Ps In A Pod: Politics, Planning, Protest & Prevarication

Planning still appears to have been taken hostage by internal Tory political infighting. See e.g. Tory backbenchers rebel over national housing targets (SP Broadway, 2 December 2022).

In a more innocent time, September 2014, I delivered a paper to the Oxford Joint Planning Law Conference, Heroes and Villains — Challenge and Protest in Planning: What’s a Developer To Do?   

Since then the antagonism seems to have increased and areas of common ground seem to reduced. Planning and heritage processes are frequently just another battleground in this time of global and cultural division. 

I was going to pull together a few more strands today, for instance on contested heritage (I’m conscious that I haven’t yet covered the Court of Appeal’s September 2022 ruling following the acquittal of the “Colston Four”), the closure by the Wellcome Collection of its “Medicine Man” gallery, on the battle for control of the National Trust and much else besides. 

But I’m just going to pick the most recent item from this week’s news. It’s possible  that politics played as much a role as planning in the decision on 1 December 2022 by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets’ Strategic Development Committee, against officers’ recommendations, to refuse planning permission for the redevelopment of Royal Mint Court, near the Tower of London, to establish a new Chinese Embassy (replacing its existing embassy on Portland Place), including “the refurbishment and restoration of the Johnson Smirke Building (Grade II listed), partial demolition, remodelling and refurbishment of Seaman’s Registry (Grade II listed), with alterations to the west elevation of the building, the retention, part demolition, alterations and extensions to Murray House and Dexter House, the erection of a standalone entrance pavilion building, alterations to the existing boundary wall and demolition of substation, associated public realm and landscaping, highway works, car and cycle parking and all ancillary and associated works.

51 objections had been received, raising a range of planning and non-planning objections. One has a sense of non-planning issues swirling around from the officer’s report which, after summarising the various planning and heritage based objections received, sets out the “non-material considerations” raised by objectors as including:

  • Concerned about the building becoming a secret police station
  • Concerned about the violent assault of protesters at the Manchester Chinese Consulate
  • Concerned about the actions of the Chinese government in relation to other countries and human rights record
  • All phone calls and fibre optic cables will be listened to as the site is adjacent to a BT telephone exchange”. 

The minutes are not yet available but I understand that the Committee resolved that the proposals would “affect the ‘safety and security’ of residents, such as those at next-door Royal Mint Estate, cause harm to heritage assets, impact the quality of the area as a tourist destination and have an impact on local police resourcing.”

The decision has attracted widespread media attention, not just in the UK (see for instance London council rejects new Chinese embassy amid residents’ safety fears (Guardian, 2 December 2022) and David Chipperfield’s Chinese embassy complex rejected by London council (Architects Journal, 2 December 2022)) but across the world. 

What is going to happen next? The People’s Republic of China has owned the site outright since 2018 and they are hardly going to walk away from the project. Michael Gove could conceivably call the application in before the refusal notice is issued, or China could appeal against the refusal and the appeal would presumably be recovered for his determination following recommendations from an inspector who would hold a public inquiry. 

The political sensitivities are surely going to ramp up, no matter what. Perhaps this application should have been called in by the Government at an earlier stage rather than leave committee members with (1) such a difficult decision, balancing local concerns against international diplomatic responsibilities, and (2) such power. But I’m sure the government would have loved to have left this particular hot potato well alone. And they thought that juggling an appearance of dealing with the housing crisis with an appearance of leaving communities in control of local housing numbers was difficult….

Simon Ricketts, 3 December 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Photo courtesy of Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

When Britain Built Something Big

When Britain built something big” is the sub-title to Dave Hill’s book Olympic Park, which tells the story of how an Olympic park was created in London’s Lower Lea Valley in time for London 2012. It is a detailed factual account, not just of the politics, planning, infrastructure engineering and deal-making that led up to that event, but of its implications in terms of urban regeneration and legacy. 

I’m interviewing Dave about the book and its themes at 6 pm on Tuesday 30 August 2022 on the audio social-media app Clubhouse, and you’re welcome to listen in here and indeed we’d love to here your own accounts. 

A number of things are striking to me, looking back.

The first is that huge things can be achieved if individuals and institutions collectively grasp a vision and secure the necessary buy-in. At a time when this country had perhaps lost its self-belief in being able to deliver a project successfully and on time, here we were setting ourselves up to fail – but we didn’t. By luck there was a new system of London regional government in place to facilitate London’s bid for the games (Ken Livingstone as mayor, not a sports fan at all but persuaded as to the regeneration potential of a London Games) with the full support (not easily secured by the indefatigable Tessa Jowell) of the Blair government, and with the individual host boroughs, with capable leaders, willing to come together as a Joint Planning Applications Team to determine massively complex planning applications within tight timescales. 

The second is that there are inevitable trade-offs if a project such as the transformation of this huge area of east London was to be achieved by what was an immovable deadline. When London secured the Games, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006  gave significant powers to unelected bodies, which has continued with the creation of the London Legacy Development Corporation in 2012. Many people’s homes and businesses were the subject of a compulsory purchase order, which was confirmed after a 41 day inquiry and which survived at least three legal challenges in the High Court. Should we have done it? Or should we have let community politics take their course?

The third is that whilst it is important to have the necessary statutory processes and a strategy, so much comes down to problem-solving, creativity and negotiation. Whilst the right calls may have been made in the negotiations necessary with the Stratford City development partners (at times a fragile partnership due to the takeover of Chelsfield during the process), was money wasted in deciding to proceed with a stadium design that did not easily allow for West Ham’s subsequent use – and just how good was West Ham’s eventual deal?

The fourth is that engineering constraints and their lead-in periods can cause headaches – for example the huge commercial, logistical and regulatory challenge of undergrounding electricity lines and removing pylons – achievements which we then utterly take for granted. 

The fifth is the need for cross-party consensus – long-term projects can’t be the punchbag of short-term party politics.  So there was the unholy alliance between Livingstone, expelled from the Labour party, and the New Labour government, both then replaced before the Games themselves by Johnson and the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and now the approach to various legacy aspects being the domain of Sadiq Khan. 

The sixth is that surely we need to learn from what went well and what perhaps didn’t, and to apply it to the immediate challenges around us: climate change, including renewables and making existing buildings more energy-efficient; and indeed the challenge of delivering a new generation of affordable homes. What more broadly should we learn about how our planning system needs to adapt?

There is so much more to talk about. Do join us, or read the book, or both.

Then do join us again a couple of weeks later for another book club special! At 6 pm on Monday 12 September 2022, we have barrister and broadcaster Hashi Mohamed, to talk about his book, A home of one’s own – his very personal take on the housing crisis, its causes and some possible solutions. Invitation here.

