VIP, Biscuits: 2 More Refusals For Major Projects In London

Getting messy isn’t it?” was how I ended my 26 January 2019 blog post The Secretary Of State & London.

Two more decisions to note since that blog post:

VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton

I suspect that this is the first example of a London Mayor calling in an application for his own determination and refusing it. In the final month of his mayorality in April 2016, Boris Johnson had agreed to defer a decision in relation to Bishopsgate Goodsyard, faced with an officer’s recommendation to refuse the application (it ended up never being determined). But Sadiq Khan’s flip flopping over Leopard Guernsey Anchor Propco Limited’s application to the London Borough of Greenwich for planning permission to redevelop the VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton has been quite something else.

This is a scheme that started off as comprising 975 dwellings , together with non-residential floorspace, in buildings ranging from nine to 28 storeys. Following consultation responses and comments from the Mayor in his stage 1 referral report, the 28 storey tower was removed and the amount of housing reduced to 771.

Greenwich officers recommended approval but on 9 July 2018 committee members resolved to refuse it on five grounds, namely overdevelopment, insufficient proportion of family sized housing, lack of a safe access to the business premises next door (a building known as Imex House that houses Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook’s studio) and introduction of noise sensitive uses, failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision and daylight/sunlight deficiencies.

Having considered his officers’ stage 2 report dated 13 August 2018, the Mayor called in the application for his own determination. The report sets out the various improvements that would be sought to the proposals as part of the call in process.

Various amendments were negotiated and secured. Officers’ stage 3 report was published for the representation hearing held on 29 January 2019. The report recommended approval.

But then the bombshell at the end of the representation hearing. Despite having intervened to prevent Greenwich members refusing the application against their officers’ recommendations six months previously, and despite amendments to the scheme proposals having been negotiated to officers’ satisfaction, presumably in line with the Mayor’s instructions (if not, was he not paying attention or something?), the Mayor then announces that he is refusing the application. His reasons for refusal published a few days later on 4 February 2019 in part bear a marked resemblance to those of Greenwich’s planning committee: poor design; unsatisfactory relationship with Imex House and introduction of noise sensitive uses; failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision, and absence of a section 106 agreement to secure affordable housing and other obligations (I’m not sure whether this is a purely procedural reason for refusal or he was actually not satisfied with the affordable package negotiated by his officers: 35%, rising to 40% with grant).

I have no views on the scheme itself, and I accept that of course he must have an open mind during the representation hearing, but what a waste of six months! He says in the letter setting out his reasons for refusal that he “called in this application to subject it to further scrutiny” but that is a poor excuse. He was surely looking to use the particularly useful Mayoral call in power in order to squeeze some further enhancements from the scheme so that, when that had been done by his officers to his satisfaction, he could approve it. In turning it down, where does that leave his officers? And given that applicants are unable to engage with the man himself, can they now be sure that what they are being told by his team is necessary to secure approval will indeed be sufficient?

Bermondsey Biscuit Factory and Bermondsey Campus Site

The decision of the London Borough of Southwark at its planning committee meeting on 6 February 2019 to refuse planning permission for Grosvenor’s 1,342 dwelling build to rent scheme in Bermondsey is another one to be aware of. Members followed the recommendations in the officers’ report, the main reason being that Grosvenor’s affordable housing package was unacceptable, comprising, in summary, that 27.37% of the habitable rooms would be let at an average discount of 25% below market rents, with usual early and late stage viability review mechanisms. (The application indicated that “the depth of discount across the affordable units could vary, with greater discounts offered on some units, but this would require higher rents (up to 80% of market rents) on others to ensure that the overall level of discount does not exceed 25% overall. Grosvenor has described the sum equating to a 25% discount as the ‘subsidy pot’ and suggested whilst this could be distributed in a variety of ways, the impact of the DMR cannot exceed the financial value of that ‘subsidy pot’ “).

The Mayor of London had flagged in his stage 1 report: “Whilst the proposed increase in housing supply is strongly supported, in the absence of an independently verified viability position the proposed 27% provision of affordable housing is unacceptable. The applicant must deliver deeper DMR discounts, including London Living Rent

Southwark took an equivalent position but the report to committee is interesting in the way that it (1) transparently sets out the differences between the viability work carried out by the parties’ respective viability consultants (GVA – in old money, now Avison Young – having advised the council after the publication of the Mayor’s stage 1 report) and (2) highlights the differences in build to rent (referred to as PRS, private rental sector, in the committee report) affordable housing policy approach in two dimensions: at GLA vs borough level, and as between adopted and emerging plans. Not an unfamiliar position for any developer but particularly difficult for those promoting build to rent (which is, after all, strongly supported in principle by MHCLG and the Mayor of London) as a relatively new product in terms of determining the appropriate approach to affordable housing.

The viability differences are nicely summarised by Mike Phillips (ex Property Week editor) in his 4 February 2019 Bisnow piece Grosvenor’s Bermondsey Rejection Is A Microcosm Of London’s Affordable Housing Quandary.

As to the complexities arising from varying policy approaches to build to rent, a few extracts from the committee report:

⁃ “London Plan policies 3.11 and 3.12 and draft London Plan Policy H5 seek to maximise the delivery of affordable housing, with the draft London Plan seeking delivery against a strategic target of 50%. Policy H6 of the draft London Plan and the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG prescribe a threshold approach to affordable housing to incentivise swift delivery, and draft London Plan Policy H13 applies this principle to ‘build to rent’ products. In this case, a minimum of 35% affordable housing threshold applies.

⁃ The Mayor’s affordable housing and viability SPG “recognises that Discount Market Rent is an appropriate tenure within PRS developments and considers that the rent level for DMR should be pegged at London Living Rent levels, for households with incomes up to £60,000. The guidance requires affordable housing to be secured in perpetuity, and in addition requires a clawback mechanism if the wider PRS homes are sold out of the Build to Rent sector within 15 years. The clawback is intended to respond to the different financial model applied to the PRS sector and to ensure the developer does not benefit financially if the homes are converted to market sale.”

⁃ The borough’s core strategy “requires that a minimum 35% affordable housing is provided on all residential developments of 10 or more units, with a tenure split in the Bermondsey area of 70:30 social rent: intermediate homes. Applications would be subject to viability assessments if policy compliance is not being offered, with the expectation that as much affordable housing will be provided as is financially viable. The Core Strategy makes no specific reference to PRS housing.”

⁃ The submission version of the New Southwark Plan “requires the affordable ‘DMR’ housing to be secured in perpetuity, and the overall housing development to be secured within the rental sector for at least 30 years” [contrast with the Mayor’s 15 year requirement] with a changed tenure split of 15% social rent and 20% DMR at London Living Rent [contrast to GLA position where it can all be London Living Rent DMR]

Clearly it is going to be key for the parties to resolve their difficulties over viability, whether that requires changes to the scheme or an appeal. This was a decision taken against up to date government guidance on the approach to viability appraisals, the work was relatively transparent and there was not a major difference of principle over benchmark land value. The reality is that the process is not straightforward; there are issues of judgment, particularly when dealing with a relatively untested business model and the need to estimate the rents that will be achievable in an area that will have been significantly changed by way of development. After that, the tenure split question is surely economically subsidiary, although clearly on-site social rented housing will come at greater cost to the scheme’s viability in a number of ways and so there are political choices to be made.

