The court has quashed the decision of the Secretary of State (“SST”), against his examining authority’s recommendations, to “grant a development consent order (“DCO”) […] for the construction of a new route 13 km long for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down which would replace the existing surface route. The new road would have a dual instead of a single carriageway and would run in a tunnel 3.3 km long through the Stonehenge part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site (“WHS”)“. I had written about the SST’s decision to grant the DCO in my 14 November 2020 blog post, Minister Knows Best (It is interesting to look back – all three of the DCO decisions I mentioned in that post have now been quashed, the others being Norfolk Vanguard Windfarm (also by Holgate J, in R (Pearce) v Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (18 February 2021) and also in February 2021 the quashing by consent order of the Manston Airport DCO).
The SST’s decision to grant the A303 (Amesbury to Berwick Down) Development Consent Order 2020, to give it its formal title, was challenged on five grounds, some of those with sub-grounds. They were, in full:
(i) The SST failed to apply paragraph 5.124 of the NPSNN (see  above) to 11 non-designated heritage assets;
(ii) The SST failed to consider the effect of the proposal on 14 scheduled ancient monuments (i.e. designated heritage assets);
(iii) The SST failed to consider the effect of the proposal on the setting of the heritage assets, as opposed to its effect on the OUV of the WHS as a whole;
(iv) The SST’s judgment that the proposal would cause less than substantial harm improperly involved the application of a “blanket discount” to the harm caused to individual heritage assets.
Ground 2– lack of evidence to support disagreement with the Panel
“The claimant submits that the SST disagreed with the Panel on the substantial harm issue without there being any proper evidential basis for doing so. Mr. Wolfe QC advances this ground by reference to the SST’s acceptance of the views of IP2 in DL 34, 43, 50 and 80. He submitted that IP2’s representations did not provide the SST with evidence to support his disagreement with the Panel on “substantial harm” in two respects. First, he said that HE only addressed the spatial aspect of the third main issue and did not address harm to individual assets or groups of assets. Second, he submitted that SST had misunderstood IP2’s position: it had never said that the harm would be less than substantial.”
Ground 3 – double-counting of heritage benefits
“The claimant submits that the SST not only took into account the heritage benefits of the scheme as part of the overall balancing exercise required by para. 5.134 of the NPSNN, but also took those matters into account as tempering the level of heritage disbenefit. It is said that this was impermissible double-counting because those heritage benefits were placed in both scales of the same balance.”
Ground 4 – whether the proposal breached the World Heritage Convention
“The claimant contends that the SST’s acceptance that the scheme would cause harm, that is less than substantial harm, to the WHS involved a breach of articles 4 and 5 of the Convention and therefore the SST erred in law in concluding that s.104(4) of PA 2008 was not engaged. It was engaged and so, it is submitted, the presumption in s.104(3) should not have been applied in the decision letter.”
(i) The SST failed to take into account any conflict with Core Policies 58 and 59 of the Wiltshire Plan and with policy 1d of the WHS Management Plan;
(ii) The SST failed to take into account the effect of his conclusion that the proposal would cause less than substantial harm to heritage assets on the business case advanced for the scheme;
(iii) The SST failed to consider alternative schemes in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.
The 39 Essex chambers press statement (this being a case well represented by barristers from that chambers: five of the seven appearing!) summarises the outcome as follows:
“The claim was allowed on two grounds:
· Part of ground 1(iv): that the Minister did not receive a precis of, or any briefing on, heritage impacts where the Examining Authority agreed with Highways England but did not summarise in their report. He therefore could not form any conclusion upon those heritage assets, whether in agreement or disagreement;
· Ground 5(iii): The Examining Authority and the Minister limited their concluded consideration of alternatives to whether an options appraisal had been carried out and whether there was information on alternatives. However, they did not go on to consider the relative merits of the scheme and alternatives, in particular extending the proposed tunnel farther westwards. Mr Justice Holgate considered it was irrational not to have drawn conclusions in relation alternatives, particularly given that third parties had raised them and the Examining Authority had addressed the information about them in its Report. The Judge held that the circumstances were wholly exceptional. In this case the relative merits of the alternative tunnel options compared to the western cutting and portals were an obviously material consideration which the Minister was required to assess and draw conclusions upon.
The Court rejected other grounds of challenge holding:
· There was no failure to consider whether certain archaeological sites were of national importance;
· The effects on certain individual scheduled monuments had been considered;
· The examining authority and the Minister had considered the effect on scheduled monuments and other heritage assets in addition to the World Heritage Site;
· The Minister had correctly understood Historic England’s advice;
· Discussing the recent Court of Appeal judgment in Bramshill the judge considered that in some cases a decision maker could consider the harm and benefits to a particular heritage asset before deciding whether there was net harm to it and that harm could be assessed for different purposes in different parts of guidance. In Stonehenge the court held that there had been no improper double counting or consideration;
· Articles 4 and 5 of the World Heritage Convention confers obligations on member states towards World Heritage Sites. The Court considered that the Convention does not impose an absolute requirement of protection, but that a balance can be drawn against harm and public benefits.
· The Minister had also lawfully considered the development plan, the World Heritage Site Management Plan and the business case.”
For those who may misunderstand the supervisory role of the courts, there was this warning from Holgate J:
“Plainly, this is a scheme about which strongly divergent opinions are held. It is therefore necessary to refer to what was said by the Divisional Court in R (Rights: Community: Action) v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government  PTSR 553 at :- “It is important to emphasise at the outset what this case is and is not about. Judicial review is the means of ensuring that public bodies act within the limits of their legal powers and in accordance with the relevant procedures and legal principles governing the exercise of their decision-making functions. The role of the court in judicial review is concerned with resolving questions of law. The court is not responsible for making political, social, or economic choices. Those decisions, and those choices, are ones that Parliament has entrusted to ministers and other public bodies. The choices may be matters of legitimate public debate, but they are not matters for the court to determine. The Court is only concerned with the legal issues raised by the claimant as to whether the defendant has acted unlawfully.”
The present judgment can only decide whether the decision to grant the DCO was lawful or unlawful. It would therefore be wrong for the outcome of this judgment to be treated as either approving or disapproving the project. That is not the court’s function.”
I thought it might be interesting to pick out some of the passages where Holgate J sets out his reasoning for finding the decision to have been unlawful:
“Here, the SST did receive a precis of the ES [environmental statement] and HIA [heritage impact assessment] in so far as the Panel addressed those documents in its report. But the SST did not receive a precis of, or any briefing on, the parts of those documents relating to impacts on heritage assets which the Panel accepted but did not summarise in its reports. This gap is not filled by relying upon the views of IP2 in the Examination because, understandably, they did not see it as being necessary for them to provide a precis of the work on heritage impacts in the ES and in the HIA. Mr Wolfe QC is therefore right to say that the SST did not take into account the appraisal in the ES and HIA of those additional assets, and therefore did not form any conclusion upon the impacts upon their significance, whether in agreement or disagreement.
In my judgment this involved a material error of law. The precise number of assets involved has not been given, but it is undoubtedly large. Mr Wolfe QC pointed to some significant matters. To take one example, IP1 assessed some of the impacts on assets and asset groupings not mentioned by the Panel as slight adverse and others as neutral or beneficial. We have no evidence as to what officials thought about those assessments. More pertinently, the decision letter drafted by officials (which was not materially different from the final document – see  above) was completely silent about those assessments. The draft decision letter did not say that they had been considered and were accepted, or otherwise. The court was not shown anything in the decision letter, or the briefing, which could be said to summarise such matters. In these circumstances, the SST was not given legally sufficient material to be able lawfully to carry out the “heritage” balancing exercise required by paragraph 5.134 of the NPSNN and the overall balancing exercise required by s.104 of the PA 2008. In those balancing exercises the SST was obliged to take into account the impacts on the significance of all designated heritage assets affected so that they were weighed, without, of course, having to give reasons which went through all of them one by one.”
Ground 5 (iii)
“The focus of the claimant’s oral submissions was that the defendant failed to consider the relative merits of two alternative schemes for addressing the harm resulting from the western cutting and portal, firstly, to cover approximately 800m of the cutting and secondly, to extend the bored tunnel so that the two portals are located outside the western boundary of the WHS.”
“The relevant circumstances of the present case are wholly exceptional. In this case the relative merits of the alternative tunnel options compared to the western cutting and portals were an obviously material consideration which the SST was required to assess. It was irrational not to do so. This was not merely a relevant consideration which the SST could choose whether or not to take into account. I reach this conclusion for a number of reasons, the cumulative effect of which I judge to be overwhelming. “
Holgate J goes on to set out in detail nine reasons on which he relies (see paragraphs 278 to 288 of the judgment).
The Secretary of State has an uneasy summer ahead: whether or not he seeks permission to appeal, is this a scheme he is still wedded to, cheek by jowl with his transport decarbonisation plan and promised review of the National Networks NPS? Awkwardly, the prime minister had only recently referred to the project in his 15 July 2021 levelling up speech as “critical and overdue”.
Can you make a u-turn on a trunk road?
Simon Ricketts, 30 July 2021
Personal views, et cetera
We will be discussing the case on clubhouse on 10 August (link here), our regular Planning Law, Unplanned panellist Victoria Hutton having appeared for the successful claimant. However, this coming Tuesday, 3 August 2021, our topic will be ££ affordable workspace in section 106 agreements: Why? how?££ led by my Town Legal colleague Lucy Morton and leading economist Ellie Evans (Volterra) plus other special guests. Join us! Link here.
This post collects together in one place some of the recent planning, environmental and compulsory purchase litigation in relation to the High Speed Two rail project.
R (Keir) v Natural England (16 April 2021, Lang J; further hearing before Holgate J, 23 April 2021, judgment reserved)
This is the interim injunction granted by Lang J preventing HS2 and its contractors from varying out works at Jones’ Hill Wood, Buckinghamshire, until either the disposal of the claim or a further order.
The claim itself has Natural England as the defendant and seeks to challenge its grant of a licence under the Conservation of Habitats Regulations 2017 in relation to works that may disturb a protected species of bat.
The question as to whether the injunction should be maintained came back to court yesterday, 23 April, before Holgate J, as well as whether permission should be granted in the claim itself, and he has reserved judgment until 2pm on 26 April.
Secretary of State for Transport v Curzon Park Limited (Court of Appeal hearing, 21 and 22 April 2021, judgment reserved)
This was an appeal by the Secretary of State for Transport against a ruling by the Upper Tribunal on 23 January 2020. My Town Legal colleagues Raj Gupta and Paul Arnett have been acting for the first respondent, landowner Curzon Park Limited, instructing James Pereira QC and Caroline Daly. Thank you Paul for this summary:
The case concerns certificates of appropriate alternative development (‘CAADs’) under the Land Compensation Act 1961. A CAAD is a means of applying to the local planning authority to seek a determination as to what the land could have been used for if the CPO scheme did not exist. Its purpose it to identify every description of development for which planning permission could reasonably have been expected to be granted on the valuation date if the land had not been compulsorily purchased. Importantly, subject to a right of appeal, the grant of a CAAD conclusively establishes that the development is what is known as ‘appropriate alternative development’. This is significant as:
• When compensation is assessed it must be assumed that planning permission for that development(s) in the CAAD either was in force at the valuation date or would with certainty be in force at some future date and
• Following reforms in the Localism Act 2001, where there is, at the valuation date, a reasonable expectation of a particular planning permission being granted (disregarding the CPO scheme and CPO) contained in a CAAD it is assumed that the planning permission is in force which converts the reasonable expectation into a certainty.
