So Who Did Win The SPG JR?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 26 May 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Extra Care Question: RU-C2 or C3-UCO?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Parliament made the Use Classes Order. 
I referred in my 16 September 2017 blog post Class Distinctions: Planning For Older People to the blurred distinction between C2 (basically use for the provision of residential accommodation and care to people in need of care) and C3 (basically use as a residential dwelling) when it comes to “extra care” facilities for the elderly. I set out some of the criteria applied by inspectors in appeal decisions.
There was a very useful appeal decision letter last month which surely throws additional doubt upon the soundness of the curious attempt in the draft London Plan in effect to amend the Use Classes Order by policy rather than legislation, in that it seeks to deem extra care facilities for the elderly in London as falling within use class C3 (and thereby becoming subject to affordable housing and other obligations and requirements) whereas the recognised planning law position is that they are more likely to fall within use class C2. 
Draft policy H15 C states:
Sheltered accommodation and extra care accommodation is considered as being in Use Class C3. Residential nursing care accommodation (including end of life/ hospice care and dementia care home accommodation) is considered as being in Use Class C2.”
Paragraph 4.15.3 of the supporting text simply states again that “sheltered accommodation and extra care accommodation should be considered as C3 housing“, defining extra care accommodation as follows:
extra care accommodation (also referred to as assisted living, close care, or continuing care housing) is self-contained residential accommodation and associated facilities, designed and managed to meet the needs and aspirations of older people, and which provides 24-hour access to emergency support. A range of facilities are normally available such as a residents’ lounge, laundry room, a restaurant or meal provision facilities, classes, and a base for health care workers. Domiciliary care will be available to varying levels, either as part of the accommodation package or as additional services which can be purchased if required.”
First, how can it be appropriate in principle for a policy document to deem a use to be treated in a particular way in the Use Classes Order? The nature of the use and the determination of which use class, if any, it falls into, is a legal question. For instance whether planning permission would be required for a change of use would ultimately be determination by an application for a certificate of lawfulness of proposed use or development under section 191 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. By all means, if justified, the Mayor can determine that particular policies should apply to extra care accommodation (matters which could then be tested through the plan examination process) but his view as to which use class it might fall into has no weight in the legal determination of that question and in my view has no place in a document which is only allowed to address “matters which are of strategic importance to Greater London.

Secondly, his view, not supported by any reasoning, as to the appropriate use class do not sit easily with the conclusions that planning inspectors have come to. The most recent decision letter (22 January 2018) was by inspector Michael Boniface, where he allowed an appeal in Sidmouth, East Devon, by Pegasus Life for an “assisted living community for older people comprising extra care units, staff accommodation and communal facilities, including a kitchen, restaurant/bar/café, a well-being suite comprising gym, treatment rooms and pool, a communal lounge and storage facilities; car parking for residents, visitors and staff of the assisted living community; comprehensive landscaping comprising communal and private spaces; and associated groundworks.”
The decision letter and inspector’s reasoning is well summarised in a blog post by Housing LIN – “Planning Inspector sets out the distinctive elements of Extra Care scheme resulting in C2 Use Class conclusion” (8 February 2018). 

The inspector was presented with the Mayor of London’s position but it did not alter his conclusions on the facts of the case. 
 Thirdly, in its recent report Housing For Older People (8 February 2018) the Commons CLG Select Committee specifically considered the treatment of specialist older people’s housing in the planning system and particularly in the Use Classes Order:

125. We also heard that the “inconsistent and cumbersome” application of the C2 and C3 planning classifications to extra care housing was problematic for developers. Some local authorities apply the C2 classification, applied to residential care homes and nursing homes, to extra care housing which reduces planning charges. Others classify this type of housing as C3, along with mainstream housing, which means full charges apply. Audley Retirement argued that extra care housing should fall within the C2 class:

“Extra care is set up to fulfil many of the functions that care homes can provide in terms of care delivery as and when the resident requires it, monitored by an onsite care team and there is access to communal facilities. There are controls over who can occupy them by age and a need for care that do not exist on C3 standard dwellings.”

