Just as solutions are beginning to emerge to unlock the development embargos that have been in place in many areas due to the nutrient neutrality issue, areas of Sussex now have a new problem: water.
For over two years now, where the integrity of special areas of conservation or special protection areas (areas of nature conservation importance previously protected at EU level) are already under stress due to nitrate or phosphate pollution (usually due to historic farming practices), Natural England has been advising local planning authorities that an appropriate assessment cannot be reached under regulation 63 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 to the effect that further development, causing additional sewage or surface water run-off will not affect the integrity of nearby SACs and SPAs unless measures will are secured to achieve neutrality, either on or off site. Under the 2017 Regulations, unless a development can pass that appropriate assessment test it’s stuffed, no go.
Topically, HBF’s director for cities, James Stevens, has written an article Wading through the effluent in the October 2021 edition of Housebuilder magazine as to the problems being caused to housebuilders by needing to achieve nutrient neutrality, even where a technical solution can be found – the average costs being apparently over £5,000 per dwelling.
But those involved with development in Horsham, Crawley and Chichester, which fall within the Sussex North Water Supply Zone, are all now faced with an even more challenging issue: the potential need to demonstrate water neutrality. Natural England has become increasingly concerned as to the impact of groundwater abstraction on the Arun Valley SPA, SAC and Ramsar site. It has recently published its Position Statement for Applications within the Sussex North Water Supply Zone – interim approach (September 2021):
“Natural England has advised that this matter should be resolved in partnership through Local Plans across the affected authorities, where policy and assessment can be agreed and secured to ensure water use is offset for all new developments within Sussex North. To achieve this Natural England is working in partnership with all the relevant authorities to secure water neutrality collectively through a water neutrality strategy.
Whilst the strategy is evolving, Natural England advises that decisions on planning applications should await its completion. However, if there are applications which a planning authority deems critical to proceed in the absence of the strategy, then Natural England advises that any application needs to demonstrate water neutrality. We have provided the following agreed interim approach for demonstrating water neutrality:
The relevant authorities are now advising applicants accordingly. Crawley Borough Council’s website for instance now says this:
“Developers / planning applicants who can demonstrate water neutrality such as having significant water efficiency measures built into their development and by providing offsetting measures to reduce water consumption from existing development, and who are able to enter into legal obligations to secure these measures, would be able to proceed, subject to the planning process. The onus is on developers and planning applicants to demonstrate that they can deliver water neutrality for their proposals. For applications in these circumstances which are not able to do this, the Local Planning Authority [the council] when determining a decision, would unfortunately have no choice but to refuse them, as a matter of law, in light of the Natural England Statement.
The Local Planning Authority [the council] has written urgently to agents of affected applicants advising them of Natural England’s position and advising them that, for the time being, all applications where a positive decision / recommendation was / is to be made on an application will have to be delayed if they are within the Southern Water supply zone, until the matter of water neutrality can be addressed.”
Without speedy solutions, this is going to create real problems both for individual developers in the area and for authorities in bringing forward deliverable local plans.
No doubt there will be solutions in due course (and questions do have to be asked as to whether the issue really lies with the water abstraction licences, which presumably were the subject of appropriate assessment under the 2017 Regulations and their statutory predecessors, rather than with those who are seeking to have access the abstraction of which has already been licensed!) but how long will that take and at whose cost?
In the meantime, what an unplanned mess.
Simon Ricketts, 9 October 2021
Personal views, et cetera
Talking of Planning Law Unplanned…our clubhouse session will tackle this subject in more detail with practical, authoritative, input from special guests including Peter Home (mentioned above), Tim Goodwin, Charlie Banner QC, Richard Turney and others. Do join us at 6 pm on Tuesday 12 October. Link to app here.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Maybe the biggest news this week wasn’t the replacement of Robert Jenrick by Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the consequent likely pause of the still-paused-anyway planning law reforms.
Maybe it was the difficulties which the Government is having with its Environment Bill (original progenitor one M Gove). Aspirations of enactment by the time of November’s COP26 are surely fading fast in the light of a series of defeats for the Government at the report stage of the Bill in the House of Lords. On Monday (13 September 2021) it was already being reported in a Green Alliance blog post, on the back of a Daily Telegraph story, that the Government was reluctant to accept the amendments which had been passed which could ultimately lead to the Bill entering into a period of ping pong (less fun than it sounds) between the Lords and Commons.
– making interim targets for nature, air, water and waste legally binding;
– requiring the Government to make a formal declaration of a biodiversity and climate emergency;
– a more ambitious approach to targets in air pollution;
– making soil health a priority;
– removing exemptions for the Treasury and Ministry of Defence from taking into account environmental principles in policy making.
However, on the day of the reshuffle, 15 September 2021 the Lords continued its scrutiny of the Bill and inflicted a further four defeats by way of voting for amendments which in various ways seek to introduce greater environmental protections. Two of the issues are intertwined with matters to do with planning and development and I thought I would give them a bit of airtime – after all, these days can you be a planning lawyer without being an environmental lawyer? And surely DEFRA and MHCLG are going to have to work with each other in ever closer ways.
