New Cabinet, Poor Doors, No Windows

La Sagrada Familia = our planning system. Never finished, it now has new architects.

I don’t know what new extrusions, reversals or pauses to expect from Robert Jenrick, Esther McVey and the rest of the MHCLG ministerial team yet to be announced.

I do know that Robert Jenrick was a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee which published a report Planning and the broken housing market (19 June 2019). From the introduction:

The government has an ambitious target of delivering 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s, but inherent problems at the heart of the housing planning system are likely to jeopardise this target. If the Government delivers 300,000 new homes per year, this would be a significant increase in the rate of house building, with the number built a year averaging only 177,000 in the period 2005–06 to 2017–18. While the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the Department) has made some recent reforms to the planning system, much more needs to be done and it still does not have a detailed implementation plan for how it will scale-up house building.”

He knows something of the task ahead.

The report also says this:

We were concerned about poor quality in the building of new homes and of office accommodation converted into residential accommodation through permitted development rights. The Department stressed that it was critical that quality was good enough. It agreed that there are issues—particularly when dealing with large office blocks— that the number of homes created out of that office block can be too high, with inadequate space standards and build quality. The Department told us that it has committed to a review of permitted development rights which turn commercial properties into residential accommodation. This review will look at the quality of those homes and what should be built.

In the lead up to the new premiership, May’s Government seemed to have a renewed focus on the quality of homes and communities. I wanted to write something on the various strands within this theme, if only to capture a series of links to documents, before we lose the thread in a slew of new announcements.

Minimum dwelling sizes

My 23 March 2019 blog post We Have Standards referred to previous Secretary of State James Brokenshire’s March 2019 statement that he intended to “review permitted development rights for conversion of buildings to residential use in respect of the quality standard of homes delivered. […]. We will also develop a ‘Future Homes Standard’ for all new homes through a consultation in 2019 with a view, subject to consultation, to introducing the standard by 2025.”

Theresa May suggested in her 26 June speech to the Chartered Institute of Housing that, whilst it would ultimately be a matter for her successor, the nationally described space standard should apply “by regulation” to all new homes. As explained in my 23 March 2019 blog post, it is presently for each local planning authority to decide whether to incorporate the standard in their local plan as a policy requirement such that an applicant for planning permission then needs to demonstrate compliance.

I do not accept that, in 2019, we can only have sufficient and affordable housing by compromising on standards, safety, aesthetics, and space.

That is why I asked the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission to develop proposals for embedding beautiful, sustainable and human-scale design into the planning and development process.

I look forward to reading the interim report next month.

It is why the Ministry of Housing will shortly be launching a consultation on environmental performance in new build homes, with a Future Homes Standard that will give all new homes world-leading levels of energy efficiency by 2025.

And it is why I want to see changes to regulations so that developers can only build homes that are big enough for people to actually live in.

It was the Addison Act that brought modern space standards to English housing law for the first time.

During the Bill’s second reading, the architect of the standards, Sir Tudor Walters, urged MPs to “take care that the houses planned in the future are planned with due regard to comfort, convenience, and the saving of labour”.

It is a message we would do well to return to today.

Because in the years since, the pendulum has swung back and forth between regulation and deregulation, leading to a situation today where England does have national standards – but ones that are largely unenforceable and inconsistently applied.

Some local authorities include the Nationally Described Space Standard in their local plans, making them a condition of planning permission.

But others do not.

And even where they are applied, as planning policies rather than regulations they are open to negotiation.

The result is an uneven playing field, with different rules being applied with differing levels of consistency in different parts of the country.

That makes it harder for developers to build homes where they are needed most.

And it leaves tenants and buyers facing a postcode lottery – if space standards are not applied in your area, there is no guarantee that any new homes will be of an adequate size.

Now I am no fan of regulation for the sake of regulation.

But I cannot defend a system in which some owners and tenants are forced to accept tiny homes with inadequate storage.

Where developers feel the need to fill show homes with deceptively small furniture.

And where the lack of universal standards encourages a race to the bottom.

It will be up to my successor in Downing Street to deal with this.

But I believe the next government should be bold enough to ensure the Nationally Described Space Standard applies to all new homes.

As a mandatory regulation, space standards would become universal and unavoidable.

That would mean an end to the postcode lottery for buyers and tenants.”

[Creating space for beauty: The Interim Report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission was published in July 2019, sans its now reinstated chairman Sir Roger Scruton, who will be able to influence the tone of the Commission’s final report, due in December 2019. The interim report is a wide-ranging discursive read ending with 30 “policy propositions”. There is much good stuff about, in Theresa May’s words, “embedding beautiful, sustainable and human-scale design into the planning and development process”. None of its policy propositions urge prescription as to dwelling size, although there is this passage within its commentary:

Above all, polling and pricing data show that people are looking for homes that meet their needs and are in the right place. Every academic or commercial study we have been able to find has shown that, other things being held equal, bigger homes are worth more and so are better connected ones. For example, a study of every single property sale in six British cities showed that in, say, Liverpool, every additional bedroom brought an additional £15,000 of value. Similar patterns were visible in Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and London. In their response to our call for evidence, the RIBA also highlighted their polling research into user needs that highlighted the importance of generosity of space, high ceilings, windows that flood principal rooms with light and detail that adds character”.]

Some I know disagree, but to my mind Theresa May’s statement missed the real target in relation to minimum dwelling sizes. At present authorities can apply the nationally described space standard if they so choose. But what authorities cannot prevent (other than by removing the relevant permitted development rights in the first place by way of Article 4 Direction) is the creation of very small dwellings pursuant to the General Permitted Development Order, the adequacy of the accommodation to be created not being one of the matters in relation to which prior approval is required under the Order. Either this needs to be a matter for which prior approval is required or it needs to be addressed by way of separate regulation.

Other minimum standards in relation to permitted development rights schemes

There is still so much misunderstanding as to the operation of permitted development rights. General horror has been expressed as to the permitted development appeal in Watford for the proposed conversion of a light industrial unit to apparently windowless bed-sit/studio accommodation, allowed by an inspector in his decision letter dated 5 July 2019:

Overall, I recognise that the proposed units are small and that, for example, living without a window would not be a positive living environment. However, the provisions of the GPDO 2015 require the decision makers to solely assess the impact of the proposed development in relation to the conditions given in paragraph PA.2. The appellant has also made clear that they are not proposing any external works at this stage.”

Photo: Watford Observer

The absence of any control over size of the proposed dwellings is indeed appalling, see my point above. But I am prepared to bet that the developer, now that he has prior approval to the use of the building as dwellings, will come back with an application for planning permission for the installation of windows and for the general recladding of the building. If it had all been applied for as one planning application, the authority would no doubt have objected to the principle of the change of use – just look at the sequencing of applications with most PD schemes and there is surely nothing wrong in that – the permitted development right just relates to use – and of course does not override other regulatory requirements.

Part B of the Building Regulations requires that every habitable room up to 4.5m from ground level either (1) has an openable window with dimensions of at least 45cm by 45cm, no more than 110cm above the floor or (2) (on the ground floor) opens directly onto a hall leading directly to an exit or (above the ground floor) with direct access to a protected stairway. Adequate ventilation is also required.