Extra care housing developers had a range of suggestions for countering this issue: an “extension and additional clarity” on C2 so that it captures extra care housing; the creation of a sub-section of C2 which attracts lower planning charges; and the creation of a “dedicated use class” for extra care housing which would enable planning contributions to be streamlined.

126. When we asked about this, the then Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, told us that the guidance will look at the “precise terminology that is used to describe the different types of older people’s housing”. 
The Select Committee concludes:
We believe that the level of planning contributions on specialist housing, which are increased as a result of the non-saleable communal areas which are a feature of this type of housing, is impeding the delivery of homes. We recommend either the creation of a sub-category of the C2 planning classification (which currently applies to residential care and nursing homes) for specialist housing, which would reduce the contributions required from developers, or the creation of a new use class for specialist housing which would have the same effect.”
In the light of these considerations, how can draft London Plan policy H15 C possibly be justified?
Simon Ricketts, 17 February 2018
Personal views, et cetera 

Class Distinctions: Planning For Older People

Housing is needed by people of all ages but there is a particular need for specialist housing for the elderly. A research report, Housing our Ageing Population: Learning from Councils meeting the Housing Need of our Ageing Population was published by the Local Government Association on 8 September 2017. From its executive summary:
“The number of people aged over 65 is forecast to rise over the next decade, from the current 11.7 million people, to 14.3 million by 2025, a 22 per cent rise. This means that one in five of the total population will be over 65 in 10 years’ time, which will become one in four by 2050. 

In the UK, the vast majority of over 65s currently live in the mainstream housing market. Only 0.6 per cent of over 65s live in housing with care, which is 10 times less than in more mature retirement housing markets such as the USA and Australia, where over 5 per cent of over 65s live in housing with care. The suitability of the housing stock is of critical importance to the health of individuals and also impacts on the demand for public spending, particularly social care and the NHS.
Making quality options available also helps with “right-sizing”, freeing up larger under-used homes back into the housing stock. 
Not only is there great need but changes to local government funding are afoot which are going to increase the pressure for supported housing for the elderly. From the LGA report:
Funding for Supported Housing: Consultation contains the key elements of the Government’s proposals for the future funding of supported housing from April 2019 including: 

“Councils will have responsibility for funding, commissioning and quality assuring all supported housing in their areas from April 2019.

“These proposals would in effect bring to an end the current housing benefit arrangements for all specialist older people’s housing at the end of March 2019“. 

We can expect policies on housing for the elderly in the forthcoming London Plan. The Mayor of London says as much in his draft Housing Strategy, published on 5 September 2017: One of his objectives is “increasing opportunities for older homeowners to move to accommodation more suitable for their needs, including benchmarks for older people’s housing requirements in the draft London Plan” (part of policy 5.2). 
I was also pleased to see a section on planning for older people in the DCLG consultation paper, Planning for the right homes in the right places (14 September 2017) even if it only amounted to two paragraphs:
“92. Section 8 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State to provide guidance for local planning authorities as to how they should address the housing needs that result from old age or disability. Helping local planning authorities provide a simple yet robust evidence base for such groups will form part of the guidance, and will allow them to maintain the benefits of a more streamlined approach to calculating the overall housing need. 

93. When developing new planning guidance for older people, it is important that we have a shared understanding of who is included in this group. The definition of older people in Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework reflects a range of people at different ages with different needs from retirement age to the very frail elderly. We are also aware of different types of housing that accommodate such a group – ranging from general market and affordable housing to specialised, purpose-built market and rental accommodation and care homes. Given the importance of planning for the need for older people as our population ages, we are reviewing whether we need to amend the definition of older people for planning purposes. We consider that the current definition is still fit-for-purpose but would welcome views.”
Not only is more housing required, there needs to be much more specificity and definition. Whilst there are more detailed supportive passages in the Planning Practice Guidance, paragraph 50 of the NPPF simply says: 
local planning authorities should: 

    * plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes)”

