The Government’s First Homes announcements this week mean that we all need to understand the practicalities as to how this new form of discounted market sale housing will work and to plan around three key implementation dates.
From the guidance: “ Local plans and neighbourhood plans submitted for examination before 28 June 2021, or that have reached publication stage by 28 June 2021 and subsequently submitted for examination by 28 December 2021, will not be required to reflect the First Homes policy requirement”
(However: “Planning Inspectors should consider through the examination whether a requirement for an early update of the local plan might be appropriate.”)
28 December 2021
From the guidance: “The new First Homes policy requirement does not apply for the following:
• sites with full or outline planning permissions already in place or determined (or where a right to appeal against non-determination has arisen) before 28 December 2021”
28 March 2022
It also does not apply to “applications for full or outline planning permission where there has been significant pre-application engagement which are determined before 28 March 2022”.
So if you wish to avoid the new requirement and you are not in an area where a plan has been adopted under the transitional arrangements, you need to have submitted your application so that it will be determined (or so that that the statutory right to appeal on the basis of non-determination has arisen) by 28 December 2021 and if there is any doubt as to whether you will meet that deadline it would be prudent to have engaged in “significant pre-application engagement” such that the deadline for achieving permission is 28 March 2022.
“If an applicant wishes to amend a planning application to include First Homes which is already submitted and likely to be granted before these dates, the local planning authority should be flexible in accepting First Homes as an alternative type of tenure.
Local authorities should have flexibility to accept alternative tenure mixes for planning applications that are determined within the timescales identified above, although they should consider whether First Homes could be easily substituted for another tenure, either at 25% or a lower proportion.”
From the guidance:
“What is a First Home?
First Homes are a specific kind of discounted market sale housing and should be considered to meet the definition of ‘affordable housing’ for planning purposes. Specifically, First Homes are discounted market sale units which:
a) must be discounted by a minimum of 30% against the market value;
b) are sold to a person or persons meeting the First Homes eligibility criteria […];
c) on their first sale, will have a restriction registered on the title at HM Land Registry to ensure this discount (as a percentage of current market value) and certain other restrictions are passed on at each subsequent title transfer; and,
d) after the discount has been applied, the first sale must be at a price no higher than £250,000 (or £420,000 in Greater London).
First Homes are the government’s preferred discounted market tenure and should account for at least 25% of all affordable housing units delivered by developers through planning obligations.”
“Who is eligible to purchase a First Home?
A purchaser (or, if a joint purchase, all the purchasers) of a First Home should be a first-time buyer as defined in paragraph 6 of schedule 6ZA of the Finance Act 2003 for the purposes of Stamp Duty Relief for first-time buyers.
Purchasers of First Homes, whether individuals, couples or group purchasers, should have a combined annual household income not exceeding £80,000 (or £90,000 in Greater London) in the tax year immediately preceding the year of purchase.
A purchaser of a First Home should have a mortgage or home purchase plan (if required to comply with Islamic law) to fund a minimum of 50% of the discounted purchase price.
These national standard criteria should also apply at all future sales of a First Home.”
“How should the remaining 75% of affordable housing be secured through developer contributions?
Once a minimum of 25% of First Homes has been accounted for, social rent should be delivered in the same percentage as set out in the local plan. The remainder of the affordable housing tenures should be delivered in line with the proportions set out in the local plan policy.
For example, if a local plan policy requires an affordable housing mix of 20% shared ownership units, 40% affordable rent units and 40% social rent units, a planning application compliant with national policy would deliver an affordable housing tenure mix of 25% First Homes and 40% social rent. The remainder (35%) would be split in line with the ratio set out in the local plan policy, which is 40% affordable rent to 20% shared ownership, or 2:1. 35% split in this way results in 12% shared ownership; and 23% affordable rent.
In another example, if a local plan policy requires 80% of units to be shared ownership and 20% to be social rent, a policy compliant application would deliver 25% First Homes units, 20% social rent and 55% shared ownership.
If a local authority has an up-to-date policy on cash contributions in lieu of onsite contributions, then a planning application compliant with national policy will align with this approach.”
The requirement will be secured by our trusty friend, the section 106 agreement (or unilateral undertaking). The guidance states: “The government will publish template planning obligations for this purpose, which the local planning authority can use as a basis for agreements prepared locally.” A workable template (stress the word “workable”) would be very useful indeed.
How will this policy mechanism work across very different housing market areas across the country and what might be the unintended consequences? I recommend an excellent Lichfields blog post, First Homes: dicing with the discount (Rachel Clements and Bethan Haynes, 27 May 2021).
They ask where can First Homes potentially have the biggest impact?
“First Homes have the potential to have the greatest impact in areas where first-time buyers are currently priced out of the open market (at the entry-level) but where First Homes would be within reach, when the minimum 30% discount is applied. We estimate this represents around one in five authorities in England – around 63 in total.”
Will it avoid the problems that caused the previous Starter Homes concept to fail (e.g see my 29 February 2020 blog post Starter Homes Were A Non Starter – What Future For First Homes?)? What do we make of this continuing political decision to intervene in the market in the interests of encouraging home ownership at the expense (where viability is impacted) of affordable housing for rent, for those on a lower rung of the housing ladder?
There is plenty more to say on the subject, for instance the new opportunity arising to bring forward First Homes exception sites on allocated land outside the green belt or designated rural areas. But for now, I suspect that developers and local planning authorities alike will be wanting to do some basic number-crunching and to bear those three deadlines in mind.
Simon Ricketts, 28 May 2021
Personal views, et cetera
This Tuesday evening’s Planning Law, Unplanned Clubhouse session (6pm, 1 June) takes on a more general subject: “Has work taken over your life? Life hacks, work hacks”. Do come along and share your views, or just listen to the chat. An invitation to the app is here.
When I saw a limelon for the first time yesterday (some recently marketed lime/melon hybrid since you ask, and tangy and refreshing it is indeed), I naturally thought of the proposed combined infrastructure levy: what on earth is it?
Planning For The Future is of course work in progress and it may be churlish for us to expect it to have all the answers. After all, it is up to us to provide cogent responses to the current consultation process.
But the sections in the document on infrastructure contributions are very light indeed, given the central role that section 106 and the community infrastructure levy play in the current system and the obvious complexity of arriving at a system for a combined infrastructure levy that on the one hand does not choke off various forms of development in some areas by making it unviable and that on the other hand both (1) raises sufficient monies to secure the delivery of necessary social (e.g. affordable housing) and physical infrastructure and also (2) ensures for the benefit of both communities and developers that the infrastructure will actually be provided in the right place, at the right time.
•Update the evidence on the current value and incidence of planning obligations
• Investigate the relationship between CIL and S106
• Understand negotiation processes and delays to the planning process
• Explore the monitoring and transparency of developer contributions
• Understand the early effects and expectations for the changes to developer contributions brought in by the revisions to the NPPF
Chapter 3 (The value of Planning Obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy) sets out some interesting findings:
“• The estimated value of planning obligations agreed and CIL levied in 2018/19 was £7.0 billion. This valuation is premised upon the assumptions identified in the appendix, corresponding to survey validity, respondent representation and the distribution of values.
• When adjusted to reflect inflation the total value of developer contributions in real terms is £500 million higher than in 2016/17, £300 million higher than in 2007/08.
• 67% of the value of agreed developer contributions was for the provision of affordable housing, at £4.7 billion; this is the same proportion as in 2016/17 and is the joint-highest to date.
• 44,000 affordable housing dwellings were agreed in planning obligations in 2018/19. This is a reduction since 2016/17, but the value of this housing has increased over the same period due to an increase in house prices in many areas with higher developer contributions.
• The value of CIL levied by LPAs was £830 million in 2018/19, with a further £200 million levied by the Mayor of London.
• The geographic distribution of planning obligations and CIL is weighted heavily towards the south of England. The South East, South West and London regions account for 61% of the total value. However, the value of developer contributions exacted in London has fallen since 2016/17 – down from 38% to 28% of the total aggregate value.”
There is nothing in the white paper that explicitly draws from the findings of that report in order to arrive at the wholly new mechanism that is proposed.
Some people seem to have picked up the message that the white paper means the end of the community infrastructure levy – a cause for celebration in some parts. But the white paper’s proposal for a combined infrastructure levy to my mind is CIL writ large, potentially just as complex, with a whole new set of rate setting, liability, payment and spending mechanisms and with the express objective of raising more monies than the current system. It warrants its own focus at this point, away from the noise of the other proposals in the white paper.
How to begin to unpick what is proposed in relation to CIL and section 106 planning obligations (and what the proposals in relation to section 106 mean for the delivery of affordable housing in particular)? I wrote down for myself five basic questions:
1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?
2. What will happen to CIL?
3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?
4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?
5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?
In order to try to answer them (in a way which would have to work in relation to all of the proposed consenting routes: DCO, outline planning permission in plan, PiP (if different from outline permission in plan, not sure!), traditional planning permission, PD), then I cut and pasted the relevant passages from the white paper in their entirety (only leaving out the detail of some of the “alternative options” floated and leaving out the questions raised in the consultation). It is easy to read summaries and think “well there must be more detail in the document itself”. It is worth reading these passages to see the totality of the proposals.
After these passages I then see how far we can get in answering my questions.
“The process for negotiating developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure is complex, protracted and unclear: as a result, the outcomes can be uncertain, which further diminishes trust in the system and reduces the ability of local planning authorities to plan for and deliver necessary infrastructure. Over 80 per cent of planning authorities agree that planning obligations cause delay. It also further increases planning risk for developers and landowners, thus discouraging development and new entrants.”
“1.19. Fourth, we will improve infrastructure delivery in all parts of the country and ensure developers play their part, through reform of developer contributions. We propose:
• The Community Infrastructure Levy and the current system of planning obligations will be reformed as a nationally-set value-based flat rate charge (‘the Infrastructure Levy’). A single rate or varied rates could be set. We will aim for the new Levy to raise more revenue than under the current system of developer contributions, and deliver at least as much – if not more – on-site affordable housing as at present. This reform will enable us to sweep away months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements and the need to consider site viability. We will deliver more of the infrastructure existing and new communities require by capturing a greater share of the ulpift [sic] in land value that comes with development.
• We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision.
• We will give local authorities greater powers to determine how developer contributions are used, including by expanding the scope of the Levy to cover affordable housing provision to allow local planning authorities to drive up the provision of affordable homes. We will ensure that affordable housing provision supported through developer contributions is kept at least at current levels, and that it is still delivered on-site to ensure that new development continues to support mixed communities. Local authorities will have the flexibility to use this funding to support both existing communities as well as new communities.
• We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights, so that additional homes delivered through this route bring with them support for new infrastructure.
“4.5. Securing necessary infrastructure and affordable housing alongside new development is central to our vision for the planning system. We want to bring forward reforms to make sure that developer contributions are:
• responsive to local needs, to ensure a fairer contribution from developers for local communities so that the right infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered;
• transparent, so it is clear to existing and new residents what new infrastructure will accompany development;
• consistent and simplified, to remove unnecessary delay and support competition in the housebuilding industry;
• buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.