Since 20 March 2019 the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 also imposes specific requirements on landlords letting residential property for a period of less than seven years. In determining whether a dwelling is unfit for human habitation regard will be had to, amongst a range of matters, natural lighting and ventilation. MHCLG has published specific guidance for landlords as to the operation of the Act.

In considering whether further legislation or guidance is needed, ministers will need to consider carefully the extent to which the planning system should duplicate systems of protection provided in other legislation and where genuinely there are gaps that would allow unacceptable outcomes.

The Future Homes Standard

What of James Brokenshire’s reference in March of consultation on a proposed Future Homes Standard this year, with a view to introducing the standard by 2025? This was a reference to the commitment in the then Chancellor’s Spring budget to:

A Future Homes Standard, to be introduced by 2025, future-proofing new build homes with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. The new standard will build on the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge mission to at least halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030“.

There has not yet been any consultation. The House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, in its 9 July 2019 report, Energy efficiency: building towards net zero, urged a greater sense of urgency:

We welcome the announcement of a Future Homes Standard. Any attempts by housebuilders to water down the standard should be blocked by the Government. The only barrier precluding housebuilders developing to higher standards before 2025 is a preoccupation with profit margins and shareholder returns. Despite receiving billions in taxpayer funds, most housebuilders will only raise the energy standards of their stock if forced to do so. Progressive housebuilders who want to go further are being held back by the laggards who actively lobby the Government to boost their profits, rather than help meet carbon reduction obligations.

We recommend that the Government legislates for the Future Homes Standard as soon as practically possible—and by 2022 at the very latest—to guarantee that no more homes by 2025 are built that need to be retrofitted. We recommend that the Government considers policy drivers at its disposal to drive early uptake. At a minimum, the Government should put in place a compulsory ‘learning period’ from 2022 in a subset of properties in preparation for the full-scale deployment. The Government should oblige bigger housebuilders to undertake regional demonstration projects to show how they will achieve the standard.”

Communities framework

MHCLG published a “communities framework” on 20 July 2019, entitled By deeds and their results:

How we will strengthen our communities and nation , expressed to be the “next step in refreshing the government’s aspirations for stronger, more confident communities. It provides a framework to build on a range of government activity that is contributing to stronger communities in different ways – from the implementation of the Civil Society Strategy and Integrated Communities Action Plan, to our efforts to boost productivity and inclusive growth through the Industrial Strategy and by supporting local industrial strategies across the country.

It promised that the Government will:

• Hold a national conversation with communities across England about their view of who we are as a nation, their vision for the future of their community and our country, and what local and national government can and should be doing to support their community to thrive.

• Establish a series of Civic Deal pilots to test how the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport put into practice the principles set out in this document in partnership with local areas.

• Publish a Communities White Paper to renew government’s focus on building stronger communities across England. The scope of the White Paper will be developed in partnership with communities and informed by the national conversation and Civic Deal pilots.”

Poor Doors

I referred in my 23 March 2019 blog post to widespread concerns over development projects where affordable housing tenants are prevented from using facilities provided for private market housing residents, for example children’s play areas and entrance/lift lobbies.

The basis for such arrangements may well be economically rational to the developer (preventing service charge leakage and/or preserving a sales premium in relation to the market units), to the registered provider (which would not be in a position to impose service charges high enough to cover the cost of the facilities provided for the market housing) and to the local planning authority (usually keen to protect the profitability of the development so as to secure the maximum amount of affordable housing that can be viably be delivered). But of course there can be wider, more damaging, implications.

On the same day as the communities framework was published, an MHCLG press statement Brokenshire unveils new measures to stamp out ‘poor doors’ announced there would be “measures to tackle stigma and help end the segregation of social housing residents in mixed-tenure developments…planning guidance will be toughened up and a new Design Manual will promote best practice in inclusive design.”

Meanwhile, as to we wait to see what the new ministerial team at MHCLG delivers, the Mayor of London’s new London Plan edges forward. We await the inspectors’ conclusions following their examination sessions but in the meantime the Mayor has published a Consolidated suggested changes version of the plan July 2019.

A specific policy has now been included to require that proposals likely to be used by children and young people should include good quality, accessible play provision that “is not segregated by tenure” (policy S4 B (f)).

Conclusion

With due deference to the list of banned words circulated by Mr Rees-Mogg:

Due to the ongoing change in ministers, with the old lot out, apparently unacceptable and no longer fit for purpose, I can only speculate as to the future of these initiatives. Hopefully I will ascertain more very soon.

I understand your concerns.

Simon Ricketts, Esq. 27 July 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Photo: Go UNESCO

Less Than Best Laid Plans: Political Pragmatism

The Secretary of State sent a curious letter to the Planning Inspectorate on 18 June 2019, which was only placed on the Government’s website on 28 June 2019. (The delay may have been to allow PINS to update its procedure guide for local plan examinations).

It is in two parts:

Sharing information with MHCLG

The Secretary of State reminds inspectors and local authorities that Parliament has given him “a number of powers that, where justified, allow [him] to become involved in plan making. This includes powers to notify or direct the Inspectorate to take certain steps in relation to the examination of the plan or to intervene to direct modification of the plan or that it is submitted to [him] for approval”. He states that he is “frequently asked by those affected by the plan making process to consider use of these powers and must look at each of these requests on a case by case basis. This includes requests from Members of Parliament, who have a legitimate interest in the progress of local plans in their areas and are accountable to their electorates. I am pleased that the Planning Inspectorate’s published Procedural Practice encourages MPs to participate in the examination hearing sessions even if they did not make a representation and I would encourage their involvement in this way”.

He considers that more can be done by way of sharing of factual information so that his officials can advise him as to whether use of his powers would be appropriate.

He sets out two changes to the arrangements for sharing of information between MHCLG and PINS with immediate effect:

1. On a quarterly basis the Planning Inspectorate will publish a report that sets out the plans that are expected to be submitted for examination in the following 6-month period. I ask that this report be published on the Planning Inspectorate website. Clearly this can only be as good as the information received from local authorities, and I am arranging for this to be drawn to the attention of local authorities to remind them of the importance of giving clear timetables;

2. The Planning Inspectorate will share all post-hearing advice letters, letters containing interim findings, and any other letters which raise soundness or significant legal compliance issues, as well as fact check reports, with my department on a for information basis, at least 48 hours in advance of them being sent to the Local Planning Authority

In relation to the second change, can I ask that we have on one website each of these documents as soon as they can be made public. There is a fundamental lack of transparency in the ad hoc way that this information is currently made available only on the relevant examination page of the particular local authority’s website, meaning that ensuring consistencies of approach, reviewing trends and learning from similar circumstances is currently very difficult indeed.

And what local plans have escaped to adoption before the relevant MP could ask the Secretary of State to apply the knife? Local Plan Intervention: a question of MP influence published by the House of Commons Library in July 2017 summarises the four times since the 2012 NPPF (to July 2017) when the Secretary of State had used his powers of intervention: Bradford, Birmingham, Maldon and North Somerset. In all but Maldon the intervention was at the request of an MP. I note that the MPs’ interventions only achieved delay to eventual adoption of the plan, whereas the call in of the Maldon plan was in circumstances where an inspector had found that the whole plan was unsound, due to its policies on traveller provision, the council’s chief executive successfully sought call in of the plan and the plan was eventually adopted.

