My ear-worm for this blog post is a 40 year old song by Spandau Ballet. Possibly not originally about home improvements in the green belt, with one word changed its chorus goes like this:
Reasons, reasons were here from the start,
It’s my extension,
It’s my extension.
Reasons, reasons are part of the art,
It’s my extension,
It’s my extension.
Words are important. If you engage a competent lawyer, their toolbox will be full of precise words, as short as possible for the job, together with the necessary interpretation widgets, i.e. case law.
If you engage a competent builder and say to them that you would like an extension to your house, would you both be assuming that, inherent in the word the word “extension”, it would need to be attached to the house rather than, say the replacement of an outbuilding by a larger structure down the garden 20 metres away from your house?
It’s a really important question if your house is in the green belt, because you don’t have to demonstrate “very special circumstances” where specific exceptions in paragraph 149 of the NPPF apply. Two of the exceptions are as follows:
“c) the extension or alteration of a building provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building;
d) the replacement of a building, provided the new building is in the same use and not materially larger than the one it replaces;”
If an out-building falls within (d), the size of its replacement is obviously constrained by the fact that must be “not materially larger than the one it replaces”. But what if the replacement were actually to be interpreted as an extension to the house itself, such that you just have to show that the replacement “does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original” house? Gold!
Over to Eyre J in the Warwick case:
“The Second Defendant’s property is in Vicarage Road in Stoneleigh. The village of Stoneleigh is “washed over” by the West Midlands Green Belt. The Second Defendant’s property consists of a Grade II timber-framed cottage (“the Cottage”), a garden, a garage, and a currently disused timber structure.
That structure has a footprint of 10.2m2 and appears to have been originally used as the garage for the property but that use has been superseded by a more recently-built garage. This timber structure is in the garden of the Cottage but is approximately 20m from the Cottage itself. The Second Defendants sought permission to demolish the timber structure and to replace it with a garden room/home office with a footprint of 16m2.”
Warwick District Council had refused the application, taking the position that paragraph 149 (c) did not apply. On appeal, the inspector disagreed:
“9. Framework paragraph 149 (c) permits the extension or alteration of a building provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building. The existing building was the original garage to the house and as such could reasonably be considered to have been a normal domestic adjunct to it. Likewise, the proposed outbuilding would be used for purposes clearly related to the occupation of the dwelling. It would be in the same location on the site, relatively close to the dwelling and within a group of buildings closely associated with it. Therefore, I am satisfied that the proposed out building can be considered as an extension to the dwelling.
10. The evidence before me is that there have been various extensions to the original building and a detached garage. Planning permission has recently been granted to replace the rear single storey extension with something similar in scale and the garage is relatively small in relation to the dwelling. The proposed outbuilding would be located behind this building and would be much smaller in scale compared with the host dwelling. Given the modest scale of these existing additions and the limited additional footprint from the proposed outbuilding, I find that the proposal, in combination with previous additions, would not result in disproportionate additions to the host dwelling.”
The inspector allowed the appeal and the Council challenged the decision. Eyre J concluded as follows, after analysis as to the normal meaning of the word “extension” and then the policy context within which it is used in paragraph 149 (c) (the Council = Claimant, the Secretary of State = First Defendant):
“Looking at the matter in the round no one of the points advanced is conclusive by itself but I am persuaded by the combined weight of the points advanced by the First Defendant. It is right to note that if the language of [149(c)] were to be considered in isolation from its context then the Claimant’s interpretation of the words used would be the more natural reading of those words. It is not, however, the only legitimate reading of the words and the First Defendant’s interpretation that an extension of a building can include a physically detached structure is also a tenable reading of the words used. The First Defendant’s interpretation is, in my judgement, the reading which accords considerably more readily with the content and purpose of the relevant part of the NPPF. While the Claimant’s interpretation has the potential to lead to artificial distinctions which would do nothing to further the purposes of the Green Belt whereas that advanced by the First Defendant would remove the risk of that artificiality without jeopardising those purposes. Accordingly, I am satisfied that [149(c)] is not to be interpreted as being confined to physically attached structures but that an extension for the purposes of that provision can include structures which are physically detached from the building of which they are an extension.
If, as I have found, an extension can be detached from the building of which it is an extension the Inspector did not err in law in granting planning permission and this claim fails.”
I don’t know if Warwick will be applying for permission to appeal. As a humble jobbing planning lawyer I’m not sure I would have predicted the conclusion to which Eyre J came. Surely an “extension” to something is by definition connected to that thing? Isn’t that so unambiguous that you do not then look at the policy ramifications? But my views are irrelevant and I suspect we shall be seeing an increase in proposals by the owners of large homes in the green belt for the construction of out-buildings, relying full square on this case. And the larger the house, the easier it will be to show that the “extension” is not a “disproportionate addition” – it’s the planning law equivalent of regressive taxation!
Of course any politician’s toolbox is also full of words, there to serve a different purpose: not to define, but to win elections – and the two words “green belt” are right there near the top.
Does Rishi Sunak for instance really believe, or understand the real-world implications of, what he has been saying in relation to the green belt, in terms of tightening current restrictions? See e.g. Rishi Sunak: I’ll save Britain’s ‘precious’ green belt (Telegraph, 27 July 2022).
Or last week, according to twitter:
“We will stop urban mayors trying to push development out to the Greenbelt in largely Conservative areas. I will stop that from happening.”
Odd isn’t it? Owners of large homes in the green belt will be cock-a-hoop over the Warwick ruling (the larger the home, the more advantageous the ruling) and yet, without drawing breath, no doubt fully behind politicians who say no development in the green belt. Or at least, whether or not Sunak wins, (back to my ear-worm – take it away Tony Hadley…) it’s my instinction.
NB On the subject of words, spoken and written, we have two clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned sessions of interest coming up fast:
At 6 pm on Tuesday 30 August 2022, we have Dave Hill, who of course runs On London and is one of the leading commentators on London planning and development issues, to talk about his recent book, Olympic Park – a fascinating story of the politics, deal-making and sheer collective endeavour that delivered London 2012. Invitation here.
At 6 pm on Monday 12 September 2022, we have barrister and broadcaster Hashi Mohamed, to talk about his forthcoming book, A home of one’s own – his very personal take on the housing crisis, its causes and some possible solutions. Invitation here.
I was left feeling that the nuances of how our wretchedly complicated, but still, at some level, functional system are lost in the political chatter. Of course, these sessions aren’t “debates” as such but in large measure a long succession of disjointed interventions and special pleading. Has anyone yet coined the term NIMC? There was certainly a lot of “not in my constituency” and very little discernible appreciation of the utter reliance of this country on private sector risk-taking and funding for most new homes (regardless of tenure) and employment-generating development. How can the development of 300,000 homes a year (confirmed by Michael Gove in Select Committee on 13 June 2022 still to be the target) be remotely possible in this political and fiscal climate? So many MPs assert the case for a lower target for their particular constituency: we know what underlies the clamour against centralisation of power (a theme we’ll come back to shortly). Development is held again and again to be the culprit for failing public services, lack of infrastructure, waiting lists at GPs’ surgeries and so on – ahem, it’s new development that ends up paying for much of this – existing residents should look rather at the ways in which the Government chooses to manage and fund the provision of health care and other services. And if the complaint is not that new residents are overwhelming local services (not true) it’s that developers are securing permissions and then choosing not to building them out (not true, although there are certainly unnecessary delays largely caused by the clunkiness of the planning system itself: you want to amend your development proposals to reflect the inevitable market changes or regulatory requirements since you first applied for planning permission years ago? Well that’s not going to be a simple process at all my friend). (Beauty as a way to securing greater acceptance of development? Despite the Government having alighted upon that particular agenda, driving the proposals around local design codes for instance, that issue seemed to receive little airtime).