You can RSVP for the events on the clubhouse app via the links so as to be reminded when the event is starting, or just log in when the time comes 

Simon Ricketts, 27 August 2022

Personal views, et cetera

EZ Does It: Charter Cities, Freeports, Development Corporations

My name is EZymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away

Nothing is new. Least of all the idea that economic activity may be generated by way of a state identifying a zone, whether in its borders or elsewhere, within which more advantageous rules apply for those doing business, for instance in terms of customs, taxes and constraints over development, and within which zone the state gives an organisation (which may be in part or wholly privately owned) a degree of regulatory autonomy.

The idea is topical. I referred in my 16 July 2022 blog post Neutrality to the “charter cities” idea that has been gaining traction in right wing circles and to Liz Truss’ espousal of “low planning zones: new investment zones around key parts of the United Kingdom with much clearer planning rules so people can get on with building straight away to generate those jobs and opportunities.”

To start to get to the root and very starting point of the charter cities concept, last night I watched Nobel Prize laureate and former Chief Economist of the World Bank Paul Romer’s 2009 Ted Talk, Why the world needs charter cities and I read his related paper, Technologies, Rules, and Progress: The Case for Charter Cities (Paul Romer, March 2010). Romer was one of Rishi Sunak’s professors at Stanford University. Sunak has described him as “brilliant and inspiring” .

If you look at what Romer is saying – or dip into the Charter Cities Institute’s website https://chartercitiesinstitute.org/ (the cheer-leading group for the concept) – it could be said to be rather simplistic (not to say colonial), pointing for instance to the success first of Hong Kong and then of the special economic zones established by China along its coastline, and suggesting that an equivalent model could allow first world countries to establish charter cities within developing countries, to mutual benefit and to the benefit of the population of the host country, who would have the “choice” as to whether to move to and subject themselves to the more economically-efficient (my summary) rules of the charter city. 

Of course the usual questions arise: to what extent does such an arrangement impoverish or strip resources from those outside the charter city? How are human rights protected? How is the host country to ensure a fair deal is struck, given the likely inequality of bargaining positions? What of the right to self-determination for those in the area? In the fight against climate change, will this help, or hinder?

Madagascar and Honduras have indeed both explored but not implemented the idea. You may also recall a couple of years ago the media coverage around apparent discussions “between property developer Ivan Ko and the government of Ireland, with the former proposing the construction of a safe haven in the form of a semi-autonomous city in Ireland—one which would allow for the emigration of thousands of Hong Kong residents” (Charter cities: can they solve the world’s problems? (Thomson Reuters, 31 July 2020)).

The charter city label could equally be applied to the proposal/dream/nightmare that was the subject of this 27 July 2022 Guardian piece, Saudi Arabia plans 100-mile-long mirrored skyscraper megacity or indeed to the now abandoned Toronto “smart city” project promoted by Sidewalk Laboratories (part of the Alphabet group which also owns Google) – see Sidewalk Labs folds back into Google. Have “smart cities” had their day? (Verdict, 17 December 2021). Some fundamental issues swirling around those two projects alone for sure, about democracy, sustainability, data privacy and sheer Ozymandian folly. 

Of course it’s not much of a step down from charter cities to freeports – it is all down to the detail of the regulatory arrangements and legal protections, as well as a question of scale. 

Again topically, on 29 July 2022 DLUHC updated its guidance on Freeports although with no new substantive changes of note that I could see anyway. 

From the guidance:

Freeports are special areas within the UK’s borders where different economic regulations apply. Freeports in England are centred around one or more air, rail, or seaport, but can extend up to 45km beyond the port(s).

Our Freeports model will include a comprehensive package of measures, comprising tax reliefs, customs, business rates retention, planning, regeneration, innovation and trade and investment support.

Eligible businesses in Freeports will enjoy a range of tax incentives, such as enhanced capital allowances, relief from stamp duty and employer national insurance contributions for additional employees. These tax reliefs are designed to encourage the maximum number of businesses to open, expand and invest in our Freeports which in turn will boost employment.

Freeports will benefit from a range of customs measures, allowing imports to enter the Freeport custom sites with simplified customs documentation and delay paying tariffs. This means that businesses operating inside designated areas in and around the port may manufacture goods using these imports, before exporting them again without paying the tariff.

Freeports will provide a supportive planning environment for the development of tax and customs sites through locally led measures such as Local Development Orders or permitted development right development.”

The Government’s “Freeport model has 3 objectives:

a) establish Freeports as national hubs for global trade and investment by focusing on delivering a diverse number of investment projects within the Freeport regions, make trade processes more efficient, maximise developments in production and acquire specialist expertise to secure Freeports position within supply chains.

b) create hotbeds for innovation by focusing on private and public sector investment in research and development; by being dynamic environments that bring innovators together to collaborate in new ways; and by offering spaces to develop and trial new ideas and technologies. This will create new markets for UK products and services and drive productivity improvements, bringing jobs and investment to Freeport regions.

c) promote regeneration through the creation of high-skilled jobs in ports linked to the areas around them, ensuring sustainable economic growth and regeneration for communities that need it most. Local economies will grow as tax measures drive private investment, carefully considered planning reforms facilitate construction and infrastructure is upgraded in Freeports

People of course point to the fact that it was Sunak who as Chancellor in 2021 announced the establishment of the latest round of eight English freeports:

  1. East Midlands Airport
  2. Felixstowe & Harwich including the Port of Felixstowe and Harwich International Port
  3. Humber including parts of Port of Immingham
  4. Liverpool City Region including the Port of Liverpool
  5. Plymouth & South Devon including the Port of Plymouth
  6. Solent including the ports of Southampton, Portsmouth and Portsmouth International Port
  7. Thames including the ports at London Gateway and Tilbury
  8. Teesside including Teesside International Airport, the Port of Middlesbrough and the Port of Hartlepool

How the planning system will operate within them is still uncertain and no doubt will be a patchwork quilt of differing arrangements. The Government’s Freeports bidding prospectus (November 2020) said this on the subject:

3.6. Planning

Bidders will be able to take advantage of the planning reforms set out in the Consultation Response related to permitted development rights and simpler, area-based planning – in particular Local Development Orders (LDOs).

The government recognises the advantages that wider planning reform can bring to Freeports development. Therefore, as part of a longer-term programme of reform to England’s planning system, the government is exploring the potential to go further in these areas, as well as the potential to test ambitious planning proposals in Freeports, taking advantage of the controlled spaces that they offer.

In addition to the measures set out in the Freeports Consultation, the government is actively exploring a new, simpler framework for environmental assessment, as well as intending to review the National Policy Statement for Ports in 2021.”

(Dear reader, you will have noticed that 2021 has since come and gone). 

For further reading I also recommend the House of Commons library paper, Government policy on freeports (14 February 2022).

I mentioned that this is the latest round of freeports. I’m sure we can expect the incoming prime minister to expand the initiative. But let’s not forget that freeports are nothing new and (aside from some nuanced detail around state aid) they are not really a dividend from our old friend in the corner, Brexit. Seven freeports operated in the UK at various points between 1984 and 2012.