Habitats Regulations: limits on powers to amend
Baroness Young, chair of the Woodland Trust and former chief executive of the Environment Agency, moved an amendment to ensure “that powers to amend the Habitats Regulations may only be used for the purposes of environmental improvement following consultation. It ensures that the level of environmental protection that must be maintained includes protection for important habitats, sites and species as well as overall environmental protection”
It was passed 201 to 186.
The amendment provides that the Secretary of State may only amend the regulations
“for the purposes of—
(a) securing compliance with an international environmental obligation, or
(b) contributing to the favourable conservation status of species or habitats or the favourable condition of protected sites;
(c) if the regulations do not reduce the level of protection provided by the Habitats Regulations, including protection for protected species, habitats or sites; and
(i) following public consultation and consultation with—
(ii) the Office for Environmental Protection,
(iii) Natural England,
(iv) the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, and
(v) other relevant expert bodies.”
Duty to implement an enhanced protection standard for ancient woodland in England
Baroness Young moved an amendment “intended to address the more than 800 ancient woodlands in England that are currently threatened by development. As a large number of these threats result from indirect effects of development next to ancient woodland, these changes will improve the weight afforded to protecting these irreplaceable habitats in planning policy.”
It was passed 193 to 189.
The amendment introduces the following additional clause into the Bill:
(1) The Government must implement an enhanced protection standard for ancient woodland, hereafter referred to as the “ancient woodland standard” in England as set out in subsections (2), (3) and (4) and this must have immediate effect.
(2) The ancient woodland standard must set out the steps necessary to prevent further loss of ancient woodland in England.
(3) The ancient woodland standard commits the Government to adopting a Standard of protection which must be a requirement for all companies, persons or organisations involved in developments affecting ancient woodlands in England.
(4) This standard must be that—
(a) any development that causes direct loss to ancient woodland or ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees must be refused unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and, in addition, a suitable compensation strategy must be in place prior to development commencing,
(b) any development adjacent to ancient woodland must incorporate a minimum 50-metre buffer to provide protection, reduce indirect damage and provide space for natural regeneration,
(c) any ancient or veteran trees must be retained within a development site, including a root protection area and appropriate buffer zone.
(5) This buffer zone must be whichever is greater of—
(a) an area which is a radius of 15 times the diameter of the tree with no cap, or
(b) 5 metres beyond the crown.”
The debate is here and Parliament’s summary of the House of Lords report stage is here.
(Incidentally, Ruth Keating (39 Essex Chambers) gave a very clear summary of the Environment Bill at today’s (virtual) Joint Planning Law Conference. Watch out for the paper in due course.)
As a further indication of how environmental matters are going to take centre stage in coming months, Duncan Field brought to my attention yesterday that Lord Frost made a statement to the House of Lords (16 September 2021) as to the Government’s approach in relation to various areas of retained EU law. A supporting paper, Brexit opportunities: regulatory reforms contains references which may be of interest to those in the planning and environmental areas:
“Environmental Licencing [sic] and Permitting – Defra is continuing to rationalise the existing Environmental licensing and permitting (ELP) regimes so they are more streamlined and easier for businesses and users to navigate, whilst maintaining and even enhancing environmental protections.
Promote a flexible, market-based trading system for biodiversity offset credits – Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a critical part of Defra’s strategy for enhancing the natural environment and promoting sustainable growth. Defra will shortly be publishing a consultation on our plans for implementing BNG. This consultation will include proposals for a market-based approach to delivery of biodiversity offset units.”
That latter is interesting in the context of the biodiversity net gain provisions within the Environment Bill, which do not currently refer explicitly to any notion of a structured “market-based trading system for biodiversity offset credits”.
Keep your ears open is all I’m saying…
Simon Ricketts, 17 September 2021
Personal views, et cetera
And on the theme of ears, do join our clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned event at 6pm this Tuesday 21 September 2021, whether to listen or participate. We will be returning to the big news story and associated question – “ALL SYSTEMS GOVE! What to expect from our new Secretary of State?”. We have a planoply of leading commentators lined up to give their views including Catriona Riddell, Matthew Spry, Zack Simons, Wyn Evans and Nick Cuff as well as our usual planel. Link to app here.
Thanks to my colleague Stephanie Bruce-Smith for some background research. All errors mine.
This post collects together in one place some of the recent planning, environmental and compulsory purchase litigation in relation to the High Speed Two rail project.
R (Keir) v Natural England (16 April 2021, Lang J; further hearing before Holgate J, 23 April 2021, judgment reserved)
This is the interim injunction granted by Lang J preventing HS2 and its contractors from varying out works at Jones’ Hill Wood, Buckinghamshire, until either the disposal of the claim or a further order.
The claim itself has Natural England as the defendant and seeks to challenge its grant of a licence under the Conservation of Habitats Regulations 2017 in relation to works that may disturb a protected species of bat.
The question as to whether the injunction should be maintained came back to court yesterday, 23 April, before Holgate J, as well as whether permission should be granted in the claim itself, and he has reserved judgment until 2pm on 26 April.