4.6. The Government could also seek to use developer contributions to capture a greater proportion of the land value uplift that occurs through the grant of planning permission, and use this to enhance infrastructure delivery. There are a range of estimates for the amount of land value uplift currently captured, from 25 to 50 per cent. The value captured will depend on a range of factors including the development value, the existing use value of the land, and the relevant tax structure – for instance, whether capital gains tax applies to the land sale. Increasing value capture could be an important source of infrastructure funding but would need to be balanced against risks to development viability.”
“4.7. We propose that the existing parallel regimes for securing developer contributions are replaced with a new, consolidated ‘Infrastructure Levy’.
Proposal 19: The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished.”
“4.8. We believe that the current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.
4.9. This would be based upon a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates. This would address issues in the current system as it would:
be charged on the final value of a development (or to an assessment of the sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. for homes built for the rental market), based on the applicable rate at the point planning permission is granted;
• be levied at point of occupation, with prevention of occupation being a potential sanction for non-payment;
• include a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold ; and
• provide greater certainty for communities and developers about what the level of developer contributions are expected alongside new development.
4.10. The single rate, or area-specific rates, would be set nationally. It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system. Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.
4.11. As a value-based charge across all use classes, we believe it would be both more effective at capturing increases in value and would be more sensitive to economic downturns. It would reduce risk for developers, and would reduce cashflow difficulties, particularly for SME developers.
4.12. In areas where land value uplift is insufficient to support significant levels of land value capture, some or all of the value generated by the development would be below the threshold, and so not subject to the levy. In higher value areas, a much greater proportion of the development value would be above the exempt amount, and subject to the levy.
4.13. To better support the timely delivery of infrastructure, we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster. As with all volatile borrowing streams, local authorities should assure themselves that this borrowing is affordable and suitable.
4.14. Under this approach the London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure.
4.15. In bringing forward the reformed Infrastructure Levy, we will need to consider its scope. We will also consider the impact of this change on areas with lower land values.”
Alternative options proposed: “The Infrastructure Levy could remain optional and would be set by individual local authorities”. “Alternatively, the national rate approach could be taken, but with the aim of capturing more land value than currently, to better support the delivery of infrastructure”
“Proposal 21: The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision
4.20. Developer contributions currently deliver around half of all affordable housing, most of which is delivered on-site. It is important that the reformed approach will continue to deliver on-site affordable housing at least at present levels.
4.21. Affordable housing provision is currently secured by local authorities via Section 106, but the Community Infrastructure Levy cannot be spent on it. With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing.
4.22. This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. [Footnote: As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106. ] First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.
4.23. Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way.
4.24. We would also need to ensure the developer was incentivised to deliver high build and design quality for their in-kind affordable homes. Currently, if Section 106 homes are not of sufficient quality, developers may be unable to sell it to a provider, or have to reduce the price. To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality. It is important that any approach taken maintains the quality of affordable housing provision as well as overarching volumes, and incentivises early engagement between providers of affordable housing and developers. Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site. Through borrowing against further Infrastructure Levy receipts, other sources of funding, or in partnership with affordable housing providers, they could then build affordable homes, enabling delivery at pace.
4.25. Alternative option: We could seek to introduce further requirements around the delivery of affordable housing. To do this we would create a ‘first refusal’ right for local authorities or any affordable housing provider acting on their behalf to buy up to a set proportion of on-site units (on a square metre basis) at a discounted price, broadly equivalent to build costs. The proportion would be set nationally, and the developer would have discretion over which units were sold in this way. A threshold would be set for smaller sites, below which on-site delivery was not required, and cash payment could be made in lieu. Where on-site units were purchased, these could be used for affordable housing, or sold on (or back to the developer) to raise money to purchase affordable housing elsewhere. The local authority could use Infrastructure Levy funds, or other funds, in order to purchase units.”
“Proposal 22: More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy
4.26. It is important that there is a strong link between where development occurs and where funding is spent. Currently, the Neighbourhood Share of the Community Infrastructure Levy ensures that up to 25 per cent of the levy is spent on priorities in the area that development occurred, with funding transferred to parish councils in parished areas. There are fewer restrictions on how this funding is spent, and we believe it provides an important incentive to local communities to allow development in their area. We therefore propose that under this approach the Neighbourhood Share would be kept, and we would be interested in ways to enhance community engagement around how these funds are used, with scope for digital innovation to promote engagement.
4.27. There is scope for even more flexibility around spending. We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax. The balance of affordable housing and infrastructure may vary depending on a local authority’s circumstances, but under this approach it may be necessary to consider ring-fencing a certain amount of Levy funding for affordable housing to ensure that affordable housing continues to be delivered on-site at current levels (or higher). There would also be opportunities to enhance digital engagement with communities as part of decision making around spending priorities. Alternatively, the permitted uses of the Levy could remain focused on infrastructure and affordable housing, as they are broadly are at present. Local authorities would continue to identify the right balance between these to meet local needs, as they do at present.”
“ 5.19. If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”
Back to my questions:
1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?
It is said in the paper that the “current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.” There will no longer be “months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements”. “Section 106 planning obligations [will be] removed”.
The proposals seem to assume that section 106 is simply a mechanism for securing provision of affordable housing and other “developer contributions”. Whilst that is its main role at present, it is a mechanism for a wide range of commitments – see this table from the accompanying study:
The joy of section 106 is its flexibility to circumstances and policy, enabling the applicant commit to commit, in a way that binds successors in title, to all necessary mitigation measures that cannot be secured by way of planning condition and which are necessary to overcome what would otherwise be reasons not to allow the proposed development to proceed. On more complex developments it is the only tried and tested way in which appropriate mechanisms can be arrived at to make sure that, for instance, necessary infrastructure comes forward at the right time and by way of a sensible process, bespoke to the circumstances of the development, agreed between the parties. There is no proposal in the paper (although it has previously been floated by some) that the role of planning conditions could be expanded.
Where financial contributions are paid to a local planning authority under a section 106 agreement they can only be used for the specified purposes, whereas the proposals in relation to the consolidated infrastructure levy appear to be more loose: “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met.”What is meant by “core infrastructure obligations”? The core infrastructure obligations necessary to make a particular development acceptable? If so, then a document will need to be drawn up which surely will be as complex as a section 106 agreement – when will the school come forward, using the developer’s infrastructure levy contribution, how, where and when? Local employment and training measures, provision and maintenance of open space and play areas, carbon reduction commitments, commitments to specified transport improvements and the formulation and implementation of transport plans – are all these to be swept away? If so, the document needs to explain either why this is acceptable and desirable or how these matters will otherwise be addressed.
Additional confusion arises when these bold statements as to the removal of section 106 obligations are then contrasted with the footnote to paragraph 4.22: “As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106”. What does that mean? What would the “covenant on the land” and if the only point is to make sure that the infrastructure levy binds successors in title, why not leave that for the legislation itself?
Is anyone out there clearer at this stage ?
2. What will happen to CIL?
The community infrastructure levy will be replaced by the consolidated infrastructure levy, which will work in various significantly different ways to the current system. For instance:
• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 3 below.
• It will be “levied at point of occupation”.
• “Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.”
• “we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster.” [If a developer needs specific infrastructure to be delivered in order to enable development to proceed, how will this be documented? What if, as is usually the case, the developer would prefer to deliver the infrastructure, e.g. build the school?]
• The “London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure” [Is this retained as in retained under the current CIL system so that in London CIL would continue to operate alongside the new levy, or is this retained as in “rolled into”?]
• “We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights” [This is odd – development pursuant to PD rights is not exempt from CIL at the moment. Is this flagging more widely that exemptions will be removed? That would have been a sensible, simplifying, approach were CIL levels to be reduced, but here we are faced with an increased Infrastructure Levy…]
3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?
• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates”. [Clearly this can’t in any circumstances mean a nationally-set flat rate charge of x per square metres but must mean a nationally-set proportion of (I assume) gross development value.]
• There will be “a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold”. [When would the developer have certainty that the threshold was not exceeded, or indeed as to what the value (and therefore charge) is considered to be, through what procedure and with what rights to appeal against the valuation? Is the valuation a notional one, applying a formula, or an actual valuation?]
• “buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.” [the timing of the valuation date will be critical, as will how to deal with phased and revised schemes and so on].
• “It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system” [so more than £7bn, on the basis of the findings in that study – in a way which will need not to disincentivise owners and developers from carrying out development].
That’s all I can glean from the document. It seems to me that local planning authorities will lose much flexibility, for instance in the setting of differential rates for different types of floorspace (the document does focus to a significant extent on residential development – what rate would be set for, say, offices, logistics or retail, particularly given the weaker relationship between non-residential uses and the delivery of affordable housing, and what about not for profit development – will we need to reintroduce a number of the current CIL exemptions?
4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?
• “With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 5 below.
• “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax.” [So, infrastructure levy surplus receipts (after delivery of “core infrastructure”) become unhypothecated tax receipts – the less the authority spends on infrastructure, the lower it can keep its council tax, hmm…]?
• “If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”
5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?
• “We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision”.
• “This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.” [So presumably the developer could net-off the costs of on-site delivery from its infrastructure levy liability. How is this to be documented? Who adjudicates on the obvious valuation issues arising?]
• “Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way” [How to safeguard against misuse?]
• “To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality.”
• “Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site.” [Back to ensuring a robust valuation process].
Again, maybe it’s just me but I’m left scratching my head. This is a wholly different approach to extracting contributions for affordable housing and for ensuring that they are delivered. Basic questions:
• How will the requirements (quantum, tenure mix, size] be set at policy stage and determined at application stage (in advance of valuations) such that there can be confidence that development will not be stalled through lack of viability?
• Are we moving to a system where all affordable housing is delivered by a local authority nominated housing provider, with less ability for the developer to seek to improve viability?
• How can there be any confidence that this mechanism will result in more on-site affordable housing than at present?
Again, thoughts welcome – it’s not that the proposals can’t be made to work, it’s just that much more input is required and, in my view, a cautious approach needs to be taken so as to guard against the inevitable unintended consequences.
The deadline for consultation responses is 29 October. We are likely to be collating a Town response, if only on specific issues such as this. If you would be interested in feeding in your thoughts, then please let me know, although, health warning, we are not in the business of designing fruit by committee!
The next time you hear someone reprise Dominic Cummings’ February 2020 riff on the need for “urgent action on the farce that judicial review has become”, it’s worth thinking back to cases like R (Holborn Studios) v London Borough of Hackney (No 2) (Dove J, 11 June 2020). Sometimes it’s only the pesky lawyers (here Richard Harwood QC and solicitor Susan Ring, as well of course as a switched on judge) who, via judicial review, are finally able to cut through the sheer fudge and obfuscation of the planning application process.
This was the second time around for Holborn Studios, described in the judgment as “the leaseholder of 49-50 Eagle Wharf Road where they run one of the largest photographic studio complexes in Europe”. The studios have long campaigned against the proposed redevelopment of their building (for instance see What will become of Holborn Studios? (Londonist, 25 August 2017)).