Aside from the Secretary of State’s sabre rattling in relation to authorities that have not made sufficient progress with their plans, which I will come to in a moment, what interventions have there been since July 2017? Do we discern a continuing trend? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the information in one place so that potentially straight-forward questions such as that could be resolved. Is MPs’ interest more often in the “progress of local plans in their areas” or is it in being seen to be pressing in relation to those issues of most concern to their electorate eg retention of green belt and/or opposition to housing?

In fact, as I was typing this, in pinged a Planning magazine online update High Court allows legal challenge to Guildford local plan to proceed to full hearing (12 July 2019, behind paywall):

In May, Sir Paul Beresford, the Conservative MP for Mole Valley, wrote to several Guildford councillors expressing outrage at the “astonishing way” the plan had been adopted in the purdah period before local elections.”

Another Conservative MP on the “anti-housing in the Green Belt” campaign trail. Was this local plan perhaps “the one that got away” as far as MHCLG is concerned?

So how has the more general sabre rattling, in relation to delays in plan preparation, been going? My 18 November 2017 blog post Local Plan Interventions referred to the 31 January 2018 deadline given to 15 local authorities to set out any exceptional circumstances as to why they had failed to produce a local plan, to justify the Secretary of State not intervening in their local plan processes.

On 23 March 2018 the Secretary of State made a statement to the House of Commons, indicating that his attention had narrowed to three authorities: Castle Point, Thanet and Wirral:

In three areas, Castle Point, Thanet and Wirral, I am now particularly concerned at the consistent failure and lack of progress to get a plan in place and have not been persuaded by the exceptional circumstances set out by the council or the proposals they have put forward to get a plan in place. We will therefore step up the intervention process in these three areas. I will be sending a team of planning experts, led by the Government’s Chief Planner, into these three areas to advise me on the next steps in my intervention.

I have a number of intervention options available to me which I will now actively examine. As it may prove necessary to take over plan production, subject to decisions taken after the expert advice I have commissioned, my Department has started the procurement process to secure planning consultants and specialists to undertake that work so it can commence as quickly as possible. My Department will also be speaking to the county councils and combined authority with a view to inviting those bodies to prepare the local plan in these three areas as well as exploring the possibility with neighbouring authorities of directing the preparation of joint plans

Tough talk but it then took another ten months before intervention letters were finally sent to Wirral and Thanet on 28 January 2019.

The position in Castle Point is a mystery to me. Councillors voted down a proposed draft of the plan in December 2018. The council’s website simply says this:

A Special Council Meeting was held in November 2018, whereby the Council resolved to not proceed with the Pre-Publication Local Plan. As a result of this meeting the Council are in discussions with the Minstry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in regards to the next steps. “

But no intervention letter yet.

Sadly, if I worked for an authority I would presently be more concerned about the risk of the Secretary of State intervening in relation to a plan that has passed its examination and is about to be adopted than the risk of his intervening due to the lack of a plan in the first place or due to the authority’s withdrawal of a draft plan. We are seeing various authorities taking decisions to withdraw their submitted plans (for example East Cambridgeshire and Amber Valley) because they find the inspector’s findings, usually seeking further development allocations or additional housing numbers, unpalatable and there is still such slow progress on the part of many authorities. Surely this is the scourge – not plans which are within a process that has been refined by independent examination, the outcome of which happens to contradict the views of an MP, now encouraged to participate in hearing sessions “even if they did not make a representation”? In any world other than one in which backbench MPs have to be pacified, isn’t this madness?

The importance of being pragmatic

On the subject of pragmatism…

The second part of the Secretary of State’s 18 July letter comprises this final paragraph which I have already seen trotted out at an examination by one authority seeking to paper over the cracks:

Finally, on the substance of plan examinations, I wanted to stress to inspectors – who are doing a challenging job – the importance of being pragmatic in getting plans in place that, in line with paragraph 35 of the NPPF, represent a sound plan for the authority and consistent in how they deal with different authorities. We support and expect Inspectors to work with LPAs to achieve a sound plan, including by recommending constructive main modifications in line with national policy. In this regard, I would reiterate the views set out by the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP in his 2015 letter which I attach, on the need to work pragmatically with councils towards achieving a sound plan.”

I have since been trying to find an example of a local plan inspector in the last few years who has not been pragmatic in seeking to rescue a plan by way of main modifications rather than recommending withdrawal – and indeed the 2013/2014 spate of plans that failed examination were down to hard-edged legal failings in relation to the duty to cooperate.

Inspectors routinely allow pretty significant changes by way of main modifications, and general evidential backfilling, rather than recommend withdrawal. They routinely accept unenforceable assurances from the authority that the authority will carry out an early review – but at best “early” never means early and, at worst, as last week with the Reigate and Banstead plan, the authority’s (judge in its own cause) “review” determines that changes to the plan are not after all necessary!

So what is this paragraph getting at? If the Secretary of State were to be saying that inspectors should not be checking that legal requirements (eg the duty to cooperate and the need for adequate sustainability and habitats appraisals) have been met or that the plan meets the soundness test in NPPF, that would surely be wholly inappropriate. And shouldn’t we be protecting the independence of the Planning Inspectorate? Formal guidance is one thing, but “go easy” warning letters such as this surely just make an inspector’s task even more challenging.

Imagine equivalent guidance being given to appeal inspectors! Oh yes, bend over backwards to give the appellant time to amend elements of his scheme, overlook policy inconsistencies, fudge the approach to later phases of the development because the appellant has agreed, outside any enforceable timescale, to carry out an “early review” of those aspects. Doesn’t ring true, does it?

Simon Ricketts, 13 July 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Big EU News! (Latest CJEU Case on Appropriate Assessment & A Draft Withdrawal Agreement)

The European Court of Justice is certainly turning the screws this year via various cases in relation to the Republic of Ireland, with now three rulings against its Planning Board, An Bord Pleanála. Following People Over Wind (see my 20 April 2018 blog post EU Court Ruling: Ignore Mitigation Measures In Habitats Screening) and Grace, Sweetman (see the second half of my 18 August 2018 blog post What Is Mitigation?) we now have Holohan (CJEU, 7 November 2018).

In basic summary:

People Over Wind has removed the ability for the competent authority to screen out the need for appropriate assessment, under the Conservation of Habitats Regulations 2017, on the basis that a significant effect on a Special Protection Area or Special Area of Conservation is unlikely, where that conclusion is reliant on proposed mitigation measures. The result has been far more projects and plans requiring appropriate assessment to ascertain that they will not adversely affect the integrity of the relevant SPA or SAC.

Grace, Sweetman has removed the ability for the competent authority to reach a conclusion at appropriate assessment stage that there will be no adverse effect on integrity, where mitigation measures are relied on that in reality amount to compensatory measures for the loss of habitat.