Another great theme of the current prime ministerial tussle has been both candidates’ attempts to emulate their professed idol Margaret Thatcher. As a milk drinker I may be biased – as education minister in 1971 she took away free milk from the over sevens. I was seven. (Rishi and Liz weren’t born).

Shortly after she came to power in 1979, the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 was enacted (“lug plaa” as we all called it) which paved the way for the creation of a new type of urban development corporations, including most notably the London Docklands Development Corporation, which was given wide planning and compulsory land acquisition powers, with the area also given enterprise status under the Act. Here is the rather quaint 26 April 1982 press release.

The Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs gives this account:

“In order to provide substantial inducements for firms to move into Docklands, the Government, with effect from April 1982, designated much of the area centring around the West India and Millwall Docks as an Enterprise Zone, as provided for under the 1980 Local Government, Planning and Land Act, with the intention of encouraging and speeding up development. The boundary was carefully drawn to exclude those sites which had already been, or were in course of being, developed, such as Billingsgate Market (see plan C). (fn. 5) The chief financial concessions were: freedom from local rates for a ten-year period until 1992, no development land tax, and 100-percent capital allowance for new commercial and industrial buildings, to be set against corporation and income taxes. In December 1986 the Financial Times, in announcing the proposed relocation of its printing works to Docklands, calculated that the £20,850,000 cost of the site and building would be reduced to £15,400,000 by the tax concessions offered in the Enterprise Zone. (fn. 6)

In addition, there were simplified planning procedures: the zone was set up with an overall planning scheme, and any proposed development that conformed to that scheme was deemed to have been given planning consent, unless it was considered a particularly sensitive site and therefore specifically excluded from the general planning provision. (fn. 7) Similarly, development within the zone was normally free of ‘use class’ planning controls, so that a structure originally intended to be a factory or warehouse could be converted to office use during the course of construction, without requiring further permission.” 

The House of Commons Library, research briefing Enterprise Zones  (21 January 2020) is a useful summary of where we now are with enterprise zones. 38 Enterprise Zones were designated between 1981 and 1996. When the coalition government came to power in 2010 Chancellor George Osborne announced the creation of further EZs. As at 2020 there were, I think, 44 in England, in Scotland, 7 in Wales and 1 in Northern Ireland.

Again, no doubt additional EZs may be in prospect. 

What of any of this in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – and is it going to be given a Sunakian/Trussian polish in September? The Bill does already provide for locally-led urban development corporations, away from the previous 1980 Act centralised model (how truly local is local depends of course on the carrots and sticks deployed by the centre) but are we going to see any more ambitious/radical ideas come into play? 

This has been an only-scratching-the-surface and leaving-you-to-join-the-dots sort of blog post. Even getting this far has taken me, on-screen at least, all around the world. I don’t have all the answers. Be wary of those, on all sides, who pretend that they do!

Simon Ricketts, 30 July 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Does My Embodied Carbon Look Big In This?

M&S used to be the bellwether of the retail sector but its proposed demolition and redevelopment of its 456 – 472 Oxford Street store, in preference to refurbishment and extension, is as likely to be a bellwether of decision makers’ approach to carbon efficiency and in particular to justifying the loss of embodied carbon.

Siri, give me a definition of embodied carbon:

Embodied carbon means all the CO2 emitted in producing materials. It’s estimated from the energy used to extract and transport raw materials as well as emissions from manufacturing processes.

The embodied carbon of a building can include all the emissions from the construction materials, the building process, all the fixtures and fittings inside as well as from deconstructing and disposing of it at the end of its lifetime.” (UCL engineering faculty).

Plainly, maximising the carbon efficiency of new development should be a significant material consideration in the determination of planning applications. But it’s not easy. How, for instance, to weigh longer term operational carbon savings against the one-off carbon costs associated with demolition and rebuild? And how much weight is to be given to carbon saving in the planning process as against other considerations?

You can look in vain for any specific guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework. The “planning for climate change” section (paragraphs 153 to 158) is of course woefully out of date, with an update promised mañana. Climate crisis what crisis?

Even so, the issue was raised by the Secretary of State when he dismissed the Tulip appeal (11th November 2021): “Although considerable efforts have been made to adopt all available sustainability techniques to make the construction and operation of the scheme as sustainable as possible” the result would still amount to “a scheme with very high embodied energy and an unsustainable whole life-cycle.” The Secretary of State also agreed with the Inspector: “that the extensive measures that would be taken to minimise carbon emissions during construction would not outweigh the highly unsustainable concept of using vast quantities of reinforced concrete for the foundations and lift shaft to transport visitors to as high a level as possible to enjoy a view.

Notwithstanding the lack of national policy guidance, the London Plan does have a policy hook, Policy SI 2:

Not only that, as of 17 March 2022 the policy is supported by London Plan Guidance, Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessments and on the circular economy.

I want to scoot through the sequence of events so far in relation to the M&S proposal.

Its application for planning permission was submitted to Westminster City Council on 2 July 2021, proposing the demolition of the three buildings that comprise its 456 – 472 Oxford Street store, to make way for a comprehensive redevelopment to provide a building comprising two basement levels, ground and nine upper floors. The proposal would provide an office and retail led mixed use development. The oldest of the buildings, Orchard House, dates from the 1930s. Two comprise basement plus six storeys and one being basement plus seven storeys. Given the changing retail economy, the need for substantial changes to buildings such as this is of course no surprise. The scheme is by architects Philbrow & Partners.

Fred Philbrow stresses the lower lifetime carbon emissions that will arise from the new building, rather than a retrofit:

“It’s not always right to refurbish” old structures, Pilbrow told Dezeen, claiming that the contentious project is akin to trading in a gas guzzler for a Tesla.

“I would liken this to a discussion about a not-very-well-performing diesel car from the 1970s,” he said. “And what we’re trying to do is replace it with a Tesla.

In the short term, the diesel car has got less embodied carbon,” he added. “But very quickly, within between nine and 16 years, we will be ahead on carbon because our Tesla will perform better.” (Dezeen, 17 December 2021).

The application was resolved to be approved by Westminster City Council on 23 November 2021, despite last minute objections from Save Britain’s Heritage and others. The report says this on carbon:

The applicant has submitted a Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessment (WLCA) prepared by Arup, as required by Policy SI2 of the London Plan and City Plan Policy 36.

The WLCA includes a comparative assessment of the whole life carbon emissions of a ‘light touch’ refurbishment versus new build development options. The report sets out that refurbishment option has the lowest embodied carbon impact initially because minimal works (and materials) are required. However, this increases over time due to the required maintenance and poor operational performance of the existing buildings.

The assessment concludes that the new build option is the most efficient scenario, especially through the implementation of the low-carbon opportunities recommended in the report. Whilst it has a higher initial embodied carbon than the refurbishment option as it needs to be built (with a high carbon expenditure) – over its operational lifetime it will require much less maintenance than the refurbishment option and be a more efficient building, providing a betterment from years 15/16.