The first planning permission which the London Borough of Hackney had purported to grant, in November 2016, was quashed by the High Court in R (Holborn Studios) v London Borough of Hackney (No 1) (Deputy Judge John Howell QC, 10 November 2017). The judge found that there had been an unlawful failure to consult the claimants and others on amendments made to the planning application and that the council had unfairly failed to disclose unredacted two letters on which officers had relied to support their view that proposed studio spaces in the basement were workable and that their layout was acceptable.
By the time of that first judgment a second application for planning permission had already been made. It was granted on 9 August 2019. Richard Harwood QC had indeed spoken at the planning committee meeting on behalf of Holborn Studios, seemingly to no avail. Again judicial review. The campaign against redevelopment continued (for instance see Battle to save Holborn Studios continues as celebrities and photographers line up in support (Hackney Citizen, 18 November 2019)).
When the case was heard in front of Dove J on 17 March 2020 there were three grounds of challenge but it is worth focusing on the first two, namely:
“Ground one is a sequence of legal contentions related to the information provided in respect of the viability assessment for the proposed development which informed the contributions which were sought from the interested party, in particular in relation to affordable housing. It is said by the claimant that the defendant’s approach to this issue failed to comply with national planning policy in relation to the provision of information in respect of viability assessments; that the defendant’s approach was in breach of a legitimate expectation in respect of the disclosure of viability information and, finally, that as a matter of law the viability information provided was in breach of the defendant’s duties in relation to the publication of background papers to the committee report. Ground two is the allegation that the defendant’s guidance for the members of its planning committee were unlawful in so far as they precluded members from reading lobbying material submitted to them by consultees and required that instead this material was passed to officers unread.”
Or even better if you have ten minutes, read the judgment itself. Summaries sometimes do not bring across the starkness of the judge’s description of events and analysis.
Some choice passages from the judgment:
A concern was raised by Mr Harwood at the planning committee meeting that “that the material on viability in the public domain appeared to demonstrate that the interested party’s consultants had undertaken the exercise on the basis of a residualised value, rather than taking an existing use value plus approach which was what was required by policy” and the point was also taken up by a councillor. Dove J chooses to relate the following, including a verbatim quotation of the meaningless response that councillors received:
“Mr Robert Carney, who had been one of the defendant’s officers and who had been involved with the consideration and negotiation of the viability of the development (albeit that by the time he attended the committee meeting he was working for a consultancy) was called upon to address these concerns, and in particular whether or not a residualised value approach had been taken to the viability exercise. His observations in respect of this issue, as recorded on the transcript contained within the court’s papers, were as follows:
“Perhaps I’ll deal with the specifics of the, the values of where- of where they have been reported and Stuart will want to talk about, uh, the transparency of the information in the public domain. So I just want to clarify, we’ve used an existing use value plus approach in accordance with all guidance and the- what that approach- that approach forms was known as benchmark land value, that’s referred to in the table at 5.3.62. Uh, you have the applicant’s proposed benchmark land value and then the independent assessor’s benchmark land value. And what you do is you, uh, look at the residual land value and the appraisal, basically, given them the residual land value, show them the appraisal equals or is more than the benchmark- benchmark land value, the scheme is viable. Because what that means is that a hypothetical, uh, developer can purchase the site at a figure above the benchmark land value. And we see in appraisal it’s just shy of that benchmark land value. But basically, um, through our negotiations we accepted that the scheme had maximised, uh, it’s viability with the, um, agreed contributions.”
On the failure to make all of the viability appraisal information as background papers to the committee report;
“The first point raised is whether or not the defendant complied with its obligations under the 1972 Act in relation to the provision and listing of background papers. In short, I have no doubt that the defendant failed to comply with its obligations under section 100 D of the 1972 Act, not simply in relation to listing background papers but also in failing to provide them for inspection. It is clear from the evidence which has been set out above, including in particular the evidence of Mr Carney, that there was a significant quantity of documentation bearing upon the viability issues generated both before and especially after those documents that were published in relation to viability on the defendant’s website. It appears clear from Mr Carney’s evidence that, after the material from September 2018 which the defendant published, there was a significant volume of further technical work addressing ground rents and their impact on existing use value, the derivation of figures for the planning obligations and CIL and also the identification of a benchmark land value. Whilst not all of this material needed to be produced and listed it is simply inconceivable that none of this material would have qualified under section 100 D (5) of the 1972 Act. Clearly the contents of the committee report dealing with the viability exercise and its ultimate conclusions as to the affordable housing contribution which could legitimately be required, depended upon the contents of this material. There was, therefore, information which should have been listed and of which copies should have been provided for inspection.”
On the approach that should be taken to viability appraisal:
“In my view there are some clear principles set out in the Framework and the PPG to which it refers. Firstly, in accordance with the Framework viability assessments (where they are justified) should reflect the approach set out in PPG, and be made publicly available. Secondly, and in following the approach recommended in the Framework and the PPG, standardised inputs should be used including, for the purpose of land value, a benchmark land value based upon existing use value plus as described in the PPG. Thirdly, as set out in the PPG, the inputs and findings of a viability assessment should be set out “in a way that aids clear interpretation and interrogation by decision-makers” and be made publicly available save in exceptional circumstances. As the PPG makes clear, the preparation of a viability assessment “is not usually specific to that developer and thereby need not contain commercially sensitive data”. Even if some elements of the assessment are commercially sensitive, as the PPG points out, they can be aggregated in a published viability assessment so as to avoid disclosure of sensitive material.”
On whether elements of viability information should be treated as exempt from disclosure:
“As Mr Harwood pointed out in his submissions, there is an exception to the definition of exempt information contained in paragraph 10 of Schedule 12 to the 1972 Act where “the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.” In my judgment the existence of the policy contained in the Framework and the guidance contained in the PPG have an important bearing on the consideration of whether or not there is a public interest in disclosing the information contained in a viability assessment (even if it is properly to be characterised as commercially sensitive, bearing in mind the observations in the PPG about the extent to which information in such an assessment would be specific to a particular developer). It is clear from the material in the Framework and the PPG that save in exceptional circumstances the anticipation is that viability assessments, including their standardised inputs, will be placed in the public domain in order to ensure transparency, accountability and access to decision-taking for communities affected by development. The interests which placing viability assessments into the public domain serve are clearly public interests, which in my view support the contention that such assessments are not exempt information unless the exceptional circumstances spoken to by the PPG arise and solely an executive summary should be put in the public domain. It is unclear to me based on the material before the court how, if ever, the defendant ever considered the question of the public interest in relation to this exemption in the context of the relevant national planning policy. I am, therefore, unable to accept the submission advanced on behalf of the defendant that their failure to comply with section 100 D of the 1972 Act was a matter justified by the contention that the material withheld was exempt information. “
As to whether the viability information publicly available was comprehensive and coherent:
“In my view there are critical elements of the material in the public domain in relation to viability, set out in the documentation published on the defendant’s website and in the committee report, which are opaque and unexplained.”
If you deal regularly with viability appraisal you then need to read in full paragraphs 67 to 70 for an account by the judge of some of the deficiencies.
Drawing the threads together:
““Drawing the threads together, the material contained in the public domain at the time when the decision was taken by the planning committee to resolve to grant planning permission was inconsistent and opaque. It contained figures which differed in relation to, for instance, benchmark land value and the differences between the figures were not explained. No explanation was provided as to how the benchmark land value had been arrived at in terms of establishing an existing use value and identify a landowner’s premium as was asserted to have been case. Read against the background of the policy and guidance contained in the Framework and the PPG it was not possible to identify from the material in the public domain standardised inputs of the existing use value and landowner’s premium, and the purpose of the policy to secure transparency and accountability in the production of viability assessment was not served. In particular, it was plain from the material available at the time of the decision (in particular in terms of the material inconsistencies in the material produced in September 2018 and the differences from the material in the committee report) that there was substantial additional background material on which the committee report was based which was neither listed nor available for inspection in accordance with the requirements of the 1972 Act. In my view the principles identified in the case of Joicey by Cranston J at paragraph 47 are clearly on point, since the purpose of having a legal obligation to confer a right to know in relation to material underpinning a democratic decision-taking process is to enable members of the public to make well-informed observations on the substance of the decision. The failure to provide the background material underpinning the viability assessment in the present case, in circumstances where such material as was in the public domain was opaque and incoherent, was a clear and material legal error in the decision-taking process. In reality, in my judgment, the material with which the public was provided failed Mr Fraser-Urquhart’s own test of being adequate to enable the member of the public to make a sensible response to the consultation on the application.”
On the council’s attempt to prevent the direct lobbying of councillors
“… bearing in mind the importance of the decisions which the members of the planning committee are making, and the fact that they are acting in the context of a democratically representative role, the need for the communication of views and opinions between councillors and the public whom they represent must be afforded significant weight. In my view, it would be extremely difficult to justify as proportionate the discouragement, prohibition or prevention of communication between public and the councillors representing them which was otherwise in accordance with the law.”
“Receiving communications from objectors to an application for planning permission is an important feature of freedom of expression in connection with democratic decision-taking and in undertaking this aspect of local authority business. Whilst it may make perfect sense after the communication has been read for the member to pass it on to officers (so that for instance its existence can be logged in the file relating to the application, and any issues which need to be addressed in advice to members can be taken up in a committee report), the preclusion or prevention of members reading such material could not be justified as proportionate since it would serve no proper purpose in the decision-taking process. Any concern that members might receive misleading or illegitimate material will be resolved by the passing of that correspondence to officers, so that any such problem of that kind would be rectified. In my view there is an additional issue of fairness which arises if members of the planning committee are prevented from reading lobbying material from objectors and required to pass that information unread to their officers. The position that would leave members in would be that they would be reliant only on material from the applicant placed on the public record as part of the application or the information and opinions summarised and edited in the committee report. It is an important feature of the opportunity of an objector to a planning application to be able to present that objection and the points which they wish to make in the manner which they believe will make them most cogent and persuasive. Of course, it is a matter for the individual councillor in the discharge of his responsibilities to choose what evidence and opinion it is that he or she wishes to study in discharging the responsibility of determining a planning application, but the issue in the present case is having the access to all the material bearing upon the application in order to make that choice. If the choice is curtailed by an instruction not to read any lobbying material from members of the public that has a significant impact on the ability of a member of the public to make a case in relation to a proposed development making the points that they wish to make in the way in which they would wish to make them.”
“The standard correspondence clearly advised against members of the public writing directly to members of the committee; there was no warrant for that advice or discouragement and it impeded the freedom of expression of a member of the public who was entitled to write to a member of the planning committee setting out in his or her own terms the points they wish to be considered in respect of an application and expect that the member would have the opportunity to read it. It appears that Councillor Stops was under the impression that he was to resist being lobbied by either an applicant or member of the public, and Councillor Snell had apparently taken legal advice to the effect that he should refrain from reading any lobbying letter and forward it on to officers. Neither of these approaches reflects the defendant’s Code, nor does it reflect the entitlement to freedom of expression in accordance with the legal principles set out above.”