Holohan now imposes more detailed requirements on the competent authority at appropriate assessment stage:

1.  […] an ‘appropriate assessment’ must, on the one hand, catalogue the entirety of habitat types and species for which a site is protected, and, on the other, identify and examine both the implications of the proposed project for the species present on that site, and for which that site has not been listed, and the implications for habitat types and species to be found outside the boundaries of that site, provided that those implications are liable to affect the conservation objectives of the site.

2.  […] the competent authority is permitted to grant to a plan or project consent which leaves the developer free to determine subsequently certain parameters relating to the construction phase, such as the location of the construction compound and haul routes, only if that authority is certain that the development consent granted establishes conditions that are strict enough to guarantee that those parameters will not adversely affect the integrity of the site.

3.   […] where the competent authority rejects the findings in a scientific expert opinion recommending that additional information be obtained, the ‘appropriate assessment’ must include an explicit and detailed statement of reasons capable of dispelling all reasonable scientific doubt concerning the effects of the work envisaged on the site concerned.

If you are relying on an appropriate assessment in relation to a project or plan, I suggest that you urgently check that it addresses these three requirements. An decision taken in reliance upon an appropriate assessment which does not cover off these points will be susceptible to legal challenge. If caught at the right time, deficiencies should be able to be addressed by some extra work. But it will be too late to rectify matters once the appropriate assessment is reached and the decision taken.

These CJEU rulings are unambiguous in their stated conclusions on the law, very different from our common law approach.

They are also likely to continue to be relevant, regardless of what happens with Brexit. After all, as set out in my 18 September 2018 blog post Planning, Brexit, Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs has committed that:

Where environmental principles are contained in specific pieces of EU legislation, these will be maintained as part of our domestic legal framework through the retention of EU law under the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Any question as to the interpretation of retained EU law will be determined by UK courts in accordance with relevant pre-exit CJEU case law and general principles, subject to the other exceptions and restrictions within the Bill. For example, CJEU case law on chemicals, waste and habitats includes judgments on the application of the precautionary principle to those areas. This will therefore be preserved by the Bill“.

As set out in that blog post, we are still waiting for the draft Bill, required by section 16 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act to be published by Boxing Day 2018, that will set out the environmental principles to be applied post Brexit and the body that will enforce them.

What we now have seen of course is the draft withdrawal agreement published on 14 November 2018. Who knows whether it will be concluded but it envisages that the CJEU will continue to have jurisdiction in any proceedings brought against the UK during the transition period to 31 December 2020.

In the event of the backstop being triggered at the end of the transitional period if the Irish border issue hasn’t been settled, a series of commitments in relation to environmental protection will kick in, as set out in Part 2 of Annex 4 to the Protocol on Northern Ireland/Ireland (pages 356 to 360 of the overall draft agreement). The commitments include:

– Non-regression in level of environmental protection subsisting at the end of the transitional period.

– The principles to be reflected in legislation:

a)  the precautionary principle;
b)  the principle that preventive action should be taken;

c) the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source; and
d)  the “polluter pays” principle

– The Joint Committee shall adopt decisions laying down minimum commitments for:

a)  the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants;
b)  the maximum sulphur content of marine fuels

c) those best available techniques, including emission limit values, in relation to industrial emissions

– Commitment to meet international obligations as to addressing climate change

– Commitment to carbon pricing and trading of allowance consistent with EU system

– Finally, although much of this is already in hand via section 16 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act and/or the subject of other international obligations, a commitment to effective enforcement of environmental laws as well as the following:

The United Kingdom shall ensure that administrative and judicial proceedings are available in order to permit effective and timely action by public authorities and members of the public against violations of its laws, regulations and practices, and provide for effective remedies, including interim measures, ensuring that any sanctions are effective, proportionate and dissuasive and have a real and deterrent effect.

The United Kingdom shall implement a transparent system for the effective domestic monitoring, reporting, oversight and enforcement of its obligations pursuant to this Article and to Article 2 by an independent and adequately resourced body or bodies…

The independent body shall have powers to conduct inquiries on its own initiative concerning alleged breaches by public bodies and authorities of the United Kingdom, and to receive complaints for the purposes of conducting such inquiries. It shall have all powers necessary to carry out its functions, including the power to request information. The independent body shall have the right to bring a legal action before a competent court or tribunal in the United Kingdom in an appropriate judicial procedure, with a view to seeking an adequate remedy.”

Professor Colin Reid’s 15 November 2018 blog post Environmental Commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement is a very good commentary on all of these provisions.

Finally, fabulous timing on the part of UKELA to have secured for next week’s annual Garner lecture Professor Juliane Kokott, Advocate General at the CJEU (who has been at the centre of so much EU case law, including the People Over Wind and Holohan cases referred to above). It will be fascinating to hear her perspective.

Simon Ricketts, 16 November 2018

Personal views, et cetera

PS David Elvin QC has since reminded me that the CJEU also on 7 November handed down its judgment in the Dutch Nitrogen Deposition case, which also contains important rulings in relation to appropriate assessment, for instance the extent to which agricultural activities amount to a “project”, as well as the extent of certainty required if conservation measures are to be relied upon as mitigation. See James Maurici QC’s blog post.

Market Value Minus Hope Value = ?

Stop me if you’ve heard this song before but…

The clamour continues for Parliament to revise the principles of compulsory purchase compensation, currently set out in section 5 of the Land Compensation Act 1961.

None of the clamourers have, as far as I know, set out precisely what amendments they would make to section 5, but the concern appears to be that the principles allow land owners to benefit unduly from a windfall, by allowing them in part to be compensated for the hope that planning permission would have been granted for a valuable form of development on the land being acquired, were it not for the compulsory acquisition, and that this is unfair; goes beyond what might be considered to be “market value”, and/or is holding back the development of new homes.

This isn’t a new song. In my 20 May 2017 blog post, Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture, I tried to read between the lines of what was being said in the February 2017 housing white paper and in the May 2017 Conservative manifesto on the question of reforming the compulsory purchase compensation process.

But the volume is getting louder.

The issue is being considered by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee in its land value capture inquiry, the final session of which is on 5 September 2018, with evidence to be given at that final session by planning minister Kit Malthouse.

A pan-political coalition of 16 NGOs including Shelter, the National Housing Federation, the TCPA, CPRE and Crisis wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State on 18 August 2018 calling for reform. It was reported in absurd terms on the Sun that day:

A little more (but not much more) detail is set out in Shelter’s blog post An unlikely coalition for land reform (21 August 2018). Shelter has been lobbying on this issue, from the time that its head of policy and housing development was Toby Lloyd, now Theresa May’s housing adviser within Number 10.

The IPPR think tank (one of the signatories to the open letter) has also now published a report The Invisible Land: The hidden force driving the UK’s unequal economy and broken housing market (28 August 2018). It has the same tune:

I hesitated before writing this blog because the response is so obvious.

The law does not operate at all in the way that these people assume. No real life examples are given. Indeed, there is no indication that any practising CPO surveyor or lawyer has assisted with either the Shelter-led group’s work or the IPPR’s work. Show of hands?

The law is as set in, for example:

⁃ the written evidence submitted to the Select Committee inquiry by the Compulsory Purchase Association. The evidence includes examples of claims made following the Olympic Park CPO.