There are four adjoining sites, each compulsorily acquired by HS2 for the purposes of constructing the Curzon Street HS2 station terminus at Cuzon Street Birmingham – four different landowners and four different valuation dates (i.e. vesting dates under the GVD process). Each landowner applied for a CAAD for mixed use development including purpose-build student accommodation (PBSA). In the real world, the cumulative effects of the proposed adjoining developments (e.g. including but not limited to the proposed quantum and need for PBSA in light of a PBSA need in the local plan) would have been a material planning consideration. However, Birmingham City Council considered each CAAD application in isolation. The Secretary of State argued that they should have considered the other CAAD applications as notional planning applications and, therefore, as material considerations which would have been very likely to result in CAADs issued for smaller scale mixed-used development being issued leading to a lower total compensation award and bill for HS2. The preliminary legal issue to be determined by the Upper Tribunal and now the Court of Appeal is:
‘Whether, and if so how, in determining an application for a certificate of appropriate alternative development under section 17 LCA 1961 (CAAD) the decision-maker in determining the development for which planning permission could reasonably have been expected to be granted for the purposes of section 14 LCA 1961 may take into account the development of other land where such development is proposed as appropriate alternative development in other CAAD applications made or determined arising from the compulsory acquisition of land for the same underlying scheme’.
The Upper Tribunal had rejected the landowners’ argument that the scheme cancellation assumption (i.e. disregarding the CPO scheme) under the Land Compensation Act 1961 required CAAD applications on other sites to be disregarded. However, critically, the Tribunal agreed with the landowners’ that CAAD applications were not a material planning consideration and that there was no statutory basis for treating them as notional planning applications as the Secretary of State has argued. The Tribunal also disagreed with the Secretary of State that the landowners’ interpretation of the statutory scheme would lead to excessive compensation pointing out that the landowners’ ability to develop their own land in their own interests was taken away when their land was safeguarded for HS2 and from November 2013 when the HS2 scheme was launched until 2018 when the land interests were finally acquired by HS2 any planning permissions for these sites would have been determined in the shadow of the HS2 scheme and safeguarding of the land. The Secretary of State appealed the Upper Tribunal decision and the Court of Appeal granted permission to appeal in July 2020 noting that the appeal raises an important point on the principle of equivalence (i.e. the principle underpinning the CPO Compensation Code) that a landowner should be no worse off but no better off in financial terms after the acquisition than they were before) which may have widespread consequences for the cost of major infrastructure projects.
A judgment from the Court of Appeal (Lewison LJ, Lindblom LJ and Moylan LJ) is expected in the next month or so.
This was an appeal against the refusal by HS2 Limited to disclose, pursuant to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, information as to the potential effect of its works on chalk aquifers in the Colne Valley. The information requested was as follows:
“What risk assessments have taken place, of the potential increased risk to controlled waters as a result of imminent works by HS2 contractors along the Newyears Green bourne and surrounding wetland?
Are any of the risk assessments independent from the developers (HS2) and where are the risk assessment (sic) accessible to the public?”
By the time of the hearing before the First Tier Tribunal, three reports had been disclosed, redacted. The Tribunal summarised the issues before it as follows:
“(1) whether HS2 correctly identified the three reports as being the environmental information which Ms Green requested and whether there was further material held which came within the request;
(2) whether at the time of Ms Green’s request the three reports were “still in the course of completion” or comprised “unfinished documents” and, if so, whether the public interest in maintaining the regulation 12(4)(d) exception outweighed that in disclosure;
(3) whether disclosure of those parts of the three reports which have been redacted in reliance on regulation 12(5)(a) would have adversely affected “public safety” and, if so, whether the public interest in maintaining the regulation 12(5)(a) exception outweighed the public interest in their disclosure.”
The Tribunal found, expressing its reasoning in strong terms, that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the public interest in maintaining any exemption.
“The reports in question in this case concern a major infrastructure project which gives rise to substantial and legitimate environmental concerns. They specifically relate to the risks of contamination to the drinking water supplied to up to 3.2 million people resulting from the construction of the HS2 line. This is clearly environmental information of a fundamental nature of great public interest.”
HS2 appeared to be concerned that “if the versions of the reports current in January 2019 were made public they “… could have been used to try and impact work undertaken in finalising the information”.
“It seems to us that such an approach almost entirely negates the possibility of the public having any input on the decision-making process in this kind of case, which goes against a large part of the reason for allowing public access to environmental information.
The suggestion that public officials concerned in making enquiries and freely discussing options to mitigate environmental problems might be discouraged or undermined by early disclosure of their work seems to us rather fanciful and was not supported by any kind of evidence; the case is not comparable in our view to that of senior officials indulging in “blue sky” thinking about policy options. We accept that the material is “highly technical” but we cannot see why a lack of understanding on the part of the public would have any negative impact on HS2’s work; if a member of the public or a pressure group wanted to contribute to the debate in a way that was likely to have any effect on the decision-making process they would no doubt have to engage the services of someone like Dr Talbot, who would be able to enter the debate in a well- informed and helpful way.”
“HS2’s second main point, that the Environment Agency will be approving and supervising everything, does not seem to us of great weight. Of course the Environment Agency is there to act in the public interest in relation to the environment but its involvement cannot be any kind of answer to the need for public knowledge of and involvement in environmental decisions. The EA is itself fallible and should be open to scrutiny. If the public could simply entrust everything to it there would be no need for the EIR.
HS2’s third main point is that if inchoate information is released it could be misleading and they would incur unnecessary expense correcting false impressions. We were not presented with any specific evidence or examples to illustrate how this problem might have been encountered in practice. It does not seem to us a very compelling point.”
This was an interim ruling in an application for judicial review, made only nine days previously, of the decision by HS2 Limited to extract the protesters that were occupying the tunnel under Euston Square Gardens and alleging a failure to safely manage Euston Square Gardens in a manner compatible with HS2 Limited’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights. It followed a rejection of an application by Mr Maxey for an interim injunction and followed an order made requiring him to cease any further tunnelling activity, to provide certain categories of information to HS2 Limited or others and to leave the tunnel safely, with which he had not complied.
At the hearing, Mr Maxey was renewing his “application for orders requiring (a) the cessation of operations to extract the protesters from the tunnel and (b) to implement an exclusion zone. In addition, the Claimant has expanded the interest relief he seeks to include provision forthwith by the Defendant of (a) oxygen monitoring equipment; (b) a hard-wired communication method; (c) food and drinking water for the Claimant and the protesters; and (d) to make arrangements for the removal of human waste from the tunnel.” He was also seeking to overturn the orders against him.
The judge rejected Mr Maxey’s arguments:
“While I accept that the Defendant is (or at the very least there is a good argument that the Defendant is) currently under a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect those in the tunnel under the site (including the Claimant) from death or serious injury, on the evidence before me there is no realistic prospect of the Court finding that the Defendant is breaching its duty. In my judgment, the claim for interim relief does not meet the first test.
That suffices to dispose of the interim relief application. But if it were necessary to consider the balance of convenience, I would have to bear in mind the strong public interest in permitting a public authority’s decision (here a decision to proceed with the operation and a decision as to the necessary safeguards) to remain in force pending a final hearing of the application for judicial review, so the party applying for interim relief must make out a strong case for the grant of interim relief. The Claimant has not come close to establishing a strong enough case to justify the Court stopping the operations to remove those who are in the tunnel, given the compelling evidence as to how dangerous it is for them to remain there.”
I summarised this case in my 9 January 2021 blog post Judges & Climate Change. It was Chris Packham’s failed challenge to the Government’s decision to continue with the HS2 project following the review carried out by Douglas Oakervee, the grounds considered by the Court of Appeal being “whether the Government erred in law by misunderstanding or ignoring local environmental concerns and failing to examine the environmental effects of HS2 as it ought to have done” and “whether the Government erred in law by failing to take account of the effect of the project on greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050, in the light of the Government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008”.
This case was heard consecutively with the Packham appeal. It related to Hillingdon’s challenge to the Secretary of State’s decision to allow (against his inspector’s recommendations) an appeal against Hillingdon’s refusal to grant HS2 Limited’s application for approval, under the Act authorising the relevant stage of the HS2 project, of plans and specifications for proposed works associated with the creation of the Colne Valley Viaduct South Embankment wetland habitat ecological mitigation. HS2 Limited had refused to provide Hillingdon with information so that an assessment could be made as to the effect of the proposed works on archaeological remains, HS2 Limited’s position being that it was “under no obligation to furnish such information and evidence. It says that this is because it will, in due course, conduct relevant investigations itself into the potential impact of the development upon any archaeological remains and take all necessary mitigation and modification steps. HS2 Ltd says that it will do this under a guidance document which forms part of its contract with the Secretary of State for Transport which sets out its obligations as the nominated undertaker for the HS2 Project.”
Lang J had upheld the Secretary of State’s decision but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal:
“The key to this case lies in a careful reading of Schedule 17 and the powers and obligations it imposes upon local authorities and upon HS2 Ltd. In our judgment, the duty to perform an assessment of impact, and possible mitigation and modification measures under Schedule 17, has been imposed by Parliament squarely and exclusively upon the local authority. It cannot be circumvented by the contractor taking it upon itself to conduct some non-statutory investigation into impact. We also conclude that the authority is under no duty to process a request for approval from HS2 Ltd unless it is accompanied by evidence and information adequate and sufficient to enable the authority to perform its statutory duty.”
[Subsequent note: Please also see London Borough of Hillingdon v Secretary of State for Transport (Ouseley J, 13 April 2021), “Hillingdon 2” where on the facts Ouseley J reached a different conclusion, holding that an inspector had not acted unlawfully in determining an appeal without information sought by the council from HS2 Limited as to the lorry routes to be used by construction lorries to and from the HS2 construction sites within its area].
This was a judicial review claim brought by the owner of a listed Georgian building near Regents Park. The property was separated by a large retaining wall, built in 1901, from the perimeter of the existing railway. “It rests approximately 17 metres from the front of the property and the drop from the level of the road to the railway below is approximately 10 metres. Unsurprisingly, given that the substrate is London clay, the wall has suffered periodic movement and shows signs of cracking. The Claimant’s expert says that it is “metastable”.”
The claimant was concerned as to the engineering solution arrived at for that section of the route, which was known as the Three Tunnels design. “This judicial review challenge is directed to the safety of the Three Tunnels design in the specific context of the outbound tunnel travelling so close to the base of the retaining wall. It is contended on the back of expert engineering evidence that this aspect of the design has engendered an engineering challenge which is insurmountable: in the result, the design is inherently dangerous. The risk is of catastrophic collapse of the retaining wall, either during the tunnelling works or subsequently, which would if it arose cause at the very least serious damage to the Claimant’s property. Consequently, the Claimant asserts a breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 because her rights under Article 8 and A1P1 of the Convention have been violated.”
