Faulks Review Of Administrative Law: Call For Evidence

In my 15 August 2020 blog post, Introducing The Planning Court Case Explorer, I referred to the independent review of administrative law chaired by Lord Faulks, that the Government has commissioned. The review has now published, quietly it must be said, a call for evidence on 7 September 2020, with a deadline for responses of noon on 19 October 2020 (to be emailed to IRAL@justice.gov.uk).

The examination question that the review has been given by the Government is this:

“Does judicial review strike the right balance between enabling citizens to challenge the lawfulness of government action and allowing the executive and local authorities to carry on the business of government?”

The review is politically charged. The Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto said this:

“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays. In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.”

Lord Faulks’ standpoint is well-documented.

I suspect their focus will be on the, inevitably politicised, constitutional law litigation that we saw last year. That is an issue which is above this blog’s pay grade, but as a planning lawyer I’m concerned that any reform to administrative law may be to the detriment of the role of the Planning Court in relation to disputes arising under our planning system. And as we begin to move to a new system, the Planning Court will have a crucial role in joining the dots given the inevitable uncertainties that will arise. We need that process to be fast, efficient and, above all, trusted. The oversight of the process by the courts is a vital element in ensuring that our system continues to comply with, for example, the requirements of the Aarhus Convention and of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (and if anyone suggests that these things don’t matter, just wait till their property is compulsorily acquired without justification, or a dodgy planning permission is issued without any proper remedy in the courts).

I just read again the House of Lords rulings in the Alconbury cases (9 May 2001), which concerned the question as to whether various aspects of the planning system as it was at that time met the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, at that point having recently been incorporated into UK law by way of the Human Rights Act 1998. The House of Lords concluded that the system complied with the Convention, but on the basis that an essential element of that system was the supervisory role of the courts in reviewing the lawfulness and rationality of administrative decisions taken in the process.

My nervousness as to where we may eventually end up is accentuated by the current furore over clause 45 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 15 September.

Imagine if the next Town and Country Planning Act rendered non-justiciable any regulations made under that Act? How convenient for a Government keen to proceed fast by way of secondary legislation and no doubt unhappy with the inevitable challenges it faces along the way (of which the Rights Community Action judicial review covered in last week’s blog post is a classic example).

Or if procedural failures in relation to decisions led to a rap over the knuckles for the authority rather than an undoing of what was done outside its powers?

Or if judicial review were codified in statute in such a way as to close out challenges to rationality or challenges on grounds such as bias, or legitimate expectation?

Of course, I hope that all of this is unlikely. I have some residual faith that there remains a basic understanding of the importance of the rule of law. I was pleased to see on Friday that the British Property Federation is canvassing its members in reaction to the call for evidence and I hope that other industry bodies do the same. After all, business needs predictability and to know that it is to be treated fairly – this is not just the domain of campaigners and communities!

If you have specific experiences of the role of judicial review in relation to the planning system, please do consider responding to that call for evidence.

As with any examination questions, do read the initial rubric first:

“The Independent Review of Administrative Law (IRAL) panel invites the submission of evidence on how well or effectively judicial review balances the legitimate interest in citizens being able to challenge the lawfulness of executive action with the role of the executive in carrying on the business of government, both locally and centrally. The panel is particularly interested in any notable trends in judicial review over the last thirty to forty years. Specifically, the panel is interested in understanding whether the balance struck is the same now as it was before, and whether it should be struck differently going forward.

The panel would like to hear from people who have direct experience in judicial review cases, including those who provide services to claimants and defendants involved in such cases, from professionals who practice in this area of law; as well as from observers of, and commentators on, the process. The panel are particularly interested in receiving evidence around any observed trends in judicial review, how judicial review works in practice and the impact and effectiveness of judicial rulings in resolving the issues raised by judicial review.”

So, what matters is direct experiences, evidence and data rather than rhetoric.

These are the specific areas which the review will be considering:

“• Whether the amenability of public law decisions to judicial review by the courts and the grounds of public law illegality should be codified in statute.

• Whether the legal principle of non-justiciability requires clarification and, if so, the identity of subjects/areas where the issue of the justiciability/non-justiciability of the exercise of a public law power and/or function could be considered by the Government.

• Whether, where the exercise of a public law power should be justiciable: (i) on which grounds the courts should be able to find a decision to be unlawful; (ii) whether those grounds should depend on the nature and subject matter of the power and (iii) the remedies available in respect of the various grounds on which a decision may be declared unlawful.

• Whether procedural reforms to judicial review are necessary, in general to “streamline the process”, and, in particular: (a) on the burden and effect of disclosure in particular in relation to “policy decisions” in Government; (b) in relation to the duty of candour, particularly as it affects Government; (c) on possible amendments to the law of standing; (d) on time limits for bringing claims, (e) on the principles on which relief is granted in claims for judicial review, (f) on rights of appeal, including on the issue of permission to bring JR proceedings and; (g) on costs and interveners.”