Secretary of State for Transport v Curzon Park Limited (Court of Appeal hearing, 21 and 22 April 2021, judgment reserved)
This was an appeal by the Secretary of State for Transport against a ruling by the Upper Tribunal on 23 January 2020. My Town Legal colleagues Raj Gupta and Paul Arnett have been acting for the first respondent, landowner Curzon Park Limited, instructing James Pereira QC and Caroline Daly. Thank you Paul for this summary:
The case concerns certificates of appropriate alternative development (‘CAADs’) under the Land Compensation Act 1961. A CAAD is a means of applying to the local planning authority to seek a determination as to what the land could have been used for if the CPO scheme did not exist. Its purpose it to identify every description of development for which planning permission could reasonably have been expected to be granted on the valuation date if the land had not been compulsorily purchased. Importantly, subject to a right of appeal, the grant of a CAAD conclusively establishes that the development is what is known as ‘appropriate alternative development’. This is significant as:
• When compensation is assessed it must be assumed that planning permission for that development(s) in the CAAD either was in force at the valuation date or would with certainty be in force at some future date and
• Following reforms in the Localism Act 2001, where there is, at the valuation date, a reasonable expectation of a particular planning permission being granted (disregarding the CPO scheme and CPO) contained in a CAAD it is assumed that the planning permission is in force which converts the reasonable expectation into a certainty.
There are four adjoining sites, each compulsorily acquired by HS2 for the purposes of constructing the Curzon Street HS2 station terminus at Cuzon Street Birmingham – four different landowners and four different valuation dates (i.e. vesting dates under the GVD process). Each landowner applied for a CAAD for mixed use development including purpose-build student accommodation (PBSA). In the real world, the cumulative effects of the proposed adjoining developments (e.g. including but not limited to the proposed quantum and need for PBSA in light of a PBSA need in the local plan) would have been a material planning consideration. However, Birmingham City Council considered each CAAD application in isolation. The Secretary of State argued that they should have considered the other CAAD applications as notional planning applications and, therefore, as material considerations which would have been very likely to result in CAADs issued for smaller scale mixed-used development being issued leading to a lower total compensation award and bill for HS2. The preliminary legal issue to be determined by the Upper Tribunal and now the Court of Appeal is:
‘Whether, and if so how, in determining an application for a certificate of appropriate alternative development under section 17 LCA 1961 (CAAD) the decision-maker in determining the development for which planning permission could reasonably have been expected to be granted for the purposes of section 14 LCA 1961 may take into account the development of other land where such development is proposed as appropriate alternative development in other CAAD applications made or determined arising from the compulsory acquisition of land for the same underlying scheme’.
The Upper Tribunal had rejected the landowners’ argument that the scheme cancellation assumption (i.e. disregarding the CPO scheme) under the Land Compensation Act 1961 required CAAD applications on other sites to be disregarded. However, critically, the Tribunal agreed with the landowners’ that CAAD applications were not a material planning consideration and that there was no statutory basis for treating them as notional planning applications as the Secretary of State has argued. The Tribunal also disagreed with the Secretary of State that the landowners’ interpretation of the statutory scheme would lead to excessive compensation pointing out that the landowners’ ability to develop their own land in their own interests was taken away when their land was safeguarded for HS2 and from November 2013 when the HS2 scheme was launched until 2018 when the land interests were finally acquired by HS2 any planning permissions for these sites would have been determined in the shadow of the HS2 scheme and safeguarding of the land. The Secretary of State appealed the Upper Tribunal decision and the Court of Appeal granted permission to appeal in July 2020 noting that the appeal raises an important point on the principle of equivalence (i.e. the principle underpinning the CPO Compensation Code) that a landowner should be no worse off but no better off in financial terms after the acquisition than they were before) which may have widespread consequences for the cost of major infrastructure projects.
A judgment from the Court of Appeal (Lewison LJ, Lindblom LJ and Moylan LJ) is expected in the next month or so.
This was an appeal against the refusal by HS2 Limited to disclose, pursuant to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, information as to the potential effect of its works on chalk aquifers in the Colne Valley. The information requested was as follows:
“What risk assessments have taken place, of the potential increased risk to controlled waters as a result of imminent works by HS2 contractors along the Newyears Green bourne and surrounding wetland?
Are any of the risk assessments independent from the developers (HS2) and where are the risk assessment (sic) accessible to the public?”
By the time of the hearing before the First Tier Tribunal, three reports had been disclosed, redacted. The Tribunal summarised the issues before it as follows:
“(1) whether HS2 correctly identified the three reports as being the environmental information which Ms Green requested and whether there was further material held which came within the request;
(2) whether at the time of Ms Green’s request the three reports were “still in the course of completion” or comprised “unfinished documents” and, if so, whether the public interest in maintaining the regulation 12(4)(d) exception outweighed that in disclosure;
(3) whether disclosure of those parts of the three reports which have been redacted in reliance on regulation 12(5)(a) would have adversely affected “public safety” and, if so, whether the public interest in maintaining the regulation 12(5)(a) exception outweighed the public interest in their disclosure.”
The Tribunal found, expressing its reasoning in strong terms, that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the public interest in maintaining any exemption.