The Bill entered Committee stage on 21 June 2022. The Public Bill Committee first heard evidence from various witnesses and then started line by line consideration of the Bill on 28 June 2022. They have not yet reached the planning provisions but the transcript of the discussion so far is here.
The Levelling-up, Housing and Communities Select Committee, chaired by Clive Betts MP, is holding a mini inquiry into the Bill. Michael Gove MP, Stuart Andrew MP and Simon Gallagher all gave evidence on 13 June 2022, which was slightly more illuminating. For instance, an exchange in relation to design codes from the session:
“Chair: Are we going to have the same level of consultation on the supplementary plans and design codes [as on the local plan]?
Simon Gallagher: Yes. One of the objectives of design codes is that they are locally popular, which is going to require a degree of engagement. Supplementary plans are created as one of the vehicles by which there would be opportunity for proper engagement, or legal force design codes. One of the problems with design codes at the moment is that they are often produced as supplementary planning guidance, which has no legal force.
One thing we have done in the Bill, subject to Parliament’s views, is to create something that is a legal device, a supplementary plan, which must be consulted on. Design codes must be provably popular and we are using the Office for Place to champion the best means of that community engagement.”
One of the themes that has dominated discussion of the Bill has been a concern that it could lead to a centralising of power, for instance by way of the requirement that decisions should be made in accordance with national development management policies (as well as local plans), unless material considerations “strongly” indicate otherwise – thereby putting this potentially amorphous concept of national development management policies (the extent of which is for the Government to determine and which can be added to or amended by the Government with as little prior consultation as it chooses) on the same level as statutory local plans.
“a) The Bill represents a significant change to the existing planning system. It undermines an important planning principle, the primacy of the development plan, by elevating national development management policies to the top of the planning hierarchy.
b) Unlike development plans, which are produced locally via a statutory process that involves considerable public participation, the Bill contains no obligation to allow the public to participate in the development of national development management policies.
c) The Bill also introduces two new development plan documents, spatial development strategies and supplementary plans. The Bill provides for very limited opportunities for public participation in the production of these documents.
d) The Bill introduces a new mechanism to allow the Secretary of State to grant planning permission for controversial developments, bypassing the planning system entirely. There is no right for the public to be consulted as part of this process.
e) Overall, in our view the Bill radically centralises planning decision-making and substantially erodes public participation in the planning system.”
Clive Betts pursued this theme with the witnesses on 13 June 2022:
“Chair: I am told that this is new in the way it is written into legislation. We have had very interesting legal advice from Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock from Landmark Chambers, and it might be helpful if the Committee wrote to you with some of the questions that they have raised, which are pretty serious accusations of a centralisation that these measures are bringing about.
Michael Gove: Of course, I would be more than happy to explain the position and, indeed, any distance that these proposals place between themselves and the existing practice. I do not believe that they do significantly, but I am very happy to engage with the advice that the Committee has sought, and with others as well.
Simon Gallagher: Just to add to that, the Secretary of State referred a few minutes ago to the national planning policy framework prospectus that we were going to publish in July. We intend to set out in that how we can use these powers most effectively. That will give us the basis for proper engagement. I accept that, on the face of the Bill, it is a bit hard to read our intentions, so we need a little bit more detail and explanation out there, which will help.”
There was a further session on 20 June 2022, with evidence given by Victoria Hills RTPI), Hugh Ellis ((TCPA)and Chris Young QC.
Clive Betts’ has subsequently written to Michael Gove asking for his response by 4 July 2022 to a number of points in the “opinion” by Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock (NB for what it’s worth, it’s not an opinion – barristers are careful in their use of language, it’s just a briefing note).
This month we can also expect to see the Government’s prospectus as to its intended approach to revising the NPPF as well as how it intends to draw up its national development management policies.
We are going to be running our own discussion on Clubhouse on the “who will have the power?” question, at 6 pm on 19 July. More details soon but do join here. Indeed, if you would like to speak do let me know – we would like a diverse range of voices and views.
I will also be speaking at the National Planning Forum event “The good, the bad and the beautiful – the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – a planning panacea?” on 5 July and hope to explore the issues a little further alongside an excellent panel of fellow speakers.
Will the Government’s proposed planning reforms help bring forward more logistics floorspace, for which there is an acknowledged and unmet need? We’ve been talking about the housing crisis (now apparently – wrongly – seen by Michael Gove as a “not enough home-owners” crisis) for so long now but what about the need for other land uses? Logistics (warehousing and distribution in old money) is a prime example. It has to be accommodated in the wider public interest – unless we are going to change radically our economy, life style expectations and the way in which we source much of our food and other products – but has locational constraints and the need is not necessarily “local”. How do we make sure that deliverable sites are allocated or can otherwise come forward?
Land-hungry as it can be, and sometimes competing for sites which might otherwise be released for residential development (meaning that clear policy guidance is particularly important), there are various reasons why more “big box” and “last mile” logistics space is needed. For instance:
⁃ the structural change in shopping patterns, with a huge move, accelerated by the pandemic, towards on-line retail.
⁃ the drive on the part of operators towards more efficient, better located and sustainable modern facilities – ideally rail-connected, certainly increasingly automated.
⁃ Post-B****t changes in delivery networks and the urgent need for more resilient supply chains, demonstrated by recent temporary product shortages
a) set out a clear economic vision and strategy which positively and proactively encourages sustainable economic growth, having regard to Local Industrial Strategies and other local policies for economic development and regeneration;
b) set criteria, or identify strategic sites, for local and inward investment to match the strategy and to meet anticipated needs over the plan period;
c) seek to address potential barriers to investment, such as inadequate infrastructure, services or housing, or a poor environment; and
d) be flexible enough to accommodate needs not anticipated in the plan, allow for new and flexible working practices (such as live-work accommodation), and to enable a rapid response to changes in economic circumstances.” (paragraph 82).
The Government’s planning practice guidance is more specific:
“How can authorities assess need and allocate space for logistics?
The logistics industry plays a critical role in enabling an efficient, sustainable and effective supply of goods for consumers and businesses, as well as contributing to local employment opportunities, and has distinct locational requirements that need to be considered in formulating planning policies (separately from those relating to general industrial land).
Strategic facilities serving national or regional markets are likely to require significant amounts of land, good access to strategic transport networks, sufficient power capacity and access to appropriately skilled local labour. Where a need for such facilities may exist, strategic policy-making authorities should collaborate with other authorities, infrastructure providers and other interests to identify the scale of need across the relevant market areas. This can be informed by:
• engagement with logistics developers and occupiers to understand the changing nature of requirements in terms of the type, size and location of facilities, including the impact of new and emerging technologies;
• analysis of market signals, including trends in take up and the availability of logistics land and floorspace across the relevant market geographies;
• analysis of economic forecasts to identify potential changes in demand and anticipated growth in sectors likely to occupy logistics facilities, or which require support from the sector; and
• engagement with Local Enterprise Partnerships and review of their plans and strategies, including economic priorities within Local Industrial Strategies.