⁃ Jonathan Stott’s blog post Land value capture – Wild goose chase could lead to changing compulsory purchase legislation for the worse (11 June 2018)

⁃ Richard Harwood QC’s article (August 2018) (with his April 2018 paper given to the Compulsory Purchase Association on Land Value Capture a useful more detailed and wide ranging read).

It’s odd how the pendulum slowly swings. The refrain always used to be that the compensation system, providing the land owner with equivalence and nothing above that to reflect the compulsory nature of the acquisition, encouraged elongated objections and disputes in a way that apparently was not the case in, for example, France. Parliament (under a Labour Government), sought to address that in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 by introducing home loss payments, for qualifying residential occupiers, amounting to 10% of the market value of their interest up to £61,000 and, for qualifying property investors and business owners, basic loss payments amounting to up to 7.5% of the market value of their interest up to £75,000, together with additional occupier loss payments amounting up to 2.5% of the market value of their interest up to £25,000. In retrospect, the numbers were probably not large enough materially to affect the behaviour of those faced with compulsory purchase but the principle is perfectly logical given the monies to be saved by the public purse in removing or reducing objections to compulsory purchase.

It’s not rocket science to deduce that threatening to acquire land at less than market value (ie less than what the owner could have received for the land if he or she had chose to sell it on the open market – albeit of course the last thing he or she usually wants is to sell it!) would lead to:

⁃ owners being even more likely to hold out against compulsory acquisition in whichever way they can.

⁃ if the hope of securing permission for development is to be ignored (accepting that a land owner can never claim compensation for any value generated by the scheme underlying the compulsory acquisition – we are only talking about the prospect of development in the no scheme world), land owners and promoters of development not risking their own money in the promotion of land for development. Why would they, if the acquiring authority is going to be able to step in and effectively take the benefit of that work for free?

Maybe the problem is one of terminology. Do people think that “hope” value is something that is just that, hope, rather than a forensic examination of whether, and if so, what, development would have been likely to be approved if the scheme underlying the CPO had been cancelled on the valuation date? Maybe they should read some decisions of the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal (the Lands Tribunal, in old money) or of the courts, for instance last year Bridgend County Borough Council v Boland (Court of Appeal, 14 July 2017). Do they think that the Tribunal has ever been over-generous to a claimant in reaching its determination as to what might have been approved in the no scheme world? Examples would at least take the debate forward.

The IPPR paper points to Germany by way of example, where the German zoning system obviously largely removes the concept of hope value – you’re zoned or you’re not. But that is not at all our UK planning system. Should it be? Well that’s another interminable debate and shall we get Brexit out of the way first before, er, we move towards a continental planning system?

Of course, the idea might work as part of a system where all major development is promoted by a public body, whether or not backed by a private sector development partner. But that is a world away from where we are, is alien to our market based economy and likely to lead to long bottle-necks given the lack of suitable resources at present within most local authorities, as well as lead to questionable outcomes in terms of procurement and in terms of sustainable, economically efficient, development. The public sector does not even have the resources to allocate the right land for development without massive input from the private sector in promoting specific sites (terminology problem again – “promoting” isn’t about PR but about spending, at risk, large amounts of money on preliminary technical work, to a significant level of detail, to ascertain constraints, infrastructure requirements and capacity).

And of course, there may be political arguments for acquiring land compulsorily at less than market value. But let’s be clear that such an exceptional political intervention would need to be justified. If the current clamour is in truth a clamour for the state to be able to dispossess people of their property for less than what it is worth, be brave enough to say so, explain why it is necessary in the public interest and then we can have the debate on that footing.

But if the idea is indeed to pick up land at or near existing use value, conceptually that really isn’t difficult under the present system. Be a brave authority by allocating land for a new settlement, covering land in as many ownerships as is necessary, making clear that of course it has to be developed in its entirety to be sustainable and that piecemeal development will not be acceptable. Be clear in your policy making that recourse will be had to compulsory purchase powers where necessary. Set out the extent to which the development is dependent on new infrastructure. Make clear where the new infrastructure would not be coming forward were it not for the new settlement proposal. The practical difficulty lies more with the fact that, for compulsory purchase to be a credible delivery mechanism such that the local plan policy can be shown to be “sound”, most local authorities would need private sector backing and most private sector participants would not underwrite significant compensation liabilities without being pretty certain that there will be planning permission. This is the scratch in the record that you don’t get past. Here’s where you need to lift the stylus and move it on a bit, whether that’s a role for Homes England funding or by allowing significant new settlements to be promoted as an NSIP so that the necessary planning and compulsory purchase steps can take place at the same time.

The frustrating thing is that the compulsory purchase compensation process is far from perfect and much could be done to reduce uncertainty for acquiring authorities and their private sector partners (usually fully underwriting the authority’s liability by way of an uncapped CPO indemnity agreement). The areas where the risk of significant compensation liability can discourage use of compulsory purchase are not questions of what hope value can be attributed to the prospect that the land might have been developed for other valuable purposes in the no scheme world (where the situation arises – not often – the position is usually well documented and can largely be quantified). In my experience the scary risks, where large and unpredictable compensation numbers can in fact arise, are more in such areas as:

⁃ does the land being acquired hold, in the no scheme world, a ransom value over other adjoining land which might have been developed in the no scheme world?

⁃ where business premises are being acquired, is the business likely to claim disturbance compensation on the basis of total extinguishment (by demonstrating that there is not a reasonable relocation opportunity open to it)? If so, the acquiring authority will often have little feel for what the ultimate justifiable compensation figure will be due to lack of access to information that is confidential to the business, other than published accounts.

But my basic pleas are:

⁃ for the Government to take a careful look at how the present system works in practice before making any amendments to section 5.

⁃ for those seeking to justify changes to the system to be more precise about their concerns, based on real examples, and as to what changes they are seeking.

⁃ for Parliament one day to have time to review properly and consolidate compulsory purchase legislation.

Oh and, obviously, the answer to the question was that Market Value minus Hope Value = < Market Value.

Simon Ricketts, 31 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Big Society Theory

We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything.” (W. Golding, Lord of the Flies)

David Cameron was reported in a Third Sector piece last year as accepting that his Big Society agenda (first set out in detail in his 19 July 2010 Liverpool speech) had its failings. Whilst he did not “accept the criticism that the agenda, which encouraged more voluntary participation in public and community life and services, was simply a cover to disguise public sector funding cuts“, he believed “the fair criticism that was made kind of came in two parts”. The first was that “you can’t expect all of these big society organisations, all of these social entrepreneurs, all of these charities and voluntary bodies to spring into life”.

The second fair part of the criticism, he said, was that “you can’t expect them to be able to cover all of the country, every region of the country, all in one go”.

These organisations were “very often under-capitalised, have problems in replicating their service” and had “difficulties expanding and getting the access to great technology or brilliant management or great systems”, said Cameron.”

Well, plenty of us with practical experience of the Localism Act 2011 would have a few additional comments. It is interesting to look back at what we were predicting when the Bill was going through Parliament – I don’t think I was that far off the mark in a Financial Times piece, Future Plans (27 May 2011, subscription-only). We all had concerns about the complicated procedures within the new legislation, likely to be most used those with the time and money, not always with pro-development objectives in mind. Neighbourhood plans have generated serial litigation, due to their often unhappy fit with other tiers of plan-making. Procedures such as the Community Right To Build have hardly been used. Others, such as the designation of land or property as Assets of Community Value lead to much activity and adversarial process (eg the cases referred to in my 14 July 2018 blog post, 2 ACV Disputes), whilst ultimately being pretty toothless.