The call for evidence starts with a questionnaire for “Government Departments” (but which I would suggest is equally relevant for local authorities):

“1. In your experience, and making full allowance for the importance of maintaining the rule of law, do any of the following aspects of judicial review seriously impede the proper or effective discharge of central or local governmental functions? If so, could you explain why, providing as much evidence as you can in support?

a. judicial review for mistake of law

b. judicial review for mistake of fact

c. judicial review for some kind of procedural impropriety (such as bias, a

failure to consult, or failure to give someone a hearing)

d. judicial review for disappointing someone’s legitimate expectations

e. judicial review for Wednesbury unreasonableness

f. judicial review on the ground that irrelevant considerations have been taken into account or that relevant considerations have not been taken into account

g. any other ground of judicial review

h. the remedies that are available when an application for judicial review is successful

i. rules on who may make an application for judicial review

j. rules on the time limits within which an application for judicial review must be made

k. the time it takes to mount defences to applications for judicial review

2. In relation to your decision making, does the prospect of being judicially reviewed improve your ability to make decisions? If it does not, does it result in compromises which reduce the effectiveness of decisions? How do the costs (actual or potential) of judicial review impact decisions?

3. Are there any other concerns about the impact of the law on judicial review on the functioning of government (both local and central) that are not covered in your answer to the previous question, and that you would like to bring to the Panel’s attention?”

No doubt the responses to these questions, from those inevitably on the receiving end of judicial review, will point to the delays and uncertainty caused by legal challenges, but of course that is only one side of the story, which is why it is so important that there are responses from a wide section of business and society to the main questions which I set out below:

“1. Are there any comments you would like to make, in response to the questions asked in the above questionnaire for government departments and other public bodies?

2. In light of the IRAL’s terms of reference, are there any improvements to the law on judicial review that you can suggest making that are not covered in your response to question (1)?

Section 2 – Codification and Clarity

3. Is there a case for statutory intervention in the judicial review process? If so, would statute add certainty and clarity to judicial reviews? To what other ends could statute be used?

4. Is it clear what decisions/powers are subject to Judicial Review and which are not? Should certain decision not be subject to judicial review? If so, which?

5. Is the process of i) making a Judicial Review claim, ii) responding to a Judicial Review claim and/or iii) appealing a Judicial Review decision to the Court of Appeal/ Supreme Court clear?

Section 3 – Process and Procedure

6. Do you think the current Judicial Review procedure strikes the right balance between enabling time for a claimant to lodge a claim, and ensuring effective government and good administration without too many delays?

7. Are the rules regarding costs in judicial reviews too lenient on unsuccessful parties or applied too leniently in the Courts?

8. Are the costs of Judicial Review claims proportionate? If not, how would proportionality best be achieved? Should standing be a consideration for the panel? How are unmeritorious claims currently treated? Should they be treated differently?

9. Are remedies granted as a result of a successful judicial review too inflexible? If so, does this inflexibility have additional undesirable consequences? Would alternative remedies be beneficial?

10. What more can be done by the decision maker or the claimant to minimise the need to proceed with judicial review?

11. Do you have any experience of settlement prior to trial? Do you have experience of settlement ‘at the door of court’? If so, how often does this occur? If this happens often, why do you think this is so?

12. Do you think that there should be more of a role for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Judicial Review proceedings? If so, what type of ADR would be best to be used?

13. Do you have experience of litigation where issues of standing have arisen? If so, do you think the rules of public interest standing are treated too leniently by the courts?”

We have arranged a joint Town Legal/Landmark Chambers webinar at 5.30 pm on 14 October 2020 to consider these questions in the specific context of the planning system, and the operation of the Planning Court. Event and registration details here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2gsWU81vT7erSoeWqqQ7MQ .

Whether you come from the standpoint of a developer, local authority or community representative, when you strip away the legalism (as we will try to do) all of this really does matter in practice – not just in relation to the small minority of matters that end up in the Planning Court, but in relation to the operation of the system as a whole: fair and predictable procedures are only possible if we know that there are rules, and that remedies are available if they are broken. And when challenges are brought, they need to be resolved with speed, fairness and efficiency.

Simon Ricketts, 12 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

PS two other webinars for your diary:

5.30 pm 15 September 2020

Permission In Principle – In Practice

(Town Legal with Landmark Chambers)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_5S0GAe6ySN2zfvsdtjd0uQ

5.30 pm 7 October 2020

How will the Combined Infrastructure Levy work, how should it work?

(Town Legal with special guest MHCLG’s director of planning, Simon Gallagher)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_HeND28vJQ6STT-FdLz1u_Q

The Great Hall, Royal Courts of Justice (courtesy Wikipedia)

Lights Camera Action: The Planning Changes – Parliamentary Scrutiny, That JR

Most of the summer blockbusters were paused from release this summer, except for Tenet, which no-one seems to understand. Oh and the statutory instruments making those major amendments to the GPDO (eg building upwards, and resi development to replace existing commercial buildings) and the Use Classes Order (eg the new class E), which hit our screens just before Parliament rose for the summer recess. The Planning For The Future white paper was published (visually spectacular) after Parliament had risen.

This post looks briefly at the role of Parliament in debating these documents, and at the Rights : Community : Action judicial review of the GPDO and Use Classes Order changes.

The amendments to the General Permitted Development Order and Use Classes Order

We’re talking about the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020/755, The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020/756 and The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020/757 all laid before Parliament on 21 July, ahead of the Commons going into recess the following day, and came into effect on 31 August and 1 September. Parliament returned on 1 September.

