022 tweet

Summer Of LURB

What progress has there been on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill since it was introduced into the House of Commons on 11 May 2022 (see my 14 May 2022 blog post Does LURB Herald A More Zonal Approach to Planning After All?)?

The Second Reading debate was held on 8 June 2022 and I have just been reading the Hansard transcript– it wasn’t particularly edifying and I should just have relied on Nicola Gooch’s excellent summary in her 9 June 2022 blog post Tainted LURB: What can we learn from the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill’s Second Reading?

I was left feeling that the nuances of how our wretchedly complicated, but still, at some level, functional system are lost in the political chatter. Of course, these sessions aren’t “debates” as such but in large measure a long succession of disjointed interventions and special pleading. Has anyone yet coined the term NIMC? There was certainly a lot of “not in my constituency” and very little discernible appreciation of the utter reliance of this country on private sector risk-taking and funding for most new homes (regardless of tenure) and employment-generating development. How can the development of 300,000 homes a year (confirmed by Michael Gove in Select Committee on 13 June 2022 still to be the target) be remotely possible in this political and fiscal climate? So many MPs assert the case for a lower target for their particular constituency: we know what underlies the clamour against centralisation of power (a theme we’ll come back to shortly). Development is held again and again to be the culprit for failing public services, lack of infrastructure, waiting lists at GPs’ surgeries and so on – ahem, it’s new development that ends up paying for much of this – existing residents should look rather at the ways in which the Government chooses to manage and fund  the provision of health care and other services.  And if the complaint is not that new residents are overwhelming local services (not true) it’s that developers are securing permissions and then choosing not to building them out (not true, although there are certainly unnecessary delays largely caused by the clunkiness of the planning system itself: you want to amend your development proposals to reflect the inevitable market changes or regulatory requirements since you first applied for planning permission years ago? Well that’s not going to be a simple process at all my friend). (Beauty as a way to securing greater acceptance of development? Despite the Government having alighted upon that particular agenda, driving the proposals around local design codes for instance, that issue seemed to receive little airtime).

Rant over. 

The Bill entered Committee stage on 21 June 2022. The Public Bill Committee first heard evidence from various witnesses and then started line by line consideration of the Bill on 28 June 2022. They have not yet reached the planning provisions but the transcript of the discussion so far is here.

The Levelling-up, Housing and Communities Select Committee, chaired by Clive Betts MP, is holding a mini inquiry into the Bill. Michael Gove MP, Stuart Andrew MP and Simon Gallagher all gave evidence on 13 June 2022, which was slightly more illuminating. For instance, an exchange in relation to design codes from the session:

“Chair: Are we going to have the same level of consultation on the supplementary plans and design codes [as on the local plan]?

Simon Gallagher: Yes. One of the objectives of design codes is that they are locally popular, which is going to require a degree of engagement. Supplementary plans are created as one of the vehicles by which there would be opportunity for proper engagement, or legal force design codes. One of the problems with design codes at the moment is that they are often produced as supplementary planning guidance, which has no legal force.

One thing we have done in the Bill, subject to Parliament’s views, is to create something that is a legal device, a supplementary plan, which must be consulted on. Design codes must be provably popular and we are using the Office for Place to champion the best means of that community engagement.

One of the themes that has dominated discussion of the Bill has been a concern that it could lead to a centralising of power, for instance by way of the requirement that decisions should be made in accordance with national development management policies (as well as local plans), unless material considerations “strongly” indicate otherwise – thereby putting this potentially amorphous concept of national development management policies (the extent of which is for the Government to determine and which can be added to or amended by the Government with as little prior consultation as it chooses) on the same level as statutory local plans. 

Landmark Chambers barristers Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock have created some waves with their 30 May 2022 briefing note on the provisions in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill concerning public participation in the planning system for the campaign group Rights Community Action:

“a) The Bill represents a significant change to the existing planning system. It undermines an important planning principle, the primacy of the development plan, by elevating national development management policies to the top of the planning hierarchy.

b) Unlike development plans, which are produced locally via a statutory process that involves considerable public participation, the Bill contains no obligation to allow the public to participate in the development of national development management policies.

c) The Bill also introduces two new development plan documents, spatial development strategies and supplementary plans. The Bill provides for very limited opportunities for public participation in the production of these documents.

d) The Bill introduces a new mechanism to allow the Secretary of State to grant planning permission for controversial developments, bypassing the planning system entirely. There is no right for the public to be consulted as part of this process.

e) Overall, in our view the Bill radically centralises planning decision-making and substantially erodes public participation in the planning system.”

Clive Betts pursued this theme with the witnesses on 13 June 2022:

“Chair: I am told that this is new in the way it is written into legislation. We have had very interesting legal advice from Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock from Landmark Chambers, and it might be helpful if the Committee wrote to you with some of the questions that they have raised, which are pretty serious accusations of a centralisation that these measures are bringing about.

Michael Gove: Of course, I would be more than happy to explain the position and, indeed, any distance that these proposals place between themselves and the existing practice. I do not believe that they do significantly, but I am very happy to engage with the advice that the Committee has sought, and with others as well.

Simon Gallagher: Just to add to that, the Secretary of State referred a few minutes ago to the national planning policy framework prospectus that we were going to publish in July. We intend to set out in that how we can use these powers most effectively. That will give us the basis for proper engagement. I accept that, on the face of the Bill, it is a bit hard to read our intentions, so we need a little bit more detail and explanation out there, which will help.”

There was a further session on 20 June 2022, with evidence given by Victoria Hills RTPI), Hugh Ellis ((TCPA)and Chris Young QC. 

Clive Betts’ has subsequently written to Michael Gove asking for his response by 4 July 2022 to a number of points in the “opinion” by Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock (NB for what it’s worth, it’s not an opinion – barristers are careful in their use of language, it’s just a briefing note). 

This month we can also expect to see the Government’s prospectus as to its intended approach to revising the NPPF as well as how it intends to draw up its national development management policies. 

We are going to be running our own discussion on Clubhouse on the “who will have the power?” question, at 6 pm on 19 July. More details soon but do join here. Indeed, if you would like to speak do let me know – we would like a diverse range of voices and views. 

I will also be speaking at the National Planning Forum event “The good, the bad and the beautiful – the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – a planning panacea?” on 5 July and hope to explore the issues a little further alongside an excellent panel of fellow speakers.

Simon Ricketts, 2 July 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Pic courtesy AARP

Does LURB Herald A More Zonal Approach to Planning After All?

I’ll explain what I mean in a moment.

But first some preliminaries.

LURB of course seems to be the now accepted acronym for the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, laid before Parliament on 11 May 2022.

The Bill proposes a wide range of legislative measures across local government, regeneration, planning and compulsory purchase.

