I have taken care because so much of the noise this week was about how the Government hasn’t listened to the responses it received to its 3 December 2020 consultation paper, whereas for me the news is that it has listened to much of the criticism it received. The final form of the regime is significantly constrained compared to the consultation version. Give credit where credit’s due!
I summarised the initial proposal in my 4 December 2020 blog post, E = C3, expressing a number of concerns. Responses to the consultation from all quarters expressed equivalent concerns – some of course going further, in questioning more fundamentally the role of the permitted development rights process.
The RTPI and others were tweeting their reactions before the Order had even been published on line (although to be fair the headlines were in the press statement). A joint letter was sent yesterday, 1 April 2021, to the prime minister by the RTPI, RIBA, RICS and CIOB. I acknowledge that many have “in principle” concerns about the availability of fast-track permitted development rights procedures but isn’t the letter somewhat of an over-reaction? What do members of those organisations think? Call me a defeatist pragmatist, but the proposals could have been so much worse!
These were the Government’s objectives, as they were stated in the December consultation document:
“In his ‘Build, Build, Build’ statement of 30 June 2020 the Prime Minister said that we would provide for a wider range of commercial buildings to be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application. To meet this aim, support housing delivery and bring more residential use into our high streets and town centres, boosting footfall and creating additional demand, we propose to introduce a new national permitted development right for the change of use from the new Commercial, Business and Service use class to residential use. The new right would help support economic recovery, housing delivery and the regeneration of our high streets and town centres.”
The proposals were always intended to be introduced much more quickly than the proposals in last year’s planning white paper – after all existing permitted development rights expire on 31 July 2021 in relation to changes of use from the classes that went to form the new class E:
“While Planning for the future sets out our longer-term ambitions, we want at the same time to continue to explore more immediate changes to the planning system to provide greater planning certainty and flexibility to ensure that it can effectively contribute to some of the immediate challenges facing the country.”
It is also worth remembering that the rights which expire on 31 July already include rights to convert offices (no floorspace limit), light industrial (500 sq m floorspace limit) and retail (150 sq m floorspace limit). The rules to be introduced from 1 August allow greater flexibility in a number of respects but are also significantly tighter than the existing rights in various ways.
My colleague Tom Brooks has prepared a detailed client summary in relation to all of the PD changes within the Order (this blog post is only dealing with class MA rather than the other excitements within). If you message or email me I will send it to you next week, but for the purposes of this blog post I set out below the Government’s summary of the proposed changes:
“We will introduce a new national permitted development right to create new homes through the change of use from Commercial Business and Service uses. The right will:
• have effect from 1 August 2021
• be subject to a size limit of 1,500 sq m of floorspace changing use
• apply to buildings that have been in Commercial, Business and Service uses for two years, including time in former uses now within that class
• apply to buildings that have been vacant for at least three continuous months
• apply in conservation areas, but not in other article 2 (3) land such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
• be subject to prior approval by the local planning authority on specific planning matters
• attract a fee of £100 per dwellinghouse.”
The consultation proposals had:
• no size limit (and this size limit cuts back on what can already be achieved via the existing office to resi PD right)
• no requirement that the relevant building should have been in commercial , business and service uses (i.e. any of the uses that now make up class E) for the two years leading up to the date of the application for prior approval (for offices to residential, the cut off point in the existing rules is 29 May 2013).
• no requirement that the building must have been vacant for the three months leading up to the date of the application for prior approval (a requirement which has not existed in relation to existing PD rights).
There is also now an express carry-forward to 1 August 2022 of existing article 4 directions that restrict office to residential permitted development rights – addressing what would have been a significant loophole (see e.g. my 7 February 2021 blog post Art 4 Life).
Prior approval requirements will still include transport, contamination, flooding, noise, and adequate natural light. As trailed in the consultation proposals, prior approval will be required, where relevant, as to the impact on the character or sustainability of a conservation area caused by the change of ground floor use of a building within a conservation area. Where relevant, prior approval will also be required as to the impact on the intended residential occupiers if the area is considered important for “general or heavy industry, waste management, storage and distribution, or a mix of such uses” and as to the impact on local provision if there is a loss of services provided by a registered nursery or health centre.
Prior approval applications will need to include a floor plan indicating “the total floor space in square metres of each dwellinghouse” (and remember that the Government’s nationally described minimum space standard applies to any schemes which are the subject of a prior approval application from 6 April 2021 in any event).
For the first time, notices will need to be served on on any adjoining owner or occupier and, where the proposed development relates to part of a building, on any owner or occupier of the other part or parts of the building.
Remember that there is no exemption from CIL for permitted development, the usual rules apply – although most commonly the in-use buildings exemption will apply if at least part of the building has occupied for a use which is lawful for at least six months continuously in the last three years.
Mitigation cannot be secured as to matters that are not the subject of the prior approval process, so PD residential development is still free from affordable housing and other social infrastructure commitments (e.g. contributions to the cost of education facilities), but remember that the scale of development now permitted, with the 1,500 square metres cap, is far lower than the scale of conversions of office buildings that we have previously seen. The horse has bolted on that one.
The new rights do not limit in any way the need for planning permission for external works to the building that materially affect its external appearance, so finger-pointing as against the Government’s “beauty” aspirations is misdirected in my view.
What concerns are we left with? Yes, the new rules will allow residential development in potentially unsustainable locations. Yes, the new rules will allow commercial frontages in high streets to be converted to residential use in a way which may harm the traditional function of town centres (although subject to the need for a separate planning permission for the external treatment of the building). Yes, the new rules do limit in practice the role of the local planning authority in determining what are appropriate uses for a particular area. Yes, there will still be room for uncertainty and “gaming” of the system, particularly around the vacancy requirement. Set against these concerns, are the Government’s objectives in terms of enabling more homes to be delivered quickly and in finding new uses for redundant commercial floorspace and is the need for us all to acknowledge the various protections that are now (at last) in place, seeking to ensure that accommodation is to be delivered to at least a minimum standard (e.g. size of homes, light) and seeking to reduce the potential for the new rights to lead to unintended outcomes (e.g the floorspace cap, vacancy requirement).
Where does the balance lie? Are there now sufficient checks and balances? Are we going to see a final rush to make prior approval applications under the existing rules? Join a number of us on Clubhouse for a discussion on this very subject – from 6pm on Tuesday 6 April.
Surely planning becomes a democratic irrelevance when the plan making process is slower than the electoral cycle? That’s pretty much the position in London. After all, Sadiq Khan wouldn’t have managed it if he hadn’t been gifted a further year in post by virtue of the postponement of the May 2020 elections.
Election: 7 May 2016. First consultation document: October 2016. Adopted plan 2 March 2021.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be this way. The plan “must deal only with matters which are of strategic importance to Greater London” (section 334(5), Greater London Authority Act 1999).
My 23 April 2017 blog post Make No Little Plans: The London Plan heralded the imminent publication of initial non-statutory consultation in relation to the new London Plan. The hope at that stage was to have an adopted plan in place by Autumn 2019. I referred to the 400 pages or so of the then current plan and expressed the hope that its replacement would be shorter. Hmm, not so.
One of the issues with this process has certainly been of the Mayor’s making – the sheer bloated nature of the plan, with its excessive layers of detail. What can be done to make sure that this never happens again?
But the other issue has not entirely been of the Mayor’s making. For the whole of his period in office he has faced opposition from Government, which has been placing pressure on him to increase planned housing numbers well beyond the already ambitious and probably unachievable numbers that he has been planning for. See for instance the previous Secretary of State’s 27 July 2018 letter and Robert Jenrick’s 13 March 2020 letter directing that a series of amendments be made to the draft plan.
“I had expected you to set the framework for a step change in housing delivery, paving the way for further increases given the next London Plan will need to assess housing need by using the Local Housing Need methodology. This has not materialised, as you have not taken the tough choices necessary to bring enough land into the system to build the homes needed.
Having considered your Plan at length my conclusion is that the necessary decisions to bring more land into the planning system have not been taken, the added complexity will reduce appetite for development further and slow down the system, and throughout the Plan you have directly contradicted national policy. As you know, by law you must have regard to the need for your strategies to be consistent with national policies.
For these reasons I am left with no choice but to exercise my powers to direct changes.
Your Plan must be brought to the minimum level I would expect to deliver the homes to start serving Londoners in the way they deserve. However, this must be the baseline and given this, I ask that you start considering the next London Plan immediately and how this will meet the higher level and broader housing needs of London.”
Then most recently, only after the Mayor had chased on 9 December 2020 for a response from Government to his April 2020 proposed amendments to address those March 2020 directions, the Secretary of State wrote again on 10 December 2020 with further directions.
But, to accentuate the positive, we now have an adopted new London Plan (542 pages of it).
This is a good Lichfields blog post on it. I did also like this Tom Pemberton post that summarised some of its implications in seven slides.
The whole process will now have to start again, as soon as we are past the 6 May elections, given the Government’s expectation of an immediate review to take into account the current NPPF and the housing numbers deriving from the revised standard method (including indeed its additional 35% figure for London and other major towns and cities). The new numbers are truly challenging/unrealistic (93,500 per annum as against the 52,000 figure in the new plan and annual delivery of less than 37,000).
What a political dilemma for the next Mayor to face – to broker some sort of solution with Government, boroughs, communities, authorities surrounding London and, for so long as there are going to be the range of onerous requirements that are set out in the new plan, developers and funders. On top of all the other challenges post-pandemic, post- Brexit and in the midst of a climate emergency.
And yet numerous candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for 6 May 2021 and we haven’t yet reached the 30 March deadline for delivery of nomination papers (fancy a go?).
I’m chairing a Planning Futures hustings event at 2pm on 9 March 2021, where we will have a number of the candidates or their representatives. It will focus on planning/housing/built environment policies. The event is free so do register and join me.