As the consultation paper seems to accept, the definition of “older people” in the glossary to the NPPF is extremely wide:
“People over retirement age, including the active, newly-retired through to the very frail elderly, whose housing needs can encompass accessible, adaptable general needs housing for those looking to downsize from family housing and the full range of retirement and specialised housing for those with support or care needs.”
I’m not sure on what basis the definition can be said to be fit for purpose. Housing for the elderly doesn’t fit neatly into traditional planning law, partly because it is a wide spectrum of operating models, some being a specialist version of use class C3, dwellinghouses, and some being institutional and care based in nature, falling within use class C2. 
Class C2: “Use for the provision of residential accommodation and care to people in need of. care (other than a use within a class C3 (dwelling house). Use as a hospital or nursing home.”
Class C3: “Use as a dwellinghouse (whether or not as a sole or main residence) — (a) by a single person or by people living together as a family, or. (b) by not more than 6 residents living together as a single household (including a household where care is provided for residents).”
 I wrote a blog post last year, Time To Review The “C” Use Classes?. As with other alternative or quasi residential uses, the use class distinction matters because local planning authorities have very different policy approaches in terms of whether the proposal is acceptable in that location and as to the requirements arising, for instance in relation to affordable housing. The distinction can be crucial in relation to the extent of CIL liability and indeed whether planning permission is required in the first place.

The problem is that in reality the distinctions between C2 and C3 are becoming increasingly blurred – there is a spectrum, with no clear dividing line between the two. 
At the C3 end of the spectrum, there is sheltered housing and retirement living operated by the likes of McCarthy and Stone and Churchill Retirement Living. Churchill have produced a useful guide for planning and design professionals, Retirement Living Explained (April 2017). In order to distinguish its retirement living model from general C3 use, Churchill advocates the use of model age restricted planning condition:
“Each of the apartments hereby permitted shall be occupied only by: 

* Persons aged 60 or over; or 


* A spouse/or partner (who is themselves over 55 years old) living as part of a single household with such a person 
or persons; or 


* Persons who were living in one of the apartments as part of a single household with a person or persons aged 60 
or over who has since died; or 


* Any other individual expressly agreed in writing by the Local Planning Authority. ”

Is it right that C3 retirement living should be required to deliver affordable housing when itself it meets a non-mainstream housing need? Pending any reconsideration of that policy, Churchill’s guide includes a template section 106 agreement, suggesting the making of an off-site affordable housing contribution (with early stage review if the development hasn’t started reached shell and core stage within 28 months), given that the affordable housing requirements attaching to general market housing C3 products would be inappropriate. 

At the C2 end of the spectrum, there is a variety of operating models, with a bewildering variety of descriptions, including care homes, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living, very sheltered housing and close care. 
Hardest to categorise is what the market refers to as “extra care”, which has been described as follows: 
“Extra care housing is housing with care primarily for older people where occupants have specific tenure rights to occupy self-contained dwellings and where they have agreements that cover the provision of care, support, domestic, social, community or other services. Unlike people living in residential care homes, extra care residents are not obliged as a rule to obtain their care services from a specific provider, though other services (such as some domestic services, costs for communal areas including a catering kitchen, and in some cases some meals) might be built into the charges residents pay.” (Extra Care Housing What Is It?, paper, 2015, published by Housing LIN). 

So what are the distinguishing factors between C2 and C3?
A September 2017 blog post, Update on recent Extra Care Housing Planning Appeals and CIL Success, by Tetlow King’s John Sneddon, identifies two recent appeal decisions where inspectors agreed that proposed extra care developments would fall within use class C2. (The piece is also useful on the opportunities for ensuring that C2 developments are exempted from CIL within local planning authorities’ CIL charging charging schedules.)

My Town partner Liz Christie has previously carried out an analysis of planning appeal decisions. The most important factors for determining whether the operation is properly to be regarded as C2 or C3 use are (i) the physical layout of the building; (ii) the level of care; and (iii) the nature of the operation of the proposed development. We can go into more detail on each of these aspects, with appeal references, for anyone with a specific interest in the issues but, in summary, the whole area unnecessarily complicated and uncertain. Some standardised definitions and policy expectations would be really helpful.  
I wrote this blog post as a by-product of preparing to speak at LD Events’ 26 September 2017 conference, Alternative Residential Property 2017. See some of you there. 
Simon Ricketts, 16 September 2017
Personal views, et cetera