The GLA in their stage 1 response requested the applicant to complete the GLA’s WLCA assessment template. This has been submitted to the GLA and an update on this position with regard to London Plan policy S12 will be reported verbally at the Committee meeting.”

The resolution was subject to referral to the Mayor of London and completion of a section 106 agreement, including an index linked carbon offset payment of £1,198,134 payable prior to the commencement of development.

On the same day as Westminster’s resolution to grant, Historic England turned down a request by objectors that the building be listed.

The Mayor confirmed on 7 March 2022 that he was not going to intervene. However, Save Britain’s Heritage complained that he had not taken into account representations that they had made, including a report they had commissioned from Simon Sturgis Why a Comprehensive Retrofit Is more Carbon Efficient than the Proposed New Build. Simon had previously advised the Mayor on his emerging carbon policies. [NB see Simon Sturgis’ subsequent comments on this blog post at the foot of the page]

Unusually, the Mayor then decided he was going to reconsider the issue:

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London, said: ‘In line with London Plan policy on Whole Life Carbon, the question of retention and refurbishment or demolition and new build was considered in the GLA’s assessment of this application, and based on officer advice that there was no sound planning reason to intervene, on 7 March the Mayor made the decision to allow Westminster to determine the application.

However, City of Westminster is yet to issue its planning decision, and the GLA has now published its planning guidance on Whole Life Carbon and Circular Economy. In light of this situation GLA officers consider it would be prudent to consider a further Stage 2 report, which would also allow consideration of the detailed report by Simon Sturgis examining the carbon emissions impacts of the proposed demolition. An updated Stage 2 report will be presented for consideration at the Mayor’s meeting on Monday 4 April.’” (Architects Journal, 1 April 2022).

However, his decision on 4 April 2022 was the same – no intervention. The stage 2 report and addendum report are available here.

Given the assessment that the Mayor will have made as against his own policies, more up to date and stringent than those of the Government, it is perhaps disappointing for those who believe in devolved decision making then to read that Michael Gove has, presumably in response to further representations (see eg Save Britain’s Heritage’s letter dated 20 April 2022) issued a holding direction preventing Westminster City Council from issuing planning permission until he has decided whether to call it in. The holding direction, under Article 31 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015, is only a precautionary procedural step to buy time and doesn’t at all mean that the Secretary of State is definitely going to call the application in, just that he is considering whether to do that. Indeed holding directions are not particularly unusual in relation to controversial proposals where the Secretary of State has received requests from objectors for him to use his call in powers. seeking call in. But frankly it’s anybody’s guess what will now happen.

The planning system is certainly curious in its inconsistencies. What about the “demolish and rebuild” permitted development rights for some categories of building, introduced in August 2020? Or that demolition of itself does not usually require formal planning permission?

Concluding thoughts:

⁃ climate change considerations should increasingly be central to planning decision making

⁃ but it’s no use the Government reacting in an ad hoc way to specific proposals – up to date, practical, guidance is needed to manage everyone’s expectations – a lengthy call in inquiry is in no-one’s interests

⁃ it shouldn’t be about the easy headlines and twitter pile-ons, but about robust detailed calculations.

⁃ watch how heritage campaign groups continue to accentuate the embodied carbon issue: embodied carbon vs operational savings via more efficient buildings is going to be a constant battleground.

For further reading: Material Considerations: Climate change, embodied carbon and the role of planners (Lichfields’ Alison Bembenek, 11 Feb 2022).

For further listening: Blackstock’s PropCast podcast M&S refurbishment row: experts say demolition decisions need to be about more than just carbon (21 April 2022).

Talking of listening…no clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned discussion this week but plenty of previous episodes to listen to here and some good sessions lined up….

Simon Ricketts, 23 April 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Oligarchs Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seizure of property assets held by allies of President Putin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 5 March 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Liberty Leading The People (Delacroix)

Strong Beer: London Tall Buildings & The Master Brewer Case

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

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

Definition

A

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

Locations

B

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

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

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

Impacts

C

Development proposals should address the following impacts:

1) visual impacts […]

2) functional impact […]

3) environmental impact […]”

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

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

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

Quoting from the judgment:

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

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

DR12 set out a “Direction Overview” as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The analysis carried out by the judge is interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore:

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 17 December 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Photo by Jon Parry courtesy Unsplash

Views On Design – Three Recent Decisions

It is interesting to consider what the Secretary of State has said about design matters in three recent decisions, subsequent to the July 2021 revisions to the NPPF and new national model design code (see my 27 July 2021 blog post Beauty & The Beach).

Westferry Printworks

Image courtesy of Westferry Developments

Following the quashing of his predecessor’s decision to allow the appeal by Westferry Developments Limited in relation to the non-determination by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets of its application for planning permission for 1,524 dwellings and associated development on the former Westferry Printworks site (see my 23 May 2020 blog post) the Secretary of State has now dismissed the appeal in a decision letter dated 18 November 2021.

On design he says this:

“The Secretary of State has given careful consideration to the Inspector’s analysis at IR.A.420-435 and IR.B.235-240 and IR.B.302 in relation to the effect of the scale, height and massing of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the surrounding area. For the reasons given at IR.B.235-236 and IR.B.302 the Secretary of State agrees that the appeal scheme would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area (IR.B.302).

The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s assessment at IR.A.436 that the spacing between the proposed towers and the way materials and the detailed design of the facades would bring texture and variety to the appearance of the buildings. However, for the reasons given at IR.B.235-236, the Secretary of State further agrees that the appeal scheme would result in a proposal of excessive height, scale and mass which would fail to respond to the existing character of the place. He further agrees that it would not enhance the local context by responding positively to local distinctiveness and, like the Inspector, considers that the proposal would conflict with LonP 2021 Policy D3 (IR.B.236).

For the reasons given at IR.A.436-438 and IR.B.237, the Secretary of State agrees that although the site is within a Tall Buildings Zone (TBZ) as identified in the development 6 plan, the scale, height and mass of the proposal is such that it would not make a positive contribution to the skyline nor the local townscape or achieve an appropriate transition in scale to buildings of significantly lower height. He further agrees that it would not reinforce the spatial hierarchy of the local and wider context, and would cause harm to the significance of heritage assets, would harm the ability to appreciate a World Heritage Site (WHS) and would compromise the enjoyment of an adjoining water space (IR.B.237). He further agrees at IR.A.436 that the proposal would not be well related to the street scene of Westferry Road (IR.A.436). For the reasons given, he agrees that the proposal would conflict with LonP Policy D9. He also agrees at IR.B.238 that the proposal would conflict with LP 2031 Policy S.DH1 because it would not be of an appropriate scale, height, mass, bulk and form. He further agrees, for the reasons given at IR.B.239, that the proposal would conflict with Policy D.DH6.