• Strategic policy-making authorities will then need to consider the most appropriate locations for meeting these identified needs (whether through the expansion of existing sites or development of new ones).
• Authorities will also need to assess the extent to which land and policy support is required for other forms of logistics requirements, including the needs of SMEs and of ‘last mile’ facilities serving local markets. A range of up-to-date evidence may have to be considered in establishing the appropriate amount, type and location of provision, including market signals, anticipated changes in the local population and the housing stock as well as the local business base and infrastructure availability.
Paragraph: 031 Reference ID: 2a-031-20190722”
The reality is that very often local plans have not kept pace with the extent of need. I wrote about two decisions by the Secretary of State to allow appeals in relation to large logistics proposals in the green belt, in Bolton and Wigan in my 25 June 2021 blog post The Very Specials.
As somewhat of an advocacy document for the sector, the BPF industrial committee published in January 2022, in conjunction with Savills, Levelling Up – The Logic of Logistics, a “report demonstrating the wider economic, social and environmental benefits of the industrial & logistics sector”, going into detail with facts, figures and examples as to the extent of the current need and extent of historically supressed demand, the functions of logistics space in the economy, the nature of the jobs created, sustainability credentials and its potential “levelling up” role (was this indeed a factor in those Bolton and Wigan decisions?).
“■ Introducing a Presumption in Favour of Logistics Development … when precise criteria are met. This is needed as Local Plans can take years to be adopted and therefore are completely out of kilter with the pace of market changes;
■ Ensuring Local Plans allocate sites in the right locations to respond to a broad range of market needs;
■ Modernising Employment Land Reviews to allow for the utilisation of ‘real time’ information so that they can be kept up to date; and
■ Introducing an Employment Land Delivery Test to ensure that a commensurate amount of employment land is brought forward to counterbalance housing and that any employment land lost to other uses is delivered in the right locations. If a local planning authority failed to meet the delivery test, a presumption in favour of sustainable logistics development could be engaged.”
My 14 May 2022 blog post Does LURB Herald A More Zonal Approach to Planning After All? focused on housing issues but the risks are at least as great for logistics (and indeed industrial development more generally and of course often the boundary lines between light industrial, general industrial and logistics are increasingly blurred). With a planning system which is even more plan-led, where planning decisions are to be made in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies “unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”, and with the duty to co-operate with other local planning authorities abolished, logistics promoters will have to put all their faith in each local planning authority making the right choices, in an environment where this form of development, often necessarily on green field sites, can often be locally unpopular. Might national development management policies indeed point towards a criteria-based presumption on certain types of unallocated land? We just don’t know.
Of course, it may be that we start to see some large logistics schemes go by way of the Planning Act 2008 NSIPs route, requiring a direction first from the Secretary of State that the project is indeed to be considered a nationally significant infrastructure project. However, until such time as the procedure is reformed, it is an enormous undertaking in terms of process. The track record for business and commercial DCOs is not good: two sought, two withdrawn! The DCO application for the London Resort theme park in Kent was withdrawn on 29 March 2022 and on 13 April 2022 the Secretary of State withdrew (at the request of the promoter, so that the proposal could continue by way of a Town and Country Planning Act application for planning permission) the direction that he had previously made that phase 2 of the international advanced manufacturing park (IAMP) proposal in Sunderland be treated as an NSIP. Of course, the position for rail-connected logistics schemes which meet the tests in section 26 of the 2008 Act for a strategic rail freight interchange is more positive, with four DCOs made to date (Daventry, East Midlands Gateway, Northampton Gateway and West Midlands Interchange).
We will be discussing many of these issues on clubhouse at 6 pm on Tuesday 24 May, where we will be focusing on the BPF’s Levelling Up – the Logic of Logistics report and, in particular, the likely prognosis for industrial and logistics development under the planning reforms now announced. I’ll be joined by Gwyn Stubbings (GLP) and Ben Taylor (Newlands) from the BPF’s industrial committee, together with the BPF’s head of planning and development Sam Bensted. Join us here.
A little further ahead, please also consider registering for a Town Legal/Landmark Chambers webinar (yes a good old fashioned 2020-style webinar…) at 5 pm on Monday 6 June back on the theme of housing: “Will the Bill deliver more or less housing? Yes or no?” Simon Gallagher (Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) will join Zack Simons (Landmark Chambers), Kathryn Ventham (Barton Willmore now Stantec) and myself in a session chaired by Town Legal’s Meeta Kaur. Join us here.
My Town Legal colleagues have put together a fantastic (I think) 17 page summary of the main planning and compulsory purchase provisions of the Bill. Thanks Safiyah Islam and the following contributors:
• Part 3, Chapter 1 – Planning Data – Aline Hyde
• Part 3, Chapter 2 – Development Plans – Emma McDonald
• Part 3, Chapter 3 – Heritage – Cobi Bonani
• Part 3, Chapter 4 – Grant and Implementation of Planning Permission – Lucy Morton
• Part 3, Chapter 5 – Enforcement of Planning Controls – Stephanie Bruce-Smith
• Part 3, Chapter 6 – Other Provision – Stephanie Bruce-Smith
• Part 4 – Infrastructure Levy – Clare Fielding
• Part 5 – Environmental Outcomes Reports – Safiyah Islam
• Part 6 – Development Corporations – Amy Carter
• Part 7 – Compulsory Purchase – Raj Gupta
* Relevant clauses in Part 2 (Local Democracy and Devolution), Part 8 (Letting by Local Authorities of Vacant High-Street Premises), Part 9 (Information About Interests and Dealings in Land) and Part 10 (Miscellaneous) – Victoria McKeegan
If you would like to receive further detailed updates from time to time please email email@example.com.
I held a Clubhouse session on 12 May 2022 where I discussed the changes and their possible implications alongside Catriona Riddell, Phil Briscoe, Nick Walkley and Meeta Kaur. It is available to listen to here.
For a deeper dive into the compulsory purchase elements, do join our next Clubhouse session at 6 pm on Tuesday 17 May 2022, where my colleagues Raj Gupta and Paul Arnett will be leading a discussion with special guests Charles Clarke (DLUHC, previous chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Henry Church (CBRE, and current chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Caroline Daly (Francis Taylor Building), Virginia Blackman (Avison Young) and Liz Neate (Deloitte). Some line up! Join here.
Raj and Paul have also started a blog, Compulsory Reading, focused on CPO issues. The first post is here and, guess what, this will be compulsory reading if your work touches at all on the intricate and changing world of compulsory purchase law.
Phew! So what was I getting at in the heading to this post? Surely any fule kno that there was once a government white paper in August 2020 that, amongst other things, proposed a more zonal approach to planning – with local plans throwing all areas into three hoppers: protected, restricted and growth – but that the political lesson learned was that this would be a vote loser and so the zonal approach was abandoned by incoming Secretary of State Michael Gove in the wake of the Chesham and Amersham by-election?