In preparation I did a little googling to see what the main candidates might be saying that might give some hope that the scale of the challenges ahead are publicly acknowledged.
⁃ Sadiq Khan’s campaign was launched on 4 March, focusing on listing the achievements of his first term rather than setting out any significant new direction or pledges.
⁃ Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign website – 100,000 shared ownership homes to be sold at £100,000 each – a London Infrastructure Fund to fund long-term transport projects.
⁃ Green Party candidate Sian Berry’s campaign website – would set up “a People’s Land Commission to find small sites for new homes, green spaces and community support”. “In addition to using existing powers including compulsory purchase orders, I will also continue to lobby central Government for a devolved or national “community right to buy” which will create new rights for local community groups to buy any land or property that is neglected, empty and needed for community uses”.
Liberal Democrat party candidate Luisa Porritt’s campaign includes “homes in the heart of the city”, “a green roadmap” and “reinvent the high street”.
⁃ Women’s Equality Party candidate Mandu Reid: “Stand with us to make sure no woman is turned away from refuge, to close the pay gap in a generation, to balance work and family life for everyone, and to make London the first gender equal city in the world.”
⁃ UKIP candidate Peter Gammons will “will focus on new housing in every borough, holding developers accountable for providing affordable housing and prioritising Londoners.” He has apparently written a book, “London – a road map for recovery”, although I couldn’t find it on Amazon.
I think we need to get beyond these platitudes, and that is what I shall attempt to do on Tuesday….
Article 4 directions are a small but essential cog in the complicated machine that is the English planning system. With the more widespread reliance by Government on permitted development rights, it falls to local planning authorities to make article 4 directions to disapply, where appropriate, those rights in relation to specific types of developments and/or in specific areas.
From 1 August 2021, we are potentially approaching a breakdown in this machine in the face of the proposed class E to class C3 permitted development right which I wrote about in my 4 December 2020 blog post E = C3.
But first a few basic points to note about the way these cogs work:
1. Article 4 directions do not have to be approved by the Secretary of State but he can intervene where he considers that a direction is inappropriate.
2. Unless an article 4 direction takes effect at least a year after it was first publicised, in certain circumstances the authority can be liable to claims for compensation where someone can show they incurred abortive expenditure or otherwise suffered loss or damage as a result of the direction.
3. For permitted development rights where prior approval of certain matters is required before the right can be relied upon, the prior approval needs to be secured before the direction takes effect and needs to be completed within three years of prior approval.
The role of article 4 directions has increased with the gradual spread of “resi conversion” permitted development rights since 2013.
The office to residential permitted development right was first introduced in May 2013. At that time the legislation included a specific list of “excepted areas” within which the right did not apply, for instance London’s central activities zone. The Government was not adverse to threatening intervention where authorities sought to introduce blanket article 4 directions in relation to other areas, for instance its well publicised spat at the time with the London Borough of Islington.
There is now indeed a patchwork of article 4 directions across the country, disapplying “resi conversion” permitted development rights in relation to many areas of the country. Focusing on central London, here is how the “offices to resi” rights is disapplied in RBKC and in Westminster for instance.
When Class E was introduced from 1 September 2020 (see my 24 July 2020 blog post E Is For Economy for more detail) existing permitted development rights were kept in place until 31 July 2021 (applying to what the uses would have been categorised as prior to the creation of Class E) so as to give the Government time to introduce new permitted development rights that apply to Class E.
The consultation period on the proposed new development rights closed on 28 January 2021 and the Government has come under fire from many quarters for the intended breadth of the new rights (for instance, here is the British Property Federation’s response). The statutory instrument to introduce the new rights (and in part replace the old rights, which will expire) has not seen the light of day and we are now around six months away from what might be termed PD-Day, 1 August 2021.
Some big questions arise and discussions within Town with Duncan Field and other partners and colleagues have been really useful. I’m not going to give away for free our entire Town “house view” but I’m just going to state the obvious:
⁃ it is questionable whether existing article 4 directions would restrict the operation of any new permitted development rights that are introduced, even where the change is still, say, offices to residential (and some changes that, according to the Government’s consultation proposals, will now be possible are entirely new, e.g. restaurant, indoor sports hall or creche to residential).
⁃ As a matter of principle an article 4 direction cannot be made in relation to a future permitted development right, so authorities’ hands are tied until the statutory instrument containing the new rights is actually made.
⁃ plainly there is no time for authorities to give a year’s advance notice in relation to any new article 4 direction that is to take effect from 1 August 2021, so any more immediate restrictions would expose authorities to the risk of compensation claims (unless there is some specific transitional arrangement in the new rights, for instance if the new rights would permit development that before 1 August 2021 have been restricted by an article 4 direction, but that will not be straight-forward at all).
It is interesting that when the “excepted areas” system was abolished in 2016 authorities were given sufficient time to put article 4 directions in place. In the rush this time round, either this issue has been overlooked or the Government is seeking to sidestep the article 4 direction process and create some kind of gold rush for prior approvals before directions can be introduced and take effect. After all its antipathy towards article 4 directions in the “resi conversions” area, save where exceptionally justified, is plain from its recent consultation on proposed changes to the NPPF:
“Article 4 directions
“We also propose clarifying our policy that Article 4 directions should be restricted to the smallest geographical area possible. Together these amendments would encourage the appropriate and proportionate use of Article 4 directions.”
“The use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights should
• where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts
• [or as an alternative to the above – where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance]
• where they do not relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area (this could include the use of Article 4 directions to require planning permission for the demolition of local facilities)
• in all cases apply to the smallest geographical area possible.”
The flexibility introduced by permitted development rights is necessary and welcome but let’s not focus on that lever without making sure that there isn’t going to be an almighty crunch when it is pulled. What am I missing here folks?
Simon Ricketts, 27 February 2021
Personal views, et cetera
PS If you’re on Clubhouse, I’ll be joined by some other friendly planning solicitors, barristers and planners to talk about this and other topical planning law issues at 6pm on Tuesday 2 March, details here. Do join us!
“Tilt” in pinball is an example of a good rule: in order to discourage an unwanted outcome (cheating), transgression (sloping the table) leads to a predictable penalty (game over).
The purposes of the NPPF’s “tilted balance” (the phrase just being planners’ jargon) are to discourage local planning authorities from:
⁃ relying on out of date local plans
⁃ not maintaining (potentially with an additional buffer) at least five years’ housing land supply (now watered down to a minimum of three years’ housing supply if there is an up to date neighbourhood plan that allocates land for housing development) and
⁃ (since the introduction of the housing delivery test) not ensuring that a defined number of homes are delivered each year.
Where the tilted balance applies, it should in many circumstances be easier for developers to secure planning permission which is not in accordance with the relevant local plan and/or neighbourhood plan, in that paragraph 11 (d) of the NPPF provides as follows:
“(d) where there are no relevant development plan policies, or the policies which are most important for determining the application are out-of-date, granting permission unless:
i. the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed; or
ii. any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.
There is a footnote to “out-of-date”: “This includes, for applications involving the provision of housing, situations where the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites (with the appropriate buffer, as set out in paragraph 73); or where the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing was substantially below (less than 75% of) the housing requirement over the previous three years.”
There is another crucial footnote, to (d)i: “The policies referred to are those in this Framework (rather than those in development plans) relating to: habitats sites (and those sites listed in paragraph 176) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park (or within the Broads Authority) or defined as Heritage Coast; irreplaceable habitats; designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest referred to in footnote 63); and areas at risk of flooding or coastal change.”
Already, that description surely begins to raise obvious questions:
⁃ Is the rule sufficiently clear and understood, such that the risk of the penalty actually influences council members’ and officers’ decision making so as to discourage those unwanted outcomes: to encourage up to date plans, the maintenance of an adequate housing land supply, sufficient homes being built? If the public doesn’t understand it, it’s going to have no effect at the ballot box – so how do we expect it to influence councillors, for whom being seen to protect their local areas from change will usually be a more potent vote winner?
⁃ To what extent can the authority avoid those unwanted outcomes in any event, given for instance the slowness of the local plans system even for a authority wishing to make swift progress and given the reliance on the private sector not only to promote suitable sites but then proceed to build them out?
⁃ The footnote to (d)i reduces the impact of the rule in constrained areas which usually turn out to be those where the documented need for housing is greatest.
⁃ Should there be a different penalty other than to make it more likely that development will take place in a way which is unplanned for and often unpopular? What are the most direct “carrots and sticks” that could be deployed?
Four years ago this month my thoughts were wandering in these directions, while sitting in the Supreme Court in the Suffolk Coastal case, acting for Richborough Estates (thank you Paul Campbell and Chris Young). The case was a turning point in the consideration of how the tilted balance is intended to work. It relates to the original 2012 version of the NPPF but the principles still hold true. The judgment in Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes Limited, Richborough Estates Partnership LLP v Cheshire East Borough Council (Supreme Court, 10 May 2017) is a masterpiece in cutting through what had been a series of conflicting rulings by the lower courts as to how the tilted balance was to be interpreted in order to pull us all back to the basic principles. I tried to summarise them in a blog post at the time, but for instance:
⁃ Let’s not overstate the influence of the test: the NPPF is no more than “guidance” and is no more than a “material consideration” for the purposes of section 70(2) of the 1990 Act: “It cannot, and does not purport to, displace the primacy given by the statute and policy to the statutory development plan. It must be exercised consistently with, and not so as to displace or distort, the statutory scheme”. (Lord Carnwath, paragraph 21) (i.e. there’s a get-out so that a decision maker can determine that, notwithstanding the tilted balance, planning permission should not be granted).