Aside from the Bill itself it’s worth having to hand:

⁃ the Explanatory Notes

⁃ the Government’s policy paper

⁃ the Government’s response to the Select Committee report on the planning white paper

My Town Legal colleagues have put together a fantastic (I think) 17 page summary of the main planning and compulsory purchase provisions of the Bill. Thanks Safiyah Islam and the following contributors:

• Part 3, Chapter 1 – Planning Data – Aline Hyde

• Part 3, Chapter 2 – Development Plans – Emma McDonald

• Part 3, Chapter 3 – Heritage – Cobi Bonani

• Part 3, Chapter 4 – Grant and Implementation of Planning Permission – Lucy Morton

• Part 3, Chapter 5 – Enforcement of Planning Controls – Stephanie Bruce-Smith

• Part 3, Chapter 6 – Other Provision – Stephanie Bruce-Smith

• Part 4 – Infrastructure Levy – Clare Fielding

• Part 5 – Environmental Outcomes Reports – Safiyah Islam

• Part 6 – Development Corporations – Amy Carter

• Part 7 – Compulsory Purchase – Raj Gupta

* Relevant clauses in Part 2 (Local Democracy and Devolution), Part 8 (Letting by Local Authorities of Vacant High-Street Premises), Part 9 (Information About Interests and Dealings in Land) and Part 10 (Miscellaneous) Victoria McKeegan

If you would like to receive further detailed updates from time to time please email town.centre@townlegal.com.

I held a Clubhouse session on 12 May 2022 where I discussed the changes and their possible implications alongside Catriona Riddell, Phil Briscoe, Nick Walkley and Meeta Kaur. It is available to listen to here.

For a deeper dive into the compulsory purchase elements, do join our next Clubhouse session at 6 pm on Tuesday 17 May 2022, where my colleagues Raj Gupta and Paul Arnett will be leading a discussion with special guests Charles Clarke (DLUHC, previous chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Henry Church (CBRE, and current chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Caroline Daly (Francis Taylor Building), Virginia Blackman (Avison Young) and Liz Neate (Deloitte). Some line up! Join here.

Raj and Paul have also started a blog, Compulsory Reading, focused on CPO issues. The first post is here and, guess what, this will be compulsory reading if your work touches at all on the intricate and changing world of compulsory purchase law.

Phew! So what was I getting at in the heading to this post? Surely any fule kno that there was once a government white paper in August 2020 that, amongst other things, proposed a more zonal approach to planning – with local plans throwing all areas into three hoppers: protected, restricted and growth – but that the political lesson learned was that this would be a vote loser and so the zonal approach was abandoned by incoming Secretary of State Michael Gove in the wake of the Chesham and Amersham by-election?

The idea of growth areas (where allocation would amount to automatic development consent) has certainly been abandoned, but the consequence of a number of the proposals in the Bill in my view leads us more towards a system where there is much less decision making flexibility in relation to individual planning applications and appeals. Instead, planning decisions will need to be made in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies “unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”.

So developers will need to make sure that:

⁃ development plans (local plans, neighbourhood plans) etc allocate the necessary land.

– the associated mandatory local design codes are workable

⁃ they can work within the constraints of whatever national development management policies the Government arrives at.

If development accords with these requirements, planning permission should be a doddle. If not, you plainly need to overcome a heavy presumption against. Our current flexible system (sometimes good, sometimes bad) will take a big lurch towards being rule-based or, dare I say it, zonal.

This may be a Good Thing or it may be a Bad Thing. Much depends on whether development plans, local design codes and national development management policies are properly tested for their realism. There will be even more focus on testing the soundness of local plans.

However, when it comes to local plan making, there are some major unresolved uncertainties:

⁃ First, what housing numbers do local authorities need to plan for? The Government still aspires to a 30 month local plan preparation to adoption timescale but that is only going to work if you have a largely “plug in and play” approach to the numbers, as was envisaged in the White Paper. What will happen to the standard methodology? We don’t get know. The Government’s policy paper says this:

The changes in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will require a new National Planning Policy Framework for England. The Government continues to listen to the representations of MPs, councillors and others on the effectiveness not only of the formula but the surrounding policies. Alongside Committee stage of the Bill, it intends to publish an NPPF prospectus setting out further thinking on the direction of such policies.

What numbers are we planning for as a country? Are we still targeting 300,000 homes a year? The Government’s response to the Select Committee report on the planning white paper says this:

The Government is determined to create a market that builds the homes this country needs. Our ambition is to deliver 300,000 homes per year on average and create a market that will sustain delivery at this level. There is compelling evidence that increasing the responsiveness of housing supply will help to achieve better outcomes. There seems to be consensus that 250,000 to 300,000 homes per annum should be supplied to deliver price and demand stability. For example, a 2014 joint KPMG and Shelter report highlighted that 250,000 homes per annum were needed to address price and demand pressures.”

⁃ Secondly, what will replace the duty to co-operate, which will be abolished? What will the new duty to assist really amount to? Can authorities adjoining urban areas with high unmet housing needs simply turn away from meeting those needs?

⁃ Thirdly, what if the allocations in the plan prove to be undeliverable or do not come forward? The safety net/potential stick of the five year housing land supply requirement (and presumably the tilted balance) in the case of up to date plans is to be abolished according to the policy paper:

“To incentivise plan production further and ensure that newly produced plans are not undermined, our intention is to remove the requirement for authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of deliverable land for housing, where their plan is up to date, i.e., adopted within the past five years. This will curb perceived ‘speculative development’ and ‘planning by appeal’, so long as plans are kept up to date. We will consult on changes to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Much is to be resolved here before we can begin to work out whether the proposals in the Bill will be an improvement on the present position.

Of course, the Government recognises that more work is needed. The following forthcoming consultation processes are identified:

Technical consultations on the detail of the Infrastructure Levy and changes to compulsory purchase compensation.

• A consultation on the new system of Environmental Outcomes Reports which will ensure we take a user-centred approach to the development of the core elements of the new system, such as the framing of environmental outcomes as well as the detailed operation of the new system.

• A technical consultation on the quality standards that Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects will be required to meet to be considered for fast-track consenting and associated regulatory and guidance changes to improve the performance of the NSIP regime.

Proposals for changes to planning fees.

Our vision for the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), detailing what a new Framework could look like, and indicating, in broad terms, the types of National Development Management Policy that could accompany it. We will also use this document to set out our position on planning for housing, and seek views on this, as well as consulting on delivering the planning commitments set out in the British Energy Security Strategy.”

I hope this serves as some sort of introduction to the Bill and a taster as to some of the issues which will be occupying so many of us as the Bill passes through its Parliamentary stages. I don’t expect it to be on the statute book before early 2023, with a fair wind, and most of its provisions will not be in force until 2024 at the earliest. Final health warning: Bills change – we can expect plenty of amendments, omissions and additions over coming months.