Has the Big Society, localism, neighbourhood planning – call it what you will – led to better, more positive, planning outcomes that meet public needs? What should be the respective roles of democratically elected local government and of community-based bodies?

A short LinkedIn post by Nick Dines prompted me to have a quick look at a paper published this week by DCMS, Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyone (9 August 2018).

What is Civil Society for a start?

Civil society refers to all individuals and organisations, when undertaking activities with the primary purpose of delivering social value, independent of state control. The government wants to build a partnership with charities and social enterprises, with volunteers, community groups and faith groups, with public service mutuals, socially responsible businesses and investors, and with the institutions which bring sports, arts, heritage, and culture to our communities.”

The purpose of the strategy is to set out “how the government will work to support and to strengthen civil society, without compromising its independence.”

What caught my eye in Nick’s post was a reference to the possible implications of this for planning. In fact, without any detail, the document drops some pretty worrying hints and one wonders what co-ordination has so far taken place between DCMS and MHCLG:

The government will launch the Innovation in Democracy programme to pilot participatory democracy approaches, whereby people are empowered to deliberate and participate in the public decisions that affect their communities. The government will work with local authorities to trial face- to-face deliberation (such as Citizens’ Juries) complemented by online civic tech tools to increase broad engagement and transparency.”

Public votes on planning decisions? That would be popular no doubt, for those wishing to derail controversial schemes but we may as well tear up the current planning system and NPPF – and forget about meeting any objectively assessed needs. Bottom-up planning? It’s that Big Society Theory, folks.

Furthermore:

The government will continue to encourage communities to use the community rights available to them. We will issue revised guidance to help communities take ownership of local assets. We will signpost support and advice available to communities to improve and shape where they live through the new Community Guide to Action and the MyCommunity website, the licence for which we have recently renewed.

[…] the government is exploring means of ensuring community-led enterprises which take over public assets or services are able to secure the funding they need

I note that this is in a period within which local government struggles to maintain libraries and other public services, with pressure to cut budgets in fact increasing (see for instance a Room 151 piece, Councils anticipate cutting services to ‘legal minimum’ published on 9 August 2018, that reports on a recent survey of council leaders carried out by the New Local Government Network). The very definition of “civil society” by implication excludes local government. Money for “community-led enterprises” rather than democratically-led local authorities? It’s that Big Society Theory, folks.

And:

The government will explore the suggestion that the Social Value Act should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer.

..which is an enigmatic and rather odd comment. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 imposes a duty on public authorities, in procuring public services, to consider:

(a) “how what is proposed to be procured might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area, and

(b)  how, in conducting the process of procurement, it might act with a view to securing that improvement.

If what is proposed is the extension, beyond contract procurement and into planning, of the duty to consider how the relevant decision “might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area“, this would add nothing of any value whatsoever given, for instance, the very definition of sustainable development at the heart of the old and new NPPF.

Of course let’s do whatever we can to increase people’s engagement with their communities but also, more importantly (in the face of the increasing threat posed by anti-democratic populism – where a large social media following can be more influential than votes in the ballet box), local representative democracy. Neighbourhood planning and localism should not be at the expense of local representative democracy. If district and borough councils are seen as having real clout and the wherewithal to improve the conditions of their constituents, people will turn out to vote and an increasingly wide and talented cross-section of the local community will be prepared to invest time in carrying out roles as elected councillors for their wards. That’s my civil society strategy anyway.

Who wants the conch next?

Simon Ricketts, 12 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

NB I thought this was a great bit of community enterprise though:

Judicious Review?

It’s the examination season: daughter, university finals; son, A levels; me, asked by a journal for my thoughts on the interim report published by the Raynsford Review (Planning 2020: Interim report of the Raynsford review of Planning in England May 2018). I’m sharing my first thoughts with you so please set me right, because I really don’t want just to write a piece damning the whole process with faint praise.

I wrote a blog post on 28 August 2017, Another Review when the review was announced, instigated by the Town and Country Planning Association “to identify how the Government can reform the English planning system to make it fairer, better resourced and capable of producing quality outcomes, while still encouraging the production of new homes.”

The review’s chair, Nick Raynsford, is the right person for the role. His professional life inside and outside Parliament has focused on planning and housing issues.

However, I was sceptical as to the governmental appetite for further significant reform of the planning system and queried the role of any recommendations without endorsement from the major political parties. That scepticism increased when the next month the Labour party announced its own review of the planning system (see my 30 September 2017 blog post Mending The Planning System (Has Anyone Tried Switching It Off And On Again?). I also queried the role of any fundamental review of the planning system outside any wider political vision:

The planning system is a machine, big cogs, little cogs, to deliver the government of the day’s social, economic and environmental objectives. Unless the review is just to be about process, what objectives are to be assumed in framing recommendations?

Turning to the interim report published last month. It’s all to play for because a “final round of feedback” is sought by 16 July 2018.

The 71 page document is strong on the evolution of the modern planning system from 1947, previous reviews and on summarising the current system. It recounts the numerous public events and meetings held by the review team and the 197 submissions of evidence received, before setting out seven “emerging policy themes“, nine “basic questions which define the direction of reform” and, provisionally, nine “propositions for a new planning system“.

So we have (each accompanied in the document by explanatory text):

Emerging policy themes

• the degree to which the current system is delivering on
its objectives;

• how much power spatial planning should have
(positive and negative);

• how the balance of planning powers should be
distributed between central and local government;

• the right spatial structure for planning, including local
government structure and boundaries;

• the degree to which communities should have
meaningful control over their own local environment,
and the nature of community rights; and

• issues of betterment and fair land taxation.

Basic questions which define the direction of reform

What is the justification for a spatial planning system in

a market economy?

What is purpose of a spatial planning system, and how should this be expressed?

What should the scope and powers of the spatial planning system be?

What should the governance arrangements for these structures and institutions be, and what role, and how much power, should there be for the citizen in decision-making?

What are the basic outcomes that people can expect from the planning process?

Can we simplify the legal structures of planning?
What institutional structures are required to support

spatial planning?
What taxation or charging measures are necessary to

deal with the economic impact of land use regulation?

What sorts of skills, practice and culture do planners

need to support the system?

Propositions for a new planning system

Proposition 1: Planning in the public interest

Proposition 2: Planning with a purpose

Proposition 3: A powerful, people-centred planning system

Proposition 4: A new covenant for community participation

Proposition 5: A new commitment to meeting people’s basic needs

Proposition 6: Simplified planning law

Proposition 7: Alignment between the agencies of English planning

Proposition 8: A fairer way to share land values

Proposition 9: A new kind of creative and visionary planner

The conclusion of the analysis in the work so far is that planning is “at a historically low ebb“. It is in a worse state than it has been for 75 years and that “the last thing that is needed is more short-term tinkering with the nuts and bolts. Instead, what is required is a deep and hard look at the fundamentals – what should be the purpose of planning, how can it best be structured to deliver the outcomes that the country needs, and how can all parties be engaged most constructively in the process?