⁃ Deprecation of the “over-legalisation of the planning process, as illustrated by the proliferation of case law on [the tilted balance]. This is particularly unfortunate for what was intended as a simplification of national policy guidance, designed for the lay-reader.” (Lord Carnwath, para 23) (i.e. the court will always be reluctant to interfere with the judgment arrived at by the decision maker).
⁃ As long as decision makers apply it lawfully (which means they first have to understand it – not easy!) the application of the tilted balance test engages matters of planning judgement, not legal interpretation. (i.e. legal challenges to the decision maker’s judgment, have to be based on unlawful or irrational reasoning on the part of the decision maker – never easy).
⁃ the basis for the test arises from the importance that the NPPF places on boosting the supply of housing. “The message to planning authorities is unmistakeable”. (Lord Gill, paragraph 77). He refers to “the futility of authorities’ relying in development plans on the allocation of sites that have no realistic prospect of being developed within the five year period”. (paragraph 78). (i.e. the test has a real world objective which we must not lose sight of – boosting the supply of housing).
⁃ “If a planning authority that was in default of the requirement of a five-years supply were to continue to apply its environmental and amenity policies with full rigour, the objective of the Framework could be frustrated”. (Lord Gill, paragraph 83). (i.e. the outcome of the test may well be that planning permissions are granted notwithstanding an authority’s policies – that’s the whole point of it).
The cases have kept coming. Already, in 2021, there have been no fewer than three rulings from the Court of Appeal – on a test in a non statutory policy document – this is surely ridiculous. Does this arise from its unnecessary complexity and “angels dancing on the head of a pin” abstractions, or from the way that in practice the so-called tilted balance hardly seems to provide any tilt at all, even in areas with a severe under-supply of housing, perhaps contrary to the original objective?
The case raised “two main issues: first, whether a decision-maker, when applying the “tilted balance” under paragraph 11d)ii, is required not to take into account relevant policies of the development plan; and second, as a connected issue, whether it is necessary for the “tilted balance” and the duty in section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to be performed as separate and sequential steps in a two-stage approach. There is a further issue: whether the “tilted balance” under paragraph 11d)ii excludes the exercise indicated in paragraph 213 of the NPPF, which requires that policies in plans adopted before its publication should be given due weight, “according to their degree of consistency with [it]“.
Answers from the court: no, no and (on the further issue) no.
The case raised “one principal issue […]: whether the inspector was wrong to interpret the first sentence of paragraph 172 of the NPPF, which says “great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty” in an AONB, as a policy whose application is capable of providing “a clear reason for refusing” planning permission under paragraph 11d)i of the NPPF.”
“Ever since a NPPF was first introduced in March 2012, the interpretation of its provisions has provided a fertile hunting ground for planning lawyers. The 2018 version was intended to produce greater clarity and simplicity, but unfortunately it has not been entirely successful. The effect of the appellant’s argument was that if there is only one relevant policy in the local plan, the developer gets the benefit of the tilted balance (absent the operation of one of the exceptions). Mr Lockhart-Mummery eschewed any suggestion that this was a “numbers game” but he also very fairly accepted that it is virtually unknown for a single policy in a local plan to embrace all the material considerations that would suffice to enable a decision-maker to determine a planning application, especially if that application is to build houses.”
Answer from the court: no. (“… at the end of the day there is nothing inherently unfair to an applicant or contrary to the overall scheme of the NPPF or the 2004 Act, both of which afford primacy to the local plan, about the balancing exercise being carried out under section 38(6) in circumstances where an experienced Planning Inspector has found that there is a policy in the development plan that is relevant, important and up-to-date. For those reasons I would uphold the interpretation of Paragraph 11d) adopted by the Judge and applied by the Inspector).”
Housing delivery test:
The Government has now published the results of its 2020 housing delivery test measurement (19 January 2021). The figures are important, because if the housing delivery test indicates that the delivery of housing was less than 85% of the housing supply requirement over the last three years, a buffer of 20% has to be added to that requirement. If delivery was less than 75% of the housing requirement over the previous three years, that is a trigger for the application of the tilted balance.
As an adjustment to recognise at least to some extent to effects of Covid this past year, authorities’ requirements this year were reduced by a month.
This year there are (by my count) 55 authorities for whom the tilted balance applies following these latest measurements.
Has that featured in the relevant local press? What are authorities doing about it? I would be pleased to hear.
I just wonder whether it might not be better to sweep all of this complexity away and replace it with a policy that provides for an enhanced presumption in favour of development if relevant housing land supply figures are not met: the higher the shortfall, the more weighty the presumption? Leave the detail to decision makers, including to inspectors on appeal – attempts at greater prescription are doomed to fail and are not understood by the public.
There should also be additional consequences for authorities that fail to meet these targets, and their councillors – but also a new transparency on the part of the Government as to (1) the basis for its national target and (2) the need for frank annual reporting to Parliament as to its performance as against that target.
To encourage desirable outcomes, we need rules that everyone understands. Plan positively = great places. A failure to plan positively = intervention, remedial steps.
On 16 December 2020 the Government abruptly abandoned its proposed revised standard method for calculating local housing need, in the face of political and media pressure from those who saw the method increasing substantially the figure for their particular areas. I covered the consultation as to the proposed revised method in my 29 August 2020 blog post, asking whether we might see a fudged outcome.
So the Government has decided to stick to its previous 2017 method (just as much of an algorithm, equally “mutant”), one based on out of date household formation figures from 2014 (2014!), but with a heavy handed readjustment of the figures to ensure that they still add up to 300,000 homes (a number which itself has no empirical basis – but reflective of the extent of the, plain to see, housing crisis). The heavy handed-adjustment? To increase the relevant figure by 35% for England’s 20 largest towns and cities, including London.
Imagine if a local planning authority attempted to include housing numbers in its plan in such a way, without evidence! (Or indeed if it introduced a blanket “approve it all” policy equivalent to the effect of the new class E to C3 PD right!).
If anyone knows about planning and housing, it’s Chris Young QC. He had put forward constructive suggestions for improving the proposals given the unduly low numbers the draft revised method would have achieved for much of the north. His subsequent LinkedIn post was incandescent:
“- Confused about the “new” Standard Method?
– Baffled why it fails to address levelling up across the North?
– Mystified why in an economic crisis, Govt would focus on the largest cities where apartment prices are falling?
– Troubled by the urban focus, when overcrowded housing is a key factor for the UK having the highest Covid 19 death rate in Europe?
Well, here’s what just happened
Govt introduced Standard Method 1 in 2017 to make housing targets simpler. But it added up to less than its own 300,000 annual target, and collapsed housebuilding in the North
In August, Govt consulted on a revised version. But it contained a double affordability uplift which piled the numbers into the Shires, causing a Tory revolt
Then experts in this field came up with a more appropriate set of numbers focussing on achieving 300,000 and levelling up the North.
And then Ministers bottled it
They decided to leave the formula, which they know doesn’t work, the same. But add 35% to the major constrained cities nearly all of which are Labour controlled, pinning their hopes on a collapse in the office market and town centres and the use of PD rights
Housing policy in this country is not about housing people. Its now 100% about politics”
I’ve no problem with an urban focus, but what really is the point when those higher numbers will not be achieved, meaning an inevitable failure to achieve the overall target?
Let’s take a step back (watch out for the Christmas tree though).
The Government’s NPPF tells local planning authorities this:
“To determine the minimum number of homes needed, strategic policies should be informed by a local housing need assessment, conducted using the standard method in national planning guidance – unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals. In addition to the local housing need figure, any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas should also be taken into account in establishing the amount of housing to be planned for.” (paragraph 60).
The new standard method is incredibly important, both for this purpose, and because it will form the basis for the new plan-making system proposed in the white paper, where local planning authorities will have to plan, without deviation, for the numbers handed down to them (numbers which will be based on this standard method and then tweaked by government by way of an as yet undevised process).
To understand the detail what has now been introduced, and the justifications given, there are four relevant documents, all published on 16 December 2020:
The response document tries to downplay the role of the numbers – making them out not to be a “target” but a “starting point”:
“Many respondents to the consultation were concerned that the ‘targets’ provided by the standard method were not appropriate for individual local authority areas. Within the current planning system the standard method does not present a ‘target’ in plan-making, but instead provides a starting point for determining the level of need for the area, and it is only after consideration of this, alongside what constraints areas face, such as the Green Belt, and the land that is actually available for development, that the decision on how many homes should be planned for is made. It does not override other planning policies, including the protections set out in Paragraph 11b of the NPPF or our strong protections for the Green Belt. It is for local authorities to determine precisely how many homes to plan for and where those homes most appropriately located. In doing this they should take into account their local circumstances and constraints. In order to make this policy position as clear as possible, we will explore how we can make changes through future revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework, including whether a renaming of the policy could provide additional clarity.”
Weaselly words! Of course they are a target. This methodology can no longer be said to be a proper methodological assessment of local need based on demographics and household formation rates – if nothing else, the 35% uplift for the major towns and cities puts paid to that. The justification given for the uplift is a policy justification:
“”First, building in existing cities and urban centres ensures that new homes can maximise existing infrastructure such as public transport, schools, medical facilities and shops. Second, there is potentially a profound structural change working through the retail and commercial sector, and we should expect more opportunities for creative use of land in urban areas to emerge. Utilising this land allows us to give priority to the development of brownfield land, and thereby protect our green spaces. And third, our climate aspirations demand that we aim for a spatial pattern of development that reduces the need for unnecessary high-carbon travel.”