The idea of growth areas (where allocation would amount to automatic development consent) has certainly been abandoned, but the consequence of a number of the proposals in the Bill in my view leads us more towards a system where there is much less decision making flexibility in relation to individual planning applications and appeals. Instead, planning decisions will need to be made in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies “unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”.
So developers will need to make sure that:
⁃ development plans (local plans, neighbourhood plans) etc allocate the necessary land.
– the associated mandatory local design codes are workable
⁃ they can work within the constraints of whatever national development management policies the Government arrives at.
If development accords with these requirements, planning permission should be a doddle. If not, you plainly need to overcome a heavy presumption against. Our current flexible system (sometimes good, sometimes bad) will take a big lurch towards being rule-based or, dare I say it, zonal.
This may be a Good Thing or it may be a Bad Thing. Much depends on whether development plans, local design codes and national development management policies are properly tested for their realism. There will be even more focus on testing the soundness of local plans.
However, when it comes to local plan making, there are some major unresolved uncertainties:
⁃ First, what housing numbers do local authorities need to plan for? The Government still aspires to a 30 month local plan preparation to adoption timescale but that is only going to work if you have a largely “plug in and play” approach to the numbers, as was envisaged in the White Paper. What will happen to the standard methodology? We don’t get know. The Government’s policy paper says this:
“The changes in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will require a new National Planning Policy Framework for England. The Government continues to listen to the representations of MPs, councillors and others on the effectiveness not only of the formula but the surrounding policies. Alongside Committee stage of the Bill, it intends to publish an NPPF prospectus setting out further thinking on the direction of such policies.”
What numbers are we planning for as a country? Are we still targeting 300,000 homes a year? The Government’s response to the Select Committee report on the planning white paper says this:
“The Government is determined to create a market that builds the homes this country needs. Our ambition is to deliver 300,000 homes per year on average and create a market that will sustain delivery at this level. There is compelling evidence that increasing the responsiveness of housing supply will help to achieve better outcomes. There seems to be consensus that 250,000 to 300,000 homes per annum should be supplied to deliver price and demand stability. For example, a 2014 joint KPMG and Shelter report highlighted that 250,000 homes per annum were needed to address price and demand pressures.”
⁃ Secondly, what will replace the duty to co-operate, which will be abolished? What will the new duty to assist really amount to? Can authorities adjoining urban areas with high unmet housing needs simply turn away from meeting those needs?
⁃ Thirdly, what if the allocations in the plan prove to be undeliverable or do not come forward? The safety net/potential stick of the five year housing land supply requirement (and presumably the tilted balance) in the case of up to date plans is to be abolished according to the policy paper:
“To incentivise plan production further and ensure that newly produced plans are not undermined, our intention is to remove the requirement for authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of deliverable land for housing, where their plan is up to date, i.e., adopted within the past five years. This will curb perceived ‘speculative development’ and ‘planning by appeal’, so long as plans are kept up to date. We will consult on changes to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework.”
Much is to be resolved here before we can begin to work out whether the proposals in the Bill will be an improvement on the present position.
Of course, the Government recognises that more work is needed. The following forthcoming consultation processes are identified:
“Technical consultations on the detail of the Infrastructure Levy and changes to compulsory purchase compensation.
• A consultation on the new system of Environmental Outcomes Reports which will ensure we take a user-centred approach to the development of the core elements of the new system, such as the framing of environmental outcomes as well as the detailed operation of the new system.
• A technical consultation on the quality standards that Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects will be required to meet to be considered for fast-track consenting and associated regulatory and guidance changes to improve the performance of the NSIP regime.
• Proposals for changes to planning fees.
• Our vision for the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), detailing what a new Framework could look like, and indicating, in broad terms, the types of National Development Management Policy that could accompany it. We will also use this document to set out our position on planning for housing, and seek views on this, as well as consulting on delivering the planning commitments set out in the British Energy Security Strategy.”
I hope this serves as some sort of introduction to the Bill and a taster as to some of the issues which will be occupying so many of us as the Bill passes through its Parliamentary stages. I don’t expect it to be on the statute book before early 2023, with a fair wind, and most of its provisions will not be in force until 2024 at the earliest. Final health warning: Bills change – we can expect plenty of amendments, omissions and additions over coming months.
Aside from my earlier plugs for our newsletters and the Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse sessions, I would also recommend two other blog posts: those of Nicola Gooch and Zack Simons . None of us has come up with a satisfactory LURB pun yet but I’m sure we all have our teams working on it.
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:
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?
⁃ 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.
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).
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.”
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):
“…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.
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.
“For years, going green was inextricably bound up with a sense that we have to sacrifice the things we love. But this strategy shows how we can build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight. In 2050, we will still be driving cars, flying planes and heating our homes, but our cars will be electric gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap reliable power drawn from the winds of the North Sea. And everywhere you look, in every part of our United Kingdom, there will be jobs. Good jobs, green jobs, well-paid jobs, levelling up our country while squashing down our carbon emissions.”
The document is of course hugely important. Together with the Government’s heat and buildings strategy published the same day, this is the detailed plan, presented to Parliament pursuant to the Climate Change Act 2008, which sets out how our country will achieve its net zero carbon target by 2050. But it has a wider role ahead of next month’s COP 26 event in Glasgow, both pour encourager les autres and, more formally, to be “submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the UK’s second Long Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy under the Paris Agreement.”
It’s a detailed document, 368 pages – full of initiatives, science, business exhortation, more acronyms than you could shake a stick at and a fair degree of management consultancy/policy wonk speak (for instance, repeated use of “no regrets” and “low regrets” options terminology). After an evening’s scrolling I’m in no place to determine whether it’s brilliant or bonkers in its world-leading optimism. In fact, as someone always in need of a mental map as to how these sorts of strategy fit into the wider international and national legislative and policy framework, it was a relief to get to the technical annex (from page 306) and the client science annex (from page 362), which made for refreshingly clear if bracing reading.
The fullest and most direct reference to planning in the whole strategy is probably on page 267:
“National planning policies already recognise the importance of sustainable development and make clear that reducing carbon emissions should be considered in planning and decision making. The National Model Design Code provides tools and guidance for local planning authorities to help ensure developments respond to the impacts of climate change, are energy efficient, embed circular economy principles, and reduce carbon emissions. The government is considering how the planning system can further support our commitment to reaching net zero. We will make sure that the reformed planning system supports our efforts to combat climate change and help bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. For example, as part of our programme of planning reform we intend to review the National Planning Policy Framework to make sure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.”
There is no indication of how the planning system can help, or when the NPPF is to be reviewed. Of course the twin dangers are of, on the one hand, a set of changes in the near future that address net zero and then a further set of changes to reflect whichever changed direction planning reform more generally is to embark upon following the pause to the white paper thinking, and, on the other hand, a long long wait, whilst everything is knitted together.
The role of the planning system is of course intertwined with the various proposals within the Environment Bill, given plenty of airtime in the document, and, after all this is policy bingo, there are plenty of references to levelling up.