More widely

I’m not sure whether the Secretary of State had either scheme specifically in mind, when he threw his own political pebble into the pond, as reported in the Planner on 31 January 2019: Brokenshire tells GLA to step up (https://www.theplanner.co.uk/news/brokenshire-tells-gla-to-‘step-up’ ). People in glass houses…

In the meantime, the examination continues into the draft London Plan. Hearing sessions are currently considering housing issues, with MHCLG participating. The Just Space website is a useful unofficial resource in relation to the examination, with links to each written statement for each session together with thumbnail-sketch type notes of the session itself.

Lastly, as a postscript to my 26 January 2019 blog post, it has now been reported that Croydon Council as well as possibly the Mayor are supporting Thornsett Group’s challenge of the Secretary of State’s Purley Baptist Church call-in decision.

Still messy, isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts

Personal views, et cetera

Peek Frean biscuits, from Bermondsey.

The Secretary Of State & London

The Secretary of State wrote last year to the Mayor of London: “I am not convinced your assessment of need reflects the full extent of housing need in London to tackle affordability problems. I have listened carefully to yours, and others, representations, and I am clear that the public interest lies with ensuring you deliver the homes London needs, including in the short term, as quickly as possible.”

Do we see this same message being delivered in his recent interventions?

None of this is news to regular readers of Planning magazine but I give you:

Purley Baptist Church site, Croydon

A scheme by Thornsett Group and Purley Baptist Church for the “demolition of existing buildings on two sites; erection of a 3 to 17 storey development on the ‘Island Site’ (Purley Baptist Church, 1 Russell Hill Road, 1-4 Russell Hill Parade, 2-12 Brighton Road, Purley Hall), comprising 114 residential units, community and church space and a retail unit; and a 3 to 8 storey development on the ‘South Site’ (1-9 Banstead Road) comprising 106 residential units, and associated landscaping and works.”

Supported by the London Borough of Croydon and by the Mayor. But opposed by, amongst others, Conservative MP Chris Philp (Croydon South). The application was called in on 12 April 2017 and, despite inspector David Nicholson recommending approval, refused by the Secretary of State in his decision letter dated 3 December 2018, essentially on design and heritage grounds:

26. Given his serious concerns about the design of the scheme as set out above at paragraphs 13 to 15, for the reasons given above the Secretary of State does not consider that the application is in accordance with the development plan overall. He has gone on to consider whether there are material considerations which indicate that the proposal should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan.

27. In favour, the scheme will provide 220 new homes which he considers should be given significant weight. The Secretary of State also affords significant weight to the benefits to Purley District Centre arising as a result of the regeneration of the site. The provision of a new church and greatly enhanced community facilities are also benefits, to which the Secretary of State gives moderate weight. He considers the level of affordable housing and the potential effects on air quality to be neutral in the planning balance.

28. Against the scheme, however, the Secretary of State gives substantial weight to the poor design of the South Side proposals, and to the height and proportions of the tower set out in paragraphs 13 to 15 above, which he considers not to be in accordance with relevant policies in the development plan.

29. The Secretary of State has also considered whether the identified ‘less than substantial’ harm to the significance of Purley Library and surrounding Conservation Areas is outweighed by the public benefits of the proposal. In accordance with the s.66 LBCA duty, he attributes considerable weight to the harm the significance of Purley Library. However, he considers that the benefits of the scheme, as set out in Paragraph 22 of this letter, are insufficient to outbalance the identified ‘less than substantial’ harm to the significance of Purley Library and surrounding conservation areas. He considers that the balancing exercise under paragraph 196 of the Framework is therefore not favourable to the proposal.”

It always feels slightly odd when the Secretary of State, on a desk-based examination of a set of papers, and following a public inquiry, considers it appropriate to overrule the judgment of local planning authority, Mayor and inspector in relation to these sorts of issues

I understand that the decision has been challenged in the High Court by the applicants.

Sir William Sutton Estate, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

By contrast, a scheme opposed both by RBKC (which refused permission) and by the Mayor for “demolition of the existing [Sir William Sutton] estate (Blocks A-K, N and O) and ancillary office; delivery of 343 new residential homes comprising of 334 apartments and 9 mews within buildings of 4-6 storeys; provision of Class D1 community floorspace with associated café; new Class A1-A5 and B1 floorspace; creation of new adopted public highway between Cale Street and Marlborough Street; new vehicular access from Ixworth Place; creation of new basement for car parking, cycle parking and storage; new energy centre fuelled by CHP, and works to adjacent pavement“.

The developer, Clarion Housing Group (formerly Affinity Sutton Homes Limited), appealed. Curiously, the appeal was only recovered by the Secretary of State for his own determination on 1 May 2018, just over a week before the start of the inquiry. By his decision letter dated 18 December 2018 the Secretary of State accepted his inspector’s recommendation and dismissed the appeal.

The main issue was in relation to the level of affordable housing proposed. After the appeal was submitted, the appellant had attempted to improve the position with changes to the scheme:

The key changes relate to the quantum of social rented housing and the number of mews houses. The Revised Scheme proposes 2,825 m2 more social rented floorspace, an increase from 237 to 270 social rented homes. The 9 private mews houses would be removed and replaced with social rented flats. Elements of the building design would be changed. The Revised Scheme results in an increase in the overall number of homes from 343 to 366.

The non-residential floorspace in the Appeal Scheme and the Revised Scheme would be the same in respect of Classes A1-A3 and B1 workspace, but there would be a decrease in the community floorspace in the Revised Scheme.”

However, applying ‘Wheatcroft‘ principles (“the main, but not the only, criterion on which… judgment should be exercised is whether the development is so changed that to grant it would be to deprive those who should have been consulted on the changed development of the opportunity of such consultation”) the Secretary of State, agreeing with the recommendation of his inspector, refused to consider the revised scheme due to concerns as to the adequacy of the consultation that had been carried out. (One legitimate criticism was of “skewed” questioning of the public in a Feedback Form which asked “Do you support the proposals to amend the scheme to provide 33 additional homes for social rent?“, although I have seen similarly skewed questioning in MHCLG consultation documents…).

The Secretary of State did not accept the appellant’s position as to whether there was existing affordable housing on the site:

vacation of a property by a Registered Provider as a preliminary step towards estate renewal cannot reasonably be a basis for disregarding that floorspace for the purposes of affordable housing policy. He further agrees, for the reasons given at IR206-218, that the AS fails to comply with the ‘no net loss’ element of development plan policy.”

He considered that for the same reason the benchmark land value for the purposes of viability appraisal should be “based on the current situation, that is based on social housing development, as the Council contends.”

He concluded that the appeal scheme failed “to satisfy the policy aims of no net loss of social housing and maximum reasonable provision, largely for reasons related to the way in which the exiting [sic] vacant units of social housing are treated.”

Newcombe House, Notting Hill

Still in RBKC and back to the saga of Newcombe House. As summarised in my 18 June 2017 blog post, an appeal in relation to the proposed development of the site had been rejected by inspector David Nicholson (as of the Purley Baptist Church site case above). The refusal had partly been on similar grounds to the dismissal of the Sir William Sutton Estate appeal.

A new scheme was brought forward by the developer, Notting Hill KCS Limited, for “demolition of existing buildings and redevelopment to provide office, 46 residential units, retail uses, and a flexible surgery/office use, across six buildings (ranging from ground plus two storeys to ground plus 17 storeys), with two-storey basement together with landscaping to provide a new public square, ancillary parking and associated works.”