The case is a really helpful reminder to all of us of a few lessons:
Don’t get blinded by bad science. Good science is clear. Yes, viability appraisal includes some maths and you need to make sure that you understand the structure of the policy as to how viability appraisals should be conducted for the purposes in relation to the determination of planning applications. Subject to those points, if you don’t understand what is being said, you need to probe. A good viability appraisal does make sense and does tie in with policy and indeed common sense. And the process of arriving at an agreed viability appraisal should not be a behind the scenes negotiation. Memories of the R (Rainbird) v London Borough of Tower Hamlets (Deputy Judge John Howell QC, 28 March 2018) line of cases on daylight and sunlight – if the specialist input is not clear, and carried out in accordance with the relevant technical guidance such that the decision maker is not significantly misled, or if the detail that is needed for anyone to make sense of the position is held back, there is a plain risk of the resultant planning permission being struck down.
The approach to be taken to viability, both in terms of methodology and openness, has changed as a result of Government policy, and that is recognised by the courts.
Recognise that the value of having decisions taken at planning committee by elected councillors rests both in their being properly briefed by officers and also in their role as democratic representatives, not shielded from appropriate lobbying as if they were some jury.
However upsetting it may be for those whose decisions are overturned (and I recognise that there can be unwelcome consequences), without judicial review decision makers would pretty much be free to operate with impunity, to hell with the evidence (see also Westferry Printworks). That would be a farce.
Of course, after the regulations were brought into force, there was then a pause caused by the 6 May 2010 general election. Would the incoming coalition government scrap, or at least amend and rebadge, the system? In the end the system survived and, according to wikipedia at least, the London Borough of Redbridge was the first to adopt a CIL charging schedule, on 1 January 2012.
So CIL didn’t live through the global financial crisis, or previous recessions, as we have done. I have written before about the inherent inflexibility of the mechanism but, as Miles acknowledges in his piece, the current economic conditions are going to prove the big test for the levy.
He says “CIL’s inflexibility could prove its downfall if the forthcoming downturn is anything other than a short sharp shock. COVID-19 has created the biggest test which CIL has yet faced. If the downturn is lengthy, local authorities may need to hurriedly cut CIL rates to help return development to viability. Or, press the pause button on introducing CIL altogether.”
This may all be so, but there are also other, more nuanced steps which charging authorities could also be taking, with the encouragement of MHCLG, one would hope. For instance:
⁃ The switching on, within charging authorities, of the ability to apply for exceptional circumstances relief – and if there isn’t sufficient movement on this I would argue for its automatic national application by way of a change to the regulations. Whilst ECR is a cumbersome process, and there are state aid considerations to be borne in mind, if these aren’t “exceptional circumstances” what are? And I suspect that the application of ECR will be more palatable than the reintroduction of section 106BA, which enabled developers to reduce or remove section 106 affordable housing obligations on the grounds of viability.
⁃ The introduction of instalment schemes for payment (currently discretionary) and the review of existing instalment schemes to push back timescales.
“Where development has already commenced, CIL demand notices will shortly be re-issued to allow for a 3 month extension to the next instalment due date and to subsequent outstanding instalments. This position will be reviewed towards the end of June and any further extension to instalment payment periods will be communicated. It will take time for notices to be prepared and issued, but this work will be prioritised.
An individual, case by case review of late payment interest and surcharges will be made and a pragmatic approach adopted to support customers in these circumstances.
CIL debt recovery will largely be paused for 3 months and will be reviewed towards the end of June 2020 with a view to extending this position if required.”
Are there any examples of other charging authorities taking an equivalent stance? Clearly there are risks in such an approach and I would be cautious as to the extent that, for example, a funder with millions of pounds at stake, could rely on such a commitment. It is unfortunate that the Regulations are so inflexible as to lead to such sticking-plaster solutions.
Stepping back, unless authorities are now going to move very quickly to propose reduced charging rates and take positive steps in relation to instalment policies and ECR, wouldn’t a solution in current circumstances be for the Government to legislate so as to allow authorities, both in relation to existing permissions and permissions which have not yet been issued, either to (1) defer payment of CIL for a defined period or (2) allow an emergency discount of say 50% to be applied, conditional upon development being commenced within a defined period of time and then completed within a defined period (the period to be agreed with the authority having regard to its projected build programme and if the deadline is missed there would be clawback)? To reduce the extent that the authority is as a consequence unable to deliver essential infrastructure, the Government would need to make additional funding available, because after all the economic and social benefits of ensuring that development gets started again will be immense.
I don’t have the answers – I would welcome your much better ones (except “abolish CIL” – let’s be practical). However, I do know that (1) CIL is a massive, inflexible, cash drain for any development early in its implementation and (2) some additional flexibility would surely reduce the risk that many development projects will remain on hold even once normal life starts to return around us all.
Exactly a week after the Westferry Printworks decision letter (see my previous blog post) on 22 January 2020 the Secretary of State allowed two further appeals in relation to significant London residential development projects, this time both decisions following his inspectors’ recommendations, and with costs awards in favour of the appellants, again as recommended by his inspectors.
Given that an award of costs can basically only be made on the basis of unreasonable behaviour by a party to the appeal (see the detailed advice in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance), lessons plainly need to be learned – in fact what happened in both cases was pretty shocking.
North London Business Park site, Barnet
This was an appeal by Comer Homes Group against Barnet Council’s refusal of a hybrid application for planning permission for the phased comprehensive redevelopment of the North London Business Park to deliver a residential led mixed-use development:
• detailed element comprising 376 residential units in five blocks reaching eight storeys, the provision of a 5 Form Entry Secondary School, a gymnasium, a multi- use sports pitch and associated changing facilities, and improvements to open space and transport infrastructure, including improvements to the access from Brunswick Park Road, and
• outline element comprising up to 824 additional residential units in buildings ranging from two to eleven storeys, up to 5,177m2 of non-residential floorspace (Use Classes A1-A4, B1 and D1) and 2.9 hectares of public open space, associated site preparation/enabling works, transport infrastructure and junction works, landscaping and car parking.
Members had refused the application against officers’s recommendations.
The council’s failing is set out starkly in the inspector’s costs report: no proper evidence was adduced to support its decision:
“Mr Griffiths, Principal Planning Officer at the Council of the London Borough of Barnet, was the Council’s only witness at the Inquiry. He stated, in his proof of evidence, that “It is not the intention for this document to represent my professional opinion and the evidence presented represents the views of elected members of the London Borough of Barnet Planning Committee”.
The proof of evidence focusses on a particular view contained within a TVIA submitted by the Applicant and states that “Within View 11, the 8-storey height of Blocks 1E and 1F stands in harmful juxtaposition with the two-storey height of the properties on Howard Close”. But the proof acknowledges “…that buildings of up to 7 storeys in height could be acceptable in this location therefore it is pertinent to outline the additional harm that would arise from the 8 and 9 storey buildings proposed within the development and why these heights are unacceptable”.
The written evidence fails to substantiate why the extra storey on Blocks 1E and 1F would cause harm and fails to consider the effect of buildings over seven storeys in height elsewhere in the development. The proof simply repeats the assertion made in the sole reason for refusal of the application that “The proposed development, by virtue of its excessive height, scale and massing would represent an over development of the site resulting in a discordant and visually obtrusive form of development that would fail to respect its local context…to such an extent that it would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the area”.
Under cross examination Mr Griffiths refused to answer some questions put to him and to give his professional view on the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area. The Appellant was not thus afforded the opportunity, at the Inquiry, to explore the unsubstantiated assertions made in the proof of evidence and did not learn anything more about members concerns. Crucially, no member of the Planning Committee appeared at the Inquiry to substantiate their views that was unsubstantiated in the proof of evidence.
The Council has failed to produce either written or verbal evidence to substantiate the reason for refusal of the application, and has provided only vague and generalised assertions, unsupported by an objective analysis, about the proposed development’s impact. The Council has behaved unreasonably and the Appellant has incurred unnecessary expense in the appeal process. A full of award of costs against the Council is justified.”
It was hardly surprising that the Secretary of State decided to allow the appeal:
“32. The development plan restricts tall buildings to identified locations, and the proposal would include them on a site not identified as suitable for them. This conflict carries significant weight against the proposal.
33. The proposal has been designed to respect the existing character of the local area, while maximising the potential for delivering homes. It would deliver a replacement secondary school alongside new open space, sports facilities and community space. The local authority is unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land without taking account of this site, and the proposal would provide 1350 new homes. The provision of the housing and the ancillary facilities both carry significant weight in favour of the proposal.
34. The Secretary of State considers that there are material considerations which indicate that the proposal should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan, and therefore concludes that the appeal should be allowed and planning permission granted.”
The inquiry sat for four days in October and November 2018 (why the inordinate delay since then?), with the appellant team comprising Christopher Katkowski QC and Robert Walton (now QC), calling four expert witnesses. The costs award will amount to a sum that would be ruinous for many private sector bodies, well into six figures – because council members took a decision without evidence and without considering whether proper evidence, or a different approach, might be required in the face of an appeal. And a scheme for well over a thousand homes and a school (first applied for in December 2015!) has been delayed for absolutely no reason.
Conington Road, Lewisham
This was an appeal by MB Lewisham Limited against Lewisham Council’s decision to refuse its application for planning permission for the construction of three buildings, measuring 8, 14 and 34 storeys in height, to provide 365 residential dwellings (use class C3) and 554 square metres (sqm) gross of commercial/ community/ office/ leisure space (Use Class A1/A2/A3/B1/D1/D2) with associated access, servicing, energy centre, car and cycle parking, landscaping and public realm works.
The procedural position here was a little more complicated. After Lewisham had refused this application, the applicant had submitted a further application for planning permission which sought to address the reasons for refusal. The scheme would secure 20.19% affordable housing by habitable room, which the council accepted, on the basis of viability appraisal, was more than the maximum reasonable provision. The Council resolved to approve the application but the Mayor directed refusal, not satisfied that the viability work justified that level of affordable housing.
By that time the first application had been refused and the appellant revised the scheme to reflect the changes introduced into the second application. Accordingly, whilst the appeal was technically against Lewisham’s initial decision on the first application, in reality the only live issues were those raised by the Mayor on affordable housing and viability, including whether a late stage review mechanism was necessary in line with its policy requirement.
I suspect that you needed to be at the inquiry to appreciate the full horror as events unfolded (I wasn’t) but it appears that the viability case against the appellant’s position completely collapsed at the inquiry following exchange of evidence and cross-examination by Russell Harris QC. But that wasn’t the only problem. Presumably to save costs, the council and the Mayor both engaged the same advocate at the inquiry and, once it understood the real position on viability, the council wished to concede various issues but the Mayor was not willing so to do, meaning that the advocate immediately had a conflict of interest and, mid-inquiry, had to recuse herself from acting for the Mayor! The Mayor’s team continued to participate in the inquiry but without challenging the evidence provided by the appellant.
This is from the inspector’s report on the appellant’s costs application:
“On day 2 of the Inquiry, following cross-examination of the Council’s construction costs witness Mr Powling, the advocate representing the Council and the Greater London Authority (GLA) advised that due to a conflict of interest, the GLA would no longer be represented. The GLA however wished to continue with their objections as an unrepresented principal party. Later in the afternoon, following cross-examination by the appellant of Ms Seymour for the GLA, the Council formally withdrew its objections to the proposal on viability grounds. The Council took no further part in the Inquiry.”