The present vacuum ahead of any hard news on the NPPF or wider reforms is of course being filled with noise, suggestions, exhortations (see eg There’s a climate emergency, and the planning system is not helping (Andrew Wood, CPRE, 18 October 2021) and, particularly recommended, joint guidance published on 19 October 2021 by the RTPI and TCPA on planning and climate change). You’re at a gig and the lights have gone down, the background music has been killed and there’s the occasional roadie scuttling across the stage.
Normal people can stop reading at this pointand jump to the end. But for the cut and paste junkies, here are some other quotes from along the way:
“Deliver four carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) clusters, capturing 20-30 MtCO2 across the economy, including 6 MtCO of industrial emissions, per year by 2030”
“Following the Phase 1 of the Cluster Sequencing process, the Hynet and East Creating the skilled workforce to deliver net zero and putting UK Coast Clusters, will act as economic hubs for green jobs in line with our ambition supply chains at the forefront of global markets to capture 20-30 MtCO2 per year by 2030. This puts Teesside and the Humber, Merseyside and North Wales, along with the North East of Scotland as a reserve cluster, among the potential early SuperPlaces which will be transformed over the next decade.”
“We will also take a place-based approach to net zero, working with local government to ensure that all local areas have the capability and capacity for net zero delivery as we level up the country. And Government is leading the way – embedding climate into our policy and spending decisions, increasing the transparency of our progress on climate goals, and providing funding to drive ambitious emissions reductions in schools and hospitals.”
“These opportunities show that net zero and levelling up go hand in hand. Delivering net zero allows us to boost living standards by supporting jobs and attracting investment in the green industries of the future, which can be in areas that need this the most. Crucially, delivering net zero also involves supporting workers employed in high carbon industries that will be affected by the transition, by giving them the skills they need to make the most of new opportunities in the green economy. But the link between net zero and levelling up is wider than just the economy, net zero can deliver wider benefits for people and communities across the UK by helping spread opportunity and restore pride in place.
We are already taking action to make the most of these opportunities. We have embedded a net zero principle in our levelling up funding initiatives, such as the Levelling Up Fund and the Towns Fund, so that these schemes can contribute to meeting our net zero targets and help places to reduce their carbon impacts. Later this year, we will publish a Levelling Up White Paper. This will build on the actions the government is already taking to both deliver net zero and level up across the country, including the ones set out in this strategy, and set out new interventions to improve livelihoods and drive economic growth in all parts of the UK.”
“The characteristics of the net zero challenge – requiring action by multiple parties across the public and private sectors, delivery at pace, and management of large uncertainties – underline the need for strong coordination in policy development and clear signalling to markets. Government taking a systems approach to policy will help to navigate this complexity. We must consider the environment, society, and economy as parts of an interconnected system, where changes to one area can directly or indirectly impact others. This will help to ensure we design policy to maximise benefits, account for dependencies, mitigate conflicting interests and take account of learning as we go. It reduces the risk of unintended consequences, ensuring individual decisions designed to help achieve net zero do not end up hindering it or other important objectives.”
“New standards and regulation.
In certain areas government will need to support and complement market-led decarbonisation with standards and regulation to ensure that, where appropriate, green options are pursued, while high carbon options are phased out. This will help to accelerate low regrets areas like energy efficiency, such as ensuring our homes are built to new standards, and high impact areas like zero emission vehicles. It will also ensure suppliers of higher-carbon technologies and fuels provide low carbon alternatives, driving deployment at scale.
• Planning and infrastructure.
Low carbon solutions rely on transforming the infrastructure needed to deliver them. Increasing electricity generation needs to be accompanied by building out a flexible grid. Alongside dedicated hydrogen infrastructure, new CO2 transport and storage infrastructure is needed for the use of CCUS which will require investment of around £15 billion from now to the end of the Carbon Budget 6 period. We need to ensure that low carbon energy generation can be connected to sources of demand geographically, which means improving knowledge of local circumstances and opportunities for generation. We also recognise the importance of the planning system to common challenges like combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth.
• Sustainable use of resources.
Net zero will mean maximising the value of resources within a more efficient circular economy. It will need a significant increase in the use of certain types of resources – critical minerals like lithium, graphite, and cobalt, as well an increased demand on resources like copper and steel – from manufacturing green technologies to building large-scale infrastructure. This will require new robust supply chains and provide economic opportunities, but there will be environmental trade-offs, and potential negative impacts on habitats, biodiversity, and water resources to be managed carefully. For example, ammonia emissions from anaerobic digestion, which can use waste as a feedstock, can also affect biodiversity and health.
• Understanding land use trade-offs.
Like other resources, our land is finite and competition for it will need to be managed as we rely on natural resources and use land for multiple new purposes, such as perennial energy crops and short rotation forestry for energy generation, while allowing for afforestation and peatland restoration to sequester and avoid emissions. We will also need to ensure net zero is compatible with wider uses of land such as agriculture, housing, infrastructure, and environmental goals. These land use challenges are exacerbated by the impact of climate change on the availability of productive land and water in future.”
“New Buildings. We will introduce regulations from 2025 through the Future Homes Standard to ensure all new homes in England are ready for net zero by havinga high standard of energy efficiency and low carbon heating installed as standard. This should mean that all new homes will be fitted with a low carbon heat source such as a heat pump or connected to a low carbon heat network. To reinforce this, we will consult on whether it is appropriate to end new gas grid connections, or whether to remove the duty to connect from the Gas Distribution Networks. As an interim measure to the Future Homes Standard, we plan to introduce an uplift in standards, effective from June 2022, for England that would result in a 31% reduction in carbon emissions from new homes compared to current standards. We will also respond to our consultation for the Future Buildings Standard for new non-domestic buildings.”
“47. We are driving decarbonisation and transport improvements at a local level by making quantifiable carbon reductions a fundamental part of local transport planning and funding. Local Transport Plans (LTPs) – statutory requirements that set out holistic place-based strategies for improving transport networks and proposed projects for investment – will need to set out how local areas will deliver ambitious carbon reductions in line with carbon budgets and net zero.
48. We will embed transport decarbonisation principles in spatial planning and across transport policy making. Last year, the government set out proposals for a new and improved planning system, central to our most important national challenges, including combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth. The National Model Design Code, published in July this year, guides local planning authorities on measures they can include within their own design codes to create environmentally responsive and sustainable places. The National Model Design Code provides tools and guidance for local planning authorities to help ensure developments respond to the impacts of climate change, are energy efficient, embed circular economy principles and reduce carbon emissions.”
“The UK has a limited amount of land and delivering net zero will require changes to the way this land is used, for example, for afforestation, biomass production, and peat restoration. Opportunities for land to be used for multiple purposes, such as agroforestry will help to make sure land use for decarbonisation purposes is balanced with other demands, such as housing development and food production. These changes are likely to have varying effects on wider environmental outcomes and may completely alter the character of some landscapes and rural livelihoods (see section below). Land use change must be designed in a systemic, geographically targeted way with appropriate local governance and delivery structures which consider the complex range of interacting social, economic, and demographic factors. To support this, government is developing a Net Zero Systems Tool which aims to allow key decision makers to gain new insights and understanding, by highlighting dependencies and trade-offs within the land use system, as well as by demonstrating the knock-on effects of proposed policies. In addition, through the Environment Bill, the Government is introducing Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS), a spatial planning tool for nature, allowing local government and communities to identify priorities and opportunities for nature recovery and nature-based solutions across England. The Bill includes a specific duty on all public authorities to “have regard” to relevant LNRSs and the spatial information they provide will support the development of local plans and other land use change incentives. Delivery of priorities and opportunities identified in LNRS will be supported by a range of delivery mechanisms including our environmental land management schemes, and in particular, the Local Nature Recovery scheme. By 2028, Defra’s current plans are for total spend to be evenly split between farm-level, locally tailored, and landscape-scale investment within ELM.”