“The reports in question in this case concern a major infrastructure project which gives rise to substantial and legitimate environmental concerns. They specifically relate to the risks of contamination to the drinking water supplied to up to 3.2 million people resulting from the construction of the HS2 line. This is clearly environmental information of a fundamental nature of great public interest.”
HS2 appeared to be concerned that “if the versions of the reports current in January 2019 were made public they “… could have been used to try and impact work undertaken in finalising the information”.
“It seems to us that such an approach almost entirely negates the possibility of the public having any input on the decision-making process in this kind of case, which goes against a large part of the reason for allowing public access to environmental information.
The suggestion that public officials concerned in making enquiries and freely discussing options to mitigate environmental problems might be discouraged or undermined by early disclosure of their work seems to us rather fanciful and was not supported by any kind of evidence; the case is not comparable in our view to that of senior officials indulging in “blue sky” thinking about policy options. We accept that the material is “highly technical” but we cannot see why a lack of understanding on the part of the public would have any negative impact on HS2’s work; if a member of the public or a pressure group wanted to contribute to the debate in a way that was likely to have any effect on the decision-making process they would no doubt have to engage the services of someone like Dr Talbot, who would be able to enter the debate in a well- informed and helpful way.”
“HS2’s second main point, that the Environment Agency will be approving and supervising everything, does not seem to us of great weight. Of course the Environment Agency is there to act in the public interest in relation to the environment but its involvement cannot be any kind of answer to the need for public knowledge of and involvement in environmental decisions. The EA is itself fallible and should be open to scrutiny. If the public could simply entrust everything to it there would be no need for the EIR.
HS2’s third main point is that if inchoate information is released it could be misleading and they would incur unnecessary expense correcting false impressions. We were not presented with any specific evidence or examples to illustrate how this problem might have been encountered in practice. It does not seem to us a very compelling point.”
This was an interim ruling in an application for judicial review, made only nine days previously, of the decision by HS2 Limited to extract the protesters that were occupying the tunnel under Euston Square Gardens and alleging a failure to safely manage Euston Square Gardens in a manner compatible with HS2 Limited’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights. It followed a rejection of an application by Mr Maxey for an interim injunction and followed an order made requiring him to cease any further tunnelling activity, to provide certain categories of information to HS2 Limited or others and to leave the tunnel safely, with which he had not complied.
At the hearing, Mr Maxey was renewing his “application for orders requiring (a) the cessation of operations to extract the protesters from the tunnel and (b) to implement an exclusion zone. In addition, the Claimant has expanded the interest relief he seeks to include provision forthwith by the Defendant of (a) oxygen monitoring equipment; (b) a hard-wired communication method; (c) food and drinking water for the Claimant and the protesters; and (d) to make arrangements for the removal of human waste from the tunnel.” He was also seeking to overturn the orders against him.
The judge rejected Mr Maxey’s arguments:
“While I accept that the Defendant is (or at the very least there is a good argument that the Defendant is) currently under a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect those in the tunnel under the site (including the Claimant) from death or serious injury, on the evidence before me there is no realistic prospect of the Court finding that the Defendant is breaching its duty. In my judgment, the claim for interim relief does not meet the first test.
That suffices to dispose of the interim relief application. But if it were necessary to consider the balance of convenience, I would have to bear in mind the strong public interest in permitting a public authority’s decision (here a decision to proceed with the operation and a decision as to the necessary safeguards) to remain in force pending a final hearing of the application for judicial review, so the party applying for interim relief must make out a strong case for the grant of interim relief. The Claimant has not come close to establishing a strong enough case to justify the Court stopping the operations to remove those who are in the tunnel, given the compelling evidence as to how dangerous it is for them to remain there.”
I summarised this case in my 9 January 2021 blog post Judges & Climate Change. It was Chris Packham’s failed challenge to the Government’s decision to continue with the HS2 project following the review carried out by Douglas Oakervee, the grounds considered by the Court of Appeal being “whether the Government erred in law by misunderstanding or ignoring local environmental concerns and failing to examine the environmental effects of HS2 as it ought to have done” and “whether the Government erred in law by failing to take account of the effect of the project on greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050, in the light of the Government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008”.
This case was heard consecutively with the Packham appeal. It related to Hillingdon’s challenge to the Secretary of State’s decision to allow (against his inspector’s recommendations) an appeal against Hillingdon’s refusal to grant HS2 Limited’s application for approval, under the Act authorising the relevant stage of the HS2 project, of plans and specifications for proposed works associated with the creation of the Colne Valley Viaduct South Embankment wetland habitat ecological mitigation. HS2 Limited had refused to provide Hillingdon with information so that an assessment could be made as to the effect of the proposed works on archaeological remains, HS2 Limited’s position being that it was “under no obligation to furnish such information and evidence. It says that this is because it will, in due course, conduct relevant investigations itself into the potential impact of the development upon any archaeological remains and take all necessary mitigation and modification steps. HS2 Ltd says that it will do this under a guidance document which forms part of its contract with the Secretary of State for Transport which sets out its obligations as the nominated undertaker for the HS2 Project.”
