Money Money Money: Accounting For CIL

This tweet from MHCLG has been nagging away at me for a few days:

The announcement of course was in relation to the 1 September 2019 commencement date in the Community Infrastructure Levy (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 and the Government’s updated planning practice guidance in relation to CIL , planning obligations and viability.

I covered the background to the changes in my 8 June 2019 blog post The Bottom Line: Updates On CIL And Viability.

There was quite a splash on 1 September, with a MHCLG press statement Communities to see how housing developers cash benefits them thanks to new planning rules (1 September 2019) and media briefings by planning minister Esther McVey, duly reported in the professional press eg Councils forced to spell out details of CIL deals (Housing Today, 2 September 2019):

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”.

Huge if true.

But it’s not.

I have tracked the £6bn figure back to a research report The Incidence, Value and Delivery of Planning Obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy in England in 2016-17 by Dr Alex Lord, Dr Richard Dunning and Dr Bertie Dockerill (University of Liverpool), Dr Gemma Burgess (University of Cambridge), Dr Adrian Carro (University of Oxford) Professor Tony Crook and Professor Craig Watkins (University of Sheffield) and Professor Christine Whitehead (London School of Economics) published by MHCLG in March 2018.

From the executive summary:

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.

Simon Ricketts, 7 September 2019

Personal views, et cetera

The Bottom Line: Updates On CIL And Viability

“Out of the blue and into the black

You pay for this, but they give you that

And once you’re gone, you can’t come back

When you’re out of the blue and into the black.”

(Neil Young)

Two double act dates for the diary:

12 July (Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Hyde Park)

1 September (CIL amendment regulations due to come into force, RICS professional statement on financial viability in planning takes effect).

I was going to force myself to write a dull, worthy and academic blog post on one of these, but I know what you want so 1 September it is.

CIL

The Community Infrastructure Levy (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 were finally laid before Parliament on 4 June 2019. They will be debated in the House of Commons and, assuming they receive an affirmative resolution, will come into force on 1 September 2019.

There was an accompanying press release, Communities to benefit from new housing infrastructure rules, and, more informatively, a more detailed document, Government response to reforming developer contributions.

Further regulations will follow:

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.”

There are also some other detailed fixes of previous glitches, but largely the Regulations are as foreshadowed in its Reforming developer contributions Technical consultation on draft regulations (December 2018) and before that in its document Government response to supporting housing delivery through developer contributions: A summary of consultation responses and the Government’s view on the way forward (October 2018) which was the subject of my 9 November 2018 blog post An Update On CIL: Reform Promised, Meanwhile Continuing & Increasingly Expensive Uncertainties.

It really is the Never Ending Tour.

Viability

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.”

I covered those comments from Holgate J in my 27 April 2018 blog post Pointers From Parkhurst.

These are the key requirements:

“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

• impartially

• 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).

Hey hey, my my.

Simon Ricketts, 8 June 2019

Personal views, et cetera

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

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

Two more decisions to note since that blog post:

VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Biscuit Factory and Bermondsey Campus Site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More widely

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

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

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

Still messy, isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts

Personal views, et cetera

Peek Frean biscuits, from Bermondsey.

The Secretary Of State & London

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

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

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

Purley Baptist Church site, Croydon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir William Sutton Estate, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcombe House, Notting Hill

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

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

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

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

Kensington Forum Hotel

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

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

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

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

Getting messy isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts, 26 January 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Purley scheme, image from inspector’s report

What If? The Trinity One Case

What if your development were subject to a section 106 agreement that provided for a commuted sum to be paid towards affordable housing, the precise amount payable to be calculated in accordance with a formula; at the date that the agreement was completed in 2003 the formula would have arrived at a commuted sum of between £500,000 and £700,000 but by the time that it was triggered the basis for calculating the formula had been abolished and so there was no way of arriving at an appropriate figure? Would you go to the High Court and Court of Appeal to seek to resist a claim from the local planning authority that was seeking a sum of £533,058 plus interest?

Well that was what the developer did in the Council of the City of York v Trinity One (Leeds) Limited (Court of Appeal, 21 February 2018). Not only that but they pursued a separate section 106BA and BC application and appeal, before the 30 April 2016 deadline for applications under that procedure, to seek to argue that in any event it should be released from the obligation in order to prevent its development from being economically unviable (a process where it is separately currently pursuing a second judicial review). I don’t know the facts beyond what is stated in the Court of Appeal’s judgment but I would suspect that this saga must pretty much have cost the parties in legal fees the sum being fought over and there remains the possibility of the local planning authority losing out on a substantial contribution towards affordable housing. Mediation anyone?