The judge boiled the questions down to the following:
“has the Claimant demonstrated that she is directly and seriously affected by the implementation of the Three Tunnels design, given the risk of catastrophic collapse identified by Mr Elliff? In my view, that question sub-divides into the following:
(1) should I conclude on all the evidence that the Three Tunnels design is so inherently flawed in the vicinity of the retaining wall that no engineering solution could be found to construct it safely? and
(2) have the Defendants already committed themselves to implement the Three Tunnels design regardless of any further work to be undertaken under Stage 2?
After detailed consideration of expert engineering expert on both sides, the judge rejected the claim.
This was a compulsory purchase case, about whether an owner of four units on the Saltley Business Park in Birmingham, faced with compulsory purchase of one of them, had served counter-notices in time such as to trigger its potential ability to require acquisition of its interests in all four buildings. The court ruled that it had not.
It certainly seems an age since R (HS2 Action Alliance) v Secretary of State for Transport (Supreme Court, 22 January 2014) where in a previous law firm life I acted for the claimant, instructing David Elvin QC and Charlie Banner (now QC). The case concerned whether the publication by the Government of its command paper, “High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps” engaged strategic environmental assessment requirements and whether the hybrid bill procedure would comply with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (for more on the HS2 hybrid bill procedure, see my 30 July 2016 blog post HS2: The Very Select Committeehttps://simonicity.com/2016/07/30/hs2-the-very-select-committee/). The loss still grates. And in consequence of that ruling…
There’s a slow, slow train comin’.
Simon Ricketts, 24 April 2021
Personal views, et cetera
Thank you to my Town Legal colleague Lida Nguyen for collating a number of these cases.
Our clubhouse Planning Law, Unplanned session at 6pm on 27 April will follow a similar theme, so if you are interested in issues relating to HS2 or in wider questions as to judicial review, interim injunctions, access to information or compulsory purchase compensation, do join us, whether to contribute to the discussion or just listen in. As always, contact me if you would like an invitation to the clubhouse app (which is still iphone only I’m afraid).
The book examines the tension inevitably faced by judges in interpreting the law, particularly in areas of public controversy (constitutional issues; “right to death”; family; discrimination; religion; privacy; access to justice): when should the application of common law principles (i.e. rules developed over time by the courts through the doctrine of precedent, as to matters not resolved by legislation) and changing expectations in society as to minimum rights that we should enjoy (a question legitimised to some extent, and in relation to some issues, by principles of statutory interpretation required under the Human Rights Act) lead judges to “make” law? And can Parliament prevent the Judiciary from constraining the Executive’s actions and decision making on particular issues, by way of ouster provisions in legislation?
“Ultimately, the British constitution relies on a delicate balance between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary: all three powers of the state must demonstrate good judgment if we are to be governed under the rule of law”.
The book is also essential background to the current Faulks review of administrative law (see my 12 September 2020 blog post).
The squeals come from those on the wrong side of rulings (of course with litigation that goes with the territory) or who choose to see the issues in too simplistic terms.
“Enemies of the people” was of course the infamous Daily Mail headline following the Supreme Court’s judgment in Miller (no 1). To my mind the press release by campaign group Plan B following R (Friends of the Earth Limited) v Heathrow Airport Limited (Supreme Court, 16 December 2020) was at least as bad:
The next edition of Rozenberg’s book surely needs to include a chapter on environmental and climate change issues. The Supreme Court was not “treasonous”! It is appalling and Trumpian to suggest it.
I do not consider that the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Court of Appeal’s ruling – holding that at the time the Secretary of State for Transport designated the Airports National Policy Statement in June 2018 the emissions reductions targets in the Paris Agreement had not formed part of government policy on climate change – was at all unexpected. Its conclusion was based on a plain, detailed, analysis of the position as at that date. My 7 March 2020 blog post on the Court of Appeal ruling can now be consigned to the scrap heap but I did, perhaps too politely, describe the ruling as “surprising” and say that it was “not obvious to me that the Court of Appeal’s conclusions would be safe against an appeal to the Supreme Court”! The Supreme Court sided with the initial findings of Holgate J and Hickinbottom LJ, sitting as a Divisional Court, at first instance.
Planning Court liaison judge Holgate J has a central role in this developing area of case law, revolving around the application of emissions reduction targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 – both sitting alone and as part of a Divisional Court (Whilst usually High Court cases are presided over by a single judge, in particularly important or complex cases the High Court can choose to sit as a Divisional Court, with a High Court judge and a Court of Appeal judge sitting together).
Earlier in the year, Court of Appeal, in R (Packham) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 31 July 2020) , upheld the first instance rejection by Holgate J and Coulson LJ (also sitting as a Divisional Court) of Chris Packham’s challenge to the Government’s decision to continue with the HS2 project following the review carried out by Douglas Oakervee.
The Court of Appeal:
“ground 3b is whether the Government erred in law by failing to take account of the effect of the project on greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050, in the light of the Government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008.”
“In our view it is impossible to infer from the report any failure by the panel to have regard to the Government’s relevant statutory and policy commitments on climate change. And the Government did not demonstrably commit any such error in making its decision. On this point too, we agree with the Divisional Court. There is nothing to show that the Government either ignored or misunderstood the legal implications of proceeding with HS2 for its obligations relating to climate change, including those arising from the Paris Agreement and under the provisions of the Climate Change Act.”
“… the Oakervee review was not an exercise compelled, or even provided for, in any legislation relating to climate change, in any legislation relating to major infrastructure, or in any legislation at all. It finds no place in the arrangements set in place by the Climate Change Act. Nor does it belong to any other statutory scheme, such as the Planning Act, in which the consequences of major infrastructure development for climate change are explicitly provided for as a necessary feature of decision-making. The same goes for the Government’s own decision on the future of HS2.”
Following a hearing in November 2020, judgment is yet to be handed down by the Court of Appeal in ClientEarth v Secretary of State, where at first instance Holgate J rejected a challenge to the Drax power station DCO.
This was a challenge to a planning permission granted by Surrey County Council to retain two oil wells at Horse Hill, Hookwood, Horley, Surrey and to drill four new wells, for the production of hydrocarbons over a period of 25 years.
The main issue was “whether a developer’s obligation under the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017 No. 571) (“the 2017 Regulations”) to provide an environmental statement (“ES”) describing the likely significant effects of a development, both direct and indirect, requires an assessment of the greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions resulting from the use of an end product said to have originated from that development.” Should the environmental statement in relation to the project have assessed the greenhouse gases “that would be emitted when the crude oil produced from the site is used by consumers, typically as a fuel for motor vehicles, after having been refined elsewhere.” Was that an indirect effect of the development?
“The UK Government’s fundamental objective in relation to climate change is enshrined in s.1(1) of the Climate Change Act 2008 (“CCA 2008”) which, as amended with effect from 27 June 2019, imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for 2050 is at least 100% lower than the 1990 baseline. This is generally referred to as “the net zero target“.
It goes without saying that the extraction of crude oil resulting in the supply of fuel will result in GHG emissions when that end product is used. It is common ground that that is addressed by Government policy on climate change and energy, aimed inter alia at reducing the use of hydrocarbons. The issue raised in the present challenge is whether, by virtue of the 2017 Regulations, it was necessary for the planning authority to go further than apply those policies in its decision on whether to grant planning permission for the development, by requiring those GHG emissions to be estimated and assessed as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) of the development.”
“In my judgment, the fact that the environmental effects of consuming an end product will flow “inevitably” from the use of a raw material in making that product does not provide a legal test for deciding whether they can properly be treated as effects “of the development” on the site where the raw material will be produced for the purposes of exercising planning or land use control over that development. The extraction of a mineral from a site may have environmental consequences remote from that development but which are nevertheless inevitable. Instead, the true legal test is whether an effect on the environment is an effect of the development for which planning permission is sought. An inevitable consequence may occur after a raw material extracted on the relevant site has passed through one or more developments elsewhere which are not the subject of the application for planning permission and which do not form part of the same “project”.
The inevitability that the crude oil to be transported off site will eventually lead to additional GHG emissions when the end product is consumed is simply a response to the defendant’s point that when the oil leaves the site it becomes an indistinguishable part of the international oil market, so that the GHG emissions generated by combustion in vehicles cannot be attributed to any particular oil well or well site. Like the debate between the witness statements as to whether the oil produced on the site would only displace oil production elsewhere or would instead increase overall net consumption, these are forensic arguments about the market consequences of extracting oil at the site which do not address the real legal issues raised by ground 1(a).”
“Although it is not essential to my conclusions on this challenge, I should record in passing that I do not accept the proposition that there are no other measures in place within the UK for assessing and reducing GHG emissions from the combustion of oil products in motor vehicles. The measures include the net zero target in the CCA 2008, and the various matters referred to in  to  above. The overall responsibility for the economy-wide transition to a low carbon society is the responsibility of the UK Government (Packham at ). A range of measures is being pursued to achieve a reduction in the consumption of oil products including road pricing, taxation and future controls on the source of energy which may be used by vehicles. The object of these measures is to reduce substantially the demand for diesel and petrol from UK consumers.
The claimant fairly says that these measures do not affect the consumption of oil products by consumers in other countries. But, on the other hand, the Paris Agreement was signed by many countries throughout the world and it is the responsibility of each such country to determine its contribution to achieving the global target for 2050. Whether these issues are thought to be adequately addressed in other countries, or even in the UK, can provide no guide to the interpretation of our domestic legislation on EIA for the consenting of new development.”
“Essentially, development control and the EIA process are concerned with the use of land for development and the effects of that use. They are not directed at the environmental effects which result from the consumption, or use, of an end product, be it a manufactured article or a commodity such as oil, gas or electricity used as an energy source for conducting other human activities.”
A decision the other way clearly could have had very wide implications – a good example of the boundary between making law and interpreting it.
Campaign groups have of course long used litigation as a means of applying political pressure for change. That is a particular feature of the climate change area, with existing campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and ClientEarth, now joined by the likes of Plan B, the Good Law Project and Rights : Community : Action.
The Good Law Project had brought legal proceedings seeking to require the Government to review its energy national policy statements to reflect current climate change targets. Whether or not as a result of those proceedings, the Government has now confirmed that it will do exactly that in its Energy white paper, Powering our net zero future (14 December 2020)
“We will complete a review of the existing energy National Policy Statements (NPS), with the aim of designating updated NPS by the end of 2021.
The suite of energy NPS establish the need for new energy infrastructure and set out a framework for the consideration of applications for development consent. We have decided that it is appropriate to review the NPS, to ensure that they reflect the policies set out in this white paper and that we continue to have a planning policy framework which can deliver the investment required to build the infrastructure needed for the transition to net zero. Work on this review will start immediately, with the aim of designating updated NPS by the end of 2021.
This white paper shows that the need for the energy infrastructure set out in energy NPS remains, except in the case of coal-fired generation. While the review is undertaken, the current suite of NPS remain relevant government policy and have effect for the purposes of the Planning Act 2008. They will, therefore, continue to provide a proper basis on which the Planning Inspectorate can examine, and the Secretary of State can make decisions on, applications for development consent. Nothing in this white paper should be construed as setting a limit on the number of development consent orders which may be granted for any type of generating infrastructure set out in the energy NPS. Other restrictions outside the planning regime (in particular the Emissions Performance Standard) mean that no new coal infrastructure projects can come forward.”