Lang J had upheld the Secretary of State’s decision but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal:
“The key to this case lies in a careful reading of Schedule 17 and the powers and obligations it imposes upon local authorities and upon HS2 Ltd. In our judgment, the duty to perform an assessment of impact, and possible mitigation and modification measures under Schedule 17, has been imposed by Parliament squarely and exclusively upon the local authority. It cannot be circumvented by the contractor taking it upon itself to conduct some non-statutory investigation into impact. We also conclude that the authority is under no duty to process a request for approval from HS2 Ltd unless it is accompanied by evidence and information adequate and sufficient to enable the authority to perform its statutory duty.”
[Subsequent note: Please also see London Borough of Hillingdon v Secretary of State for Transport (Ouseley J, 13 April 2021), “Hillingdon 2” where on the facts Ouseley J reached a different conclusion, holding that an inspector had not acted unlawfully in determining an appeal without information sought by the council from HS2 Limited as to the lorry routes to be used by construction lorries to and from the HS2 construction sites within its area].
This was a judicial review claim brought by the owner of a listed Georgian building near Regents Park. The property was separated by a large retaining wall, built in 1901, from the perimeter of the existing railway. “It rests approximately 17 metres from the front of the property and the drop from the level of the road to the railway below is approximately 10 metres. Unsurprisingly, given that the substrate is London clay, the wall has suffered periodic movement and shows signs of cracking. The Claimant’s expert says that it is “metastable”.”
The claimant was concerned as to the engineering solution arrived at for that section of the route, which was known as the Three Tunnels design. “This judicial review challenge is directed to the safety of the Three Tunnels design in the specific context of the outbound tunnel travelling so close to the base of the retaining wall. It is contended on the back of expert engineering evidence that this aspect of the design has engendered an engineering challenge which is insurmountable: in the result, the design is inherently dangerous. The risk is of catastrophic collapse of the retaining wall, either during the tunnelling works or subsequently, which would if it arose cause at the very least serious damage to the Claimant’s property. Consequently, the Claimant asserts a breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 because her rights under Article 8 and A1P1 of the Convention have been violated.”
The judge boiled the questions down to the following:
“has the Claimant demonstrated that she is directly and seriously affected by the implementation of the Three Tunnels design, given the risk of catastrophic collapse identified by Mr Elliff? In my view, that question sub-divides into the following:
(1) should I conclude on all the evidence that the Three Tunnels design is so inherently flawed in the vicinity of the retaining wall that no engineering solution could be found to construct it safely? and
(2) have the Defendants already committed themselves to implement the Three Tunnels design regardless of any further work to be undertaken under Stage 2?
After detailed consideration of expert engineering expert on both sides, the judge rejected the claim.
This was a compulsory purchase case, about whether an owner of four units on the Saltley Business Park in Birmingham, faced with compulsory purchase of one of them, had served counter-notices in time such as to trigger its potential ability to require acquisition of its interests in all four buildings. The court ruled that it had not.
It certainly seems an age since R (HS2 Action Alliance) v Secretary of State for Transport (Supreme Court, 22 January 2014) where in a previous law firm life I acted for the claimant, instructing David Elvin QC and Charlie Banner (now QC). The case concerned whether the publication by the Government of its command paper, “High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps” engaged strategic environmental assessment requirements and whether the hybrid bill procedure would comply with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (for more on the HS2 hybrid bill procedure, see my 30 July 2016 blog post HS2: The Very Select Committeehttps://simonicity.com/2016/07/30/hs2-the-very-select-committee/). The loss still grates. And in consequence of that ruling…
There’s a slow, slow train comin’.
Simon Ricketts, 24 April 2021
Personal views, et cetera
Thank you to my Town Legal colleague Lida Nguyen for collating a number of these cases.
Our clubhouse Planning Law, Unplanned session at 6pm on 27 April will follow a similar theme, so if you are interested in issues relating to HS2 or in wider questions as to judicial review, interim injunctions, access to information or compulsory purchase compensation, do join us, whether to contribute to the discussion or just listen in. As always, contact me if you would like an invitation to the clubhouse app (which is still iphone only I’m afraid).
It’s long. The Environment Bill, which had its First Reading on 15 October 2019, comprises 232 pages. It has 130 sections and 20 schedules. If you want a quicker read, the Explanatory Notes are only 212 pages.
Its shelf life may be short. Of course, we are likely to see a General Election before the Bill has made much progress (although there has been rumour that it may proceed quickly to Second Reading this month) and it will at that point fall unless a motion is passed to carry it over to the next Parliamentary session.
However, there is much within it of interest, and much of direct relevance to the operation of the planning system. I’m sure I’ll come back to various elements in different blog posts. The purpose of this post is to flag the main parts to be aware of from a planning lawyer’s perspective and first to look in particular at the improvements (yes improvements) that have been made to the first part, which sets out the new, post-Brexit regime that would apply to environmental principles and governance.
I am focusing on the relevance of the Bill to English planning law. For a detailed explanation of the territorial extent of each of its provisions, see Annex A of the Explanatory Notes, and the detailed table contained in Annex A.
NB There is no additional protection for the natural environment that could not have been secured with us still in the EU, and there are obvious risks of replacing protections in international obligations with protections in domestic legislation that (even if it is enacted in this form and brought into law) is vulnerable to political short-termism, but I set that issue to one side for the purposes of this summary.