The Secretary of State further agrees that for the reasons given at IR.B.240, the proposal would not accord with the design principles set out in site allocation 4.12 (Westferry Printworks) of the LP 2031 and would therefore conflict with site allocation 4.12.

For the reasons given, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR.B.302 that overall, the proposal would not represent high quality design which responds to its context. He further agrees that significant weight should be attached to the harm to the character and appearance of the area because of the degree of harm that would be caused and the wide area over which that harm would be experienced (IR.B.302).

The Secretary of State has taken in to consideration the appellant’s representation of 27 August 2021, including that the proposal is representative of the highest quality design and appearance and that the development would deliver an attractive well-designed landscape masterplan that is easily accessible for pedestrians and cyclists; that trees are integral to the proposed streetscape; and that the proposals will deliver a safe, secure and attractive environment. The appellant considers that the proposed development is compatible with the emphasis in the revised Framework for building and places to be beautiful and sustainable. The Secretary of State has also taken into account the Council’s representation of 26 August 2021. This considers that the amended Framework and the requirement to consider the National Design Guide further reinforces and strengthens the Council’s case, and sets out where the Council considers that the proposal does not align with the principles in the National Design Guide.

For the reasons given in this letter, the Secretary of State considers that overall, the appeal scheme does not reflect local design policies or government guidance on design, and is not in accordance with paragraph 134 of the Framework. This view is further reinforced by his conclusions on heritage issues, below. He considers that the shortcomings of the proposal in terms of the failure to accord with the provisions of the revised Framework carry significant weight against the proposal.”

The Tulip, 20 Bury Street, London EC3

Image courtesy of Bury Street Properties

On behalf of the Secretary of State, the Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher, dismissed an appeal by Bury Street Properties against the refusal by the City of London Corporation for planning permission for a 304 metre high visitor attraction in the City of London. His decision letter dated 11 November 2021 and inspector’s report make fascinating reading.

Zack Simons gave a great summary of the decision on clubhouse last Tuesday and you can listen again here.

There are some fascinating passages both in the decision letter and in inspector’s David Nicholson’s elegantly written report. Aside from his conclusions on heritage impact (particularly the effect of the proposal on the setting of the Tower of London world heritage site), there is a detailed analysis at paragraphs 32 to 41 of the six criteria for good design set out in paragraph 130 of the NPPF (the six criteria are unchanged from the previous version of the NPPF but it is interesting to see them used in this way):

Function

“…the Secretary of State agrees that the scheme would function properly with regard to delivering a very high level viewing experience together with some exciting fairground-style additions. He further agrees with the Inspector’s comments about the level of skill and effort which has been put into resolving the entrance and exit requirements in such a tight space and the quality of the detailing. However, he agrees with the Inspector’s concerns that the number of visitors would need to be limited to prevent overcrowding at ground level. Overall, he agrees with the Inspector that the extent to which the design would overcome the constraints (of the site) and function well is a matter which should be given moderate weight (IR14.72).

For the reasons given in IR14.73, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that little if any thought has been given to how the building would function over its extended lifetime. He notes that there are no plans for its re-use when it has served its purpose as a viewing tower, or for its demolition. He agrees that if the owner were disinclined with little incentive, it would leave either an unmaintained eyesore or a large public liability, and this counts heavily against its design quality.

• Visually attractive

The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector, for the reasons given at IR14.74, that while the quality of the presentation materials is of an exceptional standard, achieving the highest architectural quality goes well beyond the level of detailing and presentation. While he recognises that the quality of the presentation materials has made it easier to appreciate how the scheme is designed and how it impacts on its surroundings, he considers that the quality of the presentation materials is not directly relevant to the quality of the design and does not carry weight in this matter.

The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is some comfort that the attention to detail would be followed through into the finished article (IR14.83). For the reasons given at IR14.75-14.83, he agrees with the Inspector that however carefully detailed, in terms of aesthetics the result would be visually compromised, being neither a continuous flowing object, as with the Gherkin, nor a structure of three distinct parts, as with the Monument (IR14.77). He also shares the Inspector’s reservations about the finish to the concrete of the Tulip (IR14.78-14.79). In terms of symmetry, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that while there have obviously been considerable effort and architectural dexterity employed in modelling the top of the building, the way the gondolas, slide and skywalk have been incorporated into the viewing areas has produced a compromised design that is neither a flamboyant expression nor a consistent elegance (IR14.81).

In terms of overall appearance, the Secretary of State, like the Inspector, finds too many compromises to amount to world class architecture. He considers that taking into account his conclusions in paragraphs 35-36 above and paragraph 46 below, the 8 proposal does not draw support from paragraph 126 of the Framework, which promotes the creation of ‘high quality, beautiful and sustainable buildings and places’.

Sympathetic to local character and history

“…the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the form and materials of the Tulip at its proposed height and location would be a poor and unsympathetic response to the historical context. He considers that this weighs very heavily against the quality of the design, and has reflected this in the very considerable weight attributed to the heritage harm.”

Strong sense of place

“The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector, for the reasons given at IR14.88 to 14.90, that the base of the Tulip and the Pavilion would create distinctive spaces and the double height arches between the buttresses would be attractive and welcoming alongside the green wall. He further agrees that the sense of drama and expression of structural forces at the base of the Tulip would be striking, and that the Pavilion would be a bright new building with an exciting roof garden at high level. However, he also agrees that the space around the entrances might feel uncomfortable and shares the Inspector’s reservations about the treatment of the Pavilion’s street elevation and how the ground level functions would be achieved. Overall, he agrees with the Inspector’s conclusions that while the scheme would enhance detailed elements of the existing context it would do so at a cost to openness (IR14.90).”

• Optimise the potential of the site

For the reasons given at IR14.91, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that while the scheme would develop this windfall site to the full, and considerable skill has gone into overcoming the functional requirements within such a tight site and turning these into attractively detailed elements, nevertheless, this would not overcome the loss of open space and part of the backdrop to the Gherkin.”

• Inclusive and accessible

“…while the scheme would be generally accessible to all, its inclusivity would be limited by the cost of the main attractions.”

The Secretary of State concludes on design that he “agrees with the Inspector that the approach would be a muddle of architectural ideas and would be compromised, and that the unresolved principles behind the design would mean that in many regards it would fall between two stools. He further agrees that the development would not amount to a design of outstanding quality, and that the quality of design would not be nearly high enough as to negate its harm to the settings of heritage assets.”

“The Secretary of State has gone on to consider these findings against the revised design policies in the Framework. He concludes that those design elements set out above which weigh against the scheme, both in terms of design process and outcome, have greater weight than the positive elements which have been identified. Overall, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR14.106 that the proposal would not amount to a design of outstanding quality.”

“In particular, The Secretary of State considers that the revisions to the Framework make clear that the creation of high quality, beautiful and sustainable buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve (Framework paragraph 126) and he considers this emphasis on design quality to be an important material consideration in this case.”