I quoted Chris Young earlier. For an equally brilliant, expert and authoritative analysis how about Lichfields? This is a superb post by Matthew Spry and Bethan Hayes Mangling the mutant: change to the standard method for local housing need on the day of the announcement, including indications as to what the new numbers will mean for the 20 largest towns and cities:
How quickly will the changes come into effect? The Government’s response document says this:
“From the date of publication of the amended planning practice guidance which implements the cities and urban centres uplift, authorities already at Regulation 19, will have six months to submit their plans to the Planning Inspectorate for examination, using the previous standard method. In recognition that some areas will be very close to publishing their Regulation 19 plan, these areas will be given three months from the publication date of the revised guidance to publish their Regulation 19 plan, as well as a further six months from the date they publish their Regulation 19 plan to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate for examination, to benefit from the transition period.
The standard method has a role not only in plan-making, but is also used in planning decisions to determine whether an area has identified a 5 year land supply for homes and for the purposes of the Housing Delivery Test (where strategic policies are more than five years old). Where this applies, the revised standard method (inclusive of the cities and urban areas uplift) will not apply for a period of six months from the publication of the amended planning practice guidance. After 6 months, the new standard method will apply.”
“It is clear that in London, in the medium term, there will need to be a much more ambitious approach to delivering the homes the capital needs. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government expects to agree the London Plan with the Mayor shortly. This new plan, when adopted, will set London’s housing requirement for the next 5 years. The local housing need uplift we are setting out today will therefore only be applicable once the next London Plan is being developed. In order to support London to deliver the right homes in the right places, the government and Homes England are working with the Greater London Authority to boost delivery through the Home Building Fund. Homes England has been providing expertise and experience to support the development of key sites in London. Sites like Old Oak Common, Nine Elms and Inner East London provide opportunities to deliver homes on significant brownfield sites. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will consider giving Homes England a role in London to help meet this challenge, working more closely with the Greater London Authority, boroughs and development corporations to take a more direct role in the delivery of strategic sites in London and the preparation of robust bids for the new National Homebuilding Fund.”
A final musing for the lawyers. It has become a bit of a knee jerk reaction to proposals to question whether strategic environmental assessment was in fact required but…was it?
“From the statutory framework it can be seen that a plan or programme is only required to be the subject of an environmental assessment if all four of the following requirements are satisfied:-
(1) The plan or programme must be subject to preparation or adoption by an authority at national, regional, or local level, or be prepared by an authority for adoption, through a legislative procedure by Parliament or Government;
(2) The plan or programme must be required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions;
(3) The plan or programme must set the framework for future development consents of projects; and
(4) The plan or programme must be likely to have significant environmental effects.”
It was held in that case that the GPDO and Use Classes Order changes did not require SEA because they do not set the framework for future development consents.
The previous challenge to NPPF changes in Friends of the Earth v Secretary of State (Dove J, 6 March 2019) had also failed. Dove J held that, whilst it did set the framework for subsequent development consents, the NPPF was not a measure “required by legislative regulatory or administrative provisions“.
But what is wrong with the following analysis?
⁃ criterion 1 – standard method = a plan prepared by government
⁃ criterion 2 – standard method = a plan required by administrative provisions, i.e. required by NPPF paragraph 60
⁃ criterion 3 – standard method sets framework for local plans and for decision making – e.g. onus on the major towns and cities in their next plans to plan for 35% more homes or suffer consequences via the tilted balance and housing delivery test – indeed geographically specific in a way which the NPPF and PPG has previously largely avoided
⁃ criterion 4 – standard method likely to have significant environmental effects – of course.
In any event, wouldn’t some evidence be helpful, as well as a proper assessment of impacts and alternatives, before lurching to a new system that has moved a long way further away from being any methodological assessment of local housing need?
Or, The Theory Of Residential-Rather-Than-Retail-Activity.
MHCLG’s consultation paper Supporting housing delivery and public service infrastructure (3 December 2020, consultation deadline 28 January 2021) sets out various proposed new permitted development rights, but, in what has been a disastrous week for traditional retail chains, guess which proposal has attracted the most attention?
The new class E was introduced into the Use Classes Order in July 2020 (see my 24 July 2020 blog post E Is For Economy) and took effect from 1 September 2020, forming a new, amalgamated commercial, business and service use class that includes the old A1 (with small exceptions), A2, A3, B1, some D1 and some D2).
It was always anticipated that new permitted development rights would be subsequently introduced that allowed changes from the new class E without the need for planning permission. At the moment, until 31 July 2021 the existing permitted development rights apply to whatever the relevant use would have been categorised as before class E was introduced.
But in updating the existing development rights so that they apply to the new class E from 1 August 2021, the Government now intends to allow significantly greater freedoms.
“It is proposed that the right would allow for the change of use from any use, or mix of uses, within the Commercial, Business and Service use class (Class E – see paragraph 12 above) to residential use (C3). The right would replace the current rights for the change of use from office to residential (Part 3, Class O of Schedule 2 to the General Permitted Development Order), and from retail etc to residential (Part 3, Class M of the General Permitted Development Order) which remain in force until 31 July 2021. (See also Part 3 of this consultation document in respect of consequential changes.) It will go significantly beyond existing rights, allowing for restaurants, indoor sports, and creches etc to benefit from the change use to residential under permitted development rights for the first time. The protections in respect of pubs, including those with an expanded food offer, theatres, and live music venues, all of which are outside of this use class, continue to apply and a full planning application is always required for the change of use to or from such uses.
The Commercial, Business and Service use class applies everywhere in all cases, not just on the high street or in town centres. In order to benefit from the right premises must have been in the Commercial, Business and Service use class on 1 September 2020 when the new use classes came into effect.”
So, there will for the first time be the right to convert restaurants, indoor sports centres, creches and so on to residential use.
But the radical part of the proposal is that there should be no size limit on the scale of the conversions allowed:
“Building on the delivery success of the permitted development right for the change of use from office to residential, it is proposed that there be no size limit on the buildings that can benefit from the right. The right would allow for the building, or part of the building, to change use, rather than lying vacant for example. It is recognised that some retail and office buildings in particular could be a substantial size, and therefore result in a significant number of new homes, the impacts of which would be managed through prior approvals. Permitted development rights do not apply to development that is screened as requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment.”
Whilst there is currently no size limit for conversion of offices, for retail and light industrial the limits are currently small (150 sq m and 500 sq m respectively). The new right would enable change of use of the very largest shops and light industrial buildings to residential, subject to similar prior approval requirements as presently apply. Whilst permitted development rights do not apply to development that would require environmental impact assessment, it will surely be very rare that the conversion of a building, however large, would require environmental impact assessment.
How better, it might be thought, both to find new uses for surplus floorspace and to add to housing stock? But of course such a right is going to have a huge effect on the real estate market and could itself help to accelerate the loss of retail where greater value can be extracted by residential conversion.
Unlike with most permitted development rights, this right would also apply in conservation areas. “However, in recognition of the conservation value that retail frontage can bring to conservation areas the right would allow for prior approval of the impact of the loss of the ground floor use to residential.”
These are proposed to be the necessary prior approvals:
“Similar to other permitted development rights for the change of use to residential:
• flooding, to ensure residential development does not take place in areas of high flood risk
• transport, particularly to ensure safe site access
• contamination, to ensure residential development does not take place on contaminated land, or in contaminated buildings, which will endanger the health of future residents
• To ensure appropriate living conditions for residents:
• the impacts of noise from existing commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development
• the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms
• fire safety, to ensure consideration and plans to mitigate risk to residents from fire
• To ensure new homes are in suitable locations:
• the impact on the intended occupiers from the introduction of residential use in an area the authority considers is important for heavy industry and waste management”
The usual concerns about the permitted development process remain, but now writ large, for instance:
⁃ How can the Government continue to justify not imposing on these permitted development schemes the requirements that would be applied by way of the section 106 planning obligations process to schemes that come forward by way of traditional planning application? Why no affordable housing requirements, or contributions to schools and other social infrastructure, and how is this fair for those developers struggling to deliver traditional projects in the face of policy requirements that permitted development schemes neatly sidestep?
⁃ How will associated applications for planning permission for external works to these buildings be dealt with? Coping with the fenestration, M&E and external aesthetic requirements arising from conversion of an office building is one thing, but imagine the challenges faced by the developer of a department store, supermarket or light industrial unit. And what of its curtilage? What principles should an authority adopt in determining such an application, so that adequate controls are maintained without making the right meaningless by giving the authority a de facto veto?
⁃ Aside from increasing their use of article 4 directions, how can authorities prevent the conversion of buildings in plainly unsustainable locations?
⁃ How can an authority influence its area by way of its development plan policies, when the authority is left with so little control?
⁃ To what extent will the use of the new right be stymied by conditions on existing permissions, disapplying the benefit of the General Permitted Development Order, or indeed Use Classes Order?
As it happens we are co-hosting a webinar with Landmark Chambers to answer questions such as these – and plenty of others that delegates have been sending in. Landmark’s Zack Simons will join Meeta Kaur, Victoria McKeegan and myself at 5.30 pm on 15 December, free registration here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_4SVkbXSeRsm6QJ9aDRBBDA .
The idea for this blog post started by way of a search we did this week for inspectors’ appeal decision letters that take into account the economic and other effects arising from the current pandemic.
There does not seem to have been any proper analysis on that at present (and this post doesn’t fill the gap!). Instead most people’s focus has been on the specific legislative measures that have been introduced by the Government and its narrow policy exhortations (for instance in relation to limited aspects of the CIL regime).
Before I turn to that appeals search, can I say two more things on the legislative changes.
⁃ introduction from 6 April 2021 of a requirement that dwellings created by way of the operation of permitted development rights must meet the nationally described space standard
⁃ Prohibition on the demolition of any building is used, or was last used, for the purpose of a concert hall, venue for live music performance or theatre. (“This permanent change is to protect these venues, preventing their unnecessary loss as a result of having to close due to the coronavirus pandemic.” As a trustee of the Theatres Trust I am particularly pleased to see this now in legislation, following the initial ministerial statement on 14 July 2020).