Having flicked through Part 1 and compared it to the December 2018 draft, I would note the following:
Clause 1 to 6 are entirely new, enabling the Secretary of State to set long-term (at least 15 year) “environmental targets” in respect of any matter which relates to (a) the natural environment or (b) people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. At least one target must be set in each of the following priority areas: air quality; water; biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction. A target in relation to particulate matter in ambient air must also be set. The Secretary of State must take independent advice before setting targets, must be satisfied that the target can be met and there are restrictions on his ability to lower the target. Draft statutory instruments containing the targets must be laid before Parliament by 31 October 2022. There are provisions in relation to reporting and regular reviews of the targets.
Interim targets must be set out in the environmental improvement plans which the Secretary of State must prepare pursuant to clauses 7 to 14 (which largely reflect the draft).
As per the draft, the Secretary of State must prepare a policy statement on environmental principles, which he must be satisfied will contribute to the improvement of environmental protection and sustainable development. The list of “environmental principles” is reduced to the following:
(a) the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into
the making of policies
(b) the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage
(c) the precautionary principle, so far as relating to the environment
(d) the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source, and
(e) the polluter pays principle.
The following were in the draft but no longer appear:
⁃ the principle of sustainable development
⁃ the principle of public access to environmental information
⁃ the principle of public participation in environmental decision-making, and
⁃ the principle of access to justice in relation to environmental matters
I get why the principle of sustainable development has been removed from the list and made an overarching requirement (and I support that as otherwise we would have risked detailed principles set out in a policy statement that may have conflicted with the NPPF, although I wonder how the overarching requirement will be interpreted without further explanation), but why the removal of those Aarhus Convention principles?
Government ministers were to be required to “have regard” to the policy statement. As explained in the Government’s Response, this has been beefed up to “have due regard”. I hadn’t appreciated that this was a higher legal threshold but will bow to others. There is still surely a question as to whether this is strong enough.
The principal objective of the Office for Environmental Protection and exercise of its functions is now set out, as “to contribute to –
(a) the protection of the natural environment, and
(b) the improvement of the natural environment”.
One of my concerns as to the potential scope of the OEP’s operations was that it might get drawn into individual planning disputes. The Government addresses this in its Response:
“We agree, however, with the core of the Committee’s comments around avoiding the OEP becoming inundated with complaints relating to local matters. This is not our intention. Clause 20(7) in the Bill introduced today (formerly clause 12(4)) already directs the OEP to prioritise cases with national implications. We believe this already guards to a significant extent against the Committee’s concerns regarding the OEP having to take on too many complaints relating to local matters or being at too much risk of challenge over its own judgements. However, we have considered this matter further, and have now amended the Bill to provide that the OEP’s enforcement policy must set out how it intends to determine whether a failure to comply with environmental law is serious for the purpose of subsequent clauses (clauses 20(6)(a) and (b) in the Bill introduced today). This should provide greater transparency in relation to the OEP’s approach to the meaning of the term “serious”, and guard against this further.”
My main concern as to the previously proposed procedures was that it was envisaged that the OEP might bring judicial review proceedings in the High Court, a year or more after the decision under challenge, and secure the quashing of the decision, as one of the remedies available. Plainly, this would have introduced unwelcome and unworkable uncertainty into the development process.
I have been impressed at the openness of DEFRA and MHCLG civil servants during this process. Indeed we at Town held last year a breakfast event and, after sharing the concerns of many around the table on precisely this issue, I suggested that “statement of non-conformity” outcome might be more workable, drawing upon the approach in the Human Rights Act 1998.
To my pleasant surprise, the proposed judicial review mechanism has been replaced with provision for an “environmental review” to be brought in the Upper Tribunal.
“(5) On an environmental review the Upper Tribunal must determine whether the authority has failed to comply with environmental law, applying the principles applicable on an application for judicial review.
(6) If the Upper Tribunal finds that the authority has failed to comply with environmental law, it must make a statement to that effect (a “statement of non-compliance”).
(7) A statement of non-compliance does not affect the validity of the conduct in respect of which it is given.
(8) Where the Upper Tribunal makes a statement of non-compliance it may grant
any remedy that could be granted by the court on a judicial review other than damages, but only if satisfied that granting the remedy would not—
(a) be likely to cause substantial hardship to, or substantially prejudice the rights of, any person other than the authority, or
(b) be detrimental to good administration.”
The Government’s Response said this:
“The approach will have a number of benefits compared to that of a traditional judicial review in the High Court. In particular, taking cases to the Upper Tribunal is expected to facilitate greater use of specialist environmental expertise.”
Judicial review will still be available if the OEP considers that a public authority’s conduct “constitutes a serious failure to comply with environmental law”.
There are now fewer exclusions to what falls within the ambit of “environmental matters” for the purposes of Part 1. Unlike the draft, the Bill does not exclude matters relating to:
⁃ the emission of greenhouse gases within the meaning of the Climate Change Act 2008
⁃ taxation, spending or the allocation of resources within government.