The statutory instruments (“SIs”) were made under the negative resolution procedure. This means that although the SIs came into effect on when stated, either House can vote to reject them within 40 sitting days, following a motion (“prayer”) laid by a member of the relevant House. If rejected, the relevant statutory instrument is annulled, i.e. no longer of any legal effect.

There has been no Parliamentary debate so far on any of the SIs, although MHCLG minister Lord Greenhalgh did respond to questions in the Lords on 28 July 2020 (ahead of the Lords going into recess the next day).

Labour has laid a motion against the GPDO SIs, but (1) given the Government’s substantial majority there is surely no realistic likelihood of that succeeding on a vote and (2) the narrative in relation to the changes to the GPDO and Use Classes Order seems to have got hopelessly confused with concerns as to the separate proposals in the white paper in the minds of politicians,the press and the public – see for instance Valerie Vaz, shadow leader of the House of Commons, on 3 September 2020:

“We have prayed against the town and country planning permitted development regulations—I think there are three sets of them. The shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury, has written to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Leader of the House will find time for that debate.

During August Parliament was not sitting, but extremely important announcements were being made. I cannot understand why the Government, who say consistently that Parliament is sovereign, do not come to the House to explain changes in policy. Apparently, algorithms will now be used in planning decisions. That takes away the very nature of making planning decisions—whether relevant considerations are taken into account or whether irrelevant considerations are taken into account—and it undermines administrative law. When you make a decision, you must give reasons.

The Town and Country Planning Association says that 90% of planning applications are approved and there are 1 million unbuilt commissions [sic]. It is time for the shires to rise up and oppose these new policies. Will the Leader of the House ask the current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to come to the House to explain why he is using algorithms to stomp on our green and pleasant land?”

Quite aside from the probably theoretical possibility of any or all of the SIs being annulled, there is also the judicial review that has been brought by a new campaign group, Rights : Community : Action. It describes itself as “a coalition of campaigners, lawyers, planners, facilitators, writers and scientists, united by a shared commitment to tackle the Climate Emergency – with people and for people, and the environment.” There are four protagonists: Naomi Luhde-Thompson (currently on sabbatical from Friends of the Earth), Hugh Ellis (Town and Country Planning Association), Laura Gyte (Oxfam) and Alex Goodman (Landmark Chambers).

The group has put its Statement of Facts and Grounds on line. These are the grounds:

“(1) GROUND 1: In respect of each of the three SIs, the Secretary of State unlawfully failed to carry out an environmental assessment pursuant to EU Directive 2001/42/EC (“the SEA Directive”) and the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 (“the SEA Regulations”).

(2) GROUND 2: In respect of each of the three SIs, the Secretary of State failed to have due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty (“the PSED”) in s.149 of the Equality Act 2010 (“the EA 2010”).

(3) GROUND 3: In respect of each of the three SIs, the Secretary of State failed to consider the weight of the evidence against these radical reforms, including prior consultation responses and the advice of his own experts. This composite ground is divided as follows:

Ground 3a: The Secretary of State failed to conscientiously consider the responses to the consultation on proposed planning reforms which ran from 29 October 2018 to 14 January 2019

Ground 3b: In respect of the two SIs that expand Permitted Development rights (SI 2020/755 and SI 2020/756), the Secretary of State failed to take into account the advice of the government’s own experts: in particular, the findings of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s “Living with Beauty” Report (“The BBBB Report”), and the findings of his own commissioned expert report “Research into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use Permitted Development rights” (“The Clifford Report”).

Ground 3c: In respect of the two SIs that expand Permitted Development rights (SI 2020/755 and SI 2020/756), the Secretary of State adopted an approach which was unfair, inconsistent and/or irrational in the context of the approach taken to similar proposed Permitted Development reforms: namely those relating to the deployment of 5G wireless masts.

Ground 3d: In respect of SI 2020/756, the Secretary of State was required to re- consult before introducing Class ZA. There was a legitimate expectation of re- consultation on the proposal for a permitted development right allowing the demolition and rebuild of commercial properties, arising from an express promise to re-consult which was made in the original consultation document.”

Do read the Statement of Facts and Grounds itself for the detail. The Government has served summary grounds of defence but I do not think that they are on line.

The group is seeking an order “declaring that the decision to lay the SIs was unlawful. The Claimant also seeks an order quashing the SIs for unlawfulness.” It was also initially seeking an order “suspending the operation of the SIs until the disposal” of the claim, but it has now withdrawn that request.

On 2 September 2020 Holgate J made an order listing the claim to be heard in court “for 1.5 days in the period between 8th October 2020 to 15th October 2020”. It will be a “rolled up” hearing, i.e. there has been no decision yet as to whether any of the grounds are arguable. The Planning Court has pulled out all the stops to list the case quickly – after all, if any parts of the SIs were now to be quashed just think of the implications and complications! But there must be a good likelihood of the case going to the Court of Appeal or beyond, particularly if any of the grounds gain any traction. There could be uncertainty for some time.

No doubt the claim will touch various raw nerves amongst some – an attack on the Government’s “fast changes” agenda, part reliance on EU-derived environmental legislation, Aarhus Convention costs capping, crowdfunded litigation, “activist lawyers” – it ticks all the boxes! But let’s see what the court makes of it.