Secondly, I covered the Rights: Community: Action judicial review of the previous recent GPDO and Use Classes Order changes in my 5 September 2020 blog post Lights Camera Action: The Planning Changes – Parliamentary Scrutiny, That JR. That claim was rejected by Lewis LJ and Holgate J last week in R (Rights: Community: Action) v Secretary of State (Divisional Court, 17 November 2020). There are plenty of other summaries of that judgment and there is nothing particularly novel about it but I was interested in the references to the evidence submitted by MHCLG as to the Covid-19 factors that led to the legislation being introduced in the form and way that it was, and the weight that was given to these matters in the judgment:
“Mr Simon Gallagher is the Director of Planning for MHCLG. In paragraph 10 of his witness statement he states that during the period January to March 2020 the first patients in the UK tested positive for Covid-19 and the first transmissions in the UK were confirmed. He says that the pandemic “has generated an economic emergency and upheaval of a scale and intensity not previously known in peacetime.” He continues by stating that, as a consequence, the Government has had to intervene urgently in the economy as a whole in unprecedented ways in order to avert or minimise potentially very severe and long term impacts on the lives of citizens and the prospects for future economic growth. Forecasts for economic growth were reduced substantially. Indeed, one key forecast made in summer 2020 predicted a reduction in the economy for 2020 of 9.9% (paragraph 13). Through regular discussion with representatives of the housing and construction sectors, the MHCLG became aware of particular difficulties faced by the construction sector as a result of the pandemic. There was a record monthly decline of 40.2% of construction output in April 2020. Whilst the output of that sector had increased in May, June and July, it was still 11.6% lower in July 2020 compared with February 2020 (paragraph 14).
On 20 July 2020 a submission was put to the Minister for Housing asking him to approve the three statutory instruments. The submission records that it had been decided that in order to support economic renewal and regeneration and to respond to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, additional PD rights for the redevelopment of vacant buildings for residential purposes and a broad Use Class of business, commercial and service uses would be introduced without consultation (paragraphs 2 to 3). The Minister’s attention was drawn to criticisms that the recently enacted PD right for allowing the addition of 2 storeys to blocks of flats lacked any requirement for the provision of affordable housing (paragraph 7). The submission referred to the same point when discussing the application of the PSED to the proposed statutory instruments (paragraph 10). The PSED assessments and impact assessments for each statutory instrument were provided to the Minister.
The Explanatory Memoranda for SI 2020 No. 755 and SI 2020 No. 756 stated that the new PD rights were being introduced to speed up the delivery of housing, reduce the need to develop on greenfield land and to support economic recovery from the pandemic by encouraging development. The Explanatory Memorandum for SI 2020 No. 757 stated that the UCO 1987 was being amended to better reflect the diversity of uses found on high streets and in town centres, to provide flexibility for businesses to adapt and diversify to meet changing demands and to help town centres recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.”
The judges had in part to consider whether the lack of a further consultation stage, which had been previously intended in relation to some of the measures, was justified:
“The explanatory memorandum for the draft SI 2020 No 755 and SI 2020 No. 757 again summarised briefly the degree of support for, and opposition to, the proposal, and the concerns that had been raised. The explanatory memorandum for the draft SI 2020 No 756 referred to the consultation responses and noted that there was to have been a further consultation but it had been decided to introduce the PD right without further consultation in order to support economic regeneration. It noted that the Government had considered the range of matters to be left to planning authorities for prior approval while maintaining a simplified planning system. In those circumstances it is not arguable that the defendant failed conscientiously to consider the consultation responses. The decision on whether to proceed, and if so what provisions to include in the SIs, in the light of the consultation responses and other relevant matters were questions for the defendant to determine.”
The judges, did not consider that the Government had acted unlawfully in not carrying out further consultation:
“First, the defendant has established that there were good reasons for departing from the promise in the present case and not having a second consultation on the proposals for PD rights for demolition of commercial or residential buildings and rebuilding for residential use. The coronavirus pandemic had led to severe economic difficulties including a reduction in the rate of construction and planning applications. The government decided to grant the PD rights in order to stimulate regeneration at a time of great economic difficulty arising out of the pandemic. That appears from the terms of the explanatory memorandum to SI 2020 No. 576.The matter is fully explained in the witness statement of Mr Gallagher who refers to the large-scale public health emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic which in turn generated an economic emergency and upheaval on a scale not previously known in peacetime. The Government had sought to intervene in the economy in unprecedented ways to minimise the very severe effects of the pandemic. In the light of that, the decision was taken in favour of urgent action rather than further consultation.
Secondly, the reasons are proportionate in the circumstances. On the one hand, the decision to depart from the promise deprived the public of the opportunity of making further representations on the proposed PD rights and deprived the Government of further, potentially helpful, input into the policy decision. On the other hand, the economic situation was grave. The grant of PD rights was intended to encourage developers to start the process of taking steps to carry out developments. That in turn would contribute to addressing the economic effects arising out of the pandemic. That was a proportionate course of action in the circumstances. It is correct that developments could not be begun until prior approval of certain matters had been obtained. But the aim was to stimulate the process of development in circumstances of economic urgency. It is correct that the PD rights would continue after the end of the current pandemic (unless amending legislation is enacted) but that does not render departure from the promise of further consultation disproportionate. It is correct that there was a proposal to create PD rights which involved further consultation. But circumstances had changed because of the pandemic. The reasons given for departing from the promise of further consultation were good and were proportionate.”
The economic situation is indeed “grave”!
So how are inspectors responding to it in their appeal decisions, and in the absence of any general guidance from Government which might for instance have advised decision makers to give additional weight to the interests of economic development and the provision of housing? JLL’s Asher Ross drew attention on LinkedIn last week to the Government’s publication on 18 November 2018 of the latest Planning Inspectorate Statistics. I haven’t delved into them yet but reproduce below a table that Asher posted, showing the reduced percentage of appeals that have been allowed over a period when I would have hoped to see exactly the opposite.
One trend that is apparent from the appeal decisions is in the context of enforcement appeals, where a longer period is frequently being given for compliance because of difficulties residents may have finding alternative accommodation due to the pandemic, although not always – in a recent decision in Ealing the inspector held that the nature of the “cramped and sub-standard living conditions“ was such as to outweigh that consideration (10 Torrington Gardens, 17 November 2020).
An appeal in relation to a proposed single dwelling in the countryside in Horsham District was dismissed in part because the inspector accepted the concerns of a nearby dog kennel business that the construction noise could affect the health of their dogs and indirectly affect the business economically if it had to close during this period, especially when considered in conjunction with the downturn in business they had generally suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic (The Mount, Ifield, Crawley, 27 July 2020).
An appeal in relation to five proposed flats in Cambridge was dismissed with the inspector noting that, although the appellant claimed that there was a need to promote economic growth as a result of the Covid -19 pandemic, this did not justify allowing harmful development (Mere Way, Cambridge, 1 October 2020).
An appeal to allow changes to proposed dwelling layouts in Eastbourne was allowed. Whilst the nationally described space standard was breached for a three bedroom home, the inspector placed weight on the need for a ”home office”, noting Covid-19 – a separate room was recognised as useful also for homework and hobbies, noting the “open plan” living room layout at present (land south of Langney shopping centre, 10 September 2020).
An appeal in relation to three proposed self build dwellings in Breckland was dismissed, with the inspector noting that there was little substantive evidence to demonstrate the longer term effects of Covid 19 on housing delivery rates or that that these developments would not be deliverable over the five year period , rather than just delayed (land to the north east of Fakenham Road, Beetley, 9 September 2020).
An appeal in relation to the proposed redevelopment as 27 residential apartments of the Flapper and Firkin music venue in Birmingham was dismissed. Whilst the venue had closed in January 2020 and therefore the minister’s July 2020 statement on preventing the loss of such venues was not directly relevant, the inspector concluded that the community harm arising from the loss of the venue outweighed the social and economic effects of the new homes (Flapper and Firkin, Kingston Row, Birmingham, 2 September 2020).
An appeal in relation to 216 proposed new homes in Wokingham district was rejected, with the inspector not accepting the appellant’s case that the assumed housing supply should be reduced by almost 500 dwellings due to the effects of the pandemic. He considered that the pandemic’s impact would be short-term and that five-year supply would recover (land east of Finchampstead Road, Wokingham, 25 August 2020).
An appeal in relation to a proposed staff car park in connection with a hotel in North Somerset was dismissed, the inspector considering that approval would not significantly contribute towards the economic recovery of the hotel business (Doubletree by Hilton Bristol South Cadbury House, 17 August 2020).
There are earlier appeal examples as well, but with equivalent themes and none that I could see were allowed with any weight given to Covid-19 considerations.
A proper analysis of the patterns emerging would be useful. For instance, how should the effects of the pandemic be taken into account in assessing whether there is five years’ supply of housing land? Is any Government advice required as to particular issues, such as live-work accommodation? Is any temporary advice required on enforcement issues, and on deadlines for compliance? Should Government for instance encourage a liberalised approach in relation to particular types of proposals, with shorter implementation deadlines for permissions approved in that way?
Simon Ricketts, 21 November 2020
Personal views, et cetera
Thank you to my Town colleague Lida Nguyen for the appeal searches, carried out via Compass Online.
“• changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need, which as well as being a proposal to change guidance in the short term has relevance to proposals for land supply reforms set out in Planning for the Future;
• securing of First Homes, sold at a discount to market price for first time buyers, including key workers, through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system;
• temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing, to up to 40 or 50 units to support SME builders as the economy recovers from the impact of Covid-19;
• extending the current Permission in Principle to major development so landowners and developers now have a fast route to secure the principle of development for housing on sites without having to work up detailed plans first.”