RBKC resolved to refuse the new application on 31 January 2018, on townscape, heritage and affordable housing grounds. On 26 March 2018 the Mayor of London intervened and took over the application. The applicant varied the scheme to increase the humber of homes and amount of affordable housing and the Mayor resolved to approve it on 18 September 2018 subject to completion of a section 106 agreement.

However, following representations by RBKC, the local residents group and Emma Dent Coad MP, the Secretary of State has issued a holding direction so that he can consider whether to call in the application for his own determination.

Kensington Forum Hotel

Another RBKC saga. An application by Queensgate Bow Propco Limited for the redevelopment of the Kensington Forum Hotel for “comprehensive redevelopment and erection of a part 30, part 22 and part 7 storey building comprising hotel bedrooms and serviced apartments (Class C1) with ancillary bar, restaurants, conferencing and dining areas, leisure facilities and back of house areas; residential accommodation (Class C3); with associated basement, energy centre, plant, car parking, cycle parking, refuse stores, servicing areas; associated highway works and creation of new publicly accessible open space with associated hard and soft landscaping“. The scheme included 46 homes.

On 27 September 2018 RBKC resolved to refuse planning permission – as with Newcombe House on townscape, heritage and affordable housing grounds. As with Newcombe House, the Mayor of London intervened and took over the application, on 5 November 2018.

This time however RBKC has issued proceedings for judicial review, seeking to quash the Mayor’s decision to take over the application. From the 7 December 2018 pre-action letter it appears that the grounds are (1) alleged errors of fact as to the number of homes which RBKC has recently delivered and (2) a failure to take into account RBKC’s programme for building new homes (including homes for social rent).

In the meantime it is reported that the Secretary of State has, again as with Newcombe House, issued a holding direction so that he can consider whether to call in the application for his own determination.

Getting messy isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts, 26 January 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Purley scheme, image from inspector’s report

An Update On CIL: Reform Promised, Meanwhile Continuing & Increasingly Expensive Uncertainties

Well done for getting past the heading.

Someone recently asked me whether the Government ever changes its proposals as a result of a consultation process. For an example of just such a thing, I was able to point to the Government response to supporting housing delivery through developer contributions: a summary of consultation responses and the Government’s view on the way forward (29 October 2018). The proposals set out in the Government’s March 2018 consultation paper (summarised in my 10 March 2018 blog post Developer Contributions, CIL, Viability: Are We Nearly There Yet?) have been modified significantly as a result of consultation, mostly for the better in my view at least.

This blog post focuses on the changed proposals and then looks at some looming issues facing phased developments in areas where charging authorities are looking to increase rates (I’m focusing on the Mayor of London’s MCIL2 but I’m sure the issue is of wider application).

The Government response

The document acknowledges some of the flaws of the current system:

The complexity and uncertainty of the current system of developer contributions is acting as a barrier to the delivery of housing. The system does not react quickly to changes in market conditions or allow local authorities to effectively secure the contributions needed to support new development. It is also not as transparent as it should be; local communities are not clear what infrastructure is provided alongside new development. And the current system could also be more effective in securing funding towards strategic infrastructure and supporting cross boundary planning.”

The Government intends to consult on draft regulations “later this year” to implement the changes set out in the March 2018 consultation document, as now modified. It is important to note that the Government will “also consider whether changes could be made to the Community Infrastructure Levy to incentivise the build out of developments.” (perhaps something that Sir Oliver Letwin might have looked at but…).

The Government has now modified its proposed changes as follows:

1. The previous proposal to replace charging authorities’ current statutory consultation requirements, in relation to proposed charging schedules, with self-certification as to whether it has sought “an appropriate level of engagement” has been amended. The Government “intends to take forward a modified proposal to ensure that regulations continue to require charging authorities to consult on draft charging schedules, whilst removing the current statutory requirement for two separate rounds of consultation in every circumstance.”

2. The pooling restriction will now be removed in its entirety in all areas. Hooray! Although of course there is the risk that tariff-type section 106 contribution requirements will again become more prevalent, in my view the pooling restriction led to many unnecessary problems and uncertainties, which would have continued under the Government’s March 208 idea of only removing the restriction in in areas where specified criteria were met.

3. The Government had intended to introduce a two month grace period for developers to submit a commencement notice in relation to exempted development, to address disproportionately severe problems arising for eg self-builders who, if they fail to meet procedural requirements, find not only that they fail to qualify for any exemption but that all CIL due has become immediately payable. The Government will not now introduce the grace period (which local authorities considered could lead to practical complications) but instead will be “making changes to the penalties associated with the failure to submit a Commencement Notice prior to development being started. This will ensure that any penalty is set at a proportionate level and will not result in the whole liability becoming payable immediately.”

There may also be more guidance as to potential exemptions: “A number of responses sought additional exemptions to address the unintended viability impacts of Levy liabilities on particular forms of development. The Government will consider how guidance could be used to manage these effects by encouraging authorities to take account of these issues when setting Levy rates and choosing how they use existing powers for discretionary social housing relief. In addition, the Government has already committed to bring forward legislation to exempt Starter Homes from the Community Infrastructure Levy.”

4. The complicated proposal in the March 2018 consultation document that charging schedules might be set with reference to the existing use of land has been dropped. “However, the Government has reviewed this proposal and considers there are existing flexibilities in the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations that, through the use of differential Levy rates, will allow local authorities to go some way towards achieving the objective of the proposed reform. The Government therefore proposes to make changes to guidance to support local authorities to set differential rates more effectively.

5. At the time that it publishes the draft amendment regulations, the Government intends to “consult on changes to indexation of Levy rates and the way in which it would be implemented“. Its current preference is to index CIL rates “for residential development to the House Price Index using local-level data on an annual basis” and to index rates for non-residential development to the Consumer Price Index. It recognises the transitional issues that will arise.

6. The Government still intends to remove the restriction in relation to section 106 obligations that relate to an infrastructure project or type of infrastructure that is set out in the authority’s Regulation 123 list. “New reporting standards, which are set out in the Infrastructure Funding Statement, will address concerns about double dipping by ensuring that there is transparency over how developer contributions from both CIL and section 106 planning obligations are being used, rather than by placing formal restrictions in regulations.” We need to watch this one with care!

In relation to one specific issue that often leads to wrangles: “The Government also recognises the need to address existing uncertainty around using section 106 planning obligations to collect monitoring sums. The Government therefore intends to take forward proposals to make clear that local authorities can seek a fee from applicants towards monitoring planning obligations. In developing these proposals, the Government will consider how best to ensure that monitoring sums are set at an appropriate level.”

7. The Government had intended to give combined authorities and joint committees with strategic planning powers the ability to charge a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff. “The Government has decided to take forward a modified proposal, to enable Combined Authorities with strategic planning powers to take forward a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff, and to encourage groups of charging authorities to use existing powers to more effectively support the delivery of strategic infrastructure through the pooling of their local Community Infrastructure Levy receipts. In the longer term, the Government will bring forward proposals for allowing joint planning committees to charge the tariff, and will review options for giving other groups the power to levy a Tariff.”

The Government had also included a final “catch all” question seeking any other comments. Particular issues that were raised in responses included “the definition of gross internal area, implementation of the Levy in particular circumstances (such as in relation to development that takes place in a number of phases or there is a change of use), and the operation of exemptions and reliefs, indexation and in-kind payment.