The Planning For The Future white paper

The white paper is of course out for consultation, along with the associated shorter term measures document, so it might be said that they don’t amount to significant policy announcements – but that would surely be simplistic: there is a clear direction of travel. With this in mind, being no expert on Parliamentary conventions and procedure, I have two questions:

1. Surely the announcements should first have been in Parliament if I read this House of Commons Library note on Government policy announcements (18 January 2013) correctly?

2. What is the precise status of Planning For The Future? It is expressed on the face of the document to be a “white paper” but would it not usually therefore be expected to have been tabled in Parliament as a numbered command paper and to include the wording: “Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government by Command of Her Majesty“? On one level, does it matter? But surely it does?

I also note that some of the shorter term measures (covered in last week’s blog post) could take effect soon after the consultation deadline of 1 October (particularly the introduction of the revised standard method – the “algorithm” if you will) so if there is to be any proper, informed, debate in Parliament I would suggest that there is little time to be lost.

Simon Ricketts, 5 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Planning For The Nearer Future: Consultation On Revised Standard Method, First Homes, Small Sites Affordable Homes Threshold & PiP

Still don’t know what I was waiting for

And my time was running wild, a million dead-end streets and

Every time I thought I’d got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

I have said plenty already on the longer term changes proposed by the Government in its Planning for the future white paper (consultation responses deadline 29 October 2020). So I turned myself to face the shorter term proposals set out in Changes to the current planning system: Consultation on changes to planning policy and regulations (consultation responses deadline 1 October 2020). ChangesOne and ChangesTwo respectively perhaps.

The ChangesTwo tracklist:

“• changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need, which as well as being a proposal to change guidance in the short term has relevance to proposals for land supply reforms set out in Planning for the Future;

• securing of First Homes, sold at a discount to market price for first time buyers, including key workers, through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system;

• temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing, to up to 40 or 50 units to support SME builders as the economy recovers from the impact of Covid-19;

• extending the current Permission in Principle to major development so landowners and developers now have a fast route to secure the principle of development for housing on sites without having to work up detailed plans first.”

Kings Chambers’ Constanze Bell hosted a good discussion on the proposals in a 28 August podcast with a panel comprising (Diana Richardson, Gladman), Paul Bedwell (Pegasus), Martin Carter (Kings Chambers) and Jonathan Easton (Kings Chambers).

Changes to the standard method

The Government “proposes a revised standard method for calculating local housing need which will be used as the basis for plans created prior to any changes outlined in Planning for the Future being introduced.”

There will be two steps:

Step 1 – the “baseline for the standard method should be whichever is the higher of 0.5% of existing housing stock in each local authority OR the latest projected average annual household growth over a 10-year period

“The household projections element of the baseline will use the latest ONS national household growth projections for the local authority area (Principal projection, table 406). The projected average annual household growth over a 10-year period (10 consecutive years, with the current year being used as the starting point from which to calculate growth over that period) will be used.”

Step 2 – “We propose the standard method will include two adjustments to the baseline using the workplace-based median house price to median earnings ratio. Initially it is proposed that the ratio for the most recent year for which data is available in order to address current affordability of homes would be used. Then how affordability has changed over the last 10 years of published data would be incorporated, using that same statistic.”

Precise formula:

The Government proposes the following transitional arrangements: “from the publication date of the revised guidance, authorities which are already at the second stage of the strategic plan consultation process (Regulation 19) are given 6 months to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate for examination. Authorities close to publishing their second stage consultation (Regulation 19), should be given 3 months from the publication date of the revised guidance to publish their Regulation 19 plan and a further 6 months to submit their plan to the Planning Inspectorate.”

For a detailed analysis of the implications of the new formula see e.g. Lichfields’ blog post Setting a higher standard – a new method for assessing housing needs. (Bethan Haynes, 7 August 2020).

In theory, the new formula could be with us very quickly: “Following the outcome of this consultation, the Government will update the planning practice guidance with the revised standard method for assessing local housing need.

Or could it? There can of course be no “correct” methodology – it’s all political choices as to which factors are considered to be most relevant, standardised into a formula that may or may not work as intended – and there has already a strong backlash from various quarters, for instance Conservative MP for Harborough, Neil O’Brien, The next algorithm disaster – coming to a Conservative constituency near you. This time, it’s housing growth. (ConservativeHome, 24 August 2020), from Chris Young QC and others A Standard Method That Works For The North (LinkedIn post 22 August 2020), and Planning algorithm may destroy suburbia, Tory MPs warn Boris Johnson (Times, 29 August 2020). Press speculation that the Government is already re-thinking is hopefully wide of the mark given that the consultation process hasn’t yet closed and therefore minds must in law remain open, but are we going to see yet another fudged outcome?

First Homes

I summarised the First Homes idea in my 29 February 2020 blog post Starter Homes Were A Non Starter – What Future For First Homes?

Basically they are intended to be a “for sale” product for first time buyers and other qualifying groups, sold at a 30% discount to market value, which must be maintained on re-sale. At that point the Government was consulting on the detail.

This is what it has concluded, subject to this further consultation:

⁃ “a minimum of 25 per cent of all affordable housing units secured through developer contributions should be First Homes. This will be a national threshold, set out in planning policy.”