“Local green infrastructure and the environment
34. Government will launch a new National Framework of Green Infrastructure Standards in 2022. This will support local areas and regions to deliver well-designed green infrastructure where it is most needed to deliver multiple benefits. These networks of green and blue spaces and other natural features, including trees, provide an opportunity to benefit local economies and bring about long-term improvements in people’s health and wellbeing. At the same time, it can help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change, through capturing and storing carbon, shading and cooling, and reducing flooding.
35. The Environment Bill is also creating a new system of spatial strategies called Local Nature Recovery Strategies to target action for nature and to drive the use of nature-based solutions to tackle environmental challenges like climate change. It is expected that there will be approximately 50 Local Nature Recovery Strategies covering the whole of England with no gaps and no overlaps. Preparation of each Strategy will be locally led and collaborative, with local government taking a critical role. This will provide local government with a new tool through which they can work with local partners to identify where effort to create or restore habitat would have greatest benefit for climate mitigation, whilst also having positive benefits for nature and the wider environment. Between 2021 and 2027, we will be doubling our overall investment in flooding and coastal erosion to £5.2 billion.
36. In addition, £200 million will be invested in the Innovative Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme. This will help over 25 local areas over six years to take forward wider innovative actions that improve their resilience to flooding and coastal erosion. The Environment Agency is also working with coastal authorities on a £1 million refresh of Shoreline Management Plans.”
Normal people you can start reading again…
I hope that was at least a taster and I recommend that you dip into the document itself. Whatever happens to the planning system, the initiatives set out in the document are undoubtedly going to be central to our lives and work over the years to come.
We’re going to be discussing all this for an hour or so from 6 pm on Tuesday 26 October 2021 on clubhouse. I’ve never been to a book club session but maybe it’ll be a bit like that, without the tortilla chips or wine. Join us. Link to the app here.
Various of us, including Victoria, will be discussing the documents in detail at our clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session from 6pm on Tuesday 27 July 2021. Do join us, either to listen or to make your views known. A link is here.
The House of Commons HCLG Committee report on permitted development rights
The Committee’s report was published on 22 July 2021.
I recommend reading the report itself. But some extracts from the summary:
“Whilst we understand the intention behind the recent changes, we have concerns about their impact, including on local planning authorities (LPAs) and the critical role they play in place-making. The ability of LPAs to control permitted development is limited to certain prescribed matters, principally those set out in the prior approval process. We support the use of prior approval and other conditions to control the quality of permitted development, but we heard the regime had become so complicated it was now little different from the full planning system. Furthermore, the Government has not explained how its approach to PDR fits with its proposed reforms in the planning White Paper. In particular, the recent changes appear to contradict the increased focus in the White Paper on plan-led development and local democratic involvement.
For these reasons, we recommend the Government pause any further extensions of permitted development rights for change of use to residential, including the new class MA right, which is due to take effect on 1 August, and conduct a review of their role within the wider planning system. As part of that review, we recommend it set out its long-term vision for permitted development for change of use to residential and explain how it plans to retain the benefits of these PDRs whilst not also sacrificing the ability of LPAs to shape their communities.
We broadly welcome the new use class E, as we can see the advantages of greater flexibility, but we are concerned it allows out-of-town premises, such as office blocks, to convert to retail without having first gone through the sequential test.”
Sometimes I think, why buy a legal text book when you can read it in a court judgment? Lindblom LJ has provided some useful practical guidance, in City & Country Bramshill Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 9 March 2021), on how to go about the assessment, required by the NPPF, as to whether development proposals would be likely to cause harm to listed buildings and other heritage assets.
(The case also considers the interpretation of policies in the NPPF against the development of “isolated homes in the countryside” but I’m limiting this blog post to heritage aspects.)
The case arose out of a decision letter dated 31 January 2019 by inspector Vicki Hirst into no fewer than 33 appeals against refusals of planning permission and enforcement notices issued by the second respondent, Hart District Council, relating to development at Bramshill Park in Hampshire. The third and fourth respondents to the proceedings, Historic England and the National Trust, were objectors. The inquiry had sat for 26 days.
From Lindblom LJ’s judgment:
“The site, which extends to about 106 hectares, lies between the villages of Hazeley and Eversley. It was previously used as a national and international police training college. On it stands a grade I listed Jacobean mansion and various other buildings. It also contains a grade I registered park and garden. The proposed development included the conversion of the mansion to 16 apartments and the adjoining stable block to five (appeal 1), or its conversion to a single dwelling (appeal 2), or to class B1 office space (appeal 3); the construction of 235 houses in place of some of the existing buildings (appeal 4), 14 more to the south-west (appeal 5), and nine to the north of an existing lake (appeal 6); the use of 51 residential units – once occupied by staff employed at the training college – as separate dwellings (appeal 7), retaining those against which the council had taken enforcement action alleging a material change of use without planning permission (appeals 8 to 33).
The inspector held a long inquiry into the appeals, which ended in February 2018. In her decision letter, dated 31 January 2019, she allowed appeals 2 and 3, granting planning permission for those proposals. She also allowed appeals 15 and 17 to 33, quashing the enforcement notices in those appeals. She dismissed appeals 1, 4 to 14 and 16. In a separate decision letter dated 14 March 2019 she dismissed City & Country Bramshill’s application for costs against the council. City & Country Bramshill challenged her decisions on appeals 4 to 14 and 16, and on the application for costs. Waksman J. upheld the challenges to the decisions on appeals 7 to 14 and 16. He rejected those to the decisions on appeals 4 to 6 and on costs. The appeal before us is against that part of his order. Permission to appeal was granted by Lewison L.J. on 28 February 2020.”
The key dispute before the court in relation to heritage policy was as follows:
“Historic England and the National Trust provided their evidence on the basis that paragraphs 195 and 196 of the [NPPF] would always be engaged where any element of harm was identified. The appellant held that this was not the correct approach […]. The appellant’s case is that an “internal heritage balance” should be carried out where elements of heritage harm and heritage benefit are first weighed to establish whether there is any overall heritage harm to the proposal. Paragraphs 195 and 196 would only be engaged where there is residual heritage harm. This should then be weighed against the public benefits of the scheme.”
I’m now handing the microphone over to my Town Legal colleague, Victoria McKeegan – the rest of this post is largely hers.
So, the key matter was whether, prior to engaging paragraphs 195 and 196 of the NPPF (which apply to cases where a development proposal will lead to substantial / less than substantial harm), an ‘internal heritage balance’ should be carried out where elements of heritage harm and benefit are first weighed up to establish whether there is any overall heritage harm. The appellant argued that this was the case and, as such, that these paragraphs are only engaged where there is residual heritage harm, this then being weighed against the public benefits of the scheme. Put another way, only if “overall harm” (i.e. net harm) emerges from the weighing of “heritage harms” against “heritage benefits” must the “other public benefits” of the development be weighed against that “overall harm“.