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Heathrow case, the Good Law Project’s focus immediately turned to the Airports National Policy Statement. On 18 December 2020 a pre-action protocol letter was sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, requesting that he:
“(i) considers whether it is appropriate to review the Airports National Policy Statement on new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the South East of England (NPS) pursuant to section 6 of the Planning Act 2008 (PA 2008); and
(ii) considers whether it is appropriate to suspend all or part of the ANPS pursuant to section 11 of the PA 2008”
in the light, amongst other things, of “significant changes in the science and domestic policy on Climate Change” since the designation of the policy statement in June 2018. A response was requested by 18 January 2021.
In the wake of the Heathrow judgment, Plan B was reported as considering bringing a claim in the European Court of Human Rights. That would in my view be an uphill struggle, particularly at this policy setting rather than development consent stage, although of course it is interesting to see how climate change human rights law has been developing – see for example the Dutch Supreme Court judgment in the Urgenda case (the background is set out in my 28 September 2019 blog post Urgent Agenda/Urgenda written after the Dutch Court of Appeal’s ruling in that case, upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court). Based on articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the court ordered that the state was to reduce greenhouse gases by the end of 2020 by at least 25% compared to 1990.
The Bingham road-map
I’ll end by quoting again from Rozenberg’s book, where he sets out Lord Bingham’s “road-map” of warning signs which should be heeded by judges who are considering making new law:
1. where reasonable and right-minded citizens have legitimately ordered their affairs on the basis of a certain understanding of the law;
2. where, although a rule of law is seen to be defective, its amendment calls for a detailed legislative code, with qualifications, exceptions and safeguards which cannot feasibly be introduced by judicial decisions;
3. where the question involves an issue of current social policy on which there is no consensus within the community;
4. where an issue is the subject of current legislative activity;
5. where the issue arises in a field far removed from ordinary judicial experience.
Why at the moment do ministers conclude so often that they have to reject their inspectors’ recommendations in relation to planning proposals and major infrastructure projects?
Something is clearly wrong when there can be a hugely expensive, time consuming inquiry or examination, followed by a lengthy, considered and reasoned report, only for the decision letter to arrive at a different balance. Is it the fault of inspectors? Has Government not communicated its up to date policy priorities? Are these decisions driven by political convenience? The problem is that we don’t get to find out – the minister’s decision is inevitably as bland as bland, with differences cloaked by “legal cover” explanations as to the different weight applied to particular considerations. Is it any wonder that the losing party so frequently then embarks on a legal challenge?
Anglia Square, Norwich
Yesterday (13 November 2020), Robert Jenrick issued his decision letter refusing, against his inspector’s recommendations, a called in application for planning permission in relation to the proposed development at Anglia Square, Norwich of “up to 1250 dwellings, hotel, ground floor retail and commercial floorspace, cinema, multi-storey car parks, place of worship and associated works to the highway and public realm areas”. The proposal included a 20 storey tower. Inspector David Prentis had held an inquiry over 15 days in January and February 202, providing his 206 page report to the Secretary of State on 6 June 2020. Russell Harris QC appeared for the applicant (Weston Homes and others), Tim Corner QC appeared for Norwich City Council and Historic England (represented by Guy Williams), Save Britain’s Heritage (represented by Matthew Dale-Harris), the Norwich Society and the Norwich Cycling Campaign were all rule 6 parties.
Why was the inspector’s recommendation not accepted?
“The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s assessment at IR468- 469 of the building typologies proposed, and their height. While he recognises that there has been an effort to place the taller buildings within the site rather than on the edges, the Secretary of State considers that the bulk and massing of the built form proposed is not sympathetic to its context. In particular, he is concerned that the frontage to St Crispins Road would include 8, 10 and 12 storey buildings, and he finds, like the Inspector at IR607, that Block F, which would have frontages to Pitt Street and St Crispins Road, would appear strikingly different and unfamiliar, to an extent that would cause harm. The Secretary of State also concurs with the advice of Design South East as quoted in the evidence of Historic England (IR269 and IR474) that:
“with blocks of over 10 storeys, it is only in comparison with the tower that these could be considered low rise, and in the context of the wider city they are very prominent. These blocks are not just tall, but also very deep and wide, creating monoliths that are out of scale with the fine grain of the surrounding historic urban fabric”
He “finds that the tower would be of an excessive size in relation to its context, and does not demonstrate the exceptional quality required by Policy DM3(a).”
The Secretary of State “disagrees with the Inspector on the scale of the heritage benefits of the proposal set out in IR542, specifically the second bullet given his concerns over the design of the proposal. Taking account of the wider heritage impacts of the scheme as set out in paragraphs 27 to 59 of this letter, the Secretary of State disagrees with the Inspector and finds that, while the benefits of the scheme are sufficient to outweigh the less than substantial harm to the listed buildings identified at IR536-540, when considered individually, they do not do so when considered collectively, given the range and number of heritage assets affected, and given the increased harm found in comparison to the Inspector. He therefore finds, like the Inspector, that the proposals would conflict with policy DM9. He has also found conflict with elements of policies JCS1 which states that heritage assets, and the wider historic environment will be conserved and enhanced through the protection of their settings, and conflict with elements of policy DM1 which states that development proposals will be expected to protect and enhance the physical, environmental and heritage assets of the city.”
“Overall the Secretary of State concludes that the benefits of the scheme are not sufficient to outbalance the identified ‘less than substantial’ harm to the significance of the designated heritage assets identified at IR536-537 and in paragraphs 27-59 above. He considers that the balancing exercise under paragraph 196 of the Framework is therefore not favourable to the proposal.”
Yesterday (12 November 2020) Grant Shapps overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the A3030 Stonehenge DCO. The examining authority comprised no fewer than five inspectors (Wendy McKay, Alan Novitzky, David Richards, Ken Taylor and Edwin Maund).
Why was their recommendation rejected?
“ It is the ExA’s opinion that when assessed in accordance with NPSNN, the Development’s effects on the OUV of the WHS, and the significance of heritage assets through development within their settings taken as a whole would lead to substantial harm [ER 5.7.333]. However, the Secretary of State notes the ExA also accepts that its conclusions in relation to cultural heritage, landscape and visual impact issues and the other harms identified, are ultimately matters of planning judgment on which there have been differing and informed opinions and evidence submitted to the examination [ER 7.5.26]. The Secretary of State notes the ExA’s view on the level of harm being substantial is not supported by the positions of the Applicant, Wiltshire Council, the National Trust, the English Heritage Trust, DCMS and Historic England. These stakeholders place greater weight on the benefits to the WHS from the removal of the existing A303 road compared to any consequential harmful effects elsewhere in the WHS. Indeed, the indications are that they consider there would or could be scope for a net benefit overall to the WHS [ER 5.7.54, ER 5.7.55, ER 5.7.62, ER 5.7.70, ER 5.7.72 and ER 5.7.83].”
“Ultimately, the Secretary of State prefers Historic England’s view on this matter for the reasons given [ER 5.7.62 – 5.7.69] and considers it is appropriate to give weight to its judgment as the Government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment, including world heritage. The Secretary of State is satisfied therefore that the harm on spatial, visual relations and settings is less than substantial and should be weighed against the public benefits of the Development in the planning balance.”
See also his overall conclusions at paragraphs 80 to 86.
Again, as with Anglia Square, the position of Historic England proved influential, as was that of the National Trust and other bodies.
A legal challenge from campaigners appears inevitable.
On 9 July 2020 Grant Shapps also overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the Manston Airport DCO. The examining authority comprised four inspectors (Kelvin MacDonald, Martin Broderick, Jonathan Hockley and Jonathan Manning).
The proposals would permit the reopening and development of Manston Airport, enabling it to become a dedicated air freight facility handling at least 10,000 air cargo movements each year, with the offer of some passenger, executive travel, and aircraft engineering services.
Why was the examining authority’s recommendation to reject the proposals not accepted?
“For the reasons above, the Secretary of State disagrees with the ExA’s recommendation to refuse development consent. As set out above in paragraphs 20 and 21, the Secretary of State considers there is a clear case of need for the Development and this should be given substantial weight. He considers the Development would support the government’s policy objective to make the UK one of the best-connected countries in the world and for the aviation sector to make a significant contribution to economic growth of the UK and comply with the Government’s aviation policy that airports should make the best use of their existing capacity and runways, subject to environmental issues being addressed. Substantial weight is given by the Secretary of State to the conclusion that the Development would be in accordance with such policies and that granting development consent for the Development would serve to implement such policy. The Secretary of State also considers that there are significant economic and socio-economic benefits which would flow from the Development, which should also be given substantial weight.
The Secretary of State accepts that there is the potential for short term congestion and delays on the local road system caused by the Development to occur before appropriate mitigation is delivered; however, he considers that the residual cumulative impacts would not be severe and gives limited weight to these effects. He concludes that the need and public benefits that would result from the Development clearly outweigh the heritage harm and the harm that may be caused to the tourist industry in Ramsgate. The Secretary of State also concludes that with the restrictions imposed by him in the DCO and also through the UUs only limited weight should be given to noise and vibration adverse effects.
For the reasons set out in paragraphs 24-26 above, the Secretary of State is content that climate change is a matter that should be afforded moderate weight against the Development in the planning balance. He does not agree with the ExA that operational matters weigh moderately against the grant of development consent being given for the Development.
The Secretary of State is content that the impacts of the Development in terms of air quality [ER 8.2.28 – 8.2.43]; biodiversity [ER 8.2.44 – 8.2.62]; ground conditions [ER 8.2.76 – 8.2.82]; landscape, design and visual impact [ER 8.2.104 – 8.2.120]; and water resources [ER 8.2.219 – 8.2.227] are of neutral weight in the decision as to whether to make the DCO.
When all the above factors are weighed against each other either individually or in- combination, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the benefits outweigh any adverse impacts of the Development.”
An objector, Jenny Dawes, has challenged the decision. Her crowdfunding page gives some basic information.
The claim was filed on 20 August and was granted permission by the High Court on about 14 October to proceed to a full hearing. It doesn’t seem that a hearing date has yet been set. The barristers are Paul Stinchcombe QC, Richard Wald QC and Gethin Thomas.
Norfolk Vanguard offshore windfarm
On 1 July 2020 Alok Sharma overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the Norfolk Vanguard offshore windfarm DCO. The examining authority comprised four inspectors (Karen Ridge (Lead Member), Caroline Jones, Gavin Jones and Grahame Kean).
Why was their recommendation to reject the proposals not accepted?
“The Secretary of State notes that the ExA determined that consent should not be granted for the proposed Development because of potential impacts on habitats and species afforded protection under the Habitats Directive. In determining that it was not possible on the basis of the information available to it to rule out an AEoI on two sites protected by the Directive – the Flamborough and Filey Coast Special Protection Area and the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area – the ExA concluded that the proposed Development would not be in accordance with NPS EN- 1 and could not therefore be granted consent.