Kings Chambers’ Constanze Bell hosted a good discussion on the proposals in a 28 August podcast with a panel comprising (Diana Richardson, Gladman), Paul Bedwell (Pegasus), Martin Carter (Kings Chambers) and Jonathan Easton (Kings Chambers).
Changes to the standard method
The Government “proposes a revised standard method for calculating local housing need which will be used as the basis for plans created prior to any changes outlined in Planning for the Future being introduced.”
There will be two steps:
Step 1 – the “baseline for the standard method should be whichever is the higher of 0.5% of existing housing stock in each local authority OR the latest projected average annual household growth over a 10-year period”
“The household projections element of the baseline will use the latest ONS national household growth projections for the local authority area (Principal projection, table 406). The projected average annual household growth over a 10-year period (10 consecutive years, with the current year being used as the starting point from which to calculate growth over that period) will be used.”
Step 2 – “We propose the standard method will include two adjustments to the baseline using the workplace-based median house price to median earnings ratio. Initially it is proposed that the ratio for the most recent year for which data is available in order to address current affordability of homes would be used. Then how affordability has changed over the last 10 years of published data would be incorporated, using that same statistic.”
The Government proposes the following transitional arrangements: “from the publication date of the revised guidance, authorities which are already at the second stage of the strategic plan consultation process (Regulation 19) are given 6 months to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate for examination. Authorities close to publishing their second stage consultation (Regulation 19), should be given 3 months from the publication date of the revised guidance to publish their Regulation 19 plan and a further 6 months to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate.”
In theory, the new formula could be with us very quickly: “Following the outcome of this consultation, the Government will update the planning practice guidance with the revised standard method for assessing local housing need.”
Basically they are intended to be a “for sale” product for first time buyers and other qualifying groups, sold at a 30% discount to market value, which must be maintained on re-sale. At that point the Government was consulting on the detail.
This is what it has concluded, subject to this further consultation:
⁃ “a minimum of 25 per cent of all affordable housing units secured through developer contributions should be First Homes. This will be a national threshold, set out in planning policy.”
⁃ “The Government proposes that, under the new system, a policy compliant planning application should seek to capture the same amount of value as would be captured under the local authority’s up-to-date published policy. For instance, a local policy may require 20% affordable housing on site, half of which is shared ownership, and half of which is social rent. The plan viability assessment will set out assumptions on the amount of value captured – for example, a social rent home may be discounted by 50% from market price, and a shared ownership home may be discounted by 20%. This allows the total value captured under the policy to be calculated. This value can then be reallocated to a different affordable housing mix under the new policy.”
⁃ “For the remaining 75% of affordable housing secured through developer contributions, there are two broad options:
• “Option 1: Where a local authority has a policy on affordable housing tenure mix, that policy should be followed, but with First Homes delivering a minimum of 25% of the affordable housing products…”
• “Option 2: A local authority and developer can negotiate the tenure mix for the remaining 75% of units.”
It will be open to authorities to require in their local plans that the discount be 40% or 50% rather than 30% but they will not be able to water down the requirement that 25% of the affordable homes to be provided on site must be First Homes.
Again, the proposal could be with us quickly, initially in the the form of “planning policy changes” (Planning Practice Guidance? NPPF changes? Written ministerial statement?):
“We intend to begin by making planning policy changes, to ensure that clear expectations are set. However, to ensure that First Homes are delivered, nationwide, on a consistent basis, we are keeping under consideration the option to strengthen the policy through primary legislation at a future date. We also intend to introduce an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy for First Homes, to enable delivery prior to wider developer contribution reform. This would require changes to regulations. Lastly, we are also considering significant reforms to the system of developer contributions. We will ensure that First Homes will continue to be delivered under a reformed approach”
However, it seems from the transactional arrangements set out below that the requirement will not immediately take full effect:
56. We recognise that local authorities may need to review the tenure mix for the remainder of the affordable housing that they are seeking to secure. Where local authorities choose to update their tenure mix to reflect this policy, they can do this through a local plan review, although we believe that prioritising the replacement of home-ownership tenures by First Homes will reduce the need for this.
57. We also recognise that there will be a number of local plans and neighbourhood plans that have been prepared based on the existing National Planning Policy Framework and that have reached more advanced stages of the plan-making process. Therefore, local plans and neighbourhood plans that are submitted for Examination within 6 months of this new policy being enacted will not need to reflect the First Homes policy requirements.
58. We also recognise that many developers will have been preparing planning applications under different assumptions. Where significant work has already been undertaken to progress a planning application, including where there has been significant pre-engagement with a local authority on the basis of a different tenure mix of affordable housing, the local authority should have flexibility to accept alternative tenure mixes, although they should consider whether First Homes could be easily substituted for another tenure, either at 25% or a lower proportion.”
Lifting the small sites threshold for SME builders
This could have a significant effect on development. In London, for instance, it will have big repercussions.
“We are proposing to raise the small sites threshold to up to either 40 or 50 new homes through changes to national planning policy and are seeking views on the most appropriate level. These thresholds balance the aim of supporting SMEs with the need to deliver new affordable homes. This will be for an initial period of 18 months in which we will monitor the impact of the raised threshold on the sector before reviewing the approach.”
“ In designated rural areas, we … propose to maintain the current threshold.”
The current threshold is 10 new homes, or site area of 0.5 hectares. The site area threshold will be increased “at the same proportion”, so presumably to 2 or 2.5 hectares (although should in fact the site area increase be less, to reflect likely density of development?).
Again the proposal could be in effect quickly:
“Following the consultation, a decision will be taken on whether to proceed with this approach. If it is taken forward, this could be through the introduction of a Written Ministerial Statement in the Autumn.”
If you are an SME developer with a scheme which may qualify, might it be worth your while seeing how this pans out? Of course it will not be straightforward – we are likely to see some local planning authorities seeking understandably to continue to rely on adopted local plan requirements for affordable housing, choosing to apply less weight to the written ministerial statement, and therefore the potential need to appeal.
Presumably the Government is hoping to see significant take-up, meaning inevitably less affordable housing. That would seem to be a politically-charged trade-off but may in reality simply leapfrog what would otherwise have been a viability process outcome in many instances.
Local planning authorities are currently required to maintain brownfield land registers, in two parts.
– Part 1: previously developed land with an area of at least 0.25 hectares that is suitable and available for residential development and where residential development is achievable (all defined terms).
– Part 2: land in Part 1 where the local planning authority has exercised its discretion to enter the land in Part 2 and has decided to allocate the land for residential development having followed defined publicity, notification and consultation procedures.
If your land is on Part 1 of the register you can currently apply for permission in principle for minor development (basically less than ten dwellings). If your land is on Part 2 of the register you already have permission in principle for the development set out in the register (which must not be large enough to require environmental impact assessment.
There is a further procedure in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, but not yet brought into effect, for automatic permission in principle to stem from allocation in defined categories of statutory development plans rather than just from designation on a brownfield land register.
The Government now proposes “to remove the restriction in the current Permission in Principle regulations on major development”. Although the paper is not specific, this must surely simply mean that permission in principle would now be able to be applied for in relation to major development (although still not development such as to require environmental impact assessment so, unless a negative screening opinion has been obtained, capped at 150 dwellings/5 hectares), as long as the site is on Part 1 of a local planning authority’s brownfield land register.
The paper proposes that there be no cap on the amount of commercial development proposed, although the scheme will need to be “residential-led”. The procedure is quicker than the outline planning application procedure (five weeks determination period, 14 days deadline for responses from statutory consultees).
There is not proposed to be any increase in the information requirements that currently apply to PiP applications for minor development. “However, we would be interested in whether, given the larger scale of development, there should be an additional maximum height threshold parameter, in terms of number of storeys, as part of the Permission in Principle. This would provide greater clarity to the applicant and local planning authority about the scale of housing development that is acceptable for the site, particularly in high density urban areas. Conversely, the inclusion of a maximum height parameter would add further complexity to the determination of Permission in Principle as it starts to bring in design considerations, and may in practice lead to greater confusion – for instance, a high height threshold may only be acceptable for part of the site given the impact on neighbouring dwellings.”
The Government is proposing to adjust the application fee regime to increase the cost saving in comparison with a traditional application for outline planning permission.
This all certainly gives additional focus to brownfield land registers (which I last looked at in my 5 January 2018 blog post Brownfield Land Registers: A Bit Of Progress). If you have land that is on Part 1 of a brownfield land register, it will certainly be a procedural route to consider.
Again, we could see the proposal come into effect relatively quickly. “Following this consultation, if we introduce Permission in Principle by application for major development, we aim to introduce amending regulations this Autumn, with the regulations expected to come into force by the end of the calendar year. Changes to the fee structure would require separate changes to the Planning Fees Regulations.”
Of course, this will also be a useful test as to how well permission in principle can be made to work in practice, ahead of the Government’s more ambitious proposals the subject of ChangesOne (and my 7 August 2020 blog post For The Future).
are probably the three words I most associate with the planning system in England, since you asked.
The main part of this post is a commentary by special guest and fellow Town partner Duncan Field on the Government’s Planning for the future white paper, published on 6 August 2020.
But before we get to that, some initial comments from me on timescales.
The consultation period on the white paper ends on 29 October 2020.
The aspiration in the document is that (subject to time extensions for recent plans) new local plans should be in place by the end of this Parliament, so by Spring 2024. Given that those local plans will take up to 30 months to be put in place under the new system proposed, the necessary primary legislation will need to have been passed and in force, with any necessary accompanying Regulations and guidance, by Autumn 2021.
By way of proxy for legislative timescales, the less ambitious Housing and Planning Act 2016 and Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 each took around seven months to pass through the necessary Parliamentary stages, which would mean introducing a Bill by the beginning of 2021. One perhaps has to look back to the Localism Act 2011 for planning legislation of equivalent complexity. That took eleven months from soup to nuts.