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing but the dispute has arisen from not enough “what if?” questions being asked when the agreement was negotiated in 2003.

The relevant clause in the agreement provided that the commuted sum “shall be calculated on the amount of Social Housing Grant necessary to secure affordable rented homes of an equivalent type and size on another site [in a similar residential area in the City of York] which grant for the avoidance of doubt shall be calculated at normal grant levels from regional TCI tables provided on an annual basis by the Housing Corporation or such equivalent grant calculation current at the time and supported by the Housing Corporation”.

Social Housing Grant was defined as “the grant that may be provided in respect of affordable housing in the Council’s administrative area in accordance with Government and Housing Corporation Guidance.”

Some of you may remember the Total Cost Indicator tables that were previously used by the (now defunct) Housing Corporation as a basis for calculating the level of (now defunct) Social Housing Grant.

The lawyers negotiating the agreement at least had asked themselves what if TCI tables were no longer provided on an annual basis by the Housing Corporation but beyond that there was little imagination as to how far the affordable housing funding arrangements might change: if TCI tables ceased to be published, the calculation was to be done on the basis of “such equivalent grant calculation current at the time and supported by the Housing Corporation”. Hmm. No “what if social housing grant and/or the Housing Corporation cease to exist“? No provision for the parties to agree another reasonable benchmark, with the ability to go to an independent expert in the event of dispute?

The Court of Appeal identified that the issue “turns on the balance between giving effect to the intention of the parties and the language of the contract“. It upheld the ruling of the High Court that the clause was not unenforceable due to the lack of certainty as to how the sum was now to be calculated. The court sets out in some detail the approach to be taken, drawing upon principles articulated by the Supreme Court in Arnold v Britton (Supreme Court, 10 June 2015).

The Supreme Court in that case had considered the interpretation of service charge contribution provisions in the leases of a number of chalets in a caravan park in South Wales, and whether annual increases in service charge were to be calculated on a compound basis, resulting in absurdly high increases. Lord Neuberger summarised the correct approach as follows:

When interpreting a written contract, the court is concerned to identify the intention of the parties by reference to “what a reasonable person having all the background knowledge which would have been available to the parties would have understood them to be using the language in the contract to mean”, to quote Lord Hoffmann in Chartbrook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd [2009] UKHL 38, [2009] 1 AC 1101, para 14. And it does so by focussing on the meaning of the relevant words, in this case clause 3(2) of each of the 25 leases, in their documentary, factual and commercial context. That meaning has to be assessed in the light of (i) the natural and ordinary meaning of the clause, (ii) any other relevant provisions of the lease, (iii) the overall purpose of the clause and the lease, (iv) the facts and circumstances known or assumed by the parties at the time that the document was executed, and (v) commercial common sense, but (vi) disregarding subjective evidence of any party’s intentions.”

Lord Neuberger set out six principles and the Court of Appeal in Trinity One drew particularly the first and sixth:

First, the reliance placed in some cases on commercial common sense and surrounding circumstances (eg in Chartbrook, paras 16-26) should not be invoked to undervalue the importance of the language of the provision which is to be construed. The exercise of interpreting a provision involves identifying what the parties meant through the eyes of a reasonable reader, and, save perhaps in a very unusual case, that meaning is most obviously to be gleaned from the language of the provision.”

Sixthly, in some cases, an event subsequently occurs which was plainly not intended or contemplated by the parties, judging from the language of their contract. In such a case, if it is clear what the parties would have intended, the court will give effect to that intention. An example of such a case is Aberdeen City Council v Stewart Milne Group Ltd[2011] UKSC 56, 2012 SCLR 114, where the court concluded that ‘any … approach’ other than that which was adopted ‘would defeat the parties’ clear objectives’, but the conclusion was based on what the parties ‘had in mind when they entered into’ the contract (see paras 17 and 22).”

Applying these principles, the Court of Appeal in Trinity One identified that:

⁃ the intention of the parties was that a commuted sum was to be paid.

⁃ the uncertainty related to quantification rather than the principle of payment.

⁃ “It would defeat the underlying purpose of the Agreement if the clause were unenforceable due to lack of certainty. The consequence would be that TOL would receive the benefit of planning permission without providing affordable housing or a commuted sum. In simple terms, that was not the bargain.”