“Where the operation of a direction to refuse is issued, the GLA is to be treated as a principal party. Without the GLA direction, the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL) would have granted a planning permission for a now identical scheme. This appeal only arises thus as a result of the change of the resolution to grant to reflect the terms of the GLA’s direction.
6. In its letter to the Inspectorate indicating its intention to attend, the GLA made it clear that was prosecuting its direction in terms and was expecting LBL to do the same. Therefore for all practical legal and policy purposes, the GLA must be treated as a main party prosecuting the terms of its direction at this appeal. Without that direction LBL would not have opposed this scheme and this inquiry would not have been necessary.
7. Their conduct therefore falls to be considered in accordance with the provisions for principal parties.
8. Its conduct was unreasonable in substantive terms in relation to its directed main reason for refusal. Its conduct during the inquiry was also unreasonable. Both levels of unreasonableness resulted in the inquiry and the appellant having to incur significant unnecessary expense in relation to the affordable housing issue.
9. In substantive terms, the GLA produced no evidence which met or came close to the requirements of the PPG on the issue of construction costs to support its reason for refusal.
10. Its ‘evidence” failed to meet the threshold properly to be called “evidence” It failed to engage with the agreed evidence of others that the construction costs were fair and reasonable and during the proceedings failed to read understand or engage with evidence which clearly established that its evidence was incorrect and unreasonable.
11. In terms of the double count issue, the GLA persisted with its case irrespective of evidence suggesting that it was wrong and in an unreasonable fashion after the only other relevant party advised by Leading Counsel had accepted that the point was simply not properly arguable. It chose not to read and understand the clear evidence, notwithstanding it had insisted on the reason for refusal and that it be a party at the inquiry.”
“The Greater London Authority shall pay to MB Homes Lewisham Ltd its partial costs of the inquiry proceedings, limited solely to the unnecessary or wasted expense incurred in respect of the costs of the appeal proceedings related to dealing with the issue of affordable housing after the Council decided not to represent the Greater London Authority, such costs to be taxed in default of agreement as to the amount thereof.”
The Secretary’s conclusions on viability were as follows:
“17. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the essential differences on viability between the parties lies in a variation of around £11m in construction costs (including fees and profit); and private residential values (IR127).
18. The Secretary of State notes that CDM (for the GLA) consider build costs to be overstated (IR129). However, the Secretary of State also notes that independent costs estimates produced by 3 firms of costs consultants were within 2 percentage points of each other. He agrees with the Inspector that no evidence has been produced in any later analyses to show that those build costs, or any element of them considered for viability purposes, are unreasonable (IR128-131).
19. The Secretary of State notes that the level of fees remained a point of difference at the beginning of the Inquiry. The Secretary of State also notes that while detailed analysis of this issue did identify an overstatement of fees of less than £1m, this is far below the overstatement claimed by the Council and GLA. He further notes that, at the Inquiry no evidence was forthcoming from the GLA’s costs witness, CDM, to support their contention that preliminaries are set too high or that the level of professional fees of around 10% would be excessive for a project of this nature. In addition, the Council’s costs witness accepted that if a reasonable preliminaries figure of 17% or so was adopted then the whole argument in support of the £5.5m fees deduction from the overall level of costs fell away (IR132-133).
20. For the reasons given in IR134-135, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the proposed profit levels are reasonable for this scheme.
21. For the reasons given in IR136 the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that no evidence was offered by the Council or the GLA to counter the appellant’s build costs analysis or the level of fees or profit.
Private residential values
22. The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s analysis in IR137-146 and agrees that the GLA’s suggested values would be unlikely to be achievable in the market (IR144).
23. The Secretary of State also notes that the GLA accepted at the Inquiry that if the £11m alleged surplus on fees and construction costs did not exist, then the claimed remaining £900,000 (IR132) would not have led to a direction to refuse from the Mayor’s office (IR146). For the reasons in IR147, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the 20.2% affordable housing proposed by the appellant is the maximum, if not somewhat more, than what can be reasonably provided, and he accordingly attaches very considerable weight to this benefit of the proposal. He finds no conflict with the requirements of LonP policy 3.12; the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG, Lewisham CS policy 1 and DMLP policy DM7.
Late stage review
24. For the reasons given in IR148-149, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is no pressing case for a late stage review for a scheme such as this, where development is proposed to be completed in a single phase. He finds no conflict with the requirements of LP policy 3.12, the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG, Lewisham CS policy 1 and DMLP policy DM7.”
“In favour, the Secretary of State affords very considerable weight to the provision of market and affordable housing. He also affords moderate weight to the positive contribution to the character and appearance of the emerging Lewisham Town centre.”
And no late stage review!
In amongst the horror show for both the council and the Mayor seems to have been some simple lack of communication as between their witnesses. Quoting from the inspector’s summary of Lewisham’s case:
“When the appellant’s viability proof was received and reviewed it did not appear that the short reference in paragraph 7.2 to the Gardiner & Theobald review report raised any pertinent issue. This was particularly so as the proof suggested that the appellant’s basis for assessment of costs was unaltered.
As a consequence the Council’s viability witness did not send its costs witness the appellant’s viability proof (which dealt with numerous other issues not relevant to costs estimates). On review at the Inquiry, the Council’s build cost estimate was revised from £107,179,737 to £111,809,368 representing a difference of £4,629,631. The consequence of this was that it changed appraisal A – 2018 Residential Pricing to negative £1,155,982 and Appraisal B – 2017 residential pricing (less HPI) reduced to £ 3,111,251. This still represents a £20m disparity approximately with the appellant’s viability conclusions. It nonetheless reduced the margin of surplus on the Council’s assessment to fall within an acceptable margin of error“.
Where would we be without the ability properly to test evidence at inquiry?
Simon Ricketts, 25 January 2020
Personal views, et cetera
PS not to be too London-centric, I should add that on the same day the Secretary of State also allowed an appeal for 850 homes near Tewkesbury.
Tower Hamlets Council’s revised CIL charging schedule came into effect on 17 January 2020, imposing borough CIL for the first time on its large allocated sites, so you will appreciate its double disappointment at the Secretary of State allowing the Westferry Printworks site appeal, against the inquiry inspector’s recommendations, in a decision letter dated 14 January 2020. The CIL figure could have been up to £50m, according to evidence given at the inquiry on behalf of the appellant.
The scheme is for a “comprehensive mixed-use redevelopment comprising 1,524 residential units (Class C3), shops, offices, flexible workspaces, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, drinking establishments (Classes B1/A1/A2/A3/A4), community uses (Class D1), car and cycle basement parking, associated landscaping, new public realm and all other necessary enabling works” at Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs.
There has been a furious response from the council. At a full council meeting the following day, 15 January 2020, a resolution was passed to examine “all available options, including a judicial review“. The East London Advertiser reports Mayor John Biggs as saying:
“It is a massively tall and dense development. Something of 40 floors on the island is an outrage. By making the decision on Tuesday we also lose a massive sum of money. This development will place a huge impact on the island. It is a scandal and outrageous. We will be doing everything in our power [including] seeking a judicial review.”
The potential impact of borough CIL on the viability of the proposals obviously had been raised by the appellant as a potentially relevant matter, given that it would go to viability. Unsurprisingly, the appellant had sought to include a mechanism within its section 106 agreement for a potential reduction in affordable housing should the Secretary of State’s decision letter be issued after the revised CIL charging schedule had been adopted, a proposal which both the inspector and Secretary of State rejected.
The timing of the decision letter meant that this issue went away – it would have been an interesting one to test, given that the situation often arises where an applicant or appellant is in the hands of the decision maker as to whether permission will be issued before a revised CIL charging schedule comes into effect and why shouldn’t a section 106 agreement mechanism to neutralise the effect be appropriate where the viability appraisal has not taken the potential additional CIL liability into account?
The decision letter was plainly ready to be issued, why should it have been held back?
The appeal had been lodged in relation to an application submitted by Westferry Developments Limited (the owner of the site is Northern & Shell, the development manager is Mace) on 24 July 2018. The appeal was recovered for the Secretary of State’s own determination on 10 April 2019. Tower Hamlets asked for more time to formulate their position in relation to the proposals but this was refused by the Secretary of State, as recorded in a report to a meeting of Tower Hamlets’ strategic development committee on 14 May 2019:
“This report is seeking the authority of the committee for officers to defend an appeal which has been submitted to the Secretary of State by the developer. The Secretary of State has imposed a timetable which requires that this report is considered by the Committee on 14th May 2019 in time for the council to submit a Statement of Case by 22nd May 2019 in order to avoid breaching the imposed timetable and making the authority liable for costs for unreasonable behaviour. As the report had not been written when the timetable was imposed, the Council asked Secretary of State to review the timetable and he has declined. These are the special circumstances justifying the urgency.”
The previous Mayor of London (whatever happened to him?) had intervened and granted planning permission for an earlier scheme for the site in 2016 for “comprehensive mixed use redevelopment of 118,738 m2 including buildings ranging from 2-30 storeys (tallest 110 m AOD) comprising: a secondary school, 722 residential units, retail use, restaurant and cafe and drinking establishment uses, office and financial and professional services uses, community uses, car and cycle basement parking, associated landscaping and new public realm“. That planning permission has been implemented by the demolition of the printworks and works to construct a new basement.
The latest application had been on the basis of an offer of 35% affordable housing, although not policy compliant due to the proposed tenure mix, justified by reference to viability appraisal. When the appeal was submitted, unsurprisingly, given that on appeal the decision maker would expect an updated viability appraisal, that offer was withdrawn and at the time of the 14 May 2019 committee meeting there was just an indication that a revised viability assessment would be submitted and that the revised offer would be less than 35%.
The committee resolved that the proposals would have been refused on the following grounds:
⁃ Townscape and visual impact
⁃ Wind Impact on the Docklands Sailing Centre
⁃ Affordable housing – amount
⁃ Housing mix and choice
The inquiry started on 7 August 2019. This was an important appeal for the council, as can be seen from this July 2019 Facebook post from a councillor, encouraging opposition to the proposals:
In the evidence for the inquiry, the affordable housing offer had been reduced to 21% on the basis of an updated viability assessment.
In this summary that follows I am plagiarising some of an internal note prepared by my Town partner Louise Samuel (into which I may now introduce errors, all mine):
• The inspector accepted that the existing permission should be treated as a fallback, which formed an appropriate basis for assessing an alternative use value for the purposes of arriving at a benchmark land value.
• However, the inspector did not agree with how the appellant had calculated the benchmark land value (see IR 507 on for BLV discussion) and considered that the 21% offer was unlikely to be the maximum reasonable provision for the site. He did not, however, set what the maximum reasonable provision would be.
• Whilst Tower Hamlets criticised the appellant for resiling from its previous 35% offer, the Inspector notes that it was clear that the appellant was responding to the Mayor’s fast-track approach (which requires at least 35%) and so took a commercial view despite the fact that it was not supported by the viability assessment at the time. He concluded that this was not, in itself, a reason to reduce the weight to be attached to the Assessment before him (see para 530 of the IR).
• The Inspector’s view was that the consented scheme provided many of the same benefits but without causing the same harm to heritage assets. Because of the consented fallback, the only benefits that carried weight were those in addition to the consented position.