On this point, the Court held as follows:
Like the judge, I cannot accept those submissions. It is not stipulated, or implied, in section 66(1), or suggested in the relevant case law, that a decision-maker must undertake a “net” or “internal” balance of heritage-related benefits and harm as a self-contained exercise preceding a wider assessment of the kind envisaged in paragraph 196 of the NPPF. Nor is there any justification for reading such a requirement into NPPF policy. The separate balancing exercise for which Mr Strachan contended may have been an exercise the inspector could have chosen to undertake when performing the section 66(1) duty and complying with the corresponding policies of the NPPF, but it was not required as a matter of law. And I cannot see how this approach could ever make a difference to the ultimate outcome of an application or appeal.
There is also some useful commentary regarding the s66(1) duty and the concepts of ‘harm’ in the NPPF, which I set out below:
1. Matters of weight:
• Section 66(1) duty
Section 66 does not state how the decision-maker must go about discharging the duty to “have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting …”. The courts have considered the nature of that duty and the parallel duty for conservation areas in section 72 of the Listed Buildings Act, and the concept of giving “considerable importance and weight” to any finding of likely harm to a listed building and its setting. They have not prescribed any single, correct approach to the balancing of such harm against any likely benefits – or other material considerations weighing in favour of a proposal. But in Jones v Mordue this court accepted that if the approach in paragraphs 193 to 196 of the NPPF (as published in 2018 and 2019) is followed, the section 66(1) duty is likely to be properly performed.
• NPPF paragraph 193
The concept in paragraph 193 – that “great weight” should be given to the “conservation” of the “designated heritage asset”, and that “the more important the asset the greater the weight should be” – does not predetermine the appropriate amount of weight to be given to the “conservation” of the heritage asset in a particular case. Resolving that question is left to the decision-maker as a matter of planning judgment on the facts of the case, bearing in mind the relevant case law, including Sullivan L.J.’s observations about “considerable importance and weight” in Barnwell Manor.
2. The concepts of “substantial harm” and “less than substantial harm”
The same can be said of the policies in paragraphs 195 and 196 of the NPPF, which refer to the concepts of “substantial harm” and “less than substantial harm” to a “designated heritage asset”. What amounts to “substantial harm” or “less than substantial harm” in a particular case will always depend on the circumstances. Whether there will be such “harm”, and, if so, whether it will be “substantial”, are matters of fact and planning judgment. The NPPF does not direct the decision-maker to adopt any specific approach to identifying “harm” or gauging its extent. It distinguishes the approach required in cases of “substantial harm … (or total loss of significance …)” (paragraph 195) from that required in cases of “less than substantial harm” (paragraph 196). But the decision-maker is not told how to assess what the “harm” to the heritage asset will be, or what should be taken into account in that exercise or excluded. The policy is in general terms. There is no one approach, suitable for every proposal affecting a “designated heritage asset” or its setting.
3. Identifying benefits
Identifying and assessing any “benefits” to weigh against harm to a heritage asset are also matters for the decision-maker. Paragraph 195 refers to the concept of “substantial public benefits” outweighing “substantial harm” or “total loss of significance”; paragraph 196 to “less than substantial harm” being weighed against “the public benefits of the proposal”. What amounts to a relevant “public benefit” in a particular case is, again, a matter for the decision-maker. So is the weight to be given to such benefits as material considerations. The Government did not enlarge on this concept in the NPPF, though in paragraph 196 it gave the example of a proposal “securing [the heritage asset’s] optimum viable use”.
Plainly, however, a potentially relevant “public benefit”, which either on its own or with others might be decisive in the balance, can include a heritage-related benefit as well as one that has nothing to do with heritage. As the inspector said (in paragraph 127 of the decision letter), the relevant guidance in the PPG applies a broad meaning to the concept of “public benefits”. While these “may include heritage benefits”, the guidance confirms that “all types of public benefits can be taken together and weighed against harm”.
Cases will vary. There might, for example, be benefits to the heritage asset itself exceeding any adverse effects to it, so that there would be no “harm” of the kind envisaged in paragraph 196. There might be benefits to other heritage assets that would not prevent “harm” being sustained by the heritage asset in question but are enough to outweigh that “harm” when the balance is struck. And there might be planning benefits of a quite different kind, which have no implications for any heritage asset but are weighty enough to outbalance the harm to the heritage asset the decision-maker is dealing with.
4. Interaction with the overall planning balance and statutory duties
One must not forget that the balancing exercise under the policies in paragraphs 195 and 196 of the NPPF is not the whole decision-making process on an application for planning permission, only part of it. The whole process must be carried out within the parameters set by the statutory scheme, including those under section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (“the 2004 Act”) and section 70(2) of the 1990 Act, as well as the duty under section 66(1) of the Listed Buildings Act. In that broader balancing exercise, every element of harm and benefit must be given due weight by the decision-maker as material considerations, and the decision made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise (see City of Edinburgh Council v Secretary of State for Scotland  1 WLR 1447). Within that statutory process, and under NPPF policy, the decision-maker must adopt a sensible approach to assessing likely harm to a listed building and weighing that harm against benefits.”
Thanks Victoria. Me again now. With the retirement of Lord Carnwath from the Supreme Court, Lindblom LJ is now our most senior “planning” judge. It is good to see him underlining yet again that it is for the decision maker to take a rational course through the various NPPF policy tests, based on judgment and circumstances – surely we all now know that, although great care is required to take into account what the individual paragraphs in the framework require (for what can go wrong see e.g. my 12 December 2020 blog post Where’s The Harm In That: Misreporting Heritage Effects), this should not be an overly technocratic or legalistic exercise with only one correct methodology?
“Tilt” in pinball is an example of a good rule: in order to discourage an unwanted outcome (cheating), transgression (sloping the table) leads to a predictable penalty (game over).
The purposes of the NPPF’s “tilted balance” (the phrase just being planners’ jargon) are to discourage local planning authorities from:
⁃ relying on out of date local plans
⁃ not maintaining (potentially with an additional buffer) at least five years’ housing land supply (now watered down to a minimum of three years’ housing supply if there is an up to date neighbourhood plan that allocates land for housing development) and
⁃ (since the introduction of the housing delivery test) not ensuring that a defined number of homes are delivered each year.
Where the tilted balance applies, it should in many circumstances be easier for developers to secure planning permission which is not in accordance with the relevant local plan and/or neighbourhood plan, in that paragraph 11 (d) of the NPPF provides as follows:
“(d) where there are no relevant development plan policies, or the policies which are most important for determining the application are out-of-date, granting permission unless:
i. the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed; or
ii. any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.
There is a footnote to “out-of-date”: “This includes, for applications involving the provision of housing, situations where the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites (with the appropriate buffer, as set out in paragraph 73); or where the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing was substantially below (less than 75% of) the housing requirement over the previous three years.”
There is another crucial footnote, to (d)i: “The policies referred to are those in this Framework (rather than those in development plans) relating to: habitats sites (and those sites listed in paragraph 176) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park (or within the Broads Authority) or defined as Heritage Coast; irreplaceable habitats; designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest referred to in footnote 63); and areas at risk of flooding or coastal change.”