⁃ “…the quantification of that sum should be that which is equivalent to the amount of money which would have been provided had the SHG remained in being. Although this is a departure from the literal words of the contract, this is the only sensible solution to the problem posed by the abolition of the SHG on which the clause is premised. The clause provides that the developer should pay enough money so that the Council can provide equivalent affordable housing: the best the court can do is work out a roughly equivalent figure for that sum.”

⁃ The figure that had been arrived at of £533,508 was a “reasonable attempt to reach a figure equivalent to the SHG which would have been payable before 2006“.

To a non-lawyer this may all seem obvious, but who wants to go to the Court of Appeal to establish what a provision means, just because not enough “what if” questions weren’t asked at the outset?

York Council isn’t yet entirely out of the woods. I mentioned the pending judicial review in relation to the developer’s section 106BC appeal. The Court of Appeal held that if the section 106BC appeal is ultimately successful, it will have retrospective effect notwithstanding that the council’s rights to be paid had already accrued. That seems strange to me, but given that the section 106BA and BC procedure is no longer available, this issue is of limited continuing wider relevance.

So please remain patient when your solicitor asks you yet another series of “what if” questions. In another part of our legal world, the European Medicines Agency is reported to be seeking to set aside its lease at Canary Wharf on the basis that Brexit will amount to an event of frustration. It was reported elsewhere that the “what if” question may in fact have been asked and then set on one side. Now that can be even more awkward.

This blog post is a belated companion to my 14 October 2017 post, Flawed Drafting: Interpreting Planning Permissions.

Simon Ricketts, 8 September 2018

Personal views, et cetera

So Who Did Win The SPG JR?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 26 May 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Pointers From Parkhurst?

Parkhurst Road Limited v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 27 April 2018) is a complex analysis by the High Court of issues relating to viability appraisal. Indeed Holgate J concludes an unusual postscript (paragraph 142 onwards) to his judgment by expressing the hope that “the court is not asked in future to look at detailed valuation material as happened in these proceedings“.

The Parkhurst Road dispute has indeed been protracted, to say the least.

Parkhurst Road Limited had purchased the site in May 2013 for £13.25m from the Ministry of Defence, the site having been allocated by Islington Council as a “site for intensification for residential accommodation to help meet housing need in the Borough“.

An initial development proposal for 150 homes, reduced to 116 homes, was refused by Islington in October 2014 and an appeal was dismissed on design grounds in September 2015 following a six day inquiry. There had been dispute about viability issues at that inquiry but the inspector had been satisfied with the appellant’s benchmark land value position of £13.26m, which would have led to a 14% affordable housing commitment (16 homes). He considered that market comparables relied on by PRL showed that the price paid by PRL for the site “was not of a level significantly above a market norm“. Islington had not accepted the inspector’s approach to viability (pointing to a circularity inherent in relying on market evidence of comparable transactions to the extent it may not have been adjusted to reflect the requirements of relevant planning policies) but had not challenged it, given that the appeal had been dismissed in any event.

A revised scheme was then brought forward in January 2016, for 96 homes, with the design issues resolved, but with no affordable homes, on the basis that the viability of the scheme could no justify it. Again the application was refused, effectively solely on viability grounds, due to an asserted failure to maximise provision of affordable housing as against the council’s borough wide strategic target of 50%. PRL again appealed and by the time the inquiry closed in March 2017 after nine sitting days, the position was that PRL were arguing for a reduced benchmark land value of £11.9m and proposing that 10% of the homes should be affordable housing. Islington was arguing for a benchmark land value of £6.75m, leaving headroom for 34% affordable housing. The council’s case was based on an approach of relying on a low existing use value with a premium added (EUV+). PRL’s case was based on using market signals from other transactions, disregarding transactions “which are significantly above the market norm“.

Holgate J was told “that the two decision letters on the Parkhurst Road site have generated a good deal of interest amongst planning professionals, as if either decision could be taken as laying down guidance of more general application on the approach to be followed where development viability and affordable housing contributions are in issue.”