You begin to see the breadth and ambition of the project. But if wholesale change is to be prompted by a process that is not sponsored by government or government-in-waiting, there is a huge job of work to be done by the review panel between now and the final report, which is to be published in the Autumn for the party conferences.

First, avoid generalities. Set out with quantified evidence why and where the planning system is not delivering. What detailed points were made in the responses and do they reflect the views of all participants in the planning process?

Secondly, bring the issues to life. The interim review in tone is part academic, part old-fashioned tub-thumping, empty of people, empty of place. If you want to see how to do it, read The Secret Barrister’s devastatingly detailed critique of the modern criminal justice system.

Thirdly, set the problems and gripes that we have with our planning system in context. The planning system may appear at times and in places to be on its knees, or dysfunctional in the way that it operates. But in comparison with areas of public administration, whisper it quietly, it may not be so bad. I have mentioned the criminal justice system, but the health service, benefits, the rating system even (having just read Jerry Schurder’s 8 June 2018 blog post What we could learn from the rest of the world – if only the Government was interested). I have practised under every iteration of the planning system since 1985. If there was a golden age, it was before then I assure you. And yet, by and large, outcomes are fair (if slow), people have their say, development happens or doesn’t happen. Let’s also set our system in an international context – how is our English system performing as compared to the rest of the United Kingdom or Europe?

Fourthly, recognise and reflect on the inherent contradictions. The interim report talks of giving the public a greater say in decision-making but then of a new commitment to meeting people’s basic needs such as the right to a home and of the “deployment of modernised Development Corporations to deal with particularly demanding issues such as flood risk, economic renewal, and population change“. It talks of simplified planning laws but then of a four tier system of neighbourhood, local, regional and national alongside development corporations and of new interventions to share land values.

Fifthly, give appropriate emphasis to the need to encourage the production of new homes, specifically referred to in the remit of the review. So far I see little in the interim report that would give that encouragement. Indeed, the document strongly criticises the current permitted development right to convert office uses to residential, without any detailed analysis of whether the disbenefits do indeed outweigh the benefit acknowledged in the report (between 86,665 and 95,045 units delivered between 2010 and 2017).

Sixthly, explain how we are going to get from here to there. The document reports the planning system as having “been in an almost constant state of flux over the past decade and a half” but how would we reform the system to Version Raynsford without equivalent upheavals? And if we assume that there is no prospect of wholesale change within the shelf life of the report, what might be less ambitious, but still helpful, interventions?

Seventhly, acknowledge that the next ten years will see enormous changes, whether economic-political (Brexit, possibly), social (how we live, work, shop) and technological (spatial implications but also the changes that plantech will bring to the very processes of planning and public engagement).

In the meantime, utopian thinking shouldn’t deflect us from events which may have more immediate implications.

First, Sir Oliver Letwin’s build-out review is continuing at pace. It is looking to “explain the significant gap between housing completions and the amount of land allocated or permissioned in areas of high housing demand, and make recommendations for closing it”. Sir Oliver has indicated that he will publish “analytical work by the end of June in the form of a Draft Analysis. This will contain only a description of the problem and of its causes

Secondly, MHCLG will be publishing this month a consultation paper in relation to further potential widening of permitted development rights. The review panel won’t enjoy that I’m sure.

Thirdly, practical thinking continues on land value capture. Commons HCLG Committee on Land Value Capture held an oral evidence session on 4 June 2018 (read the transcript) with a further session on 11 June at which the TCPA’s Hugh Ellis (who should take huge credit for the work that he has put into the Raynsford review process) will appear, alongside others including lawyers Barry Denyer-Green, Stephen Ashworth and Vicky Fowler.

Fourthly, the Labour party continues to announce policy reviews, most recently in April, Housing For The Many.

All of this is interesting of course (and, despite my carping, the Raynsford interim report is an impressive and illuminating piece of work) but until there is a very different political climate (with the time and power to think about big, complicated changes for the public good – and even then town and country planning should take its place in the queue), we plainly will need to carry on making the best of the current system. It creaks, but it isn’t broken. Of course, at the very least, consolidation of the legislation would be helpful, but at present even that seems an impractical dream.

Views?

Simon Ricketts, 9 June 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Nothing Was Delivered

“Nothing was delivered/And I tell this truth to you/Not out of spite or anger/But simply because it’s true” (Bob Dylan)

It was the first meeting on 5 February of the prime minister’s housing implementation taskforce. The subsequent press statement summarises the event as follows:
Today the Prime Minister chaired the first meeting of the Housing Implementation Taskforce at Downing Street.

She stressed the integral role all Government departments have in helping to fix the broken housing market and deliver 300,000 additional homes by the mid-2020s.

The taskforce discussed the steps Government has already taken, including further investment at the Budget, planning reform, releasing land faster, the Housing White Paper and building more affordable housing. They emphasised the key role of Homes England in driving forward change, and also focused on the supply of new housing, public sector land sales, land banking, house-building skills and building the infrastructure needed for new housing developments.

The Prime Minister reiterated that a step change was needed right across Government and that all departments needed to think creatively about how they can contribute to building the homes the country needs.
That “300,000 additional homes by the mid-2020s” reference is an interesting one, reflecting the Government’s previous 11 January 2018 announcement of the creation of Homes England:
Homes England will play a major role in fixing the housing market by helping to deliver an average of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
This is surely a tactical step back from the Conservative party’s 2017 manifesto commitment, with no longer any pre-2022 election target:
We will meet our 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and we will deliver half a million more by the end of 2022.”
A significant proportion of the country’s homes will need to come forward in London – the Mayor of London’s draft London Plan sets a target of around 65,000 homes a year, a significant increase from the previous plan figure of 42,000. 
These figures are only going to be achieved with a large degree of consensus between central government, the Mayor, boroughs and local communities. If I were prime minister (perish the thought) I would be worrying that in many areas, but particularly in London, there is increasing “spite or anger” (in the words of Mr Dylan). Inevitably, in any year with borough elections, planning becomes politicised but this year, with the repercussions of the Grenfell tragedy, the predictions of Conservative council losses and the internal battles within the Labour party, this is particularly so. EG has tracked the number of refusals in London up to the end of 2017. It makes for uncomfortable reading and the position will only be worsening. 