Issues such as these are indeed causing much uncertainty.

The implications of increased rates/MCIL2

Whilst we wait for eventual reform of the system, of more immediate focus are the implications of gradual increases by charging authorities in CIL rates.

In London, the Mayor of London is waiting for the inspector’s report following the examination into the draft charging schedule for MCIL2. MCIL2 is proposed to part-fund Crossrail 2, in the way that MCIL1 (together with a related policy of seeking section 106 contributions in relation to some areas and types of development) is part-funding Crossrail 1.

The charging schedule for MCIL1 was adopted on 1 April 2012 (which is why there are many section 106 agreements and permissions dated March 2012, as developers and boroughs scrambled to ensure that permissions were not subject to the levy!).

This table sets out borough by borough the significant sums of money that MCIL1 has now raised:

The section 106 contributions policy for Crossrail (set out in the Mayor’s Crossrail Funding SPG, updated March 2016) predated MCIL1 and provided for section 106 contributions based on the following table and plans:

The standardised wording included in relevant section 106 agreements provides that any MCIL1 which is payable reduces the contributions which are required to be made under the relevant section 106 agreement.

As long as the inspector’s report is received on time and gives it a clean bill of health, MCIL2 will be adopted on 1 April 2019. The changes in rates, compared to where the 2012 rates currently sit with indexation applied, are mostly not huge, but they are significant in some areas. In areas where the increases are material, I am sure we will see a similar rush to beat the deadline.

One uncertainty is of course whether the examination inspector will accept a charging schedule that is predicated on Crossrail 2 coming forward. Little has progressed on the project since my 1 July 2017 blog post, Crossrail 2: Where Are You? We are all still awaiting outcome of an independent affordability review being chaired by Mike Gerrard. The Mayor is hedging his bets, simply indicating:

Should the Crossrail 2 project not be taken forwards, the Mayor would be able to apply the MCIL 2 proceeds to fund other strategic infrastructure.”

Assuming that MCIL2 is waved through and the charging schedule is adopted on 1 April, the relevant point at which it takes effect is determined by everyone’s least favourite phrase in the CIL Regulations: “at the time planning permission first permits the chargeable development“.

For a non-phased permission, this is the date of the permission – easy.

For a phased outline permission, this is either “the date of final approval of the last reserved matter associated with that phase” or “if earlier, and if agreed in writing by the collecting authority before commencement of any development under that permission, on the day final approval is given under any pre-commencement condition associated with that phase“.

For a phased full permission, this is either “the day final approval is given under any pre-commencement condition associated with that phase” or “where there are no pre-commencement conditions associated with that phase, on the day planning permission is granted“.

It will be seen that (1) the revised charging schedule is liable to bite in respect any phase of an existing phased permission if sufficient progress has not been made in relation to reserved matters or discharging pre-commencement conditions in relation to that phase and (2) that there are inherent uncertainties in the drafting, eg

⁃ What does “associated with that phase” mean?

⁃ Does “any” mean “any” or, in fact, “all“?

As a final example of the inadequacies of the legislation: where there is a phased permission and a revised charging schedule is subsequently adopted, the only indexation that applies is of the amount arising from the initial charging schedule up to the end of the year prior to the date of the permission. There is no further indexation through to commencement of development or any indexation of the revised charging schedule insofar as it applies to the phases! Would it not be simpler and more predictable if indexation were not to stop at the initial grant of the permission and instead to continue through to final approval (or even commencement of development) in relation to each phase, but if the potential application of revised charging schedules were removed?

In case anyone has made it down this far…

In conclusion:

⁃ the proposed reforms, and most recent proposals, look to be mainly positive

⁃ but the whole regime really does still need simplifying: to state the obvious, significant liabilities can unexpectedly arise for the unwary – and large sums of money can turn on uncertain issues of interpretation.

Simon Ricketts, 9 November 2018

Personal views, et cetera

In A Cycle Superhighway In The Sky

The high ambition on the part of successive London Mayors since 2008 to create a network of (mostly) segregated cycleways across London has often been controversial and often impeded due to differences arising with individual boroughs.

Cyclists, please put me right if I have got any of this this wrong but I think there are now eight operational routes:

CS1 – Tottenham to the City

CS2 – Aldgate to Stratford

CS3 – Barking to Tower Gateway

CS3 (East-West) – Lancaster to Tower Hill

CS5 – Oval to Pimlico

CS6 – North-South – Farringdon to Kings Cross (Consultation started on 20 September 2018 on an extension to CS6 between Farringdon and King’s Cross, so that it will run from Elephant & Castle all the way up to King’s Cross.)

CS7 – Merton to the City

CS8 – Wandsworth to Westminster

Further routes have been long planned but are not yet open:

CS4 – London Bridge to Woolwich

CS9 – Hyde Park to Hounslow

CS10 – Cricklewood to Marble Arch

CS11 – West Hampstead to Hyde Park Corner

For more detail see London Cycling Campaign’s website.

The Mayor announced on 30 January 2018 that design work would begin on six new routes, namely:

• Lea Bridge to Dalston – 3km route between Lea Bridge Road and Cycle Superhighway 1 at Dalston.

• Ilford to Barking Riverside – 8km route between the town centres of Ilford and Barking.

• Hackney to the Isle of Dogs – 8km route from Hackney to the Isle of Dogs via Canary Wharf, Mile End and Victoria Park.

• Rotherhithe to Peckham – 4km route to connect with connect other cycling routes such as Quietway 1 and the proposed Cycle Superhighway 4.

• Tottenham Hale to Camden – 8km route covering seven junctions identified as being among the 73 with the worst safety records.

• Wembley to Willesden Junction – 5km route, north-west London’s
first major cycle route, connecting Wembley, Stonebridge Park and Willesden Junction.

Works to convert road carriageways to a cycleway do not amount to development requiring planning permission if they fall within section 55(2)(b) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990: “the carrying out on land within the boundaries of a road by a highway authority of any works required for the maintenance or improvement of the road but, in the case of any such works which are not exclusively for the maintenance of the road, not including any works which may have significant adverse effects on the environment“.

In R (The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association) v Transport for London (Patterson J, 10 February 2016) the LTDA sought a declaration that the construction of the East-West Cycle Superhighway without planning permission constituted a breach of planning control.

This was rejected by Patterson J:

“...whether the proposals cause significant adverse environmental effect is not for the court to decide. As Sullivan J (as he then was) said in R v Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council ex parte Milne [2001] 81 P&CR 27 at [106] to [108] the issue of environmental effect is an issue which requires an exercise of planning judgment which is not for the court. The issue for the court is whether the defendant erred in its contention or was irrational in reaching the conclusion that the works for the EWCS did not cause significant adverse environmental effect and did not require planning permission. For reasons that I have set out I am satisfied that the defendant on the evidence before it at the relevant time, did not err in law and was not irrational in reaching its conclusion that there was no significant adverse environmental effect from the proposals as a whole.”

Whether or not planning permission is required, on the facts, for any proposed cycleway, traffic regulation orders are required. Where the road is part of the local highway network rather than a TfL road, TfL needs the agreement of the relevant borough in order to secure all necessary orders. This was what of course recently scuppered TfL’s proposed pedestrianisation of Oxford Street.