Aside from my earlier plugs for our newsletters and the Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse sessions, I would also recommend two other blog posts: those of Nicola Gooch and Zack Simons . None of us has come up with a satisfactory LURB pun yet but I’m sure we all have our teams working on it.

Simon Ricketts, 14 May 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Beauty, Infrastructure, Democracy, Environment, Neighbourhoods

Oligarchs Out

In the 21st century, London has increasingly been a safety deposit box for the wealthy of the world – so many people with incomprehensible amounts of wealth, including (but not exclusively) the so-called Russian “oligarchs” (“one of a small group of powerful people who control a country or an industry”).

Just look at some of the properties we’re talking about: The London mansions owned by Russian oligarchs from ‘Billionaire’s Row’ pad to estate almost size of Buckingham Palace (MyLondon, 4 March 2022). See also this BBC piece this morning (5 March 2022): The mega-rich men facing global sanctions.

Obviously, if you come by your wealth legitimately so be it, but the sums these people apparently own would suggest at best that something is wrong with the very structure of capitalism, and at worst…well draw your own conclusions. And to what extent is this all assisting the evils of the Putin regime – and its equivalents briefly eclipsed in the news cycle?

The UK financial sanctions list (4 March 2022) currently identifies 196 Russian individuals, with the reason for each person being on the list.

For a good introduction to the complex and evolving world of sanctions, I found DAC Beachcroft’s 4 March 2022 briefing UK Sanctions – The Evolving Response to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine and what it means for UK businesses particularly useful:

Prior to 10 February 2022, the Regulations allowed the UK Government to ‘designate’ (that is, to impose sanctions on) a person who is or has been involved in ‘destabilising Ukraine or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine’. Individuals and entities that are so ‘designated’ are listed on the UK Consolidated Sanctions List (“the UK Sanctions List”) along with confirmation of the reasons for designation.

Asset freeze” sanctions “seek to impose prohibitions or requirements for the purposes of:

1. freezing the funds or economic resources owned, held or controlled by certain individuals and entities;

2. preventing financial services being provided to or for the benefit of certain individuals or entities;

3. preventing funds or economic resources from being made available to or for the benefit of certain entities or individuals; or

4. preventing funds or economic resources from being received from certain individuals or entities.

On 10 February 2022, the UK Government expanded its power to designate entities and individuals from a wide variety of sectors as it gave itself the power to designate persons ‘involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia’, including:

1. Carrying on business as a Government of Russia affiliated entity

This will include any entity which is owned directly or indirectly by the Russian Government or in which the Government of Russia holds directly or indirectly a minority interest or which has received some form of financial or other material benefit from the Government of Russia.

2. Carrying on business of economic significance or in a sector of strategic significance to the Government of Russia

This includes the Russian, chemicals, construction, defence, electronics, energy, extractives, financial services, information and communications and transport sectors.

3. Owning or controlling directly or indirectly or working as a director or trustee of a Government of Russia affiliated entity or an entity falling within any of the other above categories.

As described in Commons Library briefing Countering Russian influence in the UK (25 February 2022), the so-called “golden visa” scheme has now been scrapped:

On 17 February, the Government announced the immediate closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa to new applicants. The visa offered up to five years’ permission to stay in the UK and a route to permanent residence, in return for a minimum £2m investment. A review of all investor visas granted between 2008 and April 2015 was announced in 2018. The Government has said results will be published “in due course”.

Russians are the second most common nationality granted investor visas since 2008, although they accounted for a much smaller proportion of applicants since 2015. Just over 2,500 investor visas have been issued to Russians since 2008 (roughly one fifth of all such visas issued). People granted investment visas before 2015 may have now completed the residence requirement for permanent residence (and possibly British citizenship).”

Events have of course prompted the Government belatedly to fast-track the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill. Its 2nd Reading will be on 7 March 2022. As set out in its explanatory notes, the Bill’s main objectives are to:

Prevent and combat the use of land in the UK for money laundering purposes by increasing the transparency of beneficial ownership information relating to overseas entities that own land in the UK. The Bill therefore creates a register of the beneficial owners of such entities. The register will be held by Companies House and made public.

Reform the UK’s Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) regime to enable law enforcement to investigate the origin of property and recover the proceeds of crime. The measures in the Bill aim to strengthen the UK’s fight against serious economic crime; to clarify the scope of UWO powers; and to increase and reinforce operational confidence in relation to UWO powers.

Amend financial sanctions legislation, including the monetary penalty legal test and information sharing powers to help deter and prevent breaches of financial sanctions.

However, is this going far enough? There have been pieces in the media reporting that the French government had “seized” a Russian oligarch’s yacht. There is no detail as to what the precise legal status of that action was – there would need of course to be a solid legal basis for confiscation (presumably without compensation) but it is interesting that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have been reported to be looking at the potential to bolster the Economic Crime Bill so as to facilitate the confiscation of UK property owned by Russian oligarchs (see for instance Michael Gove calling for UK to seize London homes of Russian oligarchs CityAM 27 February 2022 and Michael Gove considers options for seizing oligarchs’ property The Times 3 March 2022). Is this just tough talk and no action? I know you may not want to hear this but… any legislation, and individual decisions made under it, would need to be tightly framed to be consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights (and in a rule of law based, democratic, society that is surely right):

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” (Article 8).

Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.” (Article 1 of the First Protocol)

Of course, confiscation without compensation may be properly framed as necessary in the public interest but this will need care.

The London Mayor issued a press statement on 26 February 2022, Mayor demands seizure of property connected to oligarchs, supporting the confiscation of assets but going further in terms of measures to seek to minimise the number of empty homes in the capital (surely these measures are essential to ensure that we can look in the eye those who say that there is no need for additional new homes?) and to penalise foreign buyers more generally (jury out as far as I’m concerned – baby, bathwater etc):

“The Mayor has previously criticised the Government’s failure to deliver on the promise of a register of overseas property ownership and has now set out further measures to charge those who buy property in the UK with no intention of living here and leave them empty while London faces a housing crisis.

As well as the register of overseas ownership, the Mayor is calling for:

Seizure of property assets held by allies of President Putin

Raising the amount overseas owners have to pay for leaving their home empty by increasing the council tax ‘empty homes premium’

Raising capital gains tax on overseas buyers from 28 per cent to 40 per cent

Increasing the taxes paid by overseas companies investing in property by increasing the Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings

For further reading, there is this article in yesterday’s edition of the Economist: The rise and fall of Londongrad (behind pay wall, 5 March 2022).

Finally, there are some ways to support the people of Ukraine.