However, in other respects, the ExA concluded that, while there would be impacts arising from the proposed Development across a range of issues (including on local landscape and traffic and transport), those impacts were not of such significance or would be mitigated to such a degree as to be not significant as to outweigh the substantial benefits that would derive from the development of a very large, low carbon, infrastructure project. The ExA notes that, if one set aside the conclusion on Habitats-related issues, then in all other matters, the proposed Development would be in accordance with the National Policy Statements and national policy objectives. This conclusion was subject to some clarification on specific points, including mitigation proposals.
As is set out elsewhere in this submission, in light of the ExA’s Report to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State consulted a range of parties including the Applicant about the Habitats-related issues and other relevant matters that had been raised in the ExA’s Report. On Habitats, further information on potential bird impacts such that the Secretary of State is now able to conclude that, on balance, there would be no Adverse Impact on Integrity for the Flamborough and Filey Coast Special Protection Area and the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area.
The Secretary of State notes that there were a range of views about the potential impacts of the Development with strong concerns expressed about the impacts on, among other things, the landscape around the substation, traffic and transport impacts and potential contamination effects at the site of the F-16 plane crash. However, he has had regard to the ExA’s consideration of these matters and to the mitigation measures that would be put in place to minimise those impacts wherever possible. The Secretary of State considers that findings in the ExA’s Report and the conclusions of the HRA together with the strong endorsement of offshore wind electricity generation in NPS EN-1 and NPS EN-3 mean that, on balance, the benefits of the proposed Development outweigh its adverse impacts. He, therefore, concludes that development consent should be granted in respect of the Development.”
Lang J granted permission on 2 July 2020 in relation to a crowdfunded legal challenge brought by an objector, Ray Pearce.
Drax Power Station Re-Powering Project
These DCO overturn instances are of course not new. On 9 October 2019 Alok Sharma overturned the examining authority’s recommendation and confirmed the Drax Power Station Re-Powering Project DCO. A challenge to the decision failed: ClientEarth v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 22 May 2020).
Nor of course are such instances new when it comes to planning appeals and call-ins.
Might I suggest that a review be carried out as to why they are occurring so often?
When I saw a limelon for the first time yesterday (some recently marketed lime/melon hybrid since you ask, and tangy and refreshing it is indeed), I naturally thought of the proposed combined infrastructure levy: what on earth is it?
Planning For The Future is of course work in progress and it may be churlish for us to expect it to have all the answers. After all, it is up to us to provide cogent responses to the current consultation process.
But the sections in the document on infrastructure contributions are very light indeed, given the central role that section 106 and the community infrastructure levy play in the current system and the obvious complexity of arriving at a system for a combined infrastructure levy that on the one hand does not choke off various forms of development in some areas by making it unviable and that on the other hand both (1) raises sufficient monies to secure the delivery of necessary social (e.g. affordable housing) and physical infrastructure and also (2) ensures for the benefit of both communities and developers that the infrastructure will actually be provided in the right place, at the right time.
•Update the evidence on the current value and incidence of planning obligations
• Investigate the relationship between CIL and S106
• Understand negotiation processes and delays to the planning process
• Explore the monitoring and transparency of developer contributions
• Understand the early effects and expectations for the changes to developer contributions brought in by the revisions to the NPPF
Chapter 3 (The value of Planning Obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy) sets out some interesting findings:
“• The estimated value of planning obligations agreed and CIL levied in 2018/19 was £7.0 billion. This valuation is premised upon the assumptions identified in the appendix, corresponding to survey validity, respondent representation and the distribution of values.
• When adjusted to reflect inflation the total value of developer contributions in real terms is £500 million higher than in 2016/17, £300 million higher than in 2007/08.
• 67% of the value of agreed developer contributions was for the provision of affordable housing, at £4.7 billion; this is the same proportion as in 2016/17 and is the joint-highest to date.
• 44,000 affordable housing dwellings were agreed in planning obligations in 2018/19. This is a reduction since 2016/17, but the value of this housing has increased over the same period due to an increase in house prices in many areas with higher developer contributions.
• The value of CIL levied by LPAs was £830 million in 2018/19, with a further £200 million levied by the Mayor of London.
• The geographic distribution of planning obligations and CIL is weighted heavily towards the south of England. The South East, South West and London regions account for 61% of the total value. However, the value of developer contributions exacted in London has fallen since 2016/17 – down from 38% to 28% of the total aggregate value.”
There is nothing in the white paper that explicitly draws from the findings of that report in order to arrive at the wholly new mechanism that is proposed.
Some people seem to have picked up the message that the white paper means the end of the community infrastructure levy – a cause for celebration in some parts. But the white paper’s proposal for a combined infrastructure levy to my mind is CIL writ large, potentially just as complex, with a whole new set of rate setting, liability, payment and spending mechanisms and with the express objective of raising more monies than the current system. It warrants its own focus at this point, away from the noise of the other proposals in the white paper.
How to begin to unpick what is proposed in relation to CIL and section 106 planning obligations (and what the proposals in relation to section 106 mean for the delivery of affordable housing in particular)? I wrote down for myself five basic questions:
1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?
2. What will happen to CIL?
3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?
4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?
5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?
In order to try to answer them (in a way which would have to work in relation to all of the proposed consenting routes: DCO, outline planning permission in plan, PiP (if different from outline permission in plan, not sure!), traditional planning permission, PD), then I cut and pasted the relevant passages from the white paper in their entirety (only leaving out the detail of some of the “alternative options” floated and leaving out the questions raised in the consultation). It is easy to read summaries and think “well there must be more detail in the document itself”. It is worth reading these passages to see the totality of the proposals.
After these passages I then see how far we can get in answering my questions.
“The process for negotiating developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure is complex, protracted and unclear: as a result, the outcomes can be uncertain, which further diminishes trust in the system and reduces the ability of local planning authorities to plan for and deliver necessary infrastructure. Over 80 per cent of planning authorities agree that planning obligations cause delay. It also further increases planning risk for developers and landowners, thus discouraging development and new entrants.”
“1.19. Fourth, we will improve infrastructure delivery in all parts of the country and ensure developers play their part, through reform of developer contributions. We propose:
• The Community Infrastructure Levy and the current system of planning obligations will be reformed as a nationally-set value-based flat rate charge (‘the Infrastructure Levy’). A single rate or varied rates could be set. We will aim for the new Levy to raise more revenue than under the current system of developer contributions, and deliver at least as much – if not more – on-site affordable housing as at present. This reform will enable us to sweep away months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements and the need to consider site viability. We will deliver more of the infrastructure existing and new communities require by capturing a greater share of the ulpift [sic] in land value that comes with development.
• We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision.
• We will give local authorities greater powers to determine how developer contributions are used, including by expanding the scope of the Levy to cover affordable housing provision to allow local planning authorities to drive up the provision of affordable homes. We will ensure that affordable housing provision supported through developer contributions is kept at least at current levels, and that it is still delivered on-site to ensure that new development continues to support mixed communities. Local authorities will have the flexibility to use this funding to support both existing communities as well as new communities.
• We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights, so that additional homes delivered through this route bring with them support for new infrastructure.
“4.5. Securing necessary infrastructure and affordable housing alongside new development is central to our vision for the planning system. We want to bring forward reforms to make sure that developer contributions are:
• responsive to local needs, to ensure a fairer contribution from developers for local communities so that the right infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered;
• transparent, so it is clear to existing and new residents what new infrastructure will accompany development;
• consistent and simplified, to remove unnecessary delay and support competition in the housebuilding industry;
• buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.
4.6. The Government could also seek to use developer contributions to capture a greater proportion of the land value uplift that occurs through the grant of planning permission, and use this to enhance infrastructure delivery. There are a range of estimates for the amount of land value uplift currently captured, from 25 to 50 per cent. The value captured will depend on a range of factors including the development value, the existing use value of the land, and the relevant tax structure – for instance, whether capital gains tax applies to the land sale. Increasing value capture could be an important source of infrastructure funding but would need to be balanced against risks to development viability.”
“4.7. We propose that the existing parallel regimes for securing developer contributions are replaced with a new, consolidated ‘Infrastructure Levy’.
Proposal 19: The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished.”
“4.8. We believe that the current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.
4.9. This would be based upon a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates. This would address issues in the current system as it would:
be charged on the final value of a development (or to an assessment of the sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. for homes built for the rental market), based on the applicable rate at the point planning permission is granted;
• be levied at point of occupation, with prevention of occupation being a potential sanction for non-payment;
• include a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold ; and
• provide greater certainty for communities and developers about what the level of developer contributions are expected alongside new development.
4.10. The single rate, or area-specific rates, would be set nationally. It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system. Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.
4.11. As a value-based charge across all use classes, we believe it would be both more effective at capturing increases in value and would be more sensitive to economic downturns. It would reduce risk for developers, and would reduce cashflow difficulties, particularly for SME developers.
4.12. In areas where land value uplift is insufficient to support significant levels of land value capture, some or all of the value generated by the development would be below the threshold, and so not subject to the levy. In higher value areas, a much greater proportion of the development value would be above the exempt amount, and subject to the levy.
4.13. To better support the timely delivery of infrastructure, we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster. As with all volatile borrowing streams, local authorities should assure themselves that this borrowing is affordable and suitable.
4.14. Under this approach the London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure.
4.15. In bringing forward the reformed Infrastructure Levy, we will need to consider its scope. We will also consider the impact of this change on areas with lower land values.”
Alternative options proposed: “The Infrastructure Levy could remain optional and would be set by individual local authorities”. “Alternatively, the national rate approach could be taken, but with the aim of capturing more land value than currently, to better support the delivery of infrastructure”
“Proposal 21: The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision
4.20. Developer contributions currently deliver around half of all affordable housing, most of which is delivered on-site. It is important that the reformed approach will continue to deliver on-site affordable housing at least at present levels.
4.21. Affordable housing provision is currently secured by local authorities via Section 106, but the Community Infrastructure Levy cannot be spent on it. With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing.
4.22. This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. [Footnote: As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106. ] First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.
4.23. Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way.
4.24. We would also need to ensure the developer was incentivised to deliver high build and design quality for their in-kind affordable homes. Currently, if Section 106 homes are not of sufficient quality, developers may be unable to sell it to a provider, or have to reduce the price. To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality. It is important that any approach taken maintains the quality of affordable housing provision as well as overarching volumes, and incentivises early engagement between providers of affordable housing and developers. Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site. Through borrowing against further Infrastructure Levy receipts, other sources of funding, or in partnership with affordable housing providers, they could then build affordable homes, enabling delivery at pace.
4.25. Alternative option: We could seek to introduce further requirements around the delivery of affordable housing. To do this we would create a ‘first refusal’ right for local authorities or any affordable housing provider acting on their behalf to buy up to a set proportion of on-site units (on a square metre basis) at a discounted price, broadly equivalent to build costs. The proportion would be set nationally, and the developer would have discretion over which units were sold in this way. A threshold would be set for smaller sites, below which on-site delivery was not required, and cash payment could be made in lieu. Where on-site units were purchased, these could be used for affordable housing, or sold on (or back to the developer) to raise money to purchase affordable housing elsewhere. The local authority could use Infrastructure Levy funds, or other funds, in order to purchase units.”