• The Secretary of State agreed that it is likely that the scheme could provide more affordable housing (“21% does not…represent the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing”) but still considered that the additional benefits (compared to the consented fallback scheme) of: (a) housing (802 more units of which 142 would be affordable, with a policy compliant tenure split of 70% affordable rent 30% intermediate); and (b) employment during construction, were enough to grant permission. The Secretary of State gave these benefits significant weight whereas the Inspector had attached moderate weight to these benefits. The Secretary of State took into account that “there is no evidence before him of any other scheme which might come forward or what level of affordable housing might be delivered by any such scheme”.
• The Secretary of State considered these benefits to be enough to outweigh harm to important heritage assets (Grade I Old Royal Naval College; Grade I Tower Bridge; and the Greenwich World Heritage Site).
• The section 106 agreement included both an early and late stage viability review, which means that the percentage of affordable housing may increase, albeit the Inspector criticised the limited effectiveness of these.
An interesting decision in that we would need to go back almost two years to find another recovered appeal for housing development which the Secretary of State has allowed in London. Contrast for instance with the 19 July 2019 Chiswick Curve decision letter, appeal dismissed by the Secretary of State against his inspector’s recommendations, where he gave only moderate weight to the provision of 327 dwellings, whereas the Inspector had given significant weight to the housing offer (the decision has been challenged by the appellant – Louise and colleagues acting), and contrast with for instance the 1 Cambridge Heath Road 10 June 2019 decision letter, again an appeal dismissed against his inspector’s recommendations.
Much to chew over for those promoting, or otherwise engaged with, major projects in London.
I thought I would start 2020 by trying to establish some common ground, before then mentioning what happened shortly before Christmas in relation to the Elephant & Castle and Old Oak projects, both controversial in different ways. The questions are long but I hope that the answers are short.
Do we all agree that…
1. more housing is needed for those who cannot afford homes that are being built by the private sector in their local area, even when these are required to be sold or let at significant discounts to market rates – and that what we call that housing (eg social housing/socially rented) and the nature of the body that delivers and manages it (housing associations or other registered providers, local authorities) are secondary issues?
2. the current system of seeking to require developers to deliver that housing (whoever then manages it) is not working and is hugely inefficient, in that: (1) local policy expectations set out in local plans are often not met, due to those expectations being determined not to be viable – leading to prolonged negotiations and local objection (2) the complexities and multitude of inputs to any negotiated section 106 affordable housing package, often including intricate mechanisms to provide for later reviews of the viability position, are at best a costly distraction for all parties (needing to be tooled up with valuation and QS professionals) and at worst are prone to lead to huge delays and, over time, the prospect of renegotiation where the negotiated outcome is not sufficiently attractive to funders, or where (almost inevitably) circumstances have changed during the long course of the process?
3. it is in the public interest for communities within developments to be socially and economically diverse?
4. the system worked more easily when much more Government money was available to support affordable housing by way of grant (without grant obviously a requirement to deliver social housing has a huge impact on the viability of a scheme) and that we need to get back to a system that (1) is simple (2) delivers housing that is truly affordable for those who need it (3) is efficient and (4) does not delay development more generally?
5. government (ie our) money needs to be spent where it can have most beneficial impact and is most needed?
There has been a lot of government tinkering but don’t we have to get back to those fundamentals? I’m not sure that the Government’s promised Social Housing White Paper is going to get us there, given the absence of relevant detail about affordable housing in the Conservatives’ manifesto – talk about owning first homes is a world away from the very different challenges faced by so many.
I’m sorry to be a cracked record – see my 28 May 2017 blog post Affordable Housing Tax or 4 November 2017 blog post Viability Assessment Is Not A Loophole, It’s A Noose. We could look at the idea of expanding CIL to include a social housing contribution, so that local authorities can deliver or procure it, with the option of provision on site counting as works in kind? But I’ve previously been against further rolling out another complex and inefficient regime, ie CIL, and most authorities, hollowed out and stretched as they are, are not currently in any position to deliver or procure social housing at scale. Instead, personally I would simply prefer that we go back to the old way – grants to providers so as to reduce the impact on viability for the developer of providing social housing.
In the meantime, we have to make the current system work. My 8 June 2019 blog post The Bottom Line: Updates On CIL And Viability reported on the RICS professional statement on financial viability in planning, which came into effect on 1 September 2019, and mentioned the revisions made to viability passages of the PPG by the Government on 9 May 2019, reflecting changes to the NPPF that seek to ensure, amongst other things, that detailed viability examination takes place at plan-making stage rather than when applications come forward.
“We are not seeking comments contrasting the government framework with a market-based appraisal. Comments should focus on whether our draft guidance gives effect to government policy and practice guidance, in an administratively efficient way, in order to deliver the objectives of the NPPF.”
Make your views known.
In the meantime…
Elephant & Castle
Delancey’s proposed redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre and London College of Communication has long been controversial. It proposes a large mixed-use development comprising a range of buildings of up to 35 storeys, with a mix of uses including 979 dwellings (proposed to be for rent rather than sale) and accommodation for retail, office, education, assembly and leisure along with a remodelling of the London Underground station. One of the lines of attack for objectors, including the 35% Campaign, has been the perceived lack of “genuinely affordable” housing.
Planning permission was granted by the London Borough of Southwark on 10 January 2019. Just before Christmas, in Flynn v London Borough of Southwark (Dove J, 20 December 2019), the High Court rejected a crowdfunded challenge to the permission brought on behalf of the 35% Campaign. The grounds of challenge all turned on the affordable housing deal that Southwark struck in the section 106 agreement with the developer.
The case doesn’t turn on any particularly interesting legal principles or make any new law. But the facts, set out in careful detail by Dove J, illustrate precisely the concerns that lay behind my attempt just now to establish some common ground:
The policy background is not straightforward, with a changing position both at borough level and at London Plan level.
The Mayor has set out criteria in his 2017 affordable housing and viability SPG for different tenures of affordable housing, including social rent (target rents determined through the national rent regime), affordable rent (rent controls requiring a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent), intermediate (available for rent or sale at a cost above social rent but below market levels – and eligible only to households whose annual income is within a defined range) and intermediate London Living Rent (only available to households renting with a maximum income of £60,000 without sufficient current savings to purchase a home within the local area).
The adopted London Plan requires boroughs to seek the “maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing…when negotiating on individual private residential and mixed use schemes, having regard to” a number of factors, including “development viability” and the “availability of public subsidy”.
Within the Elephant & Castle area, Southwark’s adopted plan seeks a minimum requirement of 35%, on the basis of a split of 50% social rented and 50% intermediate housing. Its emerging plan seeks, in relation to build to rent developments, a different tenure split for the 35%: social rent equivalent (ie social rent level but not managed by registered provider) 34% minimum, affordable rent (aka discount market rent) capped at London Living Rent equivalent 52% minimum, affordable rent (aka discount market rent) for household incomes between £60,000 and £90,000 per year 14% minimum. The lack of social rent reflects the specific nature of build to rent developments, where it is more efficient for all of the housing to remain under single management rather than for a separate registered provider to be introduced.
At the time Delancey’s application first went to committee on 16 January 2018, its proposal was 36% affordable housing based upon habitable rooms, with the 36% made up as follows: 10% social rent equivalent, 46% London Living Rent, 43% discount market rent. The non policy compliant offer (in terms of tenure split) was based on an agreed viability assessment. Despite a recommendation for approval, members deferred a decision until a meeting scheduled for 30 January 2018 at which they intended to formulate reasons for refusal. The day before the follow-up meeting the developer made further proposals in relation to the affordable housing offer and the application was deferred to a subsequent meeting.
The revised proposal was to replace 33 social rent equivalent units with 74 socially rented units, all to be located on the western part of the development and to be owned and operated either by the borough or by a registered provider. This changed the tenure split (of the 35% affordable housing dwellings) to: social rent 24.9%, London Living Rent 27.9%, discount market rent 47.2%.
In June 2018 the offer was increased again. The developer’s consultants indicated that following “in-principle agreement from the GLA to provide grant funding towards the proposed scheme” the number of social rent units could be increased to 116 homes, or 38.1% of the 35% of the units that were to be affordable.
The application was approved at a committee meeting on 3 July 2018. It was acknowledged in the report that the proposed tenure split was still not policy compliant but was justified by way of the agreed viability appraisal. The report also noted that there would need to be a fallback arrangement in the section 106 agreement to cater for the possibility that the developer might choose after all to develop the western part of the development on a for sale rather than for rent basis (in which case the affordable housing requirement for that part of the site would return to 50% social rented, 50% intermediate).
If all of this does not start to give an idea of the inevitable complexity of negotiations on a scheme such as this, then consider the viability appraisal. As is common with a significant longterm development, where application of the more straightforward benchmark land value plus developer’s profit approach does not reflect accurately the financial modelling of a project over time, viability was judged against a minimum internal rate of return for the developer.
The latest RICS draft guidance defines internal rate of return (or “IRR”) as follows:
“The rate of interest (expressed as a percentage) at which all future project cash flows (positive and negative) will be discounted in order that the net present value (NPV) of those cash flows, including the initial investment, be equal to zero. IRR can be assessed on both gross and net of finance.”
However, unless I have missed it, there is no guidance anywhere as to when an IRR approach is appropriate and how to arrive at and test the inputs and modelling.
The agreed benchmark was 7.15% IRR, with annual growth to 11% over the construction period. Review mechanisms in the section 106 agreement provide that 50% of any excess are to be applied to increasing the affordable housing provision up to a policy compliant level/tenure split.
The claimant had three grounds of challenge. The first turned on an alleged inaccuracy in the way that the GLA’s offer of funding had been reported – it had not been formally confirmed and discussions were at an “in principle stage”. The second alleged that one of the detailed mechanisms in the section 106 agreement departed from the relevant head of term in the committee resolution. The third related to the mechanism in the section 106 agreement for determining the affordable housing to be provided if the western part of the site turned into a “for sale” development, but a deed of variation had been entered into after the challenge was brought, largely correcting the error that had been identified.
Dove J rejected each of the grounds, whilst accepting that each was arguable. (1) The report did not materially mislead members. (2) The section 106 mechanism was not outside the scope of the committee resolution (“True it is that the solutions arrived at are not a literal interpretation of paragraph 364 [of the report to committee], in that they do not include for the provision of land and a substantial cash dowry to construct the social rented units but, in my judgment, that was not required in order to remain within the scope of the delegation granted by the members”). (3) The approach to the fallback (“for sale”) scenario was “entirely rational and appropriate”. Part of the claimant’s criticism of the arrangements turned on whether the additional affordable housing in these circumstances should be social rented units rather than the social rented equivalent units provided for. The judge saw nothing relevant in the distinction:
“In terms of the matters raised by the Claimant the quality of tenure enjoyed by tenants in social rented equivalent properties are, as the nomenclature suggests, equivalent to those in social rented properties. Of course, there may well be nuanced differences between them as a consequence of them being separately defined. Furthermore, they will be managed in different ways as the definition implies. Be all of this as it may, in my view the important point is that the requirement of the officers’ report was a review in terms of affordable housing, and whether the additional habitable rooms were to be provided as social rented or social rented equivalent accommodation was not identified as being in any way a critical point upon which the delegation to the officers of authority to enter into the section 106 obligation turned. Put another way, whatever may be the nuanced differences between social rented equivalent property and social rented units that was not identified as a key requirement in relation to the review mechanism contemplated were the developer to take up the fall-back scenario.”