Already, that description surely begins to raise obvious questions:
⁃ Is the rule sufficiently clear and understood, such that the risk of the penalty actually influences council members’ and officers’ decision making so as to discourage those unwanted outcomes: to encourage up to date plans, the maintenance of an adequate housing land supply, sufficient homes being built? If the public doesn’t understand it, it’s going to have no effect at the ballot box – so how do we expect it to influence councillors, for whom being seen to protect their local areas from change will usually be a more potent vote winner?
⁃ To what extent can the authority avoid those unwanted outcomes in any event, given for instance the slowness of the local plans system even for a authority wishing to make swift progress and given the reliance on the private sector not only to promote suitable sites but then proceed to build them out?
⁃ The footnote to (d)i reduces the impact of the rule in constrained areas which usually turn out to be those where the documented need for housing is greatest.
⁃ Should there be a different penalty other than to make it more likely that development will take place in a way which is unplanned for and often unpopular? What are the most direct “carrots and sticks” that could be deployed?
Four years ago this month my thoughts were wandering in these directions, while sitting in the Supreme Court in the Suffolk Coastal case, acting for Richborough Estates (thank you Paul Campbell and Chris Young). The case was a turning point in the consideration of how the tilted balance is intended to work. It relates to the original 2012 version of the NPPF but the principles still hold true. The judgment in Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes Limited, Richborough Estates Partnership LLP v Cheshire East Borough Council (Supreme Court, 10 May 2017) is a masterpiece in cutting through what had been a series of conflicting rulings by the lower courts as to how the tilted balance was to be interpreted in order to pull us all back to the basic principles. I tried to summarise them in a blog post at the time, but for instance:
⁃ Let’s not overstate the influence of the test: the NPPF is no more than “guidance” and is no more than a “material consideration” for the purposes of section 70(2) of the 1990 Act: “It cannot, and does not purport to, displace the primacy given by the statute and policy to the statutory development plan. It must be exercised consistently with, and not so as to displace or distort, the statutory scheme”. (Lord Carnwath, paragraph 21) (i.e. there’s a get-out so that a decision maker can determine that, notwithstanding the tilted balance, planning permission should not be granted).
⁃ Deprecation of the “over-legalisation of the planning process, as illustrated by the proliferation of case law on [the tilted balance]. This is particularly unfortunate for what was intended as a simplification of national policy guidance, designed for the lay-reader.” (Lord Carnwath, para 23) (i.e. the court will always be reluctant to interfere with the judgment arrived at by the decision maker).
⁃ As long as decision makers apply it lawfully (which means they first have to understand it – not easy!) the application of the tilted balance test engages matters of planning judgement, not legal interpretation. (i.e. legal challenges to the decision maker’s judgment, have to be based on unlawful or irrational reasoning on the part of the decision maker – never easy).
⁃ the basis for the test arises from the importance that the NPPF places on boosting the supply of housing. “The message to planning authorities is unmistakeable”. (Lord Gill, paragraph 77). He refers to “the futility of authorities’ relying in development plans on the allocation of sites that have no realistic prospect of being developed within the five year period”. (paragraph 78). (i.e. the test has a real world objective which we must not lose sight of – boosting the supply of housing).
⁃ “If a planning authority that was in default of the requirement of a five-years supply were to continue to apply its environmental and amenity policies with full rigour, the objective of the Framework could be frustrated”. (Lord Gill, paragraph 83). (i.e. the outcome of the test may well be that planning permissions are granted notwithstanding an authority’s policies – that’s the whole point of it).
The cases have kept coming. Already, in 2021, there have been no fewer than three rulings from the Court of Appeal – on a test in a non statutory policy document – this is surely ridiculous. Does this arise from its unnecessary complexity and “angels dancing on the head of a pin” abstractions, or from the way that in practice the so-called tilted balance hardly seems to provide any tilt at all, even in areas with a severe under-supply of housing, perhaps contrary to the original objective?
The case raised “two main issues: first, whether a decision-maker, when applying the “tilted balance” under paragraph 11d)ii, is required not to take into account relevant policies of the development plan; and second, as a connected issue, whether it is necessary for the “tilted balance” and the duty in section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to be performed as separate and sequential steps in a two-stage approach. There is a further issue: whether the “tilted balance” under paragraph 11d)ii excludes the exercise indicated in paragraph 213 of the NPPF, which requires that policies in plans adopted before its publication should be given due weight, “according to their degree of consistency with [it]“.
Answers from the court: no, no and (on the further issue) no.
The case raised “one principal issue […]: whether the inspector was wrong to interpret the first sentence of paragraph 172 of the NPPF, which says “great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty” in an AONB, as a policy whose application is capable of providing “a clear reason for refusing” planning permission under paragraph 11d)i of the NPPF.”
“Ever since a NPPF was first introduced in March 2012, the interpretation of its provisions has provided a fertile hunting ground for planning lawyers. The 2018 version was intended to produce greater clarity and simplicity, but unfortunately it has not been entirely successful. The effect of the appellant’s argument was that if there is only one relevant policy in the local plan, the developer gets the benefit of the tilted balance (absent the operation of one of the exceptions). Mr Lockhart-Mummery eschewed any suggestion that this was a “numbers game” but he also very fairly accepted that it is virtually unknown for a single policy in a local plan to embrace all the material considerations that would suffice to enable a decision-maker to determine a planning application, especially if that application is to build houses.”
Answer from the court: no. (“… at the end of the day there is nothing inherently unfair to an applicant or contrary to the overall scheme of the NPPF or the 2004 Act, both of which afford primacy to the local plan, about the balancing exercise being carried out under section 38(6) in circumstances where an experienced Planning Inspector has found that there is a policy in the development plan that is relevant, important and up-to-date. For those reasons I would uphold the interpretation of Paragraph 11d) adopted by the Judge and applied by the Inspector).”
Housing delivery test:
The Government has now published the results of its 2020 housing delivery test measurement (19 January 2021). The figures are important, because if the housing delivery test indicates that the delivery of housing was less than 85% of the housing supply requirement over the last three years, a buffer of 20% has to be added to that requirement. If delivery was less than 75% of the housing requirement over the previous three years, that is a trigger for the application of the tilted balance.
As an adjustment to recognise at least to some extent to effects of Covid this past year, authorities’ requirements this year were reduced by a month.
This year there are (by my count) 55 authorities for whom the tilted balance applies following these latest measurements.
Has that featured in the relevant local press? What are authorities doing about it? I would be pleased to hear.
I just wonder whether it might not be better to sweep all of this complexity away and replace it with a policy that provides for an enhanced presumption in favour of development if relevant housing land supply figures are not met: the higher the shortfall, the more weighty the presumption? Leave the detail to decision makers, including to inspectors on appeal – attempts at greater prescription are doomed to fail and are not understood by the public.
There should also be additional consequences for authorities that fail to meet these targets, and their councillors – but also a new transparency on the part of the Government as to (1) the basis for its national target and (2) the need for frank annual reporting to Parliament as to its performance as against that target.
To encourage desirable outcomes, we need rules that everyone understands. Plan positively = great places. A failure to plan positively = intervention, remedial steps.