“Proposal 22: More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy
4.26. It is important that there is a strong link between where development occurs and where funding is spent. Currently, the Neighbourhood Share of the Community Infrastructure Levy ensures that up to 25 per cent of the levy is spent on priorities in the area that development occurred, with funding transferred to parish councils in parished areas. There are fewer restrictions on how this funding is spent, and we believe it provides an important incentive to local communities to allow development in their area. We therefore propose that under this approach the Neighbourhood Share would be kept, and we would be interested in ways to enhance community engagement around how these funds are used, with scope for digital innovation to promote engagement.
4.27. There is scope for even more flexibility around spending. We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax. The balance of affordable housing and infrastructure may vary depending on a local authority’s circumstances, but under this approach it may be necessary to consider ring-fencing a certain amount of Levy funding for affordable housing to ensure that affordable housing continues to be delivered on-site at current levels (or higher). There would also be opportunities to enhance digital engagement with communities as part of decision making around spending priorities. Alternatively, the permitted uses of the Levy could remain focused on infrastructure and affordable housing, as they are broadly are at present. Local authorities would continue to identify the right balance between these to meet local needs, as they do at present.”
“ 5.19. If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”
Back to my questions:
1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?
It is said in the paper that the “current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.” There will no longer be “months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements”. “Section 106 planning obligations [will be] removed”.
The proposals seem to assume that section 106 is simply a mechanism for securing provision of affordable housing and other “developer contributions”. Whilst that is its main role at present, it is a mechanism for a wide range of commitments – see this table from the accompanying study:
The joy of section 106 is its flexibility to circumstances and policy, enabling the applicant commit to commit, in a way that binds successors in title, to all necessary mitigation measures that cannot be secured by way of planning condition and which are necessary to overcome what would otherwise be reasons not to allow the proposed development to proceed. On more complex developments it is the only tried and tested way in which appropriate mechanisms can be arrived at to make sure that, for instance, necessary infrastructure comes forward at the right time and by way of a sensible process, bespoke to the circumstances of the development, agreed between the parties. There is no proposal in the paper (although it has previously been floated by some) that the role of planning conditions could be expanded.
Where financial contributions are paid to a local planning authority under a section 106 agreement they can only be used for the specified purposes, whereas the proposals in relation to the consolidated infrastructure levy appear to be more loose: “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met.”What is meant by “core infrastructure obligations”? The core infrastructure obligations necessary to make a particular development acceptable? If so, then a document will need to be drawn up which surely will be as complex as a section 106 agreement – when will the school come forward, using the developer’s infrastructure levy contribution, how, where and when? Local employment and training measures, provision and maintenance of open space and play areas, carbon reduction commitments, commitments to specified transport improvements and the formulation and implementation of transport plans – are all these to be swept away? If so, the document needs to explain either why this is acceptable and desirable or how these matters will otherwise be addressed.
Additional confusion arises when these bold statements as to the removal of section 106 obligations are then contrasted with the footnote to paragraph 4.22: “As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106”. What does that mean? What would the “covenant on the land” and if the only point is to make sure that the infrastructure levy binds successors in title, why not leave that for the legislation itself?
Is anyone out there clearer at this stage ?
2. What will happen to CIL?
The community infrastructure levy will be replaced by the consolidated infrastructure levy, which will work in various significantly different ways to the current system. For instance:
• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 3 below.
• It will be “levied at point of occupation”.
• “Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.”
• “we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster.” [If a developer needs specific infrastructure to be delivered in order to enable development to proceed, how will this be documented? What if, as is usually the case, the developer would prefer to deliver the infrastructure, e.g. build the school?]
• The “London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure” [Is this retained as in retained under the current CIL system so that in London CIL would continue to operate alongside the new levy, or is this retained as in “rolled into”?]
• “We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights” [This is odd – development pursuant to PD rights is not exempt from CIL at the moment. Is this flagging more widely that exemptions will be removed? That would have been a sensible, simplifying, approach were CIL levels to be reduced, but here we are faced with an increased Infrastructure Levy…]
3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?
• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates”. [Clearly this can’t in any circumstances mean a nationally-set flat rate charge of x per square metres but must mean a nationally-set proportion of (I assume) gross development value.]
• There will be “a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold”. [When would the developer have certainty that the threshold was not exceeded, or indeed as to what the value (and therefore charge) is considered to be, through what procedure and with what rights to appeal against the valuation? Is the valuation a notional one, applying a formula, or an actual valuation?]
• “buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.” [the timing of the valuation date will be critical, as will how to deal with phased and revised schemes and so on].
• “It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system” [so more than £7bn, on the basis of the findings in that study – in a way which will need not to disincentivise owners and developers from carrying out development].
That’s all I can glean from the document. It seems to me that local planning authorities will lose much flexibility, for instance in the setting of differential rates for different types of floorspace (the document does focus to a significant extent on residential development – what rate would be set for, say, offices, logistics or retail, particularly given the weaker relationship between non-residential uses and the delivery of affordable housing, and what about not for profit development – will we need to reintroduce a number of the current CIL exemptions?
4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?
• “With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 5 below.
• “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax.” [So, infrastructure levy surplus receipts (after delivery of “core infrastructure”) become unhypothecated tax receipts – the less the authority spends on infrastructure, the lower it can keep its council tax, hmm…]?
• “If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”
5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?
• “We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision”.
• “This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.” [So presumably the developer could net-off the costs of on-site delivery from its infrastructure levy liability. How is this to be documented? Who adjudicates on the obvious valuation issues arising?]
• “Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way” [How to safeguard against misuse?]
• “To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality.”
• “Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site.” [Back to ensuring a robust valuation process].
Again, maybe it’s just me but I’m left scratching my head. This is a wholly different approach to extracting contributions for affordable housing and for ensuring that they are delivered. Basic questions:
• How will the requirements (quantum, tenure mix, size] be set at policy stage and determined at application stage (in advance of valuations) such that there can be confidence that development will not be stalled through lack of viability?
• Are we moving to a system where all affordable housing is delivered by a local authority nominated housing provider, with less ability for the developer to seek to improve viability?
• How can there be any confidence that this mechanism will result in more on-site affordable housing than at present?
Again, thoughts welcome – it’s not that the proposals can’t be made to work, it’s just that much more input is required and, in my view, a cautious approach needs to be taken so as to guard against the inevitable unintended consequences.
The deadline for consultation responses is 29 October. We are likely to be collating a Town response, if only on specific issues such as this. If you would be interested in feeding in your thoughts, then please let me know, although, health warning, we are not in the business of designing fruit by committee!
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.
Whilst we wait for this planning policy paper, the speculation rises. Old ideas get dusted down again, pitches are rolled.
The post-war new towns programme saw 27 UK new towns built by state-sponsored development corporations under the New Towns Act 1946 and later amending legislation. One of the conundrums that successive governments have grappled with over the last 40 years or so is how to create the conditions in which the private sector, rather than the state, can bring forward and deliver residential-led proposals at scale, whether in the form of new towns or urban extensions.
The jargon doesn’t help. We don’t seem to want to call it what it is, so an urban extension becomes a “sustainable urban extension”, which becomes a SUE. A new town presumably is a bit much for our sensitive modern ears, so to big up the environmental credentials, and to tip a hat to Ebenezer Howard, it becomes a new garden village, garden town or garden community (or, when the “eco-“ prefix became fashionable a decade or so ago, eco-town). The precise terminology is usually driven by the Government funding stream of the day, eg
⁃ The Eco-towns prospectus, July 2007 (“Eco-towns are a major opportunity for local authorities, house builders, developers and registered social landlords to come together to build small new towns. Eco-towns should be well designed, attractive places to live, with good services and facilities, and which connect well with the larger towns or cities close by. Uniquely, they offer an opportunity to design a whole town – business and services as well as homes – to achieve zero-carbon development, and to use this experience to help guide other developments across the country. The essential requirements we are looking for are: (i) eco-towns must be new settlements, separate and distinct from existing towns but well linked to them. They need to be additional to existing plans, with a minimum target of 5,000 – 10,000 homes;” (ii) the development as a whole should reach zero carbon standards, and each town should be an exemplar in at least one area of environmental sustainability; (iii) eco-town proposals should provide for a good range of facilities within the town – a secondary school, a medium scale retail centre, good quality business space and leisure facilities; (iv) affordable housing should make up between 30 and 50 per cent of the total through a wide range and distribution of tenures in mixed communities, with a particular emphasis on larger family homes; (v) a management body which will help develop the town, provide support for people moving to the new community, for businesses and to co-ordinate delivery of services and manage facilities.”)
⁃ The Locally-Led Garden Villages, Towns and Cities prospectus, March 2016 (“Expressions of interest are sought by 31 July 2016 for “garden village” projects defined by the Government as developments of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes that meet specified criteria. Up to 12 proposals are to be supported. The list of information required has now been published. This follows DCLG’s March 2016 prospectus that covered both garden villages and garden towns/cities (10,000 homes plus). Key criteria include:
⁃ the Garden Communities prospectus, August 2018 (“The Government “will prioritise proposals for new Garden Towns (more than 10,000 homes), but will consider proposals for Garden Villages (1,500-10,000 homes) which are particularly strong in other aspects. For instance, demonstrating exceptional quality or innovations, development on predominantly brownfield sites, being in an area of particularly high housing demand, or ability to expand substantially further in the future.”) (see my 24 August 2018 blog post Let A Million New Homes Bloom).
“New settlement” is probably the least value-laden term and that’s what I’ll use for the rest of this post.
One of the current hot topics, ahead of this planning policy paper which may go in an entirely different direction, has been whether the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime under the Planning Act 2008 should be extended so as include new settlements and other major residential-led projects.
It was extended again in April 2017, by way of section 160 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, to allow NSIPs to include “related housing development” that has some special or functional connection with the particular infrastructure project, capped at around 500 homes (with no take up yet as far as I am aware).
At the time that the decision was made to allow business and commercial projects to use the NSIPs system, the idea of also allowing major residential development projects to be included was considered, but rejected:
“Planning for housing and the determination of planning applications for housing development is a primary role of local councils and the Government does not consider it appropriate to remove this responsibility from them. The Government has taken a number of steps to make clear the role of local councils in planning for housing including through the National Planning Policy Framework.
The Planning Act 2008 already bars dwellings from being consented as “associated development” alongside a nationally significant infrastructure project. The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 additionally sets out that the Government may not prescribe housing as a form of business and commercial development. [This of course preceded the 2017 change!]
Given the strong support for the exclusion of housing from the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime and the Government proposes to take no further action in this respect”.
The Government hangs on to the mantra that new settlements must be “locally-led” but isn’t this just an attempt to avoid being seen as directly responsible either for the consequences of its own target-setting or for properly underwriting on a longterm basis the costs of delivery? After all, why shouldn’t business and commercial projects be “locally led”, and how does call-in fit in?