Will the new guidance make any of this more straight forward? I doubt it. Would proper funding for social rent and social rent equivalent housing? Of course it would.
Old Oak and Park Royal Local Plan
The recent NPPF and PPG changes of course seek to move the viability spotlight to the point at which sites are allocated for development. The Old Oak plan was examined last year under the previous NPPF but viability matters were still centre stage and the inspector’s findings may be an indicator of the detailed scrutiny that is likely to be given to the viability in particular of strategic sites (taken together with proposed policy requirements in terms of infrastructure delivery and affordable housing).
One of the key issues for the inspector was whether the proposed allocation of the 54 acre Cargiant site for residential and associated development was viable. Cargiant had itself attempted development of its site in the past. It had concluded that it would be unviable to contemplate relocating or extinguishing its business and carrying out the development – and took the position that there was no reasonable prospect within the plan period of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (“OPDC”) being in a position to carry out such proposals, even by resorting to compulsory purchase and even with the benefit of £250m Housing and Infrastructure Fund monies which had been agreed in principle to be allocated by MHCLG.
My firm acted for Cargiant and so I will restrict myself to pointing out the level of detail to which the inspector went in his interim findings on viability of Cargiant site proposal (10 September 2019) before concluding that the allocation would be unviable and therefore unsound.
The day after the general election, on 13 December 2019, the OPDC announced that it would change its proposals, which will now leave Cargiant in place:
“The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) has today set out a revised approach to deliver tens of thousands of new homes and jobs through collaboration with major public sector landowners.
The regeneration of Old Oak, Park Royal and surrounding areas in west London, has the potential to deliver 25,500 new homes and 65,000 jobs over the next 30 years. OPDC has already approved plans for over 5,000 homes including 1,500 already completed or being built.
The shift in approach has been triggered by recent, rapid increases in industrial land values in west London which mean that it is currently not financially viable to deliver OPDC’s early regeneration plans at Old Oak North. This area, close to the planned new HS2 interchange station, includes the 54-acre site that is owned and operated by Cargiant, which had originally been earmarked for development.
Earlier this year, the Planning Inspector, in his interim report on the OPDC’s draft Local Plan, de-designated the Cargiant site from Strategic Industrial Land, but also concluded that Old Oak North had become commercially unviable for residential-led development at this time.”
Whilst this situation might be taken to be an example of how viability matters can indeed in practice be taken into account at the plan-making stage, I do have concerns:
⁃ There is now a bigger onus on authorities to carry out proper viability work, including work to a sensible level of detail on strategic sites (albeit often with assistance from those promoting those sites for development), and is it actually going to be done?
⁃ Where it is not done, delays will occur in the examination process. At Old Oak, the necessary work had not been done and there was a significant hiatus whilst it was commissioned.
⁃ Development proposals are often not sufficiently worked up, at the stage that the plan is being prepared, so as to enable a sensible viability appraisal to be undertaken. And will developers be prepared always to come clean at the allocation stage as to the challenges they are facing in making the numbers stack up?
⁃ Will there always be participants in the local plan examination process with the motivation and resources to put authorities to proof on the work that has been carried out? If Cargiant hadn’t taken its stance (entailing lawyers and a team of consultants to challenge much of the inputs) I suspect the allocation would have been confirmed without challenge – and then proved over time to be undevelopable.
“McVey said builders “spent a whopping £6bn towards local infrastructure in 2016/17” but councils had not been required to report on the total amount of funding they had received or how it was spent, “leaving residents in the dark”.
She went on: “The new rules … will allow residents to know how developers are contributing to the local community when they build new homes, whether that’s contributing to building a brand new school, roads, or a doctor’s surgery that the area needs.”
What has been nagging away at me in the tweet was the gif image: “Developers paid £6bn in contributions in 2016/2017…Community Infrastructure Levy”.
“There has been an increase in the aggregate value of planning obligations agreed and CIL levied since 2011/12, up 61% from £3.7bn to £6.0bn in 2016/17 (50% after adjusting for inflation).”
So the £6bn is the total of the value of section 106 planning obligations agreed (not paid) and “CIL levied”. This is the table in the research document:
⁃ “The estimated value of planning obligations agreed and CIL levied in 2016/17 was £6.0 billion. This central valuation is premised upon the assumptions identified in the appendix, corresponding to survey validity, respondent representation and the distribution of values.
⁃ When adjusted to reflect inflation the total value of developer obligations in real terms is almost identical to the peak recorded in 2007/08 (£6.0 billion), but significantly higher than in 2011/12 (£3.9 billion). These changes coincide with changes in the number of dwellings granted planning permission over time.
⁃ 68% of the value of agreed developer obligations was for the provision of affordable housing, at £4.0 billion. 50,000 affordable housing dwellings were agreed in planning obligations in 2016/17.
⁃ The value of CIL levied by LPAs was £771 million in 2016/17, with a further £174 million levied by the Mayor of London.
⁃ The geographic distribution of planning obligations and CIL is weighted heavily towards the south of England. The South East and London regions account for 58% of the total value.
⁃ Direct payment contributions continue to provide a large proportion of the total contribution value for non-affordable housing obligations”
But I am pretty sure there is a confusion over “CIL levied” too. The table shows that of the £6bn, £771m was LPA CIL and £174m was Mayoral CIL. As with the money attributed to planning obligations, I suspect that these CIL figures represent the amount of CIL that is calculated to be payable if development eventually proceeds pursuant to permissions issued in 2016/2017. After all we can cross-check the £174m against the MCIL monies actually collected by the Mayor from the boroughs in 2016/2017 which this GLA table shows to be only £137m.
There is something else important. Over two thirds of the “whopping £6bn towards local infrastructure” that developers allegedly spent in 2016/2017 was not even towards “local infrastructure” as defined by the Government – it was towards affordable housing!
So it’s not that developers are not committing huge sums towards local infrastructure, and even greater sums towards affordable housing.
And it’s not that CIL will not over time secure increasing contributions towards the provision of local infrastructure.
It’s the inaccuracies and exaggeration. £6bn was not received by local authorities in 2016/2017 to be spent on local infrastructure. Local authorities did not even accrue the right to that amount in the future. The reality is that planning permissions were issued which, could, in due course , deliver (subject to the application of CIL exemptions and reliefs in the case of the £945m CIL component) up to around £2bn.
The minister accuses authorities of “leaving residents in the dark” as to funding received and spent. Greater transparency from MHCLG on the numbers it uses would be equally helpful.
“The Government intends to lay the secondary legislation which will enable the delivery of starter homes later this year. Therefore, the Government also intends to introduce the regulations for the exemption of starter homes from the Levy later in the year.”
There has been some attempt at consolidation (although a single set of consolidating regulations really is overdue for those, particularly non-lawyers, without access to expensive online legal information subscription services):
“The Government recognises that unconsolidated regulations can be challenging to understand, and that this challenge can be particularly acute when calculating Levy liabilities. To increase usability the Government has consolidated all regulations relating to the calculation of Levy liabilities into a single schedule. The Government will consider fully consolidating the regulations when any further regulatory amendments are made.”
There will be some simplification in terms of access to information on indexation:
“The Regulations have instead been amended to improve the transparency around indexation, while retaining the existing approach by indexing the Levy to the Building Cost Information Service’s (BCIS) All-in Tender Prices Index. The Government has asked the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to produce a bespoke index for the Levy, based on BCIS. This will be produced annually and be made publicly available. The index will not change through the year, as BCIS forecasts can at present. The Government will review guidance to improve clarity, including making clear that from 1 January each year, the latest index figure produced by the Institution should apply. The Government also proposes to retain the proposal for charging authorities to produce annual rate summaries, which will further improve transparency, in particular for smaller developers. The changes to regulations will address several issues raised during consultation regarding how the existing approach to indexation is implemented.”
The RICS published its professional statement on Financial viability in planning: conduct and reporting on 28 May 2019, which comprises fourteen mandatory requirements which chartered surveyors must observe when carrying out financial viability assessments in a planning context. It is all strong stuff, not just vague exhortations of good practice. Breaches will be a disciplinary matter for the RICS member and his or her firm: “Sections within professional statements that use the word ‘must’ set mandatory professional, behavioural, competence and/or technical requirements, from which members must not depart.”
The RICS covering statement says this:
“Dissatisfaction has been expressed among some stakeholders in the sector about the standards to which viability assessments are being produced. The concerns extend from public representatives, the development sector, community groups and decision makers all of whom rely on viability assessments in a key public interest area. Questions about objectivity, conflicts of interest, transparency and contingency fees among others have been raised about those working for both the private and public sectors. While not all viability assessments are undertaken by chartered surveyors, in response RICS has strengthened our advice on these areas, the professional conduct of chartered surveyors and regulated firms undertaking viability assessments and the essential information which should be reported so that informed decisions may be taken transparently.
We have also produced this professional statement in recognition of the Mr Justice Holgate’s comments in the Parkhurst Road case requesting professionals to contribute to a more efficient public administration of planning. His further comments on the technical aspects of viability will be addressed in the review of our guidance note which will go to consultation over summer 2019.”
“The RICS member carrying out the FVA must be a suitably qualified practitioner.”
“The report must include a statement that, when carrying out FVAs and reviews, RICS members have acted:
• with objectivity
• without interference and
• with reference to all appropriate available sources of information.
This applies both to those acting on behalf of applicants as well as those acting on behalf of the decision-makers.”
⁃“Terms of engagement must be set out clearly and should be included in all reports. The RICS professional statement Conflicts of interest (1st edition, 2017) applies, but with the additional requirement that RICS members acting on behalf of all those involved must confirm that no conflict or risk of conflict of interest exists (see Conflicts of interest paragraph 1.1). The professional statement allows ‘informed consent’ management, which, subject to the circumstances, can be both pragmatic and appropriate. This should take the form of a declaration statement.”
⁃“A statement must be provided confirming that, in preparing a report, no performance- related or contingent fees have been agreed.”
⁃“Transparency and fairness are key to the effective operation of the planning process. The PPG (paragraph 021, reference ID 10-021-20190509) states that:
‘Any viability assessment should be prepared on the basis that it will be made publicly available other than in exceptional circumstances.’
Although certain information may need to remain confidential, FVAs should in general be based around market- rather than client-specific information.
Where information may compromise delivery of the proposed application scheme
or infringe other statutory and regulatory requirements, these exceptions must be discussed and agreed with the LPA and documented early in the process. Commercially sensitive information can be presented in aggregate form following these discussions. Any sensitive personal information should not be made public.”
“Before accepting instructions, if RICS members are advising either the applicant or the LPA on a planning application and have previously provided advice, or where they are providing ongoing advice in area-wide FVAs to help formulate policy, this must be declared.”
“All inputs into an appraisal must be reasonably justified. Where a reviewer disagrees with a submitted report and/or with elements in it, differences must be clearly set out with supporting and reasonable justi cation. Where inputs are agreed, this must also be clearly stated. Where possible, practitioners should always try to resolve differences of opinion.”