The Secretary of State has further considered whether there is conflict with government guidance on design. In the light of his conclusions above, and for the same reasons, he considers that the proposal is not in accordance with aspects of the National Design Guide, in particular those elements of the Guide dealing with context and resources. He has taken into account the representation of 7 September made on behalf of the appellant which refers to the National Design Guide and the evidence submitted to the inquiry. However, as above, because of significance of the areas of conflict, and the resultant degree of harm, overall he considers that that the proposal does not reflect government guidance on design. He considers that design as a whole carries significant weight against the proposal.”

It is well worth reading the more detailed analysis in inspector David Nicholson’s report. Given public discourse about the “beauty” agenda, reflected in the revised NPPF and national model design code, he makes this interesting comment:

“I did not pursue the notion of beautiful found in the draft NPPF. It is evident, for all the reasons that they set out, that the Appellant and its supporters consider that the scheme would be beautiful while objectors think it would not. While I certainly accept that innovative designs can be beautiful, in other regards I consider that the concept of beauty or otherwise for this appeal is in the eye of the beholder and that any further discussion is unlikely to be helpful”.

Amen to that.

Brighton Marina

Image courtesy of the Outer Harbour Development Company Partnership

The Secretary of State dismissed an appeal by the Outer Harbour Development Company Partnership in relation to the non-determination by Brighton and Hove City Council of an application for planning permission for phase two of a phased residential-led mixed use development at Brighton Harbour Outer Harbour. On design, the decision letter dated 11 November 2021 includes the following:

For the reasons given he agrees with the Inspector that the various spaces want for discipline and overall there are not enough ‘events’ or ‘signposts’ to make for a properly legible route across the site (IR11.17). Furthermore, he agrees with the Inspector that in terms of the regularity of the façade treatments, and the homogenous mass that would be created, together with the failure to provide a proper landmark or bookend, the scheme lacks the exuberance and ambition that the best of Brighton’s seaside buildings exhibit. He also agrees that it would not, therefore, be a positive contributor to its context and in many respects, it would fail to take the great opportunity the appeal site presents (IR11.22).

“The Secretary of State agrees with the Council that the updated NPPF gives even stronger weight to the need to follow local design guidance. For the reasons given in this letter, he agrees with the Council’s assessment of the areas of conflict with the UDF. He has taken into account the Appellant’s representations on the matter. However, given the significance of the areas of conflict, and the resultant degree of harm, particularly in respect of heritage, harm to the setting of the National Park and living conditions, he considers that overall there is conflict with the newly adopted UDF, this being a material consideration in its own right. In the light of this conclusion, he considers that overall the proposal fails to reflect local design policies, as required by paragraph 134 of the Framework. He further considers that it fails to reflect the elements of paragraph 130 relating to layout, the requirement to be sympathetic to local character and history, establishing a strong sense of place and providing a high standard of amenity.

The Secretary of State has further considered whether the proposal reflects government guidance on design. In the light of his conclusions above, and for the same reasons, he considers that the proposal is not in accordance with the aspects of the National Design Guide dealing with context, layout, form, appearance, external appearance and public spaces. He has taken into account the appellant’s statement in their representation of 5 August that the provisions set out in paragraph 134 of the revised Framework are covered within Mr Aspland’s POE, which sets out how the landscape design proposals meet the relevant objectives of the National Design Guide. However, as above, because of significance of the areas of conflict, and the resultant degree of harm, overall he considers there is conflict with the National Design Guide. He therefore agrees with the conclusion in the Council’s representation of 24 August that the proposal does not reflect government guidance on design.

Overall, the Secretary of State considers that the shortcomings in terms of the failure to accord with the provisions of the revised Framework carry significant weight against the proposal.”

Taken together, it is clear that care is needed to ensure that proposals are indeed consistent with the revised chapter 12 (“achieving well-designed places”) of the NPPF. But how? On Tuesday 23 November 2021 at 4.30 pm I’m participating in a Montagu Evans webinar: “Planning for beauty, or the “provably popular”. A new urban design agenda?” which I hope will explore the practical implications. I will be joining Chris Miele (Montagu Evans), Charles Banner QC (Keating Chambers) and leading architect Deborah Saunt, one of the founding directors of DSDHA. If of interest please do register here.

In consequence, there will be no Planning Law Unplanned session on Tuesday. You will have to make do with listening back to last week’s session – featuring Zack Simons, as mentioned above, along with Kate Olley, who discussed last month’s Sage case.

Simon Ricketts, 19 November 2021

Personal views et cetera

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Time is money. Time is unmet needs. Time is unrealised public benefits.

I just wanted to capture some of the current, frankly depressing, data that is out there on application and appeal timescales.

The purpose of this post is to underline that there is a significant problem to be addressed. What to do about it will be for another post – there is certainly much that can be done that does not require (1) legislation (2) additional resources or (3) any procedural shortcuts.

Applications

A piece from yesterday’s Planning daily online: Council signs off 2,380-home urban extension almost four years after committee approval (£). Four years is certainly going it some but I can confirm from constant first-hand experience how difficult it can be to move a project from resolution to grant to permission at any speed. The larger or more complex the project, the longer those negotiations over the section 106 agreement and associated aspects can end up taking.

My colleague Lida Nguyen has been looking at the position in London. She has looked at all applications for planning permission which were referred to the Mayor between 3 January and 11 December 2020, so applications of potential strategic importance as defined in the Mayor of London Order 2008 and, for those which were then approved by the relevant borough (without intervention by the Mayor or secretary of State), she has looked at the average time that the application took from validation to the borough’s resolution to approve and from the borough’s resolution to approve to permission being issued. Discarding a few anomalous cases, this left 88 to be analysed.

In my humble view the statistics are appalling, but not surprising:

Application submission to resolution to approve

Median: 228.5 days

Mean: 269 days

Resolution to approve to grant of permission

Median: 218.5 days

Mean: 259 days

It’s rather deflating for applicants and (when you stand back from the detail) surely absurd that resolution to grant in reality only marks the halfway point to a permission in relation to significant projects in London. Wouldn’t it be a start for boroughs, the Mayor and those acting for applicants to set a target of halving each of those figures and agreeing the necessary steps to achieve that reduction?

Appeals

My 25 May 2019 blog post Pace Making: Progress At PINS reported on Bridget Rosewell’s recommendation, adopted by the Planning Inspectorate, that inquiry appeals decided by an inspector (i.e. not recovered by the Secretary of State) should be decided within 24 weeks of receipt and that where the Secretary of State is to be the decision-maker, inspectors’ reports should be submitted to the Secretary of State within 30 weeks of receipt of the appeal. Initial progress was really impressive – until the first lockdown struck in March 2020. After a slow start (see my 2 May 2020 blog post There Is No E In Inquiry), PINS of course eventually, to the massive credit of all involved, embraced virtual hearings, inquiries and examinations and the risk of an impossible backlog was averted. However, it is clear from the latest Planning Inspectorate statistical update (19 August 2021) that there is still much work to do:

“The mean average time to make a decision, across all cases in the last 12 months (Aug 20 to Jul 21), was 27 weeks. The median time is 23 weeks.