⁃ “The Government proposes that, under the new system, a policy compliant planning application should seek to capture the same amount of value as would be captured under the local authority’s up-to-date published policy. For instance, a local policy may require 20% affordable housing on site, half of which is shared ownership, and half of which is social rent. The plan viability assessment will set out assumptions on the amount of value captured – for example, a social rent home may be discounted by 50% from market price, and a shared ownership home may be discounted by 20%. This allows the total value captured under the policy to be calculated. This value can then be reallocated to a different affordable housing mix under the new policy.”

⁃ “For the remaining 75% of affordable housing secured through developer contributions, there are two broad options:

• “Option 1: Where a local authority has a policy on affordable housing tenure mix, that policy should be followed, but with First Homes delivering a minimum of 25% of the affordable housing products…”

• “Option 2: A local authority and developer can negotiate the tenure mix for the remaining 75% of units.”

It will be open to authorities to require in their local plans that the discount be 40% or 50% rather than 30% but they will not be able to water down the requirement that 25% of the affordable homes to be provided on site must be First Homes.

Again, the proposal could be with us quickly, initially in the the form of “planning policy changes” (Planning Practice Guidance? NPPF changes? Written ministerial statement?):

“We intend to begin by making planning policy changes, to ensure that clear expectations are set. However, to ensure that First Homes are delivered, nationwide, on a consistent basis, we are keeping under consideration the option to strengthen the policy through primary legislation at a future date. We also intend to introduce an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy for First Homes, to enable delivery prior to wider developer contribution reform. This would require changes to regulations. Lastly, we are also considering significant reforms to the system of developer contributions. We will ensure that First Homes will continue to be delivered under a reformed approach”

However, it seems from the transactional arrangements set out below that the requirement will not immediately take full effect:

56. We recognise that local authorities may need to review the tenure mix for the remainder of the affordable housing that they are seeking to secure. Where local authorities choose to update their tenure mix to reflect this policy, they can do this through a local plan review, although we believe that prioritising the replacement of home-ownership tenures by First Homes will reduce the need for this.

57. We also recognise that there will be a number of local plans and neighbourhood plans that have been prepared based on the existing National Planning Policy Framework and that have reached more advanced stages of the plan-making process. Therefore, local plans and neighbourhood plans that are submitted for Examination within 6 months of this new policy being enacted will not need to reflect the First Homes policy requirements.

58. We also recognise that many developers will have been preparing planning applications under different assumptions. Where significant work has already been undertaken to progress a planning application, including where there has been significant pre-engagement with a local authority on the basis of a different tenure mix of affordable housing, the local authority should have flexibility to accept alternative tenure mixes, although they should consider whether First Homes could be easily substituted for another tenure, either at 25% or a lower proportion.”

Lifting the small sites threshold for SME builders

This could have a significant effect on development. In London, for instance, it will have big repercussions.

“We are proposing to raise the small sites threshold to up to either 40 or 50 new homes through changes to national planning policy and are seeking views on the most appropriate level. These thresholds balance the aim of supporting SMEs with the need to deliver new affordable homes. This will be for an initial period of 18 months in which we will monitor the impact of the raised threshold on the sector before reviewing the approach.”

“ In designated rural areas, we … propose to maintain the current threshold.”

The current threshold is 10 new homes, or site area of 0.5 hectares. The site area threshold will be increased “at the same proportion”, so presumably to 2 or 2.5 hectares (although should in fact the site area increase be less, to reflect likely density of development?).

Again the proposal could be in effect quickly:

“Following the consultation, a decision will be taken on whether to proceed with this approach. If it is taken forward, this could be through the introduction of a Written Ministerial Statement in the Autumn.”

If you are an SME developer with a scheme which may qualify, might it be worth your while seeing how this pans out? Of course it will not be straightforward – we are likely to see some local planning authorities seeking understandably to continue to rely on adopted local plan requirements for affordable housing, choosing to apply less weight to the written ministerial statement, and therefore the potential need to appeal.

Presumably the Government is hoping to see significant take-up, meaning inevitably less affordable housing. That would seem to be a politically-charged trade-off but may in reality simply leapfrog what would otherwise have been a viability process outcome in many instances.

Extending permission in principle

I summarised the current permission in principle regime in my 1 April 2017 blog post Great Expectations: Pip & The Brownfield Land Registers. The Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) (Amendment) Order 2017 subsequently set out the procedure for applying for PiPs. Lichfields’ 2 January 2018 blog post Take a chance on me: what we know about permission in principle on application is another good summary.

Local planning authorities are currently required to maintain brownfield land registers, in two parts.

– Part 1: previously developed land with an area of at least 0.25 hectares that is suitable and available for residential development and where residential development is achievable (all defined terms).

– Part 2: land in Part 1 where the local planning authority has exercised its discretion to enter the land in Part 2 and has decided to allocate the land for residential development having followed defined publicity, notification and consultation procedures. 

If your land is on Part 1 of the register you can currently apply for permission in principle for minor development (basically less than ten dwellings). If your land is on Part 2 of the register you already have permission in principle for the development set out in the register (which must not be large enough to require environmental impact assessment.

There is a further procedure in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, but not yet brought into effect, for automatic permission in principle to stem from allocation in defined categories of statutory development plans rather than just from designation on a brownfield land register.