The TfL road network:

Westminster City Council has also now successfully challenged TfL’s proposed construction of CS11, designed to run between Swiss Cottage and Portland Place, in R (City of Westminster) v Transport for London (Sir Ross Cranston, 13 September 2018), having taken over proceedings commenced by a group of local residents. Two parts of the route are on roads for which Westminster City Council is the statutory highway authority. Planning permission from the council is also potentially required for works proposed within Regent’s Park. The Council succeeded in its claim that TfL’s decision to proceed with constructing part of the route should have taken into account the legally relevant consideration that TfL might fail to obtain the necessary consents from Westminster City Council in relation to part of the route. TfL’s justification had assumed that the route would be constructed in its entirety and did not consider whether a phased approach would be viable.

It’s difficult entirely to blame the Mayor for these delays in rolling out CS routes. The control held by individual boroughs can be difficult to work around – RBKC having been another particularly intransigent authority – which makes delivery of these, by definition, cross-borough schemes slow and difficult.

Despite the wider strategic benefits of cycling in terms of health and air quality, the TRO statutory process can often be seen by local people as inadequate to protect their particular interests in relation to, for instance, the effects caused by displaced traffic or the implications for them of roads being closed to motor vehicles – leading to adversarial positions being taken.

But whatever the rights or wrongs in relation to CS11 or indeed in relation to the proposed pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, I find it disappointing to see such public disagreements between the Mayor and Westminster City Council. After all, no one wants a London version of the Gallagher brothers.

Simon Ricketts, 23 September 2018

Personal views, et cetera

London Plan Examination Update

We are now clearer as to what lies ahead, for the next year at least: the documents and deadlines are beginning to come thick and fast.

The appointed panel of inspectors (Roisin Barrett, William Fieldhouse and David Smith) set out this timetable in their Panel Note No 1 (August 2018):

• End of August 2018 – Panel consult the Mayor on a draft list of matters and participants.

• Mid September – Publication of draft list of matters and participants.

• Mid October – deadline for comments on draft list of matters and
participants.

• Early November – Technical seminars (if necessary).

• Early November – Publication of final list of matters and participants (at
least 6 weeks before EIP starts).

• Early December – first deadline for written statements in response to EIP
matters.

• Mid January to May 2019 – EIP hearing sessions.

• Summer 2019 – Panel report.

Over 20,000 representations to the draft plan were received from around 4,000 individuals and organisations (the GLA website has a useful link to them).

The Panel published today, 14 September 2018, its:

Panel Note no 3

draft list of matters for consideration at the EIP

draft list of participants

There will be a maximum of 22 participants at each session. Those who have not been invited to appear have an opportunity until 11 October 2018 to make representations as to why they should be invited.

The Panel asked the Mayor a series of preliminary questions in their Panel Note no 2 to which he responded earlier this month. The exchange encapsulates some of the main themes that lie ahead such as:

⁃ whether all of the policies can be justified as of strategic importance

⁃ the extent to which there is or is not agreement with the London boroughs and other relevant interests

⁃ the extent to which the draft plan deviates from national policies and guidance eg in relation to the application of affordable housing requirements with regard to small sites, the vacant building credit and the green belt

⁃ the extent of cooperation with other authorities, regardless of whether the duty to cooperate formally applies.

The Mayor published on 13 August 2018 600 or so pages of “early suggested changes” to the draft plan, which are minor in nature (see Lichfields’ summary for some of the headline changes).

It is difficult to keep up! For instance, I would also draw attention to a July 2018 practice note on how public sector land is defined for the purposes of the 50% affordable housing threshold in the affordable housing and viability SPG and policy H6 of the draft plan.

I referred in my 5 August 2018 blog post Housing Needs, Housing Shortfalls to the Secretary of State’s letter dated 27 July 2018 to the Mayor of London, setting out the changes that the Secretary of State wishes to see to the current draft London Plan, as well as the need for a more fundamental review once it is adopted. It is interesting to note that MHCLG is an invited participant in relation to a number of the examination sessions.

My 23 April 2017 blog post, Make No Little Plans: The London Plan set out the statutory constraints that apply to the London Plan and the difficulties that previous London Mayors have faced in securing an adopted plan until late in their first term.

Would a simpler, more focused, perhaps less ambitious plan have stood more chance of early adoption? That May 2020 election is going to come round very quickly.

Simon Ricketts, 14 September 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Housing Needs, Housing Shortfalls

We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot

We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got

(David Bowie)

The new NPPF introduces the requirement for local planning authorities to use a standard method to arrive at their local housing needs assessment, “unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals. In addition to the local housing need figure, any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas should also be taken into account in establishing the amount of housing to be planned for.”

However, the precise methodology and authority by authority figures are still a moving target. The Government said this in its “response to consultation” document, published alongside the new NPPF:

A number of responses to this question provided comment on the proposed local housing need method. The government is aware that lower than previously forecast population projections have an impact on the outputs associated with the method. Specifically it is noted that the revised projections are likely to result in the minimum need numbers generated by the method being subject to a significant reduction, once the relevant household projection figures are released in September 2018.

In the housing white paper the government was clear that reforms set out (which included the introduction of a standard method for assessing housing need) should lead to more homes being built. In order to ensure that the outputs associated with the method are consistent with this, we will consider adjusting the method after the household projections are released in September 2018. We will consult on the specific details of any change at that time.

It should be noted that the intention is to consider adjusting the method to ensure that the starting point in the plan-making process is consistent in aggregate with the proposals in Planning for the right homes in the right places consultation and continues to be consistent with ensuring that 300,000 homes are built per year by the mid 2020s.”

Inevitably, with change comes uncertainty as to how the new policies will be applied to applications and plans which are currently in the pipeline. There are three key transitional arrangements:

⁃ “The policies in the previous Framework will apply for the purpose of examining plans, where those plans are submitted [for examination] on or before 24 January 2019” (paragraph 214)

⁃ “The Housing Delivery Test will apply from the day following the publication of the Housing Delivery Test results in November 2018” (paragraph 215)

⁃ “The policies in this Framework are material considerations which should be taken into account in dealing with applications from the day of its publication” [ie 24 July 2018] (paragraph 212).

I want to look at a few specific issues of interest (to me at least):

The application of the new NPPF to the draft London Plan

The footnote to paragraph to paragraph 214 is more specific than the draft, in making it clear that the equivalent cut-off date for the London Plan is “the point at which the Mayor sends to the Panel copies of all representations made in accordance with regulation 8(1) of the Town and Country Planning (London Spatial Development Strategy) Regulations 2000“, meaning that the current Draft London Plan, for which a Panel of three inspectors has been appointed to hold an examination in public late this year, will be tested against the 2012 NPPF.

As underlined in his 27 July 2018 letter to the London Mayor, even when it is tested against the 2012 NPPF the Secretary of State is “not convinced” that the assessment of need in the current draft “reflects the full extent of housing need in London to tackle affordability problems.” He is looking to see modifications on a series of matters:

⁃ “A number of policy areas in the draft that are inconsistent with national policy, such as your policies allowing development on residential gardens and your policy on car parking. [NB whilst these might be areas of political difference they are not areas where the MHCLG’s approach would drive up numbers – far from it]

The detail and complexity of the policies within the draft London Plan have the potential to limit accessibility to the planning system and development.

⁃ The draft Plan strays considerably beyond providing a strategic framework.

⁃ The draft Plan does not provide enough information to explain the approach you will take to ensure your targets are delivered, including collaboration with boroughs and neighbouring areas.