Against that background, is there a crisp appeals process? Not at all. The Planning Inspectorate’s performance statistics are still poor:


Anecdotally, many developers and authorities are keeping politically controversial decisions away from committees until the other side of the 3 May local government elections, even though the formal purdah rules, summarised in a useful Local Government Association guide, largely allow for statutory processes to carry on.
The politically charged atmosphere in many boroughs isn’t just leading to refusals of permission against officers’ recommendations – leading in turn to officers having to spend time defending appeals, with inevitable repercussions for capacity to cope with other applications in the system – but it’s impeding the work of boroughs that seek to achieve housing development, particularly in relation to estate regeneration schemes, without which those London numbers are not going to be met. 
Progress on the Haringey Development Vehicle initiative, brought forward by Haringey Council with private sector joint venture partner Lendlease, has now been halted by leader councillor Claire Kober, with no further decisions to be taken before purdah commences on 26 March until after the 3 May local election. Given that, following sustained pressure over the project, she announced on 30 January that she will not be standing for re-election, its long term future may be in doubt. This was a strategy to bring about widespread development on sites in the council’s ownership, including the proposed delivery of up to 6,400 homes. The HDV would in due course formulate development proposals for sites and make planning applications, applications which would be assessed as against planning policy, with the power for the Mayor to intervene in the usual way, but plainly in Haringey even the nature of the vehicle to be used to bring about development, presumably because of the role to be played in it by a private sector developer, was seen by objectors as unacceptable. 
There is room for debate in a democracy as to the form that regeneration should take and the extent and types of affordable housing to be provided but if the HDV is not to happen, what will? In current political and financial reality, my fear is that an opportunity to increase housing at scale, including affordable housing, will be lost. It is vital that affordable housing, with tenures to meet needs, is provided. Will the collapse of the HDV render this more or less likely? What’s the alternative? What’s the objectors’ plan? To continue this position until a 2022 general election? 
Whilst the politics played out, unpleasantly according to Councillor Kober’s account, Ouseley J was writing his judgment in Peters v London Borough of Haringey. This was a crowdfunded judicial review that had been brought on behalf of campaign group Stop HDV, seeking to establish that the council had acted outside its powers in proceeding with the project. The hearing had taken place over two days in October 2017 but Ouseley J’s judgment, over 50 pages long, was only handed down on 8 February 2018. 
The main ground of challenge was a legalistic one if ever one there was: that the council had acted outside its powers in establishing with Lendlease a limited liability partnership as the vehicle to take forward its strategic aims, on the basis that section 4(2) of the Localism Act 2011 provides that where “a local authority does things for a commercial purpose, the authority must do them through a company“. The judge rejected the argument:
To my mind, there is no doubt but that the Council’s purpose in entering into the arrangements setting up the HDV and governing its operation, including the relationship between the two partners, cannot be characterised as “a commercial purpose” within the scope of the Localism Act. Even more clearly is its dominant purpose not commercial. Any commercial component is merely incidental or ancillary, and not a separate purpose.”

“…the phrases to which Mr Wolfe took me do not show a separate commercial purpose, whether minor or not. It is important to examine why this is all being done. The purpose behind the Council’s entering into the HDV and associated arrangements is not that of a property investor, simply seeking to make a profit or to achieve a return on development or improved rentals. The purpose of the Council is to use and develop its own land to its best advantage so that it can achieve the housing, employment and growth or regeneration objectives that it has laid down. In order to achieve as much as it can, it has to achieve the best consideration on any disposal of its land; and it must be in other respects financially prudent, to produce returns in various ways which can be used to further its policy objectives. Achieving the return is neither the activity nor its purpose of itself.”

“The acquisition of other land in the context of regenerating a large estate is a commonplace, and, backed by compulsory purchase powers, it demonstrates not one whit that a separate activity of property development is being undertaken.”
In any event, the judge considered that the challenge in relation to this ground and others (lack of consultation, Equality Act) had been brought out of time. I understand that the claimant is likely to seek permission to appeal. 
In another part of London, progress is still slow on another regeneration project that has been to the High Court and back, the Aylesbury Estate. I covered in my blog post Regeneration X: Failed CPOs the decision of the Secretary of State to decline to confirm Southwark Council’s CPO based on his concern as to the effects of acquisition on leaseholders, a decision which was subsequently quashed by consent following a challenge brought by the council. A second inquiry that has been taking place into the order was adjourned on 31 January 2018 to resume for a further two weeks on 17 April. Judging from a ruling by the inspector prohibiting further filming at the inquiry it has been a lively event so far. 

According to the council’s statement of case:
The acquisition of the Order Land will enable demolition of the existing buildings in order to replace the 566 existing units of social and privately owned housing with a mixed tenure development comprising 830 homes. Of these, 304 will be social rent, 102 will be intermediate (affordable homes available as shared ownership or shared equity) and 424 will be private (of which 48 will be for open market rent and the remainder for sale). Included in the social rent homes are 50 extra care units and 7 units for people with learning difficulties.”
Inevitably, whatever the gains in housing numbers to be achieved (and indeed the affordable housing of all tenures to be provided), there will be legitimately held concerns on the part of residents directly affected. The Mayor announced on 2 February 2018 “mandatory ballots of residents for schemes where any demolition is planned as a strict condition of his funding“. 
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Southwark, Delancey has continued to face resistance in relation to its proposed redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle centre. At a committee meeting on 16 January, members overturned an officer’s recommendation to grant planning permission. A final decision has now been deferred, following a revised offer as to affordable housing and other commitments reportedly made by the developer. 
Delivery of the right schemes, in a way which maximises the potential for affordable housing and the wide range of other requirements set out in the draft London Plan will not be easy. How will land owners and developers respond? Will the Mayor continue to intervene to direct refusal where the affordable housing proportion offered is considered to be less than the maximum reasonably achievable? Will he use his call-in powers where boroughs unreasonably withhold permission for schemes which would deliver homes at scale? The Government had proposed back in 2015 reducing the threshold above which the Mayor could intervene on planning applications from 150 to 50 homes but unless the Mayor is seen as using his existing powers regularly and proactively to increase housing delivery, this may remain on the Government’s to-do list. 
The housing numbers that the Government is targeting will not be achieved without an active and engaged private sector. What if land owners choose not to release their land? There is a remarkable degree of consensus between the Conservative and Labour parties as to the desirability of using compulsory purchase powers. I covered the Conservative party’s manifesto thinking in my blog post Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture (20 May 2017), in which I tried to set out some of the complexities arising from any proposal to change CPO compensation principles so as to strip out planning “hope” value (as opposed to just being smarter about using CPO powers in a way that hope values haven’t arisen in the first place). There was much publicity this month arising from an announcement from Labour shadow minister John Healey reported in the Guardian on 1 February that “Labour is considering forcing landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of council house building“. 
Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing.

Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price. 

This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent.”
I haven’t seen any more detailed analysis of the proposal or indeed any fleshing out of the idea of an English Sovereign Land Trust. Personally I would prefer to see Homes England grasp the nettle, with their existing wide compulsory purchase powers, to acquire sites at a scale which would be difficult to achieve without compulsory purchase, thereby minimising “no scheme world” values. Labour’s English Sovereign Land Trust concept sounds very rural in concept and not a substitute for facing up to difficult challenges about maximising use in cities of public sector land, about densifying suburbs and about effective approaches to estate renewal. 
And given the supposed cross-party support for increasing housing delivery, wouldn’t it be good to try to depoliticise the process where we can, rather than demonise the participants whether from public or private sector? I’ve previously blogged about the multiplicity of reviews being undertaken, to which list can now be added the CLG Commons Select Committee’s land value capture inquiry, for which the deadline for evidence is 2 March 2018). What scope can we find for consensus, about priorities, about the respective roles of the public and private sector, about funding of social housing and about the appropriate use of compulsory purchase?
Simon Ricketts, 10 February 2018
Personal views, et cetera