This week’s Clubhouse event will be at a slightly earlier time, at 5pm on Tuesday 8 March. Its theme is “BREAK THE BIAS – women in planning/law”, to mark this year’s International Women’s Day theme. We have various speakers including Meeta Kaur, Nikita Sellers, Caroline Daly, Nicola Gooch and Zenab Hearn. Link here.

Simon Ricketts, 5 March 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Liberty Leading The People (Delacroix)

Developers As Proscribed Organisations: The Government’s Amendments to the Building Safety Bill

The Government is seeking a general legislative power to shut down particular developers’ activities, with no rights of appeal, no rights to compensation and no published set of the criteria which it would apply.

Zack Simons’ concerns set out in his 17 February 2022 #Planoraks blog post are well justified.

My 21 January 2022 blog post “Planning Powers” A Pawn In Unsafe Cladding Negotiation explained the Government’s efforts to “persuade” developers to contribute a further £4bn towards remediating unsafe cladding, on top of the residential property developer tax which applies from 1 April 2022 – with the Secretary of State authorised by the Treasury to “use a high-level “threat” of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers as a means of obtaining voluntary contributions from them” with one of the threats used being “restricting access to…the use of planning powers”.

This threat is now included within Government amendments which have been tabled to the Building Safety Bill ahead of its Committee stage in House of Lords, which starts on 21 February 2021. The amendments were accompanied by a Government press statement on 14 February 2022, Government to protect leaseholders with new laws to make industry pay for building safety.

Tough new measures that will force industry to pay to remove cladding and protect leaseholders from exorbitant costs have been unveiled by Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove today (14 February 2022).

For those in industry not doing the right thing, the government will be able to block planning permission and building control sign-off on developments, effectively preventing them from building and selling new homes.”

Reflecting the scale of the problem, the government will also be able to apply its new building safety levy to more developments, with scope for higher rates for those who do not participate in finding a workable solution.

The government hopes to not have to use these powers; it wants responsible developers and manufacturers to operate freely and with confidence, to help deliver the homes people need. If they do not act responsibly, they must face commercial and financial consequences.

See also this 14 February 2022 Inside Housing piece House builders face ‘shutdown’ if they do not pay cladding costs under new government plan.

Obviously culpable developers need to pay up. But what is proposed is startling to say the least:

So the Secretary of State is seeking the power to prohibit in regulations “persons of a prescribed description from carrying out development” or specified types of development (whether or not they have the benefit of planning permission) as well as the power to “by regulations impose a building control prohibition, as regards buildings or proposed buildings, in relation to persons of a prescribed description” which would prevent them from being able to apply for or be granted building control approval. The Secretary of State would also be able to prescribe “certificates” (not sure what that description is meant to capture) which would not be able to be granted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (and which if granted would be of no effect).

These prohibitions “may be imposed for any purpose connected with—

(a) securing the safety of people in or about buildings in relation to risks arising from buildings, or

(b) improving the standard of buildings.”

The provisions are drafted far too widely. What (unprecedented?) power it would give this Government (and any future Government). Of course, where prohibitions are plainly unjustified (for instance against developers who have done wrong other than not to accede to these demands for a “voluntary” payment or perhaps even if they have made a payment) the regulations could be challenged by way of judicial review (NB we need to keep an eye on ongoing judicial reform!). However, if the legislation were to give the wide discretion currently planned, this would not be easy – any grounds of challenge might need to rely on the limited protections provided by the Human Rights Act (NB we need to keep an eye on… yes, you’re there before me).

I’m concerned that these amendments have been introduced at this late stage in the passage of the Bill, with little advance notice so as to enable proper Parliamentary and more general public scrutiny.

Developers need to meet their liabilities. But this whole exercise seems to be much more of a blunderbuss – aimed at the easiest, biggest, targets and ignoring the significant role that poor regulation (and indeed de-regulation) has played in this whole scandal. Do we really want this legislation on the statute book which could well be misused in the future? Or is it all just a bluff to secure that £4bn?

If anyone would like to participate in a future Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse discussion on the topic, please let me know. 8 March 2022 is a possibility.

In the meantime:

⁃ Spencer Tewis-Allen is leading a discussion on build to rent at 6 pm on 22 February – link to clubhouse app and event here.

⁃ Hashi Mohamed is our special guest at 6 pm on 1 March, discussing his Radio 4 programme Planning, Housing and Politics – link to clubhouse app and event here.

Simon Ricketts, 18 February 2022

Personal views, et cetera

AA PA CAB

There was a customarily short and clear judgment from Holgate J this week as to how decision makers should approach applications for prior approval for the upward extension of buildings under the General Permitted Development Order: CAB Housing Limited v Secretary of State (3 February 2022)

So I’m saying nothing, you will be pleased to hear, about the 2 February 2022 Levelling Up white paper There are plenty of summaries available – and you do need a summary! Or listen to the Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event we held, featuring Catriona Riddell (linkedin piece here), Iain Thomson (linkedin piece here) and Victoria Hutton (linkedin piece here).

Nor anything about mythical Bob, the Government’s 31 January 2022 Benefits of Brexit paper, which seemed to have little new to say in terms of the subject matter of this blog.

Nor anything about the energy price cap – although that does give additional topicality to our our next Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event plugged at the end of this post.

Nor anything about the continuing NIMBY vs YIMBY noise that I got drawn into on twitter this week – although there is at least some link between Holgate J’s judgment & all that: someone came out with the usual trope that a planning system with a large discretionary element to decision making is “good for the lawyers”. I didn’t respond, but thought to myself that a less discretionary system, whether based on zoning or permitted development rights, is of course even better for the lawyers – because it all becomes about where the legal boundary lines are.

When Parliament amended the General Permitted Development Order to allow upwards extensions, subject to defined criteria and limitations together with the need to seek prior approval for certain aspects of the proposals, the description of the matters in relation to which prior approval is required was far too vague. What do matters such as “impact on amenity” and “external appearance” actually mean? Do you take as a given the right to extend up to two storeys upwards and in that context consider external appearance, akin to considering reserved matters with the equivalent of outline planning permission already having been granted for the two storeys, or can issues of principle as to the acceptability of that upwards extension be considered, as long as they relate to amenity or external appearance,? Obviously this is a particularly critical question where the local planning authority may be resistant in principle to upwards extensions – these new rights trumpeted by the Government become rather less meaningful.

The Cab Housing case related to three appeal decisions where the relevant inspector had dismissed appeals in relation to proposals under Class AA of Part 1 of the GPDO (upwards extensions to detatched houses).