⁃ There are a number of policies in the draft Plan which seek to deal with matters relating to building standards and safety. It is important that there is a consistent approach to setting building standards through the framework of Building Regulations

But, presumably as a quid pro quo for not sending the plan back to the drawing board to be tested against the methodology for assessing housing need in the new NPPF (which would arrive at significantly higher need figures than the basis for the draft plan), the Secretary of State is looking for the Mayor to review and revise the plan as soon as it is adopted:

It remains crucial however that you bring forward a revised London Plan that has regard to new national policies at the earliest opportunity. You will want to note paragraph 33 and annex 1 of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out that the Government expects plans to be reviewed early where all identified housing need is not being met and to ensure a plan is in place which reflects current national policy. I would therefore expect you to review the London Plan to reflect the revised National Planning Policy Framework immediately once the London Plan has been published. I remind you that if this is not forthcoming, I have powers to direct the review to ensure London delivers the plan and homes that communities need.”

Of course, since the current draft is not likely to be adopted until late 2019 and Sadiq Khan’s current term ends in May 2020, this will presumably increase the potential for politicking as between candidates and parties. Not good for consensus building, or perhaps other kinds of building, although if a new plan does not come forward presumably we can expect to see more MHCLG intervention in relation to major applications in London.

Other plans submitted for examination before 24 January 2019

Nothing in planning is of course black and white. Paragraph 214 of the new NPPF says that plans submitted for examination before 24 January 2019 will still be tested against the 2012 NPPF, but of course the 2012 NPPF allowed significant room for argument as to what the appropriate methodology might be for any authority “to use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, as far as is consistent with the policies set out in this Framework“. To what extent might inspectors allow the new standard method to be used for plans submitted before 24 January 2019?

Already since the publication of the new NPPF we have seen the East Cambridgeshire local plan inspector, Louise Nurser, issue her preliminary findings in a letter dated 30 July 2018 in which she accepts that the use of the new standard methodology is appropriate “in the particular circumstances of East Cambridgeshire” even though the plan was plainly submitted well before the relevant date. I set out her reasoning below:

“I conclude that it is a sound approach for the standard method to be used to set the OAN for housing within East Cambridgeshire at a minimum of 11,960 dwellings between 2016 and 2036. Indeed, in the context of a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (PE05) of considerable vintage (2013), which had already been used as the primary evidence base for the development strategy which is to be superseded by the Plan before me, it would not have been appropriate to update the evidence base in isolation of the wider HMA, so that it could be used a second time. Ideally, for the purposes of this plan, the housing needs of the wider Housing Market Area would have been thoroughly considered through a new Housing Market Assessment.

However, it is clear from the different stages in which the constituent plan making bodies find themselves that such a scenario would be unrealistic, particularly in the context of the clear indication from the recently published Framework that the standard method should be used in plan making in the future, and as a consequence, it is highly improbable that a completely new HMA would ever be commissioned.

I draw particular comfort from the fact that the annual dwelling requirement using the revised OAN figure of October 2016, for the district, which is based on the SHMA, is 586 dwellings per annum (PE06). This is comparable with the figure of 598 dwellings per annum, using the standard method (PE07). As such, the use of the standard method to determine East Cambridge’s housing needs is an acceptable and a pragmatic approach to determining the district’s needs. In coming to this conclusion, I must stress that my conclusions relate to the particular circumstances of East Cambridgeshire, which has already adopted a plan on the basis of the 2013 SHMA evidence.

I can see that there does not seem to be a significant difference in the case of East Cambridgeshire as to the outcome under the two approaches, but is her reasoning essentially, as she says, pragmatic – it would have been impractical to expect the 2013 strategic housing market assessment to have been updated as a base for the new plan? Might this be a position that various other authorities find themselves in? Does the new standard method amount to an appropriate evidence base for these purposes?

What now of the tilted balance?

Paragraph 11 of the new NPPF of course contains an amended form of what was paragraphs 14 and 49 of the 2012 document, the presumption in favour of sustainable development (or the “tilted balance” in the jargon) which applies where there is a shortfall in housing supply.

There is a shortfall where:

⁃ the “local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites” (with a 5 to 20% buffer – see paragraph 73); or where

⁃ (for decisions after the publication of the Housing Delivery Test results in November 2018) the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing was substantially below the housing requirement over the previous three years (with “substantially below” defined in paragraph 215 – starting at 25% of what is required and ratcheting up first to 45% and then to 75%).

Where there is a shortfall, the “policies which are most important for determining the application” are deemed to be out of date, meaning that planning permission should be granted unless (i) the application of policies in the NPPF that protect a defined list of categories of areas or assets of particular importance provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed or (ii) “any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed the policies in this Framework taken as a whole“.

In my view this wording is clearer than the 2012 NPPF and should be easier to apply.

However, the effects of a shortfall are much reduced where there is a neighbourhood plan (which, after 11 December 2018, must be less than two years old) which contains policies and allocations to meet its identified housing requirement, the local planning authority has at least a three year supply of deliverable housing sites and the authority’s housing delivery was at least 45% of that required over the previous three years (25% until December 2019). (See paragraphs 14 and 216). In these circumstances, “the adverse impact of allowing development that conflicts with the neighbourhood plan is likely to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits“.

Relevance of degree of shortfall

In deciding an appeal against the refusal of planning permission for housing development, how far does the decision-maker have to go in calculating the extent of any shortfall in the five-year supply of housing land? That was precisely the question considered last week by the Court of Appeal in Hallam Land Management Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 31 July 2018). The case concerns the policies within the 2012 NPPF but the principles are just as applicable to the new NPPF.

In his decision letter dated 9 November 2016 the Secretary of State had dismissed an appeal by Hallam Land against refusal of planning permission by Eastleigh Borough Council for a development of up to 225 dwellings, a 60-bed care home and 40 care units together with associated development in Hamble.

His conclusions as to the degree of shortfall in housing supply simply stated this:

The Secretary of State notes the Inspector’s comment (IR108) that at the time of inquiry the Council were not able to demonstrate more than a four and a half years supply of deliverable housing land, and that there is evidence of an existing need for affordable housing. Whilst the Secretary of State notes that the Council are now of the view that they are able to demonstrate a 4.86 year supply...”

Weighing this shortfall into the balance he dismissed the appeal on the basis that the adverse impacts of the proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh its benefits.

Had he reached a properly reasoned decision on the housing supply question or had he just ducked it? At the inquiry there had been much argument as to the extent of housing supply. Hallam asserted that it was between 1.78 and 2.92 years. In post inquiry representations, the council asserted that the figure was now 4.86 years. However two inspectors’ appeal decisions in the borough had concluded otherwise. In the 24 May 2016 Bubb Lane decision letter the inspector had found that the council had a “considerable way to go to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable sites”. In the 7 October 2016 Botley Road decision letter the inspector had concluded that there were 4.25 years of supply.

It is not necessary for the decision maker to arrive at a precise conclusion as to the level of shortfall. As Lindblom LJ states:

Relevant authority in this court, and at first instance, does not support the proposition that, for the purposes of the appropriate balancing exercise under the policy in paragraph 14 of the NPPF, the decision-maker’s weighting of restrictive local plan policies, or of the proposal’s conflict with such policies, will always require an exact quantification of the shortfall in the supply of housing land.