Something is going to have to give – either there is going to be rushed consideration of these proposals, which still need significant refinement, or that “end of this Parliament” aspiration is going to have to be reconsidered before long.
But in any event, things can be expected to move quickly.
The timescales in that document for the four sets of proposals within it are as follows:
· changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need: “Following the outcome of this consultation, the Government will update the planning practice guidance with the revised standard method for assessing local housing need.”
· securing of First Homes through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system: “We intend to begin by making planning policy changes, to ensure that clear expectations are set. However, to ensure that First Homes are delivered, nationwide, on a consistent basis, we are keeping under consideration the option to strengthen the policy through primary legislation at a future date. We also intend to introduce an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy for First Homes, to enable delivery prior to wider developer contribution reform. This would require changes to regulations. Lastly, we are also considering significant reforms to the system of developer contributions. We will ensure that First Homes willcontinue to be delivered under a reformed approach”
· supporting small and medium-sized builders by temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing: “Following the consultation, a decision will be taken on whether to proceed with this approach. If it is taken forward, this could be through the introduction of a Written Ministerial Statement in the Autumn.”
· extending the current Permission in Principle to major development: “Following this consultation, if we introduce Permission in Principle by application for major development, we aim to introduce amending regulations this Autumn, with the regulations expected to come into force by the end of the calendar year. Changes to the fee structure would require separate changes to the Planning Fees Regulations.”
The white paper is in my view a considered document and less radical than might have been expected, although certainly ambitious in its breadth. Proposals spin out of it, one after the other, often just in a sentence or two. There are of course areas where there needs to be further thought or explanation. For me, there are two big ones in particular:
⁃ the way in which housing numbers are to be set by the Government for individual authorities and how to resolve the inevitable tension between a swifter examination process and a process that allows proposals in a plan (and the basis for proposals not being in the plan) to be properly tested (particularly where the plan is going to be the equivalent of a series of outline planning permissions for its growth areas);
⁃ how this new infrastructure levy is really going to work and how obligations are going to be addressed that presently are dealt with by way of section 106 agreement, in particular the delivery of affordable housing.
There will also have to be a clear working through of the respective powers and responsibilities across the system, as between government, strategic authorities, local planning authorities and neighbourhoods.
I must say that I found Chris Katkowski QC’s explanations in the latest Have We Got Planning News For You episode really helpful in bringing the proposals, and the thinking behind them, to life. And, boring to say, there is no substitute for reading the actual document.
Planning for the Future begins with some fairly combative language, referring to “our outdated and ineffective planning system” and drawing comparisons with a patched up building which needs to be torn down.
In truth the Government’s proposals do not go quite as far as that and in practice, to continue with the same analogy, we might end up with a better and more sustainable outcome if we were to save the parts of the “patched up building” which have architectural merit. The biggest problem with the current system is not that it is all inherently bad but that it is not sufficiently resourced; it is a pity that planning reforms by successive Governments have never really grappled with that central issue. The good news on this occasion is that the new system will be accompanied by a comprehensive skills and resources strategy for local authorities and key participants in the system; let’s hope the Government delivers on that.
Further on in the document there are some powerful words from the Secretary of State which bring home just how important a time this is for the planning system and what it can deliver. It is hard to disagree with any of this:
The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected the economic and social lives of the entire nation. With so many people spending more time at home than ever before, we have come to know our homes, gardens and local parks more intimately. For some this has been a welcome opportunity to spend more time in the place they call home with the people they love. For others – those in small, substandard homes, those unable to walk to distant shops or parks, those struggling to pay their rent, or indeed for those who do not have a home of their own at all – this has been a moment where longstanding issues in our development and planning system have come to the fore.
Onto the objectives for reform, which can be summarised as follows:
• Reduce complexity and with it, uncertainty and delay.
• In doing so, deliver a more competitive market with a greater diversity of developers.
• Remove the discretionary nature of individual development management decisions and replace it with a rule-based system of development control.
• In doing so, reduce planning risk and the cost of capital for development.
• Reduce the time it takes to produce a local plan.
• Simplify assessments of housing need, viability and environmental impacts.
• Restore public trust and encourage more widespread public participation.
• Get better at unlocking growth and opportunity, encouraging beautiful new places, supporting town and city centres and revitalising existing buildings as well as new development.
• Harness digital technology.
Linked to this is a long list of desired outcomes including the user experience, home ownership, access to infrastructure, economic growth and innovation.
We then come to the main proposals which the Government intends to bring forward:
1. Local plans
a. These will be simplified so that they only identify land for development, the sites that should be protected and the development that can take place. There would be three categories of land:
i. Growth – sites suitable for comprehensive development which, once allocated, will have outline approval for development.
ii. Renewal – sites where smaller scale development is appropriate, which would benefit from a statutory presumption in favour of development once allocated.
iii. Protected – sites with environmental or cultural characteristics where development should be subject to more stringent controls.
An alternative approach might be a more binary system (growth and renewal with permission in principle versus protected areas) or more scope for the existing development management approach in areas other than those allocated for “growth”.
b. Plans should become digital, visual and map-based, interactive and data rich, using a standardised approach to support open access.
c. Local plans (and neighbourhood plans) will be more focused on giving clear area-specific requirements for land that is allocated for growth and renewal including design codes; generic development management policies and duplication of national policy and guidance needs to be avoided.
d. Plans should be subject to a single test of achieving sustainable development instead of the current tests for soundness and the duty to co-operate. There would be no Sustainability Appraisal and instead this would be replaced by a simplified process for assessing the environmental impact of plans.
e. Local plans would meet housing need by reference to a standard method for establishing housing requirements developed and set at a national level; this would mean distributing the national housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes annually, and one million homes by the end of the Parliament, taking into account local factors including constraints, opportunities and affordability. The Housing Delivery Test would stay.
f. Local plans would have to be brought forward by reference to a fixed 30 month statutory timescale with six stages and individual timings for each stage.
g. Local planning authorities would be under a duty to review their plans every 5 years; powers of intervention would remain such as the issuing of directions and preparation of a plan in consultation with local people.
h. Neighbourhood Plans to be retained but with more focus on form of development to reflect the proposals for Local Plans.
This is a refreshingly clear vision of what local plans might become and a digitalised system would be transformative for the user experience and public engagement. However, there are some big questions around how to encourage strategic planning across local authority boundaries for the bigger than local issues (the Government is open to suggestions), how in practice the “sustainable development” test would work and, linked to that, how robust the new environmental assessment process will be.
Equally as important, what will the effect of these promised changes be on current local plans? Without further incentives or assurances around their continuing effect in any transitional arrangements as we switch over to the new system, there must be a real concern they will be halted in their tracks.
2. Development Management
a. As indicated above, growth areas allocated in a local plan would have outline permission for the principle of development; details would be agreed and full planning permission achieved through a new reserved matters process, a local development order or possibly, on bigger sites, via a development consent order.
b. Renewal areas would benefit from a new statutory presumption in favour of development and would benefit from either a new automatic consenting route where specified forms of development meet design and other prior approval requirements, a faster planning application process or a local or neighbourhood development order.
c. Proposals which do not conform to the local plan in renewal and growth areas could still come forward, exceptionally, through a planning application process.
d. In protected areas, proposals will have to be brought forward via a planning application (subject to any permitted development rights or local development orders) and will be judged against the NPPF.
e. Generally, the development management process will be based on a more streamlined end-to-end process with firm deadlines for determination through a mix of:
ii. Data access;
iii. Shorter and standardised applications with reduced or limited supporting material;
iv. A standardised approach to technical information, conditions and developer contributions; and
v. Delegation of detailed planning decisions to planning officers where the principle of development has been established.
f. The Government will build in incentives for prompt determination of applications by local planning authorities such as deemed approval of some applications or refunds of application fees.
g. The process will still be subject to call-in powers and appeals but the Government expects the volume of call-ins and appeals to reduce over time.
h. There will be encouragement for faster build out by making provision in local plans/design codes for a variety of development types by different builders (picking up on the conclusions of the Letwin Review).
This vision for the new development management system feels less clear: permission in principle and outline planning permission are used interchangeably in places as a consequence of land being allocated for growth; however, over and above this, there appears to be provision for a “full” planning permission through a new reserved matters system or local development orders or even development consent orders. Would this not remove a lot of the benefit of allocating land for growth? There is also a myriad of possible ways in which land allocated for renewal might gain consent and, in the meantime, we retain the current planning application process as well. If the Government is not careful it might add to the complexity of development management.
Certainly, we can all get on board with the much-needed streamlining of the development management process from end to end, with more standardisation, reducing the quantity of application documents and increased use of digital technology. However, resourcing this change will be key to its success.
3. Building better, building beautiful and sustainable places
Design and place-making is still high up on the Government’s political agenda. Proposals in this space include the following:
a. A National Model Design Code to be published in the Autumn which will work alongside the National Design Guide and the Manual for Streets; together these are expected to have a bearing on design of new communities and to guide decisions on development. (This will be an early entrant into the current planning system.)
b. Local guides and codes are to be prepared wherever possible to reflect local character but need to have input from the local community before they are given any weight in the planning process.
c. A new expert body will be set up to help local authorities make use of design guidance and codes, as well as performing a wider monitoring and challenge role for the sector.
d. The much-heralded “fast-track” for beauty will be achieved through:
i. The NPPF – which will have provision for schemes that comply with local design guides and codes to be approved quickly;
ii. Legislation to require that sites in growth areas should have a masterplan and site-specific code as a condition of the permission in principle which is granted through allocation in the local plan; and
iii. Widening permitted development rights through the use of “pattern books” for different building types.
e. The NPPF will require targeted consideration of measures to support climate change mitigation and adaptation. (In our view, policy has been playing catch-up on climate change for some time – this is long overdue and should be welcomed.)
f. There will be a quicker and simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts, stepping away from the current frameworks such as Strategic Environmental Assessment, Sustainability Appraisal and Environmental Impact Assessment. The key requirements for the new framework will be:
i. early consideration;
ii. clear and easy to understand; and
iii. avoidance of duplication.