Since 2018 we have had the wording in what is now paragraph 72 of the NPPF: “The supply of large numbers of new homes can often be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns, provided they are well located and designed, and supported by the necessary infrastructure and facilities. Working with the support of their communities, and with other authorities if appropriate, strategic policy-making authorities should identify suitable locations for such development where this can help to meet identified needs in a sustainable way.”
But is it really satisfactory for the Government to continue with the position that planning for housing is the role of local councils and that it is not going to remove that responsibility from them?
The Government has sought to address concerns that proposals of this scale may be difficult to deliver by way of the traditional Town and Country Planning Act 1990 regime, even if there is local support (big “if”). By way of the New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018, it introduced an option for the procedures within the New Towns Act 1981 to be used by way of the creation of a “locally-led new town development corporation” at the application of the relevant local authority or locally authorities. MHCLG’s 2018 guidance document explains how the process is meant to work, although you will have to blow the dust off it – another process which I do not think has yet been used (and I place local development orders in a similar category – very little take up, and what there has been has not been in relation to new settlements).
So if no appetite for state-sponsored new settlements, no appetite for local authority sponsored new settlements under the 2018 Regulations and great difficulty with delivery through the traditional planning system (eg the West of England and North Essex Authorities plans, and more besides) – what else can be done to unlock the potential?
It is unsurprising that thoughts turn again to the NSIPs process.
Think tank (groan) the Social Market Foundation published a paper in June 2020 Unlocking Britain: Recovery and renewal after COVID-19 with a disparate series of proposals across various areas of policy. It is curious that in relation to planning, the paper’s big idea is to greatly expand the use of the NSIPs process:
““Here are the simple legislative steps we need to take to achieve this, and it can all be done by changes to the Planning Act:
A. Remove the need for DCOs to be made in accordance with an NPS – this won’t work for projects that are not of national significance, and some NPS do not exist, or are out of date anyway;
B. Shorten the time period required for public examination to four months (rather than six months as currently) because we would be dealing with smaller projects;
C. Reduce the time for the planning inspector and the Secretary of State (separately) to make their decisions under this process from three months to two months;
D. Limit the ability for the Secretaries of State to extend the time period they have for final decision–making (currently three months, hopefully changing to two months as per the above) to only being for special circumstances, such as national security or a national emergency.
When considering the changes (A) to (D) above, these mirror the provisions within the Planning Act that already exist for “material amendment” to DCOs – so there is an existing legislative precedent for this accelerated procedure.
Overall, this will mean that infrastructure projects, or housing developments of more than 1,000 homes, can be delivered with a high degree of certainty of success, within 12 months of the plan being submitted.”
So the idea of residential-led NSIPs for schemes of 1,000 homes or more. I’m really not sure that such centralisation of decision making in relation to so many projects is remotely practical, let alone desirable (whether for promoters, local authorities or communities.
⁃ What’s the problem for large scale housing projects?
⁃ How could DCOs help and what are the barriers?
⁃ What is needed to make a housing DCO regime effective?
They conclude that the potential is there, probably for schemes of more than 5,000 homes, but identify that action would be needed in at least five key areas, including the way that “need” and “location” are to be identified.
The post was published the same day as I was chairing a webinar discussion on exactly the same set of issues (panellists John Rhodes OBE (director, Quod), Bridget Rosewell CBE (Commissioner, National Infrastructure Commission), Gordon Adams (Battersea Power Station), Kathryn Ventham (partner, Barton Willmore) and Michael Humphries QC (Francis Taylor Building)). If you would like a link to a recording of the session please let me know.
Later in the week, a further much more detailed research document was published: Can development consent orders help meet the challenges of our time? by Barton Willmore, Womble Bond Dickinson, the Copper Consultancy. I recommend the document. It is written by people with practical experience of the subject and is based on solid survey work. It is everything that a think tank report is not.
“We also think that there are benefits to be gained from applying DCO principles to existing planning mechanisms as well as developing a DCO option for delivery of new settlements.
We therefore believe the Government and industry should look to explore the extension of the DCO process for new settlements and other complex developments by preparing a National Settlements Strategy (NSS) that:
• Identifies broad parts of the country suitable for new settlements/largescale developments (developed under DCO (and NPS) engagement principles with input from Local Authorities and devolved administrations);
• Enables different consenting and delivery models to be applied;
• Incorporates the DCO as a consenting model;
• Is drafted to provide the national needs case that gives certainty, to unlock significant financial investment from the UK and internationally; and,
• Is equivalent to the National Policy Statements.”
“In preparing a National Settlement Strategy we need to acknowledge up front that there will be some challenging issues, not least around managing engagement and Strategic Environmental Assessments. Equally, a DCO option for new settlements may look very different to a DCO for more established infrastructure projects. Therefore, we would welcome your views on some or all of the following questions, along with any wider reflections you have on this research:
1. How can a national settlements strategy be prepared in a way that engages regions and local communities alongside national infrastructure providers to create long term stability?
2. Which planning processes can benefit from applying the certainty principles established by the DCO process and how?
3. What could a DCO option for delivering new settlements look like in practice?
We will take these responses forward, along with our own thinking, into a second phase of work on how to make our recommendations a practical reality.”
Now that’s what I call a planning policy paper! We may see later this month whether these ideas are at all taking root.
Simon Ricketts, 11 July 2020
Personal views, et cetera
PS I got quite nostalgic thinking about failings of the eco-towns programme, having acted for the Bard Campaign in Bard Campaign v Secretary of State (Walker J, 25 February 2009). What a counsel team we had – Ian Dove QC (now Dove J), Chris Young (now QC) and Richard Harwood (now QC). This was a challenge to the Government’s April 2008 “consultation” document, “Eco-towns – Living a Greener Future”.
We basically challenged everything about it. Our case was that:
“In breach of the common law relating to consultation, the SEA Directive, the Aarhus Convention and the Code of Practice on Consultation, the Secretary of State has failed: 1. to consult on the principle of constructing eco-towns, alternatively any such consultation has to give sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response;
2. to consult on the key locational criteria for eco-towns;
3. to consult at all on the 42 locations proposed which were rejected by ministers in favour of the 15 proposed locations;
4. to provide adequate information to enable informed representations to be made. Instead, information has been produced late, has dribbled out in response to requests and some relevant (and non-confidential) material is still being withheld from the public;
5. to provide adequate time for consultation, given the late production of material.
Additionally, 6. a declaration is sought (because this still appears to be in issue) that the Eco-Towns policies are subject to the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and Regulations.”
We lost on all grounds and Keene LJ refused us permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. But the programme was abandoned in the run up to the 2010 general election. It’s often not the law that gets in the way – it’s politics.
Validation and determination of applications for planning permission
No changes have been made to the timescales for determining planning applications. Developers are however encouraged to agree extensions of the period for determination. Local authorities have been urged to give priority to validating urgent COVID-19 related applications for planning permission and associated consents.
Publicising applications for planning permission
Temporary regulations (expiring on 31 December 2020) were made and came into force on 14 May to supplement existing publicity arrangements for planning applications, listed building consent applications and environmental statements for EIA development. There is now flexibility to take other reasonable steps to publicise applications and environmental statements if the usual specific requirements cannot be discharged relating to site notices, neighbour notifications, newspaper publicity or availability of hard copy documents. Steps can include the use of social media and electronic communications and they must be “proportionate to the scale and nature of the development”. Guidance has also been issued on this topic.
MHCLG has made it clear that planning conditions should not be a barrier to allowing developers and site operators flexibility around construction site working hours to facilitate safe working. Where only short term or modest increases in working hours are required, LPAs are encouraged to use their discretion to not enforce against a breach of working hours conditions. Where longer term measures or other significant changes are required, applications to amend conditions should be made, which LPAs should prioritise and turn around in 10 days. Requests to work up to 9 pm Monday to Saturday should not be refused without very compelling reasons.
Community infrastructure levy
The existing CIL regulations of course allow charging authorities limited flexibility to defer CIL liability. Amendments will be made to the regulations “in due course” to increase flexibility, but that will still depend upon charging authorities deciding to exercise the new discretion available to them. Authorities will be able to defer payments, temporarily disapply late payment interest and provide a discretion to return interest already charged. However, these changes will only apply to small and medium-sized developers with an annual turnover of less than £45 million. It remains to be seen how this limitation will be addressed in the regulations, for example where a special purpose vehicle, potentially offshore, has assumed liability. The new instalment policies for deferred payments will only apply to chargeable development starting after the changes come into effect, but they are anticipated to apply to “phases“ of the development starting after that date. The announcement on 13 May added that “existing flexibilities and the government’s clear intention to legislate should give authorities confidence to use their enforcement powers with discretion and provide some comfort to developers that, where appropriate, they will not be charged extra for matters that were outside of their control.”
Section 106 planning obligations
Local planning authorities are encouraged to consider the deferral of section 106 obligations, e.g. financial payments. This will require variations to existing section agreements and undertakings. Local planning authorities are encouraged generally to take a “pragmatic and proportionate” approach to the enforcement of section 106 planning obligations
PINS issued a further update on 13 May. Site visits are being commenced and PINS is considering whether there are types of cases that can proceed without a site visit. The first digital appeal hearing took place on 11 May as a pilot and PINS is aiming for 20 further examinations, hearings and inquiries in May and June. It is also exploring hybrid options – a mix of in person and by video public/telephone hearings and is considering “social distance” events.
MHCLG is working on ways to address the local plans process in order to meet aspirations to have all local plans in place by 2023. In particular, the use of virtual hearings and written submissions is being considered.
Regulation 12 of the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 prevents any neighbourhood planning referendum from taking place until 6 May 2021. Updated guidance was issued in April allowing neighbourhood plans awaiting referendums to be given significant weight in decision making.
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects
The government is working with consenting departments to support the continuation of decision-making to minimise the impact of current restrictions on the consideration of DCO applications and the Planning Inspectorate has updated its guidance.
Compulsory purchase orders
There is now pragmatic advice as to the service of documents. Acquiring authorities are encouraged to allow more time for responses to requests for information about interests in land or submitting objections to CPO. There is also encouragement to authorities to act responsibly regarding business and residential claimants, particularly regarding the timing of vesting orders and payment of compensation, which is particularly relevant when considering evictions. Authorities are reminded of their obligation to make advance payments of compensation in accordance with statutory time limits given cash flow difficulties which claimants may currently face.
To my mind, this is all welcome and congratulations are due in particular to the relevant civil servants. Of course, there is more to be resolved, for instance the vexed question of extending time limited planning permissions (see my 4 April 2020 blog post Pause Not Delete: Extending Planning Permissions) as well as the Regulations in relation to CIL, but it is good to see this progress. No wonder MHCLG’s Simon Gallagher was prepared to come on this week’s Have We Got Planning News For You!
Of course, after the regulations were brought into force, there was then a pause caused by the 6 May 2010 general election. Would the incoming coalition government scrap, or at least amend and rebadge, the system? In the end the system survived and, according to wikipedia at least, the London Borough of Redbridge was the first to adopt a CIL charging schedule, on 1 January 2012.
So CIL didn’t live through the global financial crisis, or previous recessions, as we have done. I have written before about the inherent inflexibility of the mechanism but, as Miles acknowledges in his piece, the current economic conditions are going to prove the big test for the levy.