Accordingly, Lindblom LJ did not “think that in this case the Secretary of State could fairly be criticized, in principle, for not having expressed a conclusion on the shortfall in the supply of housing land with great arithmetical precision. He was entitled to confine himself to an approximate figure or range – if that is what he did. Government policy in the NPPF did not require him to do more than that. There was nothing in the circumstances of this case that made it unreasonable for him in the “Wednesbury” sense, or otherwise unlawful, not to establish a mathematically exact figure for the shortfall. It would not have been an error of law or inappropriate for him to do so, but if, as a matter of planning judgment, he chose not to do it there was nothing legally wrong with that.”

It was not clear “whether the Secretary of State reached any concluded view on the scale of the “acknowledged shortfall”. His reference in paragraph 17 to “the limited shortfall in housing land supply” suggests he had not found it possible to accept Hallam Land’s case at the inquiry, as recorded by the inspector in paragraph 62 of his report, that the supply of housing land was as low as “2.92 years, or 1.78 years if the need for affordable housing is included”, or even the “material shortfall” to which the inspector had referred in paragraph 108, in the light of the council’s concession that it was “not able to demonstrate more than a four and a half years supply of deliverable housing land”. A “limited shortfall” could hardly be equated to a “material shortfall”. It would have been a more apt description of the shortfall the council had now acknowledged in conceding, or contending, that it was able to demonstrate a supply of 4.86 years – the figure to which the Secretary of State referred in paragraphs 19 and 30 of his decision letter.”

If he did adopt, or at least assume, a figure of 4.86 years’ supply of housing land, or even a range of between four and half and 4.86 years, his approach could not, I think, be stigmatized as unlawful in either of those two respects. It could not be said, at least in the circumstances of this case, that he erred in law in failing to calculate exactly what the shortfall was. In principle, he was entitled to conclude that no greater precision was required than that the level of housing land supply fell within a clearly identified range below the requisite five years, and that, in the balancing exercise provided for in paragraph 14 of the NPPF, realistic conclusions could therefore be reached on the weight to be given to the benefits of the development and its conflict with relevant policies of the local plan. Such conclusions would not, I think, exceed a reasonable and lawful planning judgment.”

However, “even if that assumption is made in favour of the Secretary of State, there is in my view a fatal defect in his decision in his failure to engage with the conclusions on housing land supply in the recent decisions in the Bubb Lane and Botley Road appeals.”

In both decision letters the shortfall was characterized as “significant”, which plainly it was. This was more akin to saying that it was a “material shortfall”, as the inspector in Hallam Land’s appeal had himself described it in paragraph 108 of his decision letter. Neither description – a “significant” shortfall or a “material” one – can be squared with the Secretary of State’s use of the adjective “limited”. They are, on any view, quite different concepts.”

“Quite apart from the language they used to describe it, the inspectors’ findings and conclusions as to the extent of the shortfall – only “something in the order of four year supply” in the Bubb Lane appeal and only “4.25 years’ supply” in the Botley Road appeal – were also substantially different from the extent of the shortfall apparently accepted or assumed by the Secretary of State in his decision in this case, which was as high as 4.86 years’ supply on the basis of evidence from the council that had been before the inspector in the Botley Road appeal and rejected by him.”

“One is left with genuine – not merely forensic – confusion on this important point, and the uncomfortable impression that the Secretary of State did not come to grips with the inspectors’ conclusions on housing land supply in those two very recent appeal decisions.”

In a short judgment, agreeing with the lead judgment of Lindblom LJ, Davis LJ makes the position plain:

I have the greatest difficulty in seeing how an overall planning judgment thereafter could properly be made without having at least some appreciation of the extent of the shortfall. That is not to say that the extent of the shortfall will itself be a key consideration. It may or not be: that is itself a planning judgment, to be assessed in the light of the various policies and other relevant considerations. But it ordinarily will be a relevant and material consideration, requiring to be evaluated.

The reason is obvious and involves no excessive legalism at all. The extent (be it relatively large or relatively small) of any such shortfall will bear directly on the weight to be given to the benefits or disbenefits of the proposed development.”

The decision was quashed.

Was David Bowie writing for the Secretary of State, or for all of us?

My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare

I had to cram so many things to store everything in there

Simon Ricketts, 5 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

So Who Did Win The SPG JR?

Isn’t it heartwarming when the opposing parties in litigation all claim to have won? He said wryly.

Ouseley J’s judgment in McCarthy & Stone Retirement Lifestyles Limited, Churchill Retirement Living Limited, Pegasus Life Limited and Renaissance Retirement Limited v Mayor of London was handed down at 10.30 am on 23 May.

The Mayor rapidly issued a press release that morning, Judge rules in favour of Mayor’s threshold approach to housing.

However, the subsequent press releases by McCarthy & Stone Judge rules in favour of retirement consortium’s judicial review of the Mayor of London’s SPG and by Renaissance Retirement later that day seemed to tell a different story.

So that they can be checked for factual, typographical or grammatical errors or ambiguities, Planning Court judgments are usually issued in draft to the parties at least 24 hours ahead of being handed down, under conditions of strict confidentiality. Disclosure beyond the lawyers and parties themselves is a contempt of court and can bring criminal sanctions. However, what that advance sight does mean is that, by the time that the judgment is formally handed down (often with the parties not needing to be present and with submissions about remedies, costs orders and so on dealt with separately by email), the parties have got to grips with the often complex analysis within it and are ready to influence the way in which the narrative appears in traditional and social media, particularly the breaking online news items in the specialist press.

Planning law can be difficult in its abstractions and it can take time and strong coffee to arrive at a full understanding of the implications of a judgment (particularly without a familiarity with the evidence presented and submissions made to the court). This blog always includes links to the judgment transcripts because, however detailed the summary, there is no substitute for reading the document itself, but even then it can be hard. All credit to Holgate J in Parkhurst for appending parts of the inspector’s report to provide readers with the necessary context, but that was still a complex judgment (there have been some glib summaries!) and always of course watch for the political spin (Cheshire East Council’s “Cheshire East wins landmark legal judgement for residents in fear of housing sprawl” press release, following its loss in the Supreme Court in Suffolk Coastal , with ultimately an award of costs against it, being a classic of the genre!).

Back to the case in hand. So who really did win?

The claimants are all developers of specialist housing for the elderly. Their main concern with the Mayor’s 2017 affordable housing and viability SPG was that their schemes, usually on small sites, are caught by its requirement for a late stage viability review but were not caught under the adopted London Plan, which refers to the mechanism in the context of schemes which “in whole or in part…are likely to take many years to implement“.

[I summarised the SPG in my 20 August 2017 blog post 20 Changes In The Final Version Of The London Mayor’s Affordable Housing & Viability SPG. (Warning: the Mayor of London’s SPGs are not subject to the same legal regime that applies to local planning authorities in preparing SPDs, summarised in the first part of my 1 December 2017 blog post What’s For The Plan, What’s Supplementary?)]

The claimants’ evidence was that they developed smaller sites – “usually brownfield, higher build costs, significant communal facilities and spaces which were not for sale – making them more costly per square metre than most market housing, and particularly so in London. These schemes were constructed in a single phase, and could not meet affordable specialist housing accommodation requirements on-site, as had been accepted for years; they always provided viability appraisals to justify off-site contributions to affordable housing, and always had to be completed as a whole before any elderly occupiers moved in; they had a markedly slower selling rate. This made the Claimants less able to compete with general house builders in site acquisition.”