The Government now proposes “to remove the restriction in the current Permission in Principle regulations on major development”. Although the paper is not specific, this must surely simply mean that permission in principle would now be able to be applied for in relation to major development (although still not development such as to require environmental impact assessment so, unless a negative screening opinion has been obtained, capped at 150 dwellings/5 hectares), as long as the site is on Part 1 of a local planning authority’s brownfield land register.

The paper proposes that there be no cap on the amount of commercial development proposed, although the scheme will need to be “residential-led”. The procedure is quicker than the outline planning application procedure (five weeks determination period, 14 days deadline for responses from statutory consultees).

There is not proposed to be any increase in the information requirements that currently apply to PiP applications for minor development. “However, we would be interested in whether, given the larger scale of development, there should be an additional maximum height threshold parameter, in terms of number of storeys, as part of the Permission in Principle. This would provide greater clarity to the applicant and local planning authority about the scale of housing development that is acceptable for the site, particularly in high density urban areas. Conversely, the inclusion of a maximum height parameter would add further complexity to the determination of Permission in Principle as it starts to bring in design considerations, and may in practice lead to greater confusion – for instance, a high height threshold may only be acceptable for part of the site given the impact on neighbouring dwellings.”

The Government is proposing to adjust the application fee regime to increase the cost saving in comparison with a traditional application for outline planning permission.

This all certainly gives additional focus to brownfield land registers (which I last looked at in my 5 January 2018 blog post Brownfield Land Registers: A Bit Of Progress). If you have land that is on Part 1 of a brownfield land register, it will certainly be a procedural route to consider.

Again, we could see the proposal come into effect relatively quickly. “Following this consultation, if we introduce Permission in Principle by application for major development, we aim to introduce amending regulations this Autumn, with the regulations expected to come into force by the end of the calendar year. Changes to the fee structure would require separate changes to the Planning Fees Regulations.”

Of course, this will also be a useful test as to how well permission in principle can be made to work in practice, ahead of the Government’s more ambitious proposals the subject of ChangesOne (and my 7 August 2020 blog post For The Future).

(Turn and face the strange)

Ch-ch-changes

Simon Ricketts, 29 August 2020

Personal views, et cetera

CIL To Be Replaced By…CIL

When I saw a limelon for the first time yesterday (some recently marketed lime/melon hybrid since you ask, and tangy and refreshing it is indeed), I naturally thought of the proposed combined infrastructure levy: what on earth is it?

Planning For The Future is of course work in progress and it may be churlish for us to expect it to have all the answers. After all, it is up to us to provide cogent responses to the current consultation process.

But the sections in the document on infrastructure contributions are very light indeed, given the central role that section 106 and the community infrastructure levy play in the current system and the obvious complexity of arriving at a system for a combined infrastructure levy that on the one hand does not choke off various forms of development in some areas by making it unviable and that on the other hand both (1) raises sufficient monies to secure the delivery of necessary social (e.g. affordable housing) and physical infrastructure and also (2) ensures for the benefit of both communities and developers that the infrastructure will actually be provided in the right place, at the right time.

The lightness is in contrast to the detailed analysis of the existing position in relation to contributions by way of CIL and section 106 planning obligations that is the subject of a detailed study (143 pages) by respected academics (all those listed on the front page of the document), The Incidence, Value and Delivery of Planning Obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy in England in 2018-19, published alongside the white paper.

The objectives of the study were to

•Update the evidence on the current value and incidence of planning obligations

• Investigate the relationship between CIL and S106

• Understand negotiation processes and delays to the planning process

• Explore the monitoring and transparency of developer contributions

• Understand the early effects and expectations for the changes to developer contributions brought in by the revisions to the NPPF

Chapter 3 (The value of Planning Obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy) sets out some interesting findings:

“• The estimated value of planning obligations agreed and CIL levied in 2018/19 was £7.0 billion. This valuation is premised upon the assumptions identified in the appendix, corresponding to survey validity, respondent representation and the distribution of values.

• When adjusted to reflect inflation the total value of developer contributions in real terms is £500 million higher than in 2016/17, £300 million higher than in 2007/08.

• 67% of the value of agreed developer contributions was for the provision of affordable housing, at £4.7 billion; this is the same proportion as in 2016/17 and is the joint-highest to date.

• 44,000 affordable housing dwellings were agreed in planning obligations in 2018/19. This is a reduction since 2016/17, but the value of this housing has increased over the same period due to an increase in house prices in many areas with higher developer contributions.

• The value of CIL levied by LPAs was £830 million in 2018/19, with a further £200 million levied by the Mayor of London.

• The geographic distribution of planning obligations and CIL is weighted heavily towards the south of England. The South East, South West and London regions account for 61% of the total value. However, the value of developer contributions exacted in London has fallen since 2016/17 – down from 38% to 28% of the total aggregate value.”

There is nothing in the white paper that explicitly draws from the findings of that report in order to arrive at the wholly new mechanism that is proposed.

Some people seem to have picked up the message that the white paper means the end of the community infrastructure levy – a cause for celebration in some parts. But the white paper’s proposal for a combined infrastructure levy to my mind is CIL writ large, potentially just as complex, with a whole new set of rate setting, liability, payment and spending mechanisms and with the express objective of raising more monies than the current system. It warrants its own focus at this point, away from the noise of the other proposals in the white paper.