“In the interest of transparency, when providing benchmark land value in accordance with the PPG for an FVA, RICS members must report the:
•current use value – CUV, referred to as EUV or first component in the PPG (see paragraph 015 reference ID: 10-015-20190509). This equivalent use of terms – i.e. that CUV and EUV are often interchangeable – is dealt with in paragraph 150.1 of IVS 104 Bases of Value (2017)
•premium – second component as set out in the PPG (see paragraph 016 reference ID: 10-016-20190509)
•market evidence as adjusted in accordance with the PPG (see PPG paragraph 016 reference ID: 10-016-20190509)
•all supporting considerations, assumptions and justi cations adopted including valuation reports, where available (see PPG paragraphs 014 reference ID: 10-014-20190509; 015 reference ID: 10-015-20190509; and 016 reference ID: 10- 016-20190509)
•alternative use value as appropriate (market value on the special assumption of a specified alternative use; see PPG paragraph 017 reference ID: 10-017-20190509). It will not be appropriate to report an alternative use value where it does not exist.
A statement must be included in the FVA or review of the applicant’s FVA or area-wide FVA that explains how market evidence and other supporting information has been analysed and, as appropriate, adjusted to reflect existing or emerging planning policy and other relevant considerations.
“During the viability process there must be a clear distinction between preparing and reviewing a viability report and subsequent negotiations.”
“All FVAs and subsequent reviews must provide a sensitivity analysis of the results and an accompanying explanation and interpretation of respective calculations on viability, having regard to risks and an appropriate return(s).”
“At all stages of the viability process, RICS members must advocate reasonable, transparent and appropriate engagement between the parties, having regard to the circumstances of each case. This must be agreed and documented between the parties.”
“For applicants, subsequent reviews and plan-making, FVAs must be accompanied by non-technical summaries of the report so that non-specialists can better understand them. The summary must include key gures and issues that support the conclusions drawn from the assessment and also be consistent with the PPG”
“Reports on behalf of both applicants and the authority must be formally signed off and dated by the individuals who have carried out the exercises. Their respective qualifications should also be included.”
“All contributions to reports relating to assessments of viability, on behalf of both the applicants and authorities, must comply with these mandatory requirements. Determining the competency of subcontractors is the responsibility of the RICS member or RICS-regulated firm.”
“RICS members must ensure that they have allowed adequate time to produce (and review) FVAs proportionate to the scale of the project, area-wide assessment and specific instruction. They must set out clear timeframes for completing work. If the timeframes need to be extended, the reasons must be clearly stated, both at the time and in the subsequent report.”
Well done technical author, Gerald Eve’s Robert Fourt, and his working group:
Jeremy Edge FRICS (Edge Planning)
Nigel Jones FRICS (Chesters Commercial)
Jacob Kut MRICS (Avison Young)
Simon Radford FRICS, Chair (Lothbury Investment Management)
Charles Solomon MRICS (GLA)
Peter Wyatt MRICS (Reading University)
(Albeit a very male group).
It may be that the stable door has already bolted but I do hope that the professional red lines in the statement give some reassurance that viability figures are not cooked up behind closed doors without appropriate professional discipline being applied, and strengthen surveyors’ position in discussions with their clients, whether from the private or public sectors.
The professional statement is separate from RICS guidance as to how to carry out financial viability appraisals in accordance with government policy, which is now very out of date. The professional statement says this:
“Since the publication of the NPPF 2018 and PPG 2018 (as updated in 2019) RICS has also been reviewing its 2012 guidance note to align it with the changed emphasis in current government policy; a second edition is forthcoming.”
The Government’s PPG guidance on viability was tweaked again on 9 May 2019. Having been through it and flagged changes from the previous 24 July 2018 version, I can’t really improve upon this summary, from the day it was published, by Matthew Spilsbury (Turley).
VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton
I suspect that this is the first example of a London Mayor calling in an application for his own determination and refusing it. In the final month of his mayorality in April 2016, Boris Johnson had agreed to defer a decision in relation to Bishopsgate Goodsyard, faced with an officer’s recommendation to refuse the application (it ended up never being determined). But Sadiq Khan’s flip flopping over Leopard Guernsey Anchor Propco Limited’s application to the London Borough of Greenwich for planning permission to redevelop the VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton has been quite something else.
This is a scheme that started off as comprising 975 dwellings , together with non-residential floorspace, in buildings ranging from nine to 28 storeys. Following consultation responses and comments from the Mayor in his stage 1 referral report, the 28 storey tower was removed and the amount of housing reduced to 771.
Greenwich officers recommended approval but on 9 July 2018 committee members resolved to refuse it on five grounds, namely overdevelopment, insufficient proportion of family sized housing, lack of a safe access to the business premises next door (a building known as Imex House that houses Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook’s studio) and introduction of noise sensitive uses, failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision and daylight/sunlight deficiencies.
Having considered his officers’ stage 2 report dated 13 August 2018, the Mayor called in the application for his own determination. The report sets out the various improvements that would be sought to the proposals as part of the call in process.
Various amendments were negotiated and secured. Officers’ stage 3 report was published for the representation hearing held on 29 January 2019. The report recommended approval.
But then the bombshell at the end of the representation hearing. Despite having intervened to prevent Greenwich members refusing the application against their officers’ recommendations six months previously, and despite amendments to the scheme proposals having been negotiated to officers’ satisfaction, presumably in line with the Mayor’s instructions (if not, was he not paying attention or something?), the Mayor then announces that he is refusing the application. His reasons for refusal published a few days later on 4 February 2019 in part bear a marked resemblance to those of Greenwich’s planning committee: poor design; unsatisfactory relationship with Imex House and introduction of noise sensitive uses; failure to make appropriate replacement employment floorspace provision, and absence of a section 106 agreement to secure affordable housing and other obligations (I’m not sure whether this is a purely procedural reason for refusal or he was actually not satisfied with the affordable package negotiated by his officers: 35%, rising to 40% with grant).
I have no views on the scheme itself, and I accept that of course he must have an open mind during the representation hearing, but what a waste of six months! He says in the letter setting out his reasons for refusal that he “called in this application to subject it to further scrutiny” but that is a poor excuse. He was surely looking to use the particularly useful Mayoral call in power in order to squeeze some further enhancements from the scheme so that, when that had been done by his officers to his satisfaction, he could approve it. In turning it down, where does that leave his officers? And given that applicants are unable to engage with the man himself, can they now be sure that what they are being told by his team is necessary to secure approval will indeed be sufficient?
Bermondsey Biscuit Factory and Bermondsey Campus Site
The decision of the London Borough of Southwark at its planning committee meeting on 6 February 2019 to refuse planning permission for Grosvenor’s 1,342 dwelling build to rent scheme in Bermondsey is another one to be aware of. Members followed the recommendations in the officers’ report, the main reason being that Grosvenor’s affordable housing package was unacceptable, comprising, in summary, that 27.37% of the habitable rooms would be let at an average discount of 25% below market rents, with usual early and late stage viability review mechanisms. (The application indicated that “the depth of discount across the affordable units could vary, with greater discounts offered on some units, but this would require higher rents (up to 80% of market rents) on others to ensure that the overall level of discount does not exceed 25% overall. Grosvenor has described the sum equating to a 25% discount as the ‘subsidy pot’ and suggested whilst this could be distributed in a variety of ways, the impact of the DMR cannot exceed the financial value of that ‘subsidy pot’ “).
The Mayor of London had flagged in his stage 1 report: “Whilst the proposed increase in housing supply is strongly supported, in the absence of an independently verified viability position the proposed 27% provision of affordable housing is unacceptable. The applicant must deliver deeper DMR discounts, including London Living Rent”
Southwark took an equivalent position but the report to committee is interesting in the way that it (1) transparently sets out the differences between the viability work carried out by the parties’ respective viability consultants (GVA – in old money, now Avison Young – having advised the council after the publication of the Mayor’s stage 1 report) and (2) highlights the differences in build to rent (referred to as PRS, private rental sector, in the committee report) affordable housing policy approach in two dimensions: at GLA vs borough level, and as between adopted and emerging plans. Not an unfamiliar position for any developer but particularly difficult for those promoting build to rent (which is, after all, strongly supported in principle by MHCLG and the Mayor of London) as a relatively new product in terms of determining the appropriate approach to affordable housing.
As to the complexities arising from varying policy approaches to build to rent, a few extracts from the committee report:
⁃ “London Plan policies 3.11 and 3.12 and draft London Plan Policy H5 seek to maximise the delivery of affordable housing, with the draft London Plan seeking delivery against a strategic target of 50%. Policy H6 of the draft London Plan and the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG prescribe a threshold approach to affordable housing to incentivise swift delivery, and draft London Plan Policy H13 applies this principle to ‘build to rent’ products. In this case, a minimum of 35% affordable housing threshold applies.”
⁃ The Mayor’s affordable housing and viability SPG “recognises that Discount Market Rent is an appropriate tenure within PRS developments and considers that the rent level for DMR should be pegged at London Living Rent levels, for households with incomes up to £60,000. The guidance requires affordable housing to be secured in perpetuity, and in addition requires a clawback mechanism if the wider PRS homes are sold out of the Build to Rent sector within 15 years. The clawback is intended to respond to the different financial model applied to the PRS sector and to ensure the developer does not benefit financially if the homes are converted to market sale.”
⁃ The borough’s core strategy “requires that a minimum 35% affordable housing is provided on all residential developments of 10 or more units, with a tenure split in the Bermondsey area of 70:30 social rent: intermediate homes. Applications would be subject to viability assessments if policy compliance is not being offered, with the expectation that as much affordable housing will be provided as is financially viable. The Core Strategy makes no specific reference to PRS housing.”
⁃ The submission version of the New Southwark Plan “requires the affordable ‘DMR’ housing to be secured in perpetuity, and the overall housing development to be secured within the rental sector for at least 30 years” [contrast with the Mayor’s 15 year requirement] with a changed tenure split of 15% social rent and 20% DMR at London Living Rent [contrast to GLA position where it can all be London Living Rent DMR]
Clearly it is going to be key for the parties to resolve their difficulties over viability, whether that requires changes to the scheme or an appeal. This was a decision taken against up to date government guidance on the approach to viability appraisals, the work was relatively transparent and there was not a major difference of principle over benchmark land value. The reality is that the process is not straightforward; there are issues of judgment, particularly when dealing with a relatively untested business model and the need to estimate the rents that will be achievable in an area that will have been significantly changed by way of development. After that, the tenure split question is surely economically subsidiary, although clearly on-site social rented housing will come at greater cost to the scheme’s viability in a number of ways and so there are political choices to be made.
In the meantime, the examination continues into the draft London Plan. Hearing sessions are currently considering housing issues, with MHCLG participating. The Just Space website is a useful unofficial resource in relation to the examination, with links to each written statement for each session together with thumbnail-sketch type notes of the session itself.
Lastly, as a postscript to my 26 January 2019 blog post, it has now been reported that Croydon Council as well as possibly the Mayor are supporting Thornsett Group’s challenge of the Secretary of State’s Purley Baptist Church call-in decision.