Their evidence was that “the acute pressures, on the viability of specialist housing schemes, made it essential that the risk of the development’s returns falling significantly below expectations was reduced to a minimum. They relied on various forms of borrowing to fund site purchases. The standard but notional 20 percent development return used in such appraisals was the bare minimum “on the basis that the risk associated with the affordable housing cost is known…If there is a risk that [that] cost might rise significantly, the risk profile becomes unacceptable….” Mr Warren emphasised that it is the risk which matters when deciding on what price to pay for a site. And it is that extra risk which Mr Burgess said affected them more than those in the general market. The effect of the late stage review was felt by the Claimants at the stage of bidding for the sites in the first place; the uncertainty about the amount of money which might have to be paid over at the late stage review affected the calculation of risk for borrowing, in such a way as to make the funding impossible.”

The judge made no ruling as to whether these concerns were justified and they were not accepted by the Mayor but this was the claimants’ explanation as to why the issues mattered to them.

[I note at this point that the proceedings were brought in the knowledge that the emerging new London Plan would in any event be proposing an equivalent late stage review mechanism. The parameters of that mechanism will no doubt be considered as part of the examination into the draft Plan (rumoured as likely to take place from November 2018 to February 2019)].

So the claimants’ objective plainly was to challenge that requirement for a late stage review of viability in relation to schemes like theirs which could not be said to be “likely to take many years to implement” (although the claimants sought to argue that it was single phase schemes that should not be caught).

In order to demolish that requirement, they contended that the SPG was unlawful and in so doing relied on three grounds:

(1) it constitutes policy which should only be in the London Plan, which is currently being revised; the SPG was also inconsistent with that Plan;

(2) the SPG is a “plan or programme” which required a Strategic Environmental Assessment, SEA, under the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations, SI 2004 No.1633 but which had not been undertaken; and

(3) it was produced without due regard being had to the constituent parts of the public sector equality duty, PSED, in s149 Equality Act 2010.”

Ouseley J rejected grounds 2 and 3 as unarguable and I’ll say no more about them.

In relation to ground 1, Rupert Warren QC for the claimants first argued that the SPG contained policies which could only be within the London Plan itself, namely “the 35 percent threshold, the fast-track, and the viability tested route, with three viability appraisals, (initial, early stage and late stage), the deliberately slow-track.”, all of which are indeed now proposed as policy in the draft London Plan.

The judge largely sidestepped this issue: “I do not want this judgment to be misread as holding that the SPG, and at this level of detail, must as a matter of law be in the London Plan or alternatively that the SPG cannot lawfully be included in the Plan as policy“. He did not interfere with the Mayor’s decision to treat the matters as appropriate for an SPG.

He commented that whether the emerging policies that reflect those SPG requirements are appropriately strategic for the Plan will be a matter for the inspector to determine following his or her examination of it: “They may contain a level of detail for the control of negotiations in quite small forms of development, and larger non-PSI developments, which excludes them from s334, though I do not doubt that the levels of affordable housing developed on new housing sites, can be seen as a strategic matter. In particular, when the draft London Plan goes for public examination, the question of whether draft policy H6, which takes the SPG into the draft Plan, is “strategic” and “general” may be one on which the inspector after the examination in public expresses a view. I would not want what I say to resolve the content of the draft London Plan, in advance of any inspector’s consideration and report.”

Rupert Warren QC’s second argument under ground 1 was that the SPG was inconsistent with the adopted London Plan. The judge stated:

I am not prepared to hold that conflict with development plan policy of itself makes a non-statutory document unlawful. If it states that it is in conflict with the development plan because that plan is now out of date, for example because of changes in Government policy as might be found in the NPPF, or because the review of the Plan was delayed for proper reasons, I see no basis for it to be unlawful. The weight to be given to it is quite another in the light of s38(6), but the NPPF contains advice which conflicts with development plans up and down the country, and is not on that account unlawful. If an authority seeks to put forward some policy to cover the period when it is out of date, which could happen very quickly with new government policy, I see no reason to hold its actions unlawful. The plan-led system is supported by the proper application of s38(6), which can readily accommodate expressions of policy in conflict with the development plan. It does so often when a new draft plan is issued.”

So, inconsistency of itself does not lead to an SPG being unlawful. However, as identified by the judge:

Here the Mayor clearly did not intend to produce SPG in conflict with the London Plan, let alone to avoid the development plan process. The Executive Summary of the SPG at [4] states that it is “guidance to ensure that existing policy is as effective as possible…it does not and cannot introduce new policy.” Indeed, the consistency of the SPG with the London Plan was a theme of the Defendant’s response to Grounds 2 and 3, SEA and PSED. It is inherent in the concept of SPG that it purports to supplement and not to contradict development plan policy. In so far as he did produce SPG in conflict with the London Plan, he would have misdirected himself as to the meaning and effect of either the Plan or the SPG and so failed, in promulgating it, to have regard to a material consideration. ”

So, inconsistency may well lead to an SPG being unlawful, if the policy-maker did not intend there to be any inconsistency, as was the case with this SPG.

Mr Warren is reported as pointing to two inconsistencies: “(1) the most important, is the introduction by the SPG of a late stage review to single phase sites where the London Plan only envisaged those for phased developments; (2) the adoption of a 35 per cent affordable housing on-site threshold at which no viability information was required, whereas the London Plan required each site to provide the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing, which could be greater than 35 percent.”

The judge did not find that the 35% threshold was inconsistent with the adopted Plan (hence the focus of the Mayor’s press release!) but he did find there was inconsistency in relation to the requirement for a late stage review:

By contrast, the language of the London Plan does not permit the imposition of a requirement for all sites over 10 homes, of a specific requirement to produce at least three viability appraisals, and more if the phases so turn out. Nor does it permit it exceptionally. It permits it only where, in general, the timescale or scale of development means that it is likely to take many years to complete a phase or the whole.”

So, he found for the claimants on the issue which had led them to bring the claim in the first place.

The judgment indicates that he will now “hear submissions on the appropriate remedy, if any, for the inconsistency I have found to exist“. But it seems to me that whether the relevant parts of the SPG are formally quashed or not is neither here nor there – the effect of the ruling is that the Mayor cannot lawfully rely on the SPG in requiring a late stage viability review in relation to the sorts of schemes that they promote.

Of course, that may be a Pyrrhic victory. As the judge goes on to comment:

The status of SPG matters little now that the draft London Plan has been published and consulted upon, containing H6. Draft plans often are inconsistent with their predecessors and are given increasing weight as they progress, as outlined in the NPPF. Once the Mayor has considered the consultation responses to the draft Plan, the period for delivering which has expired, and has amended the Plan as he sees fit, it will have no lesser weight than the SPG. Giving some weight to draft policy which is inconsistent with the development plan is not uncommon. The NPPF contains material which is not consistent with developmental plans. The issue about the status and consistency of the SPG is not one of continuing importance.”

That may be so, but presumably the claimants went into the litigation with their eyes open, given the emerging draft London Plan. This will indeed be a temporary win if they do not persuade the inspector that late stage reviews are not appropriate in relation to smaller, usually single phased, schemes. But that will be an issue to be debated without pre-existing support in the form of the SPG.

Who won? The claimants on the point that I suspect they cared most about. The Mayor on the point that I suspect he cared most about: avoiding collateral damage from the proceedings, in the form of any wider adverse ruling on other matters such as the 35% threshold or the validity of the document as a whole.

Simon Ricketts, 26 May 2018

Personal views, et cetera