He says “CIL’s inflexibility could prove its downfall if the forthcoming downturn is anything other than a short sharp shock. COVID-19 has created the biggest test which CIL has yet faced. If the downturn is lengthy, local authorities may need to hurriedly cut CIL rates to help return development to viability. Or, press the pause button on introducing CIL altogether.”
This may all be so, but there are also other, more nuanced steps which charging authorities could also be taking, with the encouragement of MHCLG, one would hope. For instance:
⁃ The switching on, within charging authorities, of the ability to apply for exceptional circumstances relief – and if there isn’t sufficient movement on this I would argue for its automatic national application by way of a change to the regulations. Whilst ECR is a cumbersome process, and there are state aid considerations to be borne in mind, if these aren’t “exceptional circumstances” what are? And I suspect that the application of ECR will be more palatable than the reintroduction of section 106BA, which enabled developers to reduce or remove section 106 affordable housing obligations on the grounds of viability.
⁃ The introduction of instalment schemes for payment (currently discretionary) and the review of existing instalment schemes to push back timescales.
“Where development has already commenced, CIL demand notices will shortly be re-issued to allow for a 3 month extension to the next instalment due date and to subsequent outstanding instalments. This position will be reviewed towards the end of June and any further extension to instalment payment periods will be communicated. It will take time for notices to be prepared and issued, but this work will be prioritised.
An individual, case by case review of late payment interest and surcharges will be made and a pragmatic approach adopted to support customers in these circumstances.
CIL debt recovery will largely be paused for 3 months and will be reviewed towards the end of June 2020 with a view to extending this position if required.”
Are there any examples of other charging authorities taking an equivalent stance? Clearly there are risks in such an approach and I would be cautious as to the extent that, for example, a funder with millions of pounds at stake, could rely on such a commitment. It is unfortunate that the Regulations are so inflexible as to lead to such sticking-plaster solutions.
Stepping back, unless authorities are now going to move very quickly to propose reduced charging rates and take positive steps in relation to instalment policies and ECR, wouldn’t a solution in current circumstances be for the Government to legislate so as to allow authorities, both in relation to existing permissions and permissions which have not yet been issued, either to (1) defer payment of CIL for a defined period or (2) allow an emergency discount of say 50% to be applied, conditional upon development being commenced within a defined period of time and then completed within a defined period (the period to be agreed with the authority having regard to its projected build programme and if the deadline is missed there would be clawback)? To reduce the extent that the authority is as a consequence unable to deliver essential infrastructure, the Government would need to make additional funding available, because after all the economic and social benefits of ensuring that development gets started again will be immense.
I don’t have the answers – I would welcome your much better ones (except “abolish CIL” – let’s be practical). However, I do know that (1) CIL is a massive, inflexible, cash drain for any development early in its implementation and (2) some additional flexibility would surely reduce the risk that many development projects will remain on hold even once normal life starts to return around us all.
The Court of Appeal’s approach to the issues in the Heathrow cases last month was certainly a surprise to many.
The court found in the main “Plan B” ruling (27 February 2020) that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully when, following the procedure in section 5 of the Planning Act 2008, on 26 June 2018 he designated the Airports National Policy Statement. The court’s basis for its finding was that the Secretary of State had not complied with section 5(8):
“(7) A national policy statement must give reasons for the policy set out in the statement.
(8) The reasons must (in particular) include an explanation of how the policy set out in the statement takes account of Government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.”
The question was what was “Government policy” in relation to climate change as at 26 June 2018. The court found that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully in not taking into account “its own firm policy commitments on climate change under the Paris Agreement”.
This is somewhat surprising given that at first instance the Divisional Court (Hickinbottom LJ and Holgate J, no slouches) had found that this submission was unarguable:
“In our view, given the statutory scheme in the [Climate Change Act 2008] and the work that was being done on if and how to amend the domestic law to take into account the Paris Agreement, the Secretary of State did not arguably act unlawfully in not taking into account that Agreement when preferring the NWR Scheme and in designating the ANPS as he did. As we have described, if scientific circumstances change, it is open to him to review the ANPS; and, in any event, at the DCO stage this issue will be re-visited on the basis of the then up to date scientific position.” (paragraph 648 of the main judgment at first instance, known as “Spurrier” after the then first claimant, who had represented himself at first instance but had dropped out by the time of the appeal, which is why you will hear the appeal ruling called “Plan B” after the lead appellant, campaign group Plan B Earth).
The Court of Appeal has ordered that the Airports National Policy Statement “is of no legal effect unless and until the Secretary of State has undertaken a review of it in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Planning Act 2008.”
Heathrow Airport Limited has applied to the Supreme Court to appeal from the ruling although the Secretary of State has not (meaning that any appeal could be fairly irrelevant if the Secretary of State decides to review the NPS in any event). Whether permission to appeal is granted depends on whether the Supreme Court considers that there is an arguable point of law of general public importance.
So this is all significant as regards the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow. According to the Planning Inspectorate website the application for a development consent order under the Planning Act 2008 NSIP procedure is/was expected to be submitted in Q4 2020.
The main function of the NPS was to give formal national policy support to the proposal at Heathrow. The way that the Planning Act 2008 works is that, under section 104, the Secretary of State must decide a DCO application in accordance with any relevant national policy statement “except to the extent that one or more of subsections (4) to (8) applies.
(4) This subsection applies if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deciding the application in accordance with any relevant national policy statement would lead to the United Kingdom being in breach of any of its international obligations.
(5) This subsection applies if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deciding the application in accordance with any relevant national policy statement would lead to the Secretary of State being in breach of any duty imposed on the Secretary of State by or under any enactment.
(6) This subsection applies if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deciding the application in accordance with any relevant national policy statement would be unlawful by virtue of any enactment.
(7) This subsection applies if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the adverse impact of the proposed development would outweigh its benefits.
(8) This subsection applies if the Secretary of State is satisfied that any condition prescribed for deciding an application otherwise than in accordance with a national policy statement is met.
(9) For the avoidance of doubt, the fact that any relevant national policy statement identifies a location as suitable (or potentially suitable) for a particular description of development does not prevent one or more of subsections (4) to (8) from applying.”
So the first thing to note is that the NPS would not have given Heathrow Airport Limited a free pass to a consent – in determining the application the Secretary of State would need to determine whether, notwithstanding the June 2018 NPS, the proposal is not in accordance with, for instance, up to date treaty obligations or domestic legislation – exactly the point made by the Divisional Court in the passage I quoted earlier.
This is relevant because the issue in the Heathrow cases very much turned on an historical question – what was the Government’s climate change policy as at 26 June 2018. Legislation and policy has plainly moved on since then, and will continue to move on. I referred in my 10 August 2019 blog post The Big CC to Theresa May’s tightening in June 2019 of the Government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by making the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 which changed the duty of the Secretary of State under the Climate Change Act 2008 from being to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline, to being at least 100% lower, ie net zero. The target does not include international aviation or shipping: paragraph 10.5 of the explanatory notes published with the order states that there is a “need for further analysis and international engagement through the international networks. For now, therefore we will continue to leave headroom for emissions from international aviation and shipping in carbon budgets…” By the time that any Heathrow DCO application is to be/would have been determined, the Secretary of State would have to take into account climate change legislation and international commitments at the time.
It can all of course get messy/political, as demonstrated by former Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s approval last year, against her inspectors’ recommendations, of the Drax gas-fired power stations DCO, a decision which is now being challenged in the High Court by ClientEarth (see Drax legal case: We’re taking the UK government to court over Europe’s largest gas plant, ClientEarth, 30 January 2020).
Although it would be a risky strategy to adopt, given it would entail acknowledging loss of any formal statutory policy support for Heathrow as the favoured option, Heathrow Airport could in theory decide to proceed with a DCO application without the support of an NPS (this appears to be Gatwick’s strategy with its proposed northern runway). In the absence of an NPS, section 105 applies:
“(2) In deciding the application the Secretary of State must have regard to—
(a) any local impact report (within the meaning given by section 60(3)) submitted to the Secretary of State before the deadline specified in a notice under section 60(2),
(b) any matters prescribed in relation to development of the description to which the application relates, and
(c) any other matters which the Secretary of State thinks are both important and relevant to the Secretary of State’s decision.”
How even to begin to scope the appropriate approach to decision-making in that situation…
Any wider relevance?
So does this ruling have repercussions away from Heathrow and airports?
People threaten to bring judicial review proceedings, and often end up bringing them for all sorts of reasons. Lord Reed, President of the Supreme Court, made some topical comments to the House of Lords Constitution Committee last week:
“Judges are very well aware of the risk of challenges being brought in what are political rather than legal grounds. They are repelling them and are careful to avoid straying into what are genuine political matters. When this is a matter that is to be considered it should not start from the premise that judges are eager to pronounce on political issues. The true position is actually quite the opposite.” (Law Society Gazette, 4 March 2020).
Since the ruling we have seen these stories:
⁃Environmentalists follow Heathrow ruling by calling on government to end fossil fuel developments (Ecotricity, 4 March 2020) (The Secretary of State has a discretion in section 6 of the 2008 Act as to whether and when to review NPSs, and indeed since June 2019 Government climate change targets have been clear regardless of what the position was at June 2018 – which is surely the only relevance of the Heathrow rulings – if the point made by the prospective claimants is a good one, it has been a good one for some time now).
⁃HS2 legal challenge launched by Chris Packham (Guardian, 3 March 2020) (There is surely no duty on a minister to take into account Government climate change targets in making a decision to continue with the construction of an existing project which has already, phase 1 at least, been authorised by Parliament).
What did it for the Secretary of State in relation to the Heathrow NPS was the specific statutory duty to take into account “government policy” on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Regardless of whether the Court of Appeal was right to determine that Government support for the Paris Agreement (international) targets could be construed as government policy for any particular domestic targets, there is not the same statutory duty when it comes to the Town and Country Planning Act system.
When it comes to plan-making, section 19(1A) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 imposes a statutory duty on local planning authorities that development plan documents must include policies that contribute to mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and this duty is reflected in paragraph 149 of the National Planning Policy Framework, stating in footnote 48 that policies should be “in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008”.
There are no specific equivalent requirements in relation to decision making, just the general statement in paragraph 148, stating that the “planning system should support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate” and “should help to: shape places in ways that contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse emissions”.
Beware those who wave about the Heathrow ruling as some kind of game changer in relation to the battle against climate change. It is certainly a game changer in relation to Heathrow Airport’s aspirations, as to project timescale at the very least, but, wider than that? The Court of Appeal determined that a specific statutory duty, peculiar to the making of NPSs, was breached. The question of whether there was a breach depended on determining what government policy on climate change was in June 2018, when it was not as advanced as it is now. Finally, it is not obvious to me that the Court of Appeal’s conclusions would be safe against an appeal to the Supreme Court – but of course all that could well be largely hypothetical, depending upon what steps the Government now takes.
The awaited national infrastructure plan, which was to be published alongside the budget on 11 March, is to be delayed but reportedly could still be “before May” (Government delays Budget infrastructure plan, BBC, 5 March 2020). It will be interesting to see whether any hints are dropped in our new Chancellor’s budget statement as to the Government’s direction of travel.