A further consultation on this is expected in the Autumn.
g. The Government intends to review and update the planning framework for listed buildings and conservation areas, to ensure their significance is conserved while allowing, where appropriate, sympathetic changes to support their continued use and address climate change.
h. Improvements to the energy efficiency standards for buildings will be brought forward to help meet the 2050 net zero commitment.
The intention here is clear and consistent with the recent focus of the Government on design and beauty in the planning system. The area with the most loaded questions is the promised framework for assessing environmental impact; in our view, there is clear scope to reduce the voluminous and highly technical nature of the current framework but now is not the time to water it down in terms of its ambit and its protective function. We will have to wait until the Autumn to find out more.
There are radical proposals for the funding of infrastructure:
a. Replace S106 obligations and the current version of Community Infrastructure Levy with a new Infrastructure Levy calculated as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory, nationally-set rate or rates (potentially variable by area).
b. This new levy will be charged on the final value of a development (or an assessed sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. build to rent) by reference to the rate in force when planning permission is granted. This would have to be paid before occupation.
c. Local authorities would be able to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure.
d. The London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities could be retained.
e. The Infrastructure Levy Could be extended to capture changes of use without additional floor area and through permitted development.
f. The new levy would be extended to fund affordable housing. Allowance would be made for in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, a capability to deliver on site and wishes to do so. In those circumstances local authorities would be able to specify the form and tenure of the on-site provision. The Government anticipates that there would need to be a considered policy approach to the risk of imbalance between the value of the agreed in-kind delivery and the fluctuating nature of the levy liability, contingent as it will be on the development value.
g. Local authorities could be given more freedom on how they spend the levy.
There is a lot of detail to be worked through here. Setting the new levy at a level which does not deter development (and indeed land supply through the price paid by developers) will be key and a difficult issue to judge.
The Government will also need to be scrupulous in ensuring that affordable housing continues to come forward using levy funds and still comes forward as part of mixed and balanced communities.
The removal of the blunt and inflexible tool that we have come to love or hate in the form of CIL is welcome in our view and with it the removal of a considerable amount of confusing and time-consuming red tape. For practical reasons – not least delivering site-specific solutions for development – we are not sure we are witnessing the end of S106 obligations or an equivalent just yet but they will undoubtedly be slimmed down.
The consultation document ends with a few final proposals and thoughts from Government on the delivery of a new planning system:
a. As a first step there is a parallel consultation on changes to the current system including extension of Permission in Principle (by application to major development), the standard method for assessing local housing need, First Homes and supporting SME builders by temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing. More here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-current-planning-system
b. The Government sees a potential delivery role for development corporations.
c. The reforms are considered likely to reduce judicial review risk.
d. The need for resources and skills is recognised and will be addressed through a comprehensive strategy. In principle, the Government’s view is that the cost of operating the new planning system should be principally funded by the beneficiaries of planning gain – landowners and developers – rather than the national or local taxpayer. Funding may also be achieved through application fees and potentially the new infrastructure levy or- to a limited extent – general taxation.
e. The Government intends to strengthen the powers for local planning authorities to enforce against breach of planning control and provide incentives for enforcement action to be taken.
To end where this overview began, resources are key and a comprehensive strategy to ensure the sufficiency of funding and skills will be very welcome, as long as it does what it says on the tin. This will be vital to the success of the new system.
We know now what the Government wants to achieve. It is up to all of us in the sector to help them make it work and if parts of the system are worthy of retention for their “architectural” merit, to explain why that is, with reference to the Government’s objectives.
Where is this Planning Policy Paper then? Now presumably to be published by MHCLG next week, isn’t it odd to be making any such announcement when Parliament is no longer sitting, unless, anti-climatically, it is going be a factual update as to progress rather than the “big bang” moment many anticipated?
This post was just going to be a shameless plug for two webinars on the new Class E of the Use Classes Order that we at Town are running next week jointly with Landmark Chambers, at 5pm on 4 and 6 August, on the legal implications and the planning implications respectively. Details are below. We have had a great take-up (over 1,500 acceptances in total for the two sessions) but there is still capacity. What would we do without Zoom??
New Class E: The Legal Implications
5 pm Tuesday 4 August 2020
Practical answers to the questions arising from the amended Use Classes Order.
• How precisely will it work
• What about existing conditions and other restrictions?
• How to assess new applications and scope/risk of restrictive conditions
I was going to leave it at that, but then an interesting case was handed down earlier today: Rectory Homes Limited v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 31 July 2020). It doesn’t concern the recent Use Classes Order questions but rather the longstanding question as to how extra care housing should be categorised in use terms.
Usually the issue is C2 versus C3 (eg see my 16 September 2017 blog post Class Distinctions: Housing For Older People) but here it was a different question: was a proposed ‘Housing with Care’ development (Use Class C2)” development to be categorised as “dwellings” for the purposes of South Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan, which requires schemes for 3 or more dwellings to provide affordable housing? An inspector had dismissed Rectory’s planning appeal. Both parties at the appeal had agreed that the proposal fell within class C2. The difference was over whether the accommodation could be categorised as “dwellings”. “The Claimant’s stance was that because it was agreed that the residential accommodation did not fall within Class C3, none of those units could constitute a dwelling. SODC’s case was that the “housing with care” units were dwellings in both “form and function”, and as such could fall within the C2 Use Class provided that they are not in C3 use.”
The inspector found that the accommodation fell within C2 but that it comprised “dwellings” for the purposes of the policy. His reasoning was rather odd: “the Inspector appears to have taken the view that if each of the dwellings proposed would be ancillary to the C2 use of the site, the exclusion of dwellings falling within the C3 Use Class, upon which the Claimant had relied, could not apply.”
The inspector went on to find as follows:
“Taken as a whole the proposal would be contrary to the development plan in that it would materially exceed the maximum number of dwellings set out in the site specific policy in the [Thame Neighbourhood Plan]. It would cause harm to the setting of The Elms and to the [Thame Conservation Area], which are both designated heritage assets, contrary to the relevant policies in the SOLP, the SOCS and TNP; special attention and great weight should be given to these harms. It would also fail to provide affordable housing, in particular on-site, to deliver a mixed community, in line with the policies of the SOCS, the TNP and the Framework. While there would be compliance with other policies, I consider that these are the most important policies for the determination of this appeal. These policies are all up-to-date.
As explored above, the proposal would result in less than substantial harm to, and thus the significance of, both the setting of The Elms and to the TCA. These should be balanced in line with paragraph 196 of the Framework with the public benefits of the proposed development. In this regard I consider that the public benefits identified above would balance those heritage harms. This is in line with Policy HA4 of the TNP which allows for a balance to be undertaken as to the overall planning conclusion, but this would not mean that there was compliance with that policy overall due to the number of dwellings being proposed.
By failing to provide affordable housing on the appeal site, the proposal would result in very substantial harm. The need for owner occupied elderly persons extra care accommodation in the area does not outweigh this harm.”
Rectory challenged the decision. I only refer below to those issues arising which touch on use classes.
Holgate J makes a preliminary point, which is topical, given much discussion at the moment as to the advantages or disadvantages of defining proposals by way of the new class E, once the Use Classes Order changes take effect from 1 September:
“I deal first with a preliminary point. The Inspector suggested in his Pre-Inquiry Note that because the purpose of the Use Classes Order is to remove certain changes of use from development control, a planning permission ought not to be expressed in terms of a Use Class, particularly as that consent would be issued before the development is constructed and begins to be used. The principal parties at the inquiry did not see this as posing any legal difficulty and ultimately it did not appear in the Inspector’s reasoning in his decision letter. I agree with them on this point. For example, the provisions on certification of lawful development require that the lawfulness of an existing use (which may be based upon a planning permission), or the lawfulness of a proposed use, should be described by reference to any Use Class applicable (ss.191(5)(d) and 192(3)(b)). I therefore cannot see why the grant of a planning permission may not also be defined in terms of a Use Class.”
So, there is no reason not to define what is granted planning permission by way of a use class rather by way of a specific proposed use. (Obviously what is applied for will need to be justified by reference to the relevant development plan and other considerations. Absent clear government guidance, that is going to be a big issue in relation to the new Class E – how much weight should pre Class E development plan policies still have?).
The judge goes on to conclude that extra care accommodation can comprise dwellings:
“It has become well-established that the terms “dwelling” or “dwelling house” in planning legislation refer to a unit of residential accommodation which provides the facilities needed for day-to-day private domestic existence (Gravesham p. 146; Moore v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1998) 77 P & CR 114, 119; R (Innovia Cellophane Limited) v Infrastructure Planning Commission  PTSR 1132 at -). This concept is consistent with the Core Strategy’s interchangeable use of the words “dwelling”, “house”, “home” and “unit”. It can include an extra care dwelling, in the sense of a private home with the facilities needed for “independent living” but where care is provided to someone in need of care.”
Just because the proposed development is not within C3 does not mean that it cannot comprise dwellings for the purposes of policy. The inspector’s categorisation of the units of accommodation as ancillary to the main C2 use were seen by the judge as “wholly immaterial” to his decision.
Perhaps a reminder that, once we have all finished chewing over the uncertainties of new class E, the C classes are perhaps also in need of some updating…
(Zack: I reckon we could get a couple more webinars out of that exercise in due course…!)