How to begin to unpick what is proposed in relation to CIL and section 106 planning obligations (and what the proposals in relation to section 106 mean for the delivery of affordable housing in particular)? I wrote down for myself five basic questions:

1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?

2. What will happen to CIL?

3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?

4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?

5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?

In order to try to answer them (in a way which would have to work in relation to all of the proposed consenting routes: DCO, outline planning permission in plan, PiP (if different from outline permission in plan, not sure!), traditional planning permission, PD), then I cut and pasted the relevant passages from the white paper in their entirety (only leaving out the detail of some of the “alternative options” floated and leaving out the questions raised in the consultation). It is easy to read summaries and think “well there must be more detail in the document itself”. It is worth reading these passages to see the totality of the proposals.

After these passages I then see how far we can get in answering my questions.

“The process for negotiating developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure is complex, protracted and unclear: as a result, the outcomes can be uncertain, which further diminishes trust in the system and reduces the ability of local planning authorities to plan for and deliver necessary infrastructure. Over 80 per cent of planning authorities agree that planning obligations cause delay. It also further increases planning risk for developers and landowners, thus discouraging development and new entrants.”

“1.19. Fourth, we will improve infrastructure delivery in all parts of the country and ensure developers play their part, through reform of developer contributions. We propose:

• The Community Infrastructure Levy and the current system of planning obligations will be reformed as a nationally-set value-based flat rate charge (‘the Infrastructure Levy’). A single rate or varied rates could be set. We will aim for the new Levy to raise more revenue than under the current system of developer contributions, and deliver at least as much – if not more – on-site affordable housing as at present. This reform will enable us to sweep away months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements and the need to consider site viability. We will deliver more of the infrastructure existing and new communities require by capturing a greater share of the ulpift [sic] in land value that comes with development.

• We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision.

• We will give local authorities greater powers to determine how developer contributions are used, including by expanding the scope of the Levy to cover affordable housing provision to allow local planning authorities to drive up the provision of affordable homes. We will ensure that affordable housing provision supported through developer contributions is kept at least at current levels, and that it is still delivered on-site to ensure that new development continues to support mixed communities. Local authorities will have the flexibility to use this funding to support both existing communities as well as new communities.

• We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights, so that additional homes delivered through this route bring with them support for new infrastructure.

“4.5. Securing necessary infrastructure and affordable housing alongside new development is central to our vision for the planning system. We want to bring forward reforms to make sure that developer contributions are:

• responsive to local needs, to ensure a fairer contribution from developers for local communities so that the right infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered;

• transparent, so it is clear to existing and new residents what new infrastructure will accompany development;

• consistent and simplified, to remove unnecessary delay and support competition in the housebuilding industry;

• buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.

4.6. The Government could also seek to use developer contributions to capture a greater proportion of the land value uplift that occurs through the grant of planning permission, and use this to enhance infrastructure delivery. There are a range of estimates for the amount of land value uplift currently captured, from 25 to 50 per cent. The value captured will depend on a range of factors including the development value, the existing use value of the land, and the relevant tax structure – for instance, whether capital gains tax applies to the land sale. Increasing value capture could be an important source of infrastructure funding but would need to be balanced against risks to development viability.”

“4.7. We propose that the existing parallel regimes for securing developer contributions are replaced with a new, consolidated ‘Infrastructure Levy’.

Proposal 19: The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished.”

“4.8. We believe that the current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.

4.9. This would be based upon a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates. This would address issues in the current system as it would:

be charged on the final value of a development (or to an assessment of the sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. for homes built for the rental market), based on the applicable rate at the point planning permission is granted;

• be levied at point of occupation, with prevention of occupation being a potential sanction for non-payment;

• include a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold ; and

• provide greater certainty for communities and developers about what the level of developer contributions are expected alongside new development.

4.10. The single rate, or area-specific rates, would be set nationally. It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system. Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.

4.11. As a value-based charge across all use classes, we believe it would be both more effective at capturing increases in value and would be more sensitive to economic downturns. It would reduce risk for developers, and would reduce cashflow difficulties, particularly for SME developers.

4.12. In areas where land value uplift is insufficient to support significant levels of land value capture, some or all of the value generated by the development would be below the threshold, and so not subject to the levy. In higher value areas, a much greater proportion of the development value would be above the exempt amount, and subject to the levy.

4.13. To better support the timely delivery of infrastructure, we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster. As with all volatile borrowing streams, local authorities should assure themselves that this borrowing is affordable and suitable.

4.14. Under this approach the London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure.

4.15. In bringing forward the reformed Infrastructure Levy, we will need to consider its scope. We will also consider the impact of this change on areas with lower land values.”

Alternative options proposed: “The Infrastructure Levy could remain optional and would be set by individual local authorities”. “Alternatively, the national rate approach could be taken, but with the aim of capturing more land value than currently, to better support the delivery of infrastructure”

“Proposal 21: The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision

4.20. Developer contributions currently deliver around half of all affordable housing, most of which is delivered on-site. It is important that the reformed approach will continue to deliver on-site affordable housing at least at present levels.