He throws cold water on that suggestion:

It is important to emphasise that that is not normally the function of a decision letter. The Inspector’s task is to resolve the issues which have been raised on the evidence produced in that appeal. The Inspector is not giving guidance on what course should generally be followed, even in cases raising the same type of issue. First, the application of policy often involves a good deal of judgment and second, the circumstances of an appeal (and the evidence produced) may differ quite considerably from one case to another (see eg. St Albans DC v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] EWHC 655 (Admin)). There is a risk of attaching too much importance to the decisions of individual Inspectors, particularly where their conclusions were heavily dependent upon the circumstances of the cases before them and the nature of the evidence and submissions they received, with all their attendant strengths and weaknesses specific to that appeal. Reliance upon such decisions may take up a disproportionate amount of time and may distract parties from preparing suitable and sufficient information to deal with the circumstances and issues which arise in their own case.”

I summarised the inspector’s decision letter dismissing the appeal in my 24 June 2017 blog post Viability & Affordable Housing: Update.

The appellant challenged the decision on three grounds:

Ground 1 – the inspector erred in concluding that the council’s case was based on the EUV plus approach.

Ground 2 – the inspector did not address flaws which had been shown in the council’s valuer’s approach, applied the consultant’s method in a manner which was inconsistent with his understanding of it and failed to recognise substantial changes in the council’s case by the time the end of the inquiry was reached.

Ground 3 – criticisms of the way in which the inspector treated certain comparable transactions when arriving at his decision to accept the council’s benchmark land value figure.

Holgate J is not a judge to be cowed by disputes involving matters of valuation. He is after all President of the Lands Chamber in the Upper Tribunal and Planning Liaison Judge (ie basically the lead Planning Court judge).

He summarises Government policy on viability, quoting from paragraph 173 of the NPPF (with an interesting reference to compulsory purchase compensation principles when referring to the concept of a “willing seller”) and paragraphs 1, 19, 23 and 24 of the viability section of the Government’s planning practice guidance, asserts that the guidance places the onus on the developer to demonstrate non-viability, before summarising relevant local policies.

He addresses the RICS professional guidance, “Financial Viability In Planning“, in paragraphs 50 to 58, without criticism – noting for instance the fact that the guidance note discourages reliance upon EUV+ “as the sole basis for arriving at site value, because the uplift is an arbitrary number and the method does not reflect the workings of the market. Furthermore, the EUV Plus method is not based upon the value of the land if the redevelopment involves a different land use (eg. an office building redeveloped for a residential scheme)”.

The Secretary of State and Islington resisted the grounds but submitted that, in any event, PRL’s criticisms “do not vitiate the essential conclusion of the inspector that, contrary to local policy, the appeal proposal failed to provide “the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing“”.

After a lengthy analysis of the decision letter as well as the arguments that had been put forward by the parties, the judge rejected grounds 1 and 3. He accepted in part PRL’s arguments in relation to ground 2, there had indeed been flaws in the council’s valuer’s approach which were not addressed properly by the inspector. However that error, in the judge’s view, did not vitiate the basis upon which the inspector rejected PRL’s case that a 10% affordable housing provision represented the maximum reasonable level and was not therefore a basis for quashing the decision.

The claim was accordingly dismissed.

Which takes us to that postscript in paragraphs 141 to 147. It is an intriguing read for what is says about, for instance the following:

⁃ The importance of overcoming uncertainty as to how viability assessment should properly be carried out, which is “making it difficult for practitioners and participants in the planning process to predict the likely outcome and to plan accordingly. It also leads to a proliferation of litigation“.

⁃ The tension that has arisen in the application of paragraph 23 of the viability passages in the PPG, which should mean reflecting and not bucking relevant planning policies when arriving at a benchmark land value, but on the other hand ensuring that the application of those policies should be informed by and not bucking an analysis of market evidence.

⁃ Data on comparables should be adjusted properly but on the other hand there are drawbacks in a simple requirement to conform to EUV+, by way of formulaic application, especially via local authority documents which have not been subjected to independent statutory examination prior to adoption.

Finally, in the context of the Government’s consultation proposals in relation to standardised inputs to viability assessments (see my 10 March 2018 blog post Developer Contributions, CIL, Viability: Are We Nearly There Yet the judge offers a suggestion:

It might be thought that an opportune moment has arrived for the RICS to consider revisiting the 2012 Guidance Note, perhaps in conjunction with MHCLG and the RTPI, in order to address any misunderstandings about market valuation concepts and techniques, the “circularity” issue and any other problems encountered in practice over the last 6 years, so as to help avoid protracted disputes of the kind we have seen in the present case and achieve more efficient decision-making.”

That would indeed be welcome.

Simon Ricketts, 28 April 2018

Personal views, et cetera

[Colleagues at Town acted for PRL but these are, as always, my personal views].