Over to Holgate J to explain:

These challenges raise important issues regarding the true interpretation of Class AA of Part 1. First, are the claimants correct in saying that a planning authority’s control of impact on amenity limited to effects on properties contiguous with, or abutting, the subject property and are those effects limited to overlooking, privacy and loss of light? Alternatively, does that control embrace impact upon all aspects of the amenity of neighbouring premises, as the Secretary of State contends? Second, is the authority’s control of the external appearance of the subject dwelling limited to the “design and architectural features” of its principal elevation and any side elevation fronting a highway, and is it further limited to the effects of those matters upon the subject dwelling itself? The claimants contend for that interpretation and they say that the authority is not allowed to consider the effects of external appearance upon any property outside the subject dwelling. Alternatively, is the correct interpretation, as the Secretary of State contends, that the control covers (1) all aspects of the external appearance of the proposed development, and not simply the two elevations specifically referred to in AA.2(3)(a)(ii)) and (2) impact upon other premises, and not simply the subject dwelling itself?

In the decisions challenged in these proceedings, the Inspectors took the broader approach in relation to external appearance and, in two cases, to amenity. It is common ground that if the claimants’ construction of the GPDO 2015 is correct, then each of the decisions must be quashed as ultra vires. The decisions would have been taken outside the ambit of the powers exercisable by the Inspector. But, if the defendant’s interpretation is correct, then it is also common ground that each of the three Inspectors reached decisions which fell within their powers, their decisions are not otherwise open to legal challenge and the applications for statutory review must be dismissed.

The claimants point out that other Inspectors have taken a different view upon the scope of the controls exercisable in the determination of an application for prior approval under Class AA of Part 1. It has been said that the decision-maker is not allowed to assess the impact of the external appearance of a proposed addition of 1 or 2 storeys on any area outside the subject building, for example, the streetscape. It has also been said that the principle of an upwards extension of up to 2 storeys is “established” by the permitted development right itself, so that the decision on the application for prior approval should not frustrate, or resile from, that principle. Such statements have even been made in relation to other permitted development rights where the GPDO 2015 requires “external appearance” to be controlled, without going on to refer to specific elevations (see e.g. the decision letter dated 6 July 2021 on Kings Gate, 111, The Drive, Hove). If the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the GPDO 2015 is correct, then all these decisions were potentially liable to be quashed on an application under s.288 brought within time. Plainly there are differences of interpretation which need to be resolved. There is also the question: to what extent is it correct to say that the principle of development is established where a permitted development right is subject to prior approval?

The issues in this case also affect the proper construction and ambit of permitted development rights granted by GPDO 2015 under Classes ZA, A, AA, AB, AC and AD of Part 20. These provide for up to two storeys of multiple units of residential units to be erected on top of an existing purpose-built block of flats, or on top of detached or terraced buildings in commercial or mixed use or residential use.

The claimants’ narrower approach to the legal scope of prior approval in these Classes also has implications for non-residential permitted development rights. For example, the right to erect or extend an agricultural building under Class A of Part 6 of Schedule 2 to the GDPO 2015 is potentially subject to control by prior approval in respect of the “external appearance” of the building proposed. If, as some decision-makers have said, that control is limited to assessing the effects of that appearance on the building itself, then it would follow, for example, that the effects of that external appearance on the setting of a listed building nearby could not be controlled. Can this really be right?”

His conclusion was that this was not right:

“(i) Where an application is made for prior approval under Class AA of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO 2015, the scale of the development proposed can be controlled within the ambit of paragraph AA.2(3)(a);


(ii) In paragraph AA.2(3)(a)(i) of Part 1, “impact on amenity” is not limited to overlooking, privacy or loss of light. It means what it says;


(iii) The phrase “adjoining premises” in that paragraph includes neighbouring premises and is not limited to premises contiguous with the subject property;


(iv) In paragraph AA.2(3)(a)(ii) of Part 1, the “external appearance” of the dwelling house is not limited to its principal elevation and any side elevation fronting a highway, or to the design and architectural features of those elevations;


(v) Instead, the prior approval controls for Class AA of Part 1 include the “external appearance” of the dwelling house;


(vi) The control of the external appearance of the dwelling house is not limited to impact on the subject property itself, but also includes impact on neighbouring premises and the locality.”

The judge seeks to downplay the significance of these conclusions:

The decision of each Inspector was entirely lawful. That is as far as the Court’s function permits this judgment to go. Individual decision-makers will make their own planning judgments applying the prior approval controls, correctly interpreted, to the materials before them. This judgment does not mean that individual decision-makers would be bound to determine the appeals on the three properties the subject of these proceedings in the way that in fact occurred. That is always a matter of judgment for the person or authority taking the decision. I would also add that there is no evidence before the Court to show that the correct interpretation of Class AA of Part 1, along with the related Classes in Part 20, will in practice make it impossible or difficult for developers to rely upon these permitted development rights.

As it is, given their inherent restrictions and limitations, these new GPDO rights have not yet delivered substantially more homes. Holgate J is of course right that his interpretation will not make it impossible for developers to rely on them – but surely it will make it more difficult in many cases. Despite the analysis in the judgment as to what was said in consultation documents in relation to the new rights, I’m left wondering whether the Government appreciated what confusion these changes would cause and, ultimately, their potentially limited advantages over an application for full planning permission?

As trailed earlier, this week’s Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event will be all about reducing energy use and increasing renewables, with a sparky collection of guests I assure you… 6 pm, Tuesday 8 February 2022, link to app and event here.

Simon Ricketts, 5 February 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Extract from Genesis, Abacab

“Planning Powers” A Pawn In Unsafe Cladding Negotiation

It’s a scandal that leaseholders, through no fault of their own, have been exposed to potentially massive liabilities in relation to building defects for which obviously they were in no way responsible.

Isn’t it obvious that where buildings have been constructed unsafely, in breach of legal standards at the time, then those responsible for that work should be liable (with speedy resolution of that issue and gap funding for works in the interim), but that where the work was done to legal standards at the time we as taxpayers should pick up that burden?

In terms of arriving at a solution, has Michael Gove’s 10 January “developers must pay” announcement made things worse or will it prove to be a turning point?

We’re all guilty of swimming along in our separate lanes. I’m a planning lawyer, not a construction lawyer, property litigator or tax lawyer. But I wanted to understand the basics of what exactly is happening here, particularly since the Secretary of State was reported as threatening to use the planning system to make life more difficult for developers if they don’t agree a “fully funded plan of action”.

Since February 2021, we have known that the Residential Property Developer Tax will apply from 1 April 2022 in relation to residential property development recognised in accounting periods ending on or after that date. It will apply to companies or groups of companies undertaking UK residential property development with annual profits in excess of £25 million and is a new 4% tax on profits they make on UK residential property development. As set out in HMRC’s 27 October 2021 policy paper, “the tax forms part of the government’s Building Safety Package aiming to bring an end to unsafe cladding, provide reassurance to homeowners and support confidence in the housing market. Given the significant costs associated with the removal of unsafe cladding, the government believes it is right to seek a fair contribution from the largest developers in the residential property development sector to help fund it.” The Government’s aim is to raise £2bn of revenue over a ten year period.