4.21. Affordable housing provision is currently secured by local authorities via Section 106, but the Community Infrastructure Levy cannot be spent on it. With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing.

4.22. This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. [Footnote: As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106. ] First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.

4.23. Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way.

4.24. We would also need to ensure the developer was incentivised to deliver high build and design quality for their in-kind affordable homes. Currently, if Section 106 homes are not of sufficient quality, developers may be unable to sell it to a provider, or have to reduce the price. To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality. It is important that any approach taken maintains the quality of affordable housing provision as well as overarching volumes, and incentivises early engagement between providers of affordable housing and developers. Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site. Through borrowing against further Infrastructure Levy receipts, other sources of funding, or in partnership with affordable housing providers, they could then build affordable homes, enabling delivery at pace.

4.25. Alternative option: We could seek to introduce further requirements around the delivery of affordable housing. To do this we would create a ‘first refusal’ right for local authorities or any affordable housing provider acting on their behalf to buy up to a set proportion of on-site units (on a square metre basis) at a discounted price, broadly equivalent to build costs. The proportion would be set nationally, and the developer would have discretion over which units were sold in this way. A threshold would be set for smaller sites, below which on-site delivery was not required, and cash payment could be made in lieu. Where on-site units were purchased, these could be used for affordable housing, or sold on (or back to the developer) to raise money to purchase affordable housing elsewhere. The local authority could use Infrastructure Levy funds, or other funds, in order to purchase units.”

“Proposal 22: More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy

4.26. It is important that there is a strong link between where development occurs and where funding is spent. Currently, the Neighbourhood Share of the Community Infrastructure Levy ensures that up to 25 per cent of the levy is spent on priorities in the area that development occurred, with funding transferred to parish councils in parished areas. There are fewer restrictions on how this funding is spent, and we believe it provides an important incentive to local communities to allow development in their area. We therefore propose that under this approach the Neighbourhood Share would be kept, and we would be interested in ways to enhance community engagement around how these funds are used, with scope for digital innovation to promote engagement.

4.27. There is scope for even more flexibility around spending. We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax. The balance of affordable housing and infrastructure may vary depending on a local authority’s circumstances, but under this approach it may be necessary to consider ring-fencing a certain amount of Levy funding for affordable housing to ensure that affordable housing continues to be delivered on-site at current levels (or higher). There would also be opportunities to enhance digital engagement with communities as part of decision making around spending priorities. Alternatively, the permitted uses of the Levy could remain focused on infrastructure and affordable housing, as they are broadly are at present. Local authorities would continue to identify the right balance between these to meet local needs, as they do at present.”

“ 5.19. If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”

Back to my questions:

1. How will planning obligations work under the new system?

It is said in the paper that the “current system of planning obligations under Section 106 should be consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘Infrastructure Levy’.” There will no longer be “months of negotiation of Section 106 agreements”. “Section 106 planning obligations [will be] removed”.

The proposals seem to assume that section 106 is simply a mechanism for securing provision of affordable housing and other “developer contributions”. Whilst that is its main role at present, it is a mechanism for a wide range of commitments – see this table from the accompanying study:

The joy of section 106 is its flexibility to circumstances and policy, enabling the applicant commit to commit, in a way that binds successors in title, to all necessary mitigation measures that cannot be secured by way of planning condition and which are necessary to overcome what would otherwise be reasons not to allow the proposed development to proceed. On more complex developments it is the only tried and tested way in which appropriate mechanisms can be arrived at to make sure that, for instance, necessary infrastructure comes forward at the right time and by way of a sensible process, bespoke to the circumstances of the development, agreed between the parties. There is no proposal in the paper (although it has previously been floated by some) that the role of planning conditions could be expanded.

Where financial contributions are paid to a local planning authority under a section 106 agreement they can only be used for the specified purposes, whereas the proposals in relation to the consolidated infrastructure levy appear to be more loose: “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met.”What is meant by “core infrastructure obligations”? The core infrastructure obligations necessary to make a particular development acceptable? If so, then a document will need to be drawn up which surely will be as complex as a section 106 agreement – when will the school come forward, using the developer’s infrastructure levy contribution, how, where and when? Local employment and training measures, provision and maintenance of open space and play areas, carbon reduction commitments, commitments to specified transport improvements and the formulation and implementation of transport plans – are all these to be swept away? If so, the document needs to explain either why this is acceptable and desirable or how these matters will otherwise be addressed.

Additional confusion arises when these bold statements as to the removal of section 106 obligations are then contrasted with the footnote to paragraph 4.22: “As above, a Section 106 planning obligation could still be used to secure a covenant on the land, where necessary. However, the value would be captured through the Infrastructure Levy, rather than Section 106”. What does that mean? What would the “covenant on the land” and if the only point is to make sure that the infrastructure levy binds successors in title, why not leave that for the legislation itself?

Is anyone out there clearer at this stage ?

2. What will happen to CIL?

The community infrastructure levy will be replaced by the consolidated infrastructure levy, which will work in various significantly different ways to the current system. For instance:

• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 3 below.

• It will be “levied at point of occupation”.

“Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.”

• “we would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure. Enabling borrowing combined with a shift to levying developer contributions on completion, would incentivise local authorities to deliver enabling infrastructure, in turn helping to ensure development can be completed faster.” [