Thumbnail sketch of the rest of the Bill
Part 3 covers waste and resource efficiency, including:
⁃ producer responsibility obligations
⁃ deposit schemes and charges for single use plastic items
⁃ managing waste
⁃ waste enforcement
Part 4 covers air quality and the environmental recall of motor vehicles.
Part 5 covers water, including powers to direct water undertakers to prepare joint proposals for the purpose of improving the management and development of water resources.
Part 6 covers nature and biodiversity, including:
⁃ local nature recovery strategies
⁃ tree felling and planting (including requirements for local highway authorities in England to consult before felling trees).
The biodiversity net gain provisions introduced by clause 88 are particularly important. My 30 March 2019 blog post Biodiversity Net Gain: A Ladybird Guide summarised DEFRA’s proposals at the time. Clause 88 states:
“Schedule 15 makes provision for biodiversity gain to be a condition of planning permission in England”.
Schedule 15 sets out that every planning permission shall be deemed to have been granted subject to a condition that the developer has submitted a biodiversity gain plan to the planning authority and the authority has approved it. The plan must demonstrate that the biodiversity value attributable to the development exceeds the pre-development biodiversity value of the onsite habitat by at least 10%. Certain types of development are excluded, including our old friend: development deemed to be permitted by virtue of a development order.
Part 7 covers conservation covenants.
These provisions will also be important for users of the planning system. The provisions follow DEFRA’s February 2019 consultation paper and seek to provide a legal mechanism for landowners to give binding conservation covenants.
As described in the consultation paper, “a conservation covenant is a private, voluntary agreement between a landowner and a “responsible” body, such as a conservation charity, government body or a local authority. It delivers lasting conservation benefit for the public good. A covenant sets out obligations in respect of the land which will be legally binding not only on the landowner but on subsequent owners of the land.”
Again, more anon.
So sorry to have kept you from the rugby, Brexcitements or other more healthy Saturday activities – perhaps even enjoying the natural environment.
Local authorities in south Hampshire have been advised by a Government body not to grant permission for most forms of residential development until further notice. Perhaps absurdly, but in desperation, authorities have even been exploring amongst themselves whether they could at least grant planning permission subject to a condition restricting the homes from being occupied, or simply risk the consequences of ignoring the advice – the position is that bad.
I’m not sure that anyone can blame the EU, or lawyers, or local authorities, or developers, but no doubt they will. Rather, the problem arises from the apparent lack of adequate measures to ensure that, by virtue of its nitrate content, sewage generated as a result of new development does not harm the integrity of coastal waters protected as special areas of conservation and special protection areas under the Habitats and Birds Directives. Nitrate enrichment causes green algae, harmful to protected habitats and birds, through a process known as eutrophication. The chickens (not those in my 1 June 2019 blog post, although the same by product) are coming home to roost following a lack of priority for too long on the need by the Government and water companies to ensure that we have adequately funded and operated waste water treatment processes (see for instance the 25 June 2019 Guardian story Southern Water faces prosecution after record £126m penalty).
The issue was raised in a House of Commons debate on 17 June 2019 by Suella Braverman, Conservative MP for Fareham, but worryingly more from the perspective of seeking to suspend affected authorities’ housing targets rather than resolving the underlying issue:
“Planning applications that could deliver hundreds of new homes in Fareham are in limbo following advice from Natural England, which has instructed that planning permission should be refused unless developments are nitrate-neutral, after two rulings from the European Court of Justice. Will the Government work with me to look at suspending house building targets while affected councils work to find a solution to avoid being unfairly treated at potential appeals?”
I’m not sure how reassured she we are by the response from the relevant Under-Secretary, Jake Berry: “We will happily work with my hon. Friend as she sets out. I believe that the housing Minister is already looking into this issue, and I am sure he will be in touch with her in due course.”
Thankfully it’s known as the “nitrogen deposition” or the “Dutch” case. Whilst the case concerned nitrogen deposition effects arising from agricultural activities, there are two particular (unsurprising) parts of the ruling which are relevant for our purposes:
1. The Habitats Directive does not preclude “national programmatic legislation which allows the competent authorities to authorise projects on the basis of an ‘appropriate assessment’ within the meaning of that provision, carried out in advance and in which a specific overall amount of nitrogen deposition has been deemed compatible with that legislation’s objectives of protection. That is so, however, only in so far as a thorough and in-depth examination of the scientific soundness of that assessment makes it possible to ensure that there is no reasonable scientific doubt as to the absence of adverse effects of each plan or project on the integrity of the site concerned, which it is for the national court to ascertain.”
2. An appropriate assessment under the Habitats Directive “may not take into account the existence of ‘conservation measures’ within the meaning of paragraph 1 of that article, ‘preventive measures’ within the meaning of paragraph 2 of that article, measures specifically adopted for a programme such as that at issue in the main proceedings or ‘autonomous’ measures, in so far as those measures are not part of that programme, if the expected benefits of those measures are not certain at the time of that assessment.”
The most detailed account that I could find of the legal advice and underlying issues is in Portsmouth City Council report to cabinet 11 June 2019. It explains that the Integrated Water Management Strategypublished last year by the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) authorities, Natural England and the Environment Agency recognised that there were “significant uncertainties beyond the year 2020 relating to water quality, quantity, the capacity for accommodating future growth and the impacts on European nature conservation designations.”