The median time to decide a case decreased by 0.6 weeks between June and July 21, with the median being 21.4 weeks.

Median timeliness by procedure type is shown in the summary table below.

Performance since April 21 against the median measure has only varied by 0.7 weeks, between 21.4 weeks and 22.1 weeks. Performance had been improving between November 20 and March 21. For inquiries, in the last two months, cases have taken longer to decide as a result of very old enforcement inquiry cases being decided.

Enforcement decisions made in the last 12 months had a median decision time of 34 weeks. Looking at the annual totals, the median and mean time to decision for specialist decisions have been broadly the same as for enforcement decisions, and longer than the median for planning decisions. Since February 21 there has been a change in this trend, with Specialist cases being quicker than Enforcement.

The median time for planning appeals decided by inquiry under the Rosewell Process over the 12 months to July 21 is 35 weeks. This is quicker than other types of casework decided by inquiry.

Whilst the extent of statistical information provided these days is welcome, it is difficult sometimes to track the figures through the different tables so as to work out what the likely timescale outcome for a prospective appellant will turn out to be. I have also looked in vain within the statistics for any information as the time being taken between appeal receipt and validation – a traditional black hole when it comes to appeal timescales. I’m also struggling to see any breakdown as to what the “Rosewell” inquiries were (35 weeks average) as compared to inquiries overall (79 weeks!).

That overall 27 weeks average is deceptively encouraging for anyone looking at anything other than a written representations appeal. Because those appeals make up 95% of the total of course they massively skew the mean figure. But even then, although not reflected in these statistics, my own anecdotal impression is that validation of appeals which proceed by way of written representations or hearing is very slow indeed, raising a large question mark over the overall statistics. Possibly something to do with the focus on Rosewell inquiry appeal targets. Am I being unfair? What solid information on this is there out there? If there isn’t any, why not??

The Planning Inspectorate Annual Report and Accounts (July 2021) contains further statistical information, with tables such as these looking back at the changing position over the last five years:

In order to meet Rosewell targets, surely on that last table the 90th percentile needs to come down from 66 weeks to 24 weeks – and to be measured from receipt of appeal rather than validation?

Again, as with timescales for major applications in London, with appeal inquiries, surely we are looking at the need to more than halve current timescales?

All tables above have been taken from PINS documentation, for which thanks.

Simon Ricketts, 20 August 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Planning Law Unplanned is having a summer break this week, before returning at 6pm on Tuesday 31 August for somewhat of a BECG/DP9 special, London Elections 2022: Politics Meets Planning. Join the club here for notifications of this and future clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned events.

Photograph by Ben White on Unsplash

Westminster’s Bump In The Road: The Mound

Westminster City Council’s deputy leader Councillor Melvyn Caplan resigned yesterday (12 August 2021) over the summer fiasco of the temporary viewing platform that has been built next to Marble Arch, in the middle of the gyratory roundabout where Park Lane meets Oxford Street. From WCC’s press statement Westminster City Council update on Marble Arch Mound:

The Mound opened too early, and we have apologised for that. It has become clear that costs have risen more than anticipated and that is totally unacceptable. Our original forecast cost was £3.3m. Total costs are now £6m, covering every aspect of the project: construction, operation and eventual removal.”

All credit to Councillor Caplan for taking that honourable step. However, so many questions arise from this:

• On the one hand, is it right for one person to carry the can, but, on the other hand, why don’t we see more examples of leadership like this in local or national government when bigger things go wrong?

• Doesn’t the Council deserve at least some credit for being innovative, in the face of the challenges faced by Oxford Street and the west end? There’s surely nothing wrong with “off the wall” projects as a matter of principle as long as behind the scenes they are as de-risked as possible and it will be a shame if the crushing “computer says no” answer to every idea will now be “remember the mound”.

• When is it appropriate for a public authority to take on this sort of project and when should it de-risk via the private sector? Didn’t it in fact ring alarm bells that a private operator wasn’t prepared to speculate on the project, or weren’t they even given the opportunity?

• Did the computer generated imagery serve to oversell the initial experience?

This project did seem to get an exceptionally easy ride.

The application for planning permission was resolved to be approved on 30 March 2021 and planning permission issued later that day, with the application only having been submitted on 19 February (which was the first time, as far as I know, the project entered the public domain). So applications can be determined quickly (in less than six weeks) under the current system then, even for an eight storey high temporary structure on metropolitan open land next to a grade 1 listed building and with the lead-in to a committee meeting! We’ll all have some of that please.

From the report to Planning Applications Sub-Committee:

“The location of the structure is sensitive due to its setting adjacent to the Grade 1 Listed Marble Area [sic] and location on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). However, the provision of a temporary visitor is aimed at attracting visitors back to the Oxford Street District by increasing footfall, and supporting economic recovery following the Covid -19 pandemic. This is a clear planning benefit which is considered to outweigh the less than substantial harm that would be caused to the designated heritage assets.

I don’t particularly quibble with the fact that planning permission was granted (and I note that it did have much business support – after all it really wasn’t in principle a bad idea), although it is interesting to see the light touch applied to the sustainability of the project in the officer’s report:

Sustainability:

“Relocation of trees, grass, wood and soil. The proposal is that elements used in the construction of the structure, namely wood, soil, grass, and trees will all find new uses in nearby gardens and parks. The submission refers to ‘a co-ordinated dismantling programme to enable the transplanting of the numerous plants and trees used in landscaping of the hill to other projects in and beyond the Oxford Street District for the benefit of its communities’.

The focus will be on greening school environments, community spaces, and housing amenity areas. The planting used on this project will meet the City Council’s priorities for health and wellbeing. It is envisaged that the project as a whole can then contribute to the development and illustration of the Council’s Green Infrastructure Strategy.

The Head of Arboricultural Services advises that there are limitations on suitable space available for such material and attempting to transplant living plant material is likely to result in a high mortality rate. Therefore, this is unlikely to be a practical proposition. In the circumstances whilst the intention to re-use as much of the structure as possible is welcomed and encouraged. Given potential practical difficulties highlighted it is not recommended that this is secured by condition.”

After planning permission was granted, the final go-ahead for the project was given by cabinet in May 2021.

This what was said about costs:

The current indicative construction costs for the mound are approximately £1.998m. These will be met from the £150m investment in Oxford Street District approved by Full Council in March 2019. Capital expenditure of c£522k will ensure a number of permanent legacy improvements are delivered across the district and this will be met from the approved Highways capital budgets. The potential for significant income generation has been further developed. This will be offset against operational and construction costs to reduce the overall net cost.

To these costs were to be added the costs of the operator contract.