We have also known that the Building Safety Bill is currently going through the House of Lords. Clause 57 of the Bill would enable the Secretary of State to impose a building safety levy “for the purpose of meeting any building safety expenditure”. As explained in a November 2021 DLUHC building safety levy factsheet:

“This is a new levy on developers. In addition to the new Residential Property Developer Tax (which will tax the profits of larger developers for at least 10 years), the levy will contribute towards fixing historical fire safety defects, including unsafe cladding.

We will establish three regulatory “Gateways” at key stages in design and construction, and introduce new requirements during construction, that will apply to higher-risk buildings:

· Planning Gateway one – at the planning application stage

· Gateway two – before building work starts

· Gateway three – when building work is completed

These are stop/go decision points that must be passed before a development can proceed to the next stage, strengthening regulatory oversight of design and construction. At Gateway two, construction cannot begin until the Building Safety Regulator approves the building control application.

There will be sanctions for failure to pay the levy which will be defined in regulations. This will result in the Gateway two application not being approved by the Building Safety Regulator.”

The levy will apply to developments within scope of the Gateway 2 regulatory process, unless otherwise excluded. That means residential buildings or care homes over 18m or 7 storeys – but subject to exclusions, which we are consulting on.”

Consultation has been carried out as to the design of the levy but we have been waiting for the Government’s response and the quantum of the levy has not yet been determined.

The Secretary of State has been faced with the dilemma of how to relieve leaseholders from their unjustified burden at as little cost to the public purse as possible, presumably recognising that the building safety levy is not going to be able to achieve anything like what is needed .

It was revealed via a 7 January 2022 tweet from the BBC’s Lewis Goodall that Michael Gove had sought clearance from the Treasury “to make a statement resetting the Government’s approach to building safety ahead of Commons Report Stage of the Building Safety Bill”.

The tweet included a screenshot of the response from HM Treasury which authorises DLUHC to seek to secure £4bn funding from developers:

You may use a high-level “threat” of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers as a means of obtaining voluntary contributions from them.”

“…the taxpayer should not be on the hook for further costs of remediation”.

DLUHC budgets are a backstop for funding these proposals (in full i.e. the £4bn if required) should sufficient funds not be raised from industry. You must prioritise building safety oversupply”.

Lenders and insurers are not included in the “polluter pays” piece – and no contributions should be sought from them”.

Formal announcements were then made by the Secretary of State in the form of:

• a press statement, Government forces developers to fix cladding crisis (DLUHC, 10 January 2022)

Mr Gove has today written to industry giving them a deadline of early March to agree a fully funded plan of action including remediating unsafe cladding on 11-18 metre buildings, currently estimated to be £4 billion.

He warns he will take all steps necessary to make this happen, including restricting access to government funding and future procurements, the use of planning powers and the pursuit of companies through the courts. He adds that if industry fails to take responsibility, the government will if necessary impose a solution in law.

• The “Dear Residential Property Developer Industryletter referred to in the announcement:

I am sure you are as committed as I am to fixing a broken system. I want to work with you to deliver the programme I have set out. But I must be clear, I am prepared to take all steps necessary to make this happen, including restricting access to government funding and future procurements, the use of planning powers, the pursuit of companies through the courts and – if the industry fails to take responsibility in the way that I have set out – the imposition of a solution in law if needs be.”

• A statement to the House of Commons “…we will press ahead with the building safety fund, adapting it so that it is consistent with our proportionate approach. We will now set a higher expectation that developers must fix their own buildings, and we will give leaseholders more information at every stage of the process.”

Note the references in the announcement and letter to “the use of planning powers”. Remember that reference in the Treasury letter to high-level threats?

Tory cladding shift leaves relations with UK developers in tatters (FT, 18 January 2022)

On 20 January the Secretary of State met with “senior executives from 20 building firms” but according to the Guardian:

Stuart Baseley, the executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said the industry lobby group had made its position clear at the meeting and would continue to engage constructively with the government. “We absolutely agree that leaseholders should not have to pay to remediate buildings. However we firmly believe that any further solutions must be proportionate.”

He said the bill should be shared with “other companies, sectors and organisations”, including “freeholders and the materials providers who designed, tested and sold materials that developers purchased in good faith”.

As we made clear to the government, we do not believe it should fall to responsible UK housebuilders to fund the remediation of buildings built by foreign companies, developers no longer trading, or other parties.”

Another piece, Others must help pay for cladding work, developers tell Gove following talks (Inside Housing, 21 January 2022) quotes Gove:

We have made a start through the residential property developer tax and the building safety levy, both announced last February, but will now go further. I will today write to developers to convene a meeting in the next few weeks, and I will report back to the House before Easter. We will give them the chance to do the right thing. I hope that they will take it. I can confirm to the House today that if they do not, we will impose a solution on them, if necessary, in law.”

In the meantime, the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee announced an inquiry into building safety funding on 19 January 2022, with this statement from chair Clive Betts:

The Secretary of State’s announcements on 10 January were a welcome step towards finally addressing the question of meeting the costs of making residential blocks safe rather than dumping the burden on flat-owners. Leaseholders should not be liable for the costs of removing hazardous cladding from their buildings nor the additional work necessary to make their flats safe.

In our new inquiry, we want to examine the effectiveness and impact of the Government’s planned measures to make developers and industry pay. We also wish to scrutinise whether the Secretary of State’s approach goes far enough to finally fix this crisis and examine what the funding arrangement to be agreed with industry should look like. We will also want to examine the risk to the Department’s budget, particularly around social housing, if it is not able to secure sufficient funds from industry.

The public evidence sessions for this inquiry are scheduled take place shortly and will conclude ahead of the Secretary of State’s planned report back to the House of Commons before Easter.”

How is all this going to play out? Who knows. If the development industry (a ridiculously loose term) doesn’t reach agreement with DLUHC, what really could we see in terms of the impacts on planning processes? Of course neither in law nor in practice could the Secretary of State discriminate in planning decision-making against any specific companies holding out from a deal but surely it will influence the priority or not that he gives to measures to increase housing supply by way of planning reform and/or his inclination or not to intervene with authorities where plan making has again stalled and surely it will influence the level at which the building safety levy is set, discriminating hugely against those bringing forward development proposals as against those companies which are responsible for past failings.

No-one should be under any illusion that these issues are easy. Is a “Dear Residential Property Developer Industry” letter accompanied by threats, in order to extract money from companies regardless of culpability, really the answer? We shall find out soon enough.

Meanwhile, this week’s clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session is entitled “What do we mean by “digitising planning”? Possible futures”. We have five amazing guests: Euan Mills (digital planning lead, DLUHC), Graham Stallwood (director of planning, Planning Inspectorate), Mary Elkington, director, Figura Planning), Stefan Webb (place director, FutureGov) and Shelly Rouse, principal consultant, Planning Advisory Service). Join the app and event here.

Simon Ricketts, 21 January 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Just What Is It That Makes First Homes So Different, So Appealing?

First Homes have been stuck onto the “affordable housing policy” collage, not as net additional affordable housing but as a replacement, mandated by policy, for other forms of affordable housing which would have been secured by local planning authorities in any event.

I summarised the 24 May 2021 government announcement and how the first homes mechanism is meant to operate in my 28 May 2021 blog post Moving Into First Homes: 3 Key Deadlines (TL;DR: at least 25% of all affordable housing secured on a development should be first homes; must be for first time buyers; must carry at least 30% discount in perpetuity; household income cap of £80,000, or £90,000 in London).

The House of Commons Library first homes information page (3 November 2021) is also useful for its links to the relevant announcements and documents.

As I summarised in the blog post, there were three key dates to implementation of the new regime:

28 June 2021

From the guidance: “ Local plans and neighbourhood plans submitted for examination before 28 June 2021, or that have reached publication stage by 28 June 2021 and subsequently submitted for examination by 28 December 2021, will not be required to reflect the First Homes policy requirement”

(However: “Planning Inspectors should consider through the examination whether a requirement for an early update of the local plan might be appropriate.”)

28 December 2021

From the guidance: “The new First Homes policy requirement does not apply for the following:

sites with full or outline planning permissions already in place or determined (or where a right to appeal against non-determination has arisen) before 28 December 2021”

28 March 2022

It also does not apply to “applications for full or outline planning permission where there has been significant pre-application engagement which are determined before 28 March 2022”.

So if you wish to avoid the new requirement and you are not in an area where a plan has been adopted under the transitional arrangements, you need to have submitted your application so that it will be determined (or so that that the statutory right to appeal on the basis of non-determination has arisen) by 28 December 2021 and if there is any doubt as to whether you will meet that deadline it would be prudent to have engaged in “significant pre-application engagement” such that the deadline for achieving permission is 28 March 2022.”

The first two dates have now passed. I have not yet seen examples of first homes being secured as part of a section 106 agreement. What experience is there out there?

As originally promised in the May 2021 announcement, on 23 December 2021 DLUHC published model section 106 clauses for first homes. At the same time it updated its planning practice guidance. It is really good to see the model clauses, which will be a useful starting point.

Stuart Tym from Shoosmiths wins the “working over Christmas” prize with his excellent 5 January 2022 Local Government Lawyer article First Homes: model Section 106 agreement (although I’m going to deduct a point for his conclusion that “the devil remains in the detail” – when is the devil not in the detail?!).

The first clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session for 2022 is at 6pm on Tuesday 11 January and will be another really key event, particularly if you have any interest in the survival of theatre and live arts in the face of this pandemic: “MAKING DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS: theatre vs covid”, featuring Broadway theatre producer (and ex US environmental lawyer) David Siesko; chair of Shakespeare’s Globe (and former planning lawyer) Margaret Casely-Hayford CBE, and theatre manager/Theatres Trust cultural policy manager Tom Stickland. Link to app here.

Simon Ricketts, 7 January 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? by Richard Hamilton (1956)

Strong Beer: London Tall Buildings & The Master Brewer Case

If you are dealing with any proposal for a building of six storeys or more in London, R (London Borough of Hillingdon) v Mayor of London (Lang J, 15 December 2021) is a vital case, because it resolves for now the question of how the relevant policy in the London Plan, policy D9, is to be interpreted. Is it right, as have some have contended, that tall buildings may only be developed in locations identified as suitable in boroughs’ local plans? Lang J says no.

The three relevant parts of the policy for the purposes of this issue, as quoted in the case, read as follows:

Definition

A

Based on local context, Development Plans should define what is considered a tall building for specific localities, the height of which will vary between and within different parts of London but should not be less than 6 storeys or 18 metres measured from ground to the floor level of the uppermost storey.

Locations

B

1) Boroughs should determine if there are locations where tall buildings may be an appropriate form of development, subject to meeting the other requirements of the Plan. This process should include engagement with neighbouring boroughs that may be affected by tall building developments in identified locations.

2) Any such locations and appropriate tall building heights should be identified on maps in Development Plans.

3) Tall buildings should only be developed in locations that are identified as suitable in Development Plans.

Impacts

C

Development proposals should address the following impacts:

1) visual impacts […]

2) functional impact […]

3) environmental impact […]”

(there is also a fourth part – as to provision for public access).

The big question has been whether the first and second parts of the policy have to be passed before a scheme can be judged as against the detailed criteria in part C.

The text underlined had been added pursuant to a direction by the Secretary of State dated 10 December 2020 before the plan was then adopted on 2 March 2021.

Quoting from the judgment:

The Secretary of State’s covering letter, dated 10 December 2020, said as follows:

“….. I am issuing a new Direction regarding Policy D9 (Tall Buildings). There is clearly a place for tall buildings in London, especially where there are existing clusters. However, there are some areas where tall buildings don’t reflect the local character. I believe boroughs should be empowered to choose where tall buildings are built within their communities. Your draft policy goes some way to dealing with this concern. In my view we should go further and I am issuing a further Direction to strengthen the policy to ensure such developments are only brought forward in appropriate and clearly defined areas, as determined by the boroughs whilst still enabling gentle density across London. I am sure that you share my concern about such proposals and will make the required change which will ensure tall buildings do not come forward in inappropriate areas of the capital.”

DR12 set out a “Direction Overview” as follows:

The draft London Plan includes a policy for tall buildings but this could allow isolated tall buildings outside designated areas for tall buildings and could enable boroughs to define tall buildings as lower than 7 storeys, thus thwarting proposals for gentle density.

This Direction is designed to ensure that there is clear policy against tall buildings outside any areas that boroughs determine are appropriate for tall buildings, whilst ensuring that the concept of gentle density is embodied London wide.

It retains the key role for boroughs to determine where may be appropriate for tall buildings and what the definition of tall buildings are, so that it is suitable for that Borough.”

The ‘statement of reasons’ for DR12 stated inter alia:

“……The modification to policy D9 provides clear justification to avoid forms of development which are often considered to be out of character, whilst encouraging gentle density across London.”

The issue had come before the court in the context of planning permission granted by the Mayor of London for the redevelopment of the former Master Brewer Motel site in Hillingdon – a development promoted by Inland Homes for a series of buildings of up to 11 storeys in height. Hillingdon Council had resolved to refuse planning permission on the basis that tall buildings in this location would be contrary to its local plan but the Mayor had recovered the application for his own determination and approved it on 30 March 2021.

There were three grounds to the judicial review brought by the Council:

i) The Defendant misinterpreted Policy D9 of the London Plan 2021 by concluding that, notwithstanding conflict with Part B of that policy, tall buildings were to be assessed for policy compliance against the criteria in Part C.

ii) The Defendant erred in failing to take into account a material consideration, namely, the Claimant’s submissions and accompanying expert evidence as to air quality.

iii) The Defendant acted unlawfully and in a manner which was procedurally unfair in that he failed to formally re-consult the Claimant or hold a hearing, prior to his re-determination of the application, following the adoption of the London Plan 2021.”

I am only focusing on the first ground but the third ground may also be of interest on the question of when an application needs to be re-consulted upon or re-considered in the light of changes in policy.

The analysis carried out by the judge is interesting.

First of all she considers whether the meaning of the policy was “clear and unambiguous” such that under legal principles of interpretation, the courts should not have regard to extrinsic materials to assist in interpretation. She recorded that “[a]ll parties contended that the meaning of Policy D9 was clear and unambiguous, despite the differences in their interpretation of it. In those circumstances, applying the principles set out above, I consider that I ought not to have regard to the letter from the Secretary of State to the Defendant dated 10 December 2020 (paragraph 46 above) as it is not a public document which members of the public could reasonably be expected to access when reading Policy D9. Furthermore, it is of limited value as, taken at its highest, it sets out the Secretary of State’s intentions, whereas the Court must consider the meaning of the words actually used in Policy D9, as amended by DR12, which in my view did not give effect to the expressed intentions in the letter.”

(I’m scratching my head as to how the various parties to litigation can be arguing as to the meaning of a policy but can agree that the meaning of the policy is “clear and unambiguous”. In saying that the Secretary of State’s direction letter “was not a public document which members of the public could reasonably be expected to access when reading Policy D9”, I take it that she was not saying that it was not a “public document”, which of course it was, but that a member of the public should not be expected to go searching for such documents to assist with interpretation of a policy if it is indeed clear and unambiguous).

She then concludes that the council’s interpretation of the policy “cannot be correct”:

Read straightforwardly, objectively and as a whole, policy D9:

i) requires London Boroughs to define tall buildings within their local plans, subject to certain specified guidance (Part A);

ii) requires London Boroughs to identify within their local plans suitable locations for tall buildings (Part B);

iii) identifies criteria against which the impacts of tall buildings should be assessed (Part C); and

iv) makes provision for public access (Part D).

There is no wording which indicates that Part A and/or Part B are gateways, or pre-conditions, to Part C. In order to give effect of Mr Howell Williams QC’s interpretation, it is necessary to read the words underlined below into the first line of Part C to spell out its true meaning:

Development proposals in locations that have been identified in development plans under Part B should address the following impacts.”

But if that had been the intention, then words to that effect would have been included within the policy. It would have been a straightforward exercise in drafting. It is significant that the Secretary of State’s direction only required the addition of the word “suitable” to Part B(3). It did not add any text which supports or assists the Claimant’s interpretation, even though the Secretary of State had the opportunity to do so.

In my view, the context is critical to the interpretation. Policy D9 is a planning policy in a development plan. By section 70(2) TCPA 1990 and section 38(6) PCPA 2004, there is a presumption that a determination will be made in accordance with the plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Thus, the decision-maker “will have to decide whether there are considerations of such weight as to indicate that the development plan should not be accorded the priority which the statute has given to it”: per Lord Clyde in City of Edinburgh at 1459G. Furthermore, the decision-maker must understand the relevant provisions of the plan “recognising that they may sometimes pull in different directions”: per Lindblom LJ in BDW Trading Ltd at [21], and extensive authorities there cited in support of that proposition. As Lord Reed explained in Tesco Stores Ltd v Dundee City Council, “development plans are full of broad statements of policy, many of which may be mutually irreconcilable, so that in a particular case one must give way to another”.

The drafter of Policy D9, and the Defendant who is the maker of the London Plan, must have been aware of these fundamental legal principles, and therefore that it was possible that the policy in paragraph B(3) might not be followed, in any particular determination, if it was outweighed by other policies in the development plan, or by material considerations. It seems likely that policy provision was made for such cases, given the importance of the issue.

In considering whether to grant planning permission for a tall building which did not comply with paragraph B(3), because it was not identified in the development plan, it would surely be sensible, and in accordance with the objectives of Policy D9, for the proposal to be assessed by reference to the potential impacts which are listed in Part C. The Claimant’s interpretation leads to the absurd result that a decision-maker in those circumstances is not permitted to have regard to Part C, and must assess the impacts of the proposal in a vacuum.”

Therefore:

Notwithstanding the non-compliance with Part B of Policy D9, the Defendant determined that the proposal accorded with the provisions of the development plan when read as a whole. That was a planning judgment, based on the benefits of the proposal, such as the contribution of much-needed housing, in particular affordable housing, and the suitability of the Site (brownfield and sustainable, with good transport). The Defendant was satisfied, on the advice of the GLA officers, that sufficient protection from air quality impacts would be achieved. The Defendant was entitled to make this judgment, in the exercise of his discretion.”

Accordingly, boroughs do not have a veto, by virtue of their local plans, as to where tall buildings may be located in their boroughs – policy D9 is not to be interpreted in a way automatically treats proposals for tall buildings as contrary to the development plan where they are not supported in the local plan.

Whether or not this is what the previous Secretary of State intended with his direction may be another matter but of course the London Plan is adopted and free from the possibility of legal challenge (and, pragmatically, the Secretary of State could have course chosen to call in the application but did not) – and if parts A and B were indeed to be a necessary gateway there would be the immediate issue that any development of buildings of six storeys or more would be stymied as contrary to the development plan until boroughs’ plans had caught up with, and been examined in the context of, the new policy approach – hardly consistent with the Secretary of State’s urging for London to achieve a significant increase in housing delivery.

To mark the end of 2021 and, self-indulgently, the 5th anniversary of my firm, we have a unique Clubhouse event planned for 6 pm this Tuesday 21 December: “START ME UP: how Town Legal started 5 years ago – & why”. There will be a stageful of “day one” Townies: Clare Fielding, Patrick Robinson, Meeta Kaur, Benita Wignall, Spencer Tewis-Allen, our former chairman (and ex Herbert Smith Freehills COO) John Mullins and former associate Ricky Gama (now Leigh Day) as well as our good friends, without whom…, Drew Winlaw (Simmons Wavelength) and Beau Brooke (Kindleworth). If you ever wondered what it takes to create a professional services firm from scratch, do tune in. Link to app here.

Simon Ricketts, 17 December 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Photo by Jon Parry courtesy Unsplash