“Following the CJEU ruling, Natural England (NE), the government’s adviser for the natural environment, advises that, under the requirements of the Habitat Regulations, the existing uncertainty about the deterioration of the water environment must be appropriately addressed in order for the assessment of a proposal to be legally compliant. They recommend that this is addressed by securing suitable mitigation measures to ensure that proposals achieve ‘nitrate neutrality’. It is recognised that it would be difficult for small developments or sites on brownfield land (which form the majority of applications in Portsmouth) to be nitrate neutral.
NE has therefore advised [Havant Borough Council that ‘planning permission[s] should not be granted at this stage’ whilst the uncertainty around this issue means that a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of a proposal cannot be satisfactorily carried out and while an interim strategic solution is being developed for the sub-region’. Natural England’s advice is that proposals for new employment or leisure uses which do not entail an overnight stay are generally not subject to these concerns.
Officers sought advice from Queen’s Counsel on the matter, which confirmed the validity of Natural England’s position (as of 05.05.19). As per the legal advice received, and in the absence of any pre-existing mitigation strategy, the City Council has temporarily ceased granting planning consent for additional dwellings (or an intensification of dwellings), tourism related development and development likely to generate an overnight stay at this time. Such applications can still be considered on an individual basis if they are able to demonstrate that the development would be ‘nitrate neutral’. It is understood that other Local Authorities within the Solent catchment have also temporarily stopped granting planning consent for development affected by this matter whilst mitigation strategies are being developed.”
“3.11 Immediate actions being progressed are as follows:
a) Portsmouth and the PUSH authorities to lobby central government on the approach to the matter. There appears to be disconnect between government agencies on their advice to Local Authorities, including a clear conflict between the approach to the water quality issue and the pressure to meet the government’s housing delivery targets. We will be urging Government to examine the sources of the nitrates problem, including its own environmental permitting regimes and insufficient wastewater treatment practices by statutory undertakers, rather than solely focusing on the planning system/ development industry to present solutions.
b) PUSH authorities have agreed to explore a strategic solution to the nitrates problem that can be used as mitigation by all authorities.
c) Officers are identifying and exploring with Natural England and other relevant parties short term measures which could enable planning consents to resume in the short term while a more comprehensive and strategic solution is determined.
d) Officers are arranging to meet with Southern Water to explore any existing capacity for improvements in the operation of the existing waste water treatment infrastructure and the scope, timescales and mechanisms to improve the existing treatment”
The Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (“PUSH”) comprises Hampshire County Council, Portsmouth, Southampton, Eastleigh, East Hampshire, Fareham, Gosport, Havant, New Forest, Test Valley and Winchester.
PUSH held a joint committee meeting on 4 June 2019. The minutes make interesting reading. The meeting was joined by Graham Horton from Natural England and Philip James from Southern Water. Philip James made it clear that any solution arrived at by Southern Water would need to be acceptable to its regulator, the Environment Agency. I suspect this issue is not going to be resolved quickly…
“As discussion continued, Members sought views from Graham Horton whether there is a short-term solution which might mitigate risk but allow housing to be built. Members were advised that an option could be that Natural England prepares a form of words which, whilst it would not remove the risk of challenge, may give reassurance to legal advisers to support Local Planning Authorities deliver housing.
The suggestion was put to the meeting that a possibility could include Local Planning Authorities granting permission with conditions of no occupation until this matter is resolved and Graham Horton was asked whether if this approach was taken whether Natural England would challenge LPAs.
The Committee was advised that if Natural England agree and sign up to this then there would not be a challenge, but they will reserve judgment at this time until a joint position is developed and agreed which allows the issue to be resolved. This will not eliminate the risk but should give Local Planning Authorities some comfort and allow them to determine their planning consents.
At the conclusion of the discussion on this item, the Chairman summarised that it was a matter for individual Local Authorities whether they started to issue planning consents, that the best approach was to collectively work on a form of wording and it was agreed this would form joint working and the that the PUSH Planning Officers’ Group would take the lead on the preparation of this Assessment as a matter of priority. ”
It was further resolved that the Chairman should write “on behalf of PUSH to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to outline how we balance the need for housing and the need to protect the environment and to request consideration of respite from the Housing Delivery Test until this is resolved.”
I can foresee a practical veto for some time to come in relation to housing proposals in the area, bar those which are big enough so as to be able to incorporate their own measures to ensure nitrogen neutrality.
But is anyone focusing on this huge issue, an issue not just for the environment but for the breakdown in practice of the normal planning system in a number of authorities? There has been one piece in the mainstream media, a 14 June 2019 BBC report, Hampshire housing developments on hold over nitrate as well as a more detailed subsequent 19 June 2019 article in Planning magazine (which provided my way into much of this post, thank you Mark Wilding).
It’s not as if Parliament is blind to the issue. After all the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee published a detailed and pretty direct set of recommendations in its 6 November 2018 report UK Progress on Reducing Nitrate Pollution.
But what chance of any solutions to the immediate crisis on the south coast, please?