Cabinet were informed as to the prospect of income in the order of £2m being generated by the attraction.

Given that entrance is now going to be free for the duration of August, sadly the figures currently look on the optimistic side.

Why wasn’t there more scrutiny of the budget? Was everyone just caught up in the moment and conscious of the narrow window for pressing the “go” button? After all, warning bell surely, the architects, MVRDV, had previously proposed a very similar scheme for the Serpentine Gallery in 2004, which was abandoned for financial and health and safety reasons (see MVRDV’s proposed 2004 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion was “a heroic failure” (Dezeen, 8 November 2015) ).

My final question was as to the computer generated imagery used to “sell” the project. It looks instagram-amazing – and with a project like this the detail was always going to make the difference between success and failure. It is always going to be about that initial opening day wow factor: wasn’t the real problem (as per the first part of that WCC press statement) just that it really wasn’t ready to be unveiled? Worse things have happened, but it’s obviously difficult when you make a false, and unusual, step in such a high profile location.

Picture courtesy Westminster City Council

Who knows, it might turn out largely as illustrated (just late, like everything) and after all (although perhaps a stretch in this instance), perhaps all publicity is indeed good publicity. I’ll pay a visit to see what all the fuss is about, with maybe a little retail therapy en route (which after all is what it’s all about). Overall it is obvious that mistakes have been made, but (1) (oldest of sayings) let who is without sin cast the first stone and (2) (newest of sayings) don’t you just hate to see a combined media and social media pile-on?

Simon Ricketts, 13 August 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Our Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event this Tuesday 17 August (6 to 7.15 pm) should be fascinating: “An End To Ugly? The Office for Place & National Model Design Code unpacked”, with special guests Nicholas Boys-Smith, Chris Miele and Vicky Payne. Sign up to the app here.

Picture courtesy Westminster City Council

London Plans

Surely planning becomes a democratic irrelevance when the plan making process is slower than the electoral cycle? That’s pretty much the position in London. After all, Sadiq Khan wouldn’t have managed it if he hadn’t been gifted a further year in post by virtue of the postponement of the May 2020 elections.

Election: 7 May 2016. First consultation document: October 2016. Adopted plan 2 March 2021.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be this way. The plan “must deal only with matters which are of strategic importance to Greater London” (section 334(5), Greater London Authority Act 1999).

My 23 April 2017 blog post Make No Little Plans: The London Plan heralded the imminent publication of initial non-statutory consultation in relation to the new London Plan. The hope at that stage was to have an adopted plan in place by Autumn 2019. I referred to the 400 pages or so of the then current plan and expressed the hope that its replacement would be shorter. Hmm, not so.

One of the issues with this process has certainly been of the Mayor’s making – the sheer bloated nature of the plan, with its excessive layers of detail. What can be done to make sure that this never happens again?

But the other issue has not entirely been of the Mayor’s making. For the whole of his period in office he has faced opposition from Government, which has been placing pressure on him to increase planned housing numbers well beyond the already ambitious and probably unachievable numbers that he has been planning for. See for instance the previous Secretary of State’s 27 July 2018 letter and Robert Jenrick’s 13 March 2020 letter directing that a series of amendments be made to the draft plan.

“I had expected you to set the framework for a step change in housing delivery, paving the way for further increases given the next London Plan will need to assess housing need by using the Local Housing Need methodology. This has not materialised, as you have not taken the tough choices necessary to bring enough land into the system to build the homes needed.

Having considered your Plan at length my conclusion is that the necessary decisions to bring more land into the planning system have not been taken, the added complexity will reduce appetite for development further and slow down the system, and throughout the Plan you have directly contradicted national policy. As you know, by law you must have regard to the need for your strategies to be consistent with national policies.

For these reasons I am left with no choice but to exercise my powers to direct changes.

Your Plan must be brought to the minimum level I would expect to deliver the homes to start serving Londoners in the way they deserve. However, this must be the baseline and given this, I ask that you start considering the next London Plan immediately and how this will meet the higher level and broader housing needs of London.”

Then most recently, only after the Mayor had chased on 9 December 2020 for a response from Government to his April 2020 proposed amendments to address those March 2020 directions, the Secretary of State wrote again on 10 December 2020 with further directions.

But, to accentuate the positive, we now have an adopted new London Plan (542 pages of it).

This is a good Lichfields blog post on it. I did also like this Tom Pemberton post that summarised some of its implications in seven slides.

The whole process will now have to start again, as soon as we are past the 6 May elections, given the Government’s expectation of an immediate review to take into account the current NPPF and the housing numbers deriving from the revised standard method (including indeed its additional 35% figure for London and other major towns and cities). The new numbers are truly challenging/unrealistic (93,500 per annum as against the 52,000 figure in the new plan and annual delivery of less than 37,000).

What a political dilemma for the next Mayor to face – to broker some sort of solution with Government, boroughs, communities, authorities surrounding London and, for so long as there are going to be the range of onerous requirements that are set out in the new plan, developers and funders. On top of all the other challenges post-pandemic, post- Brexit and in the midst of a climate emergency.

And yet numerous candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for 6 May 2021 and we haven’t yet reached the 30 March deadline for delivery of nomination papers (fancy a go?).

I’m chairing a Planning Futures hustings event at 2pm on 9 March 2021, where we will have a number of the candidates or their representatives. It will focus on planning/housing/built environment policies. The event is free so do register and join me.

In preparation I did a little googling to see what the main candidates might be saying that might give some hope that the scale of the challenges ahead are publicly acknowledged.

⁃ Sadiq Khan’s campaign was launched on 4 March, focusing on listing the achievements of his first term rather than setting out any significant new direction or pledges.

⁃ Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign website – 100,000 shared ownership homes to be sold at £100,000 each – a London Infrastructure Fund to fund long-term transport projects.

⁃ Green Party candidate Sian Berry’s campaign website – would set up “a People’s Land Commission to find small sites for new homes, green spaces and community support”. “In addition to using existing powers including compulsory purchase orders, I will also continue to lobby central Government for a devolved or national “community right to buy” which will create new rights for local community groups to buy any land or property that is neglected, empty and needed for community uses”.

Liberal Democrat party candidate Luisa Porritt’s campaign includes “homes in the heart of the city”, “a green roadmap” and “reinvent the high street”.

⁃ Women’s Equality Party candidate Mandu Reid: “Stand with us to make sure no woman is turned away from refuge, to close the pay gap in a generation, to balance work and family life for everyone, and to make London the first gender equal city in the world.”

⁃ UKIP candidate Peter Gammons will “will focus on new housing in every borough, holding developers accountable for providing affordable housing and prioritising Londoners.” He has apparently written a book, “London – a road map for recovery”, although I couldn’t find it on Amazon.

I think we need to get beyond these platitudes, and that is what I shall attempt to do on Tuesday….

Simon Ricketts, 6 March 2021

Personal views, et cetera

London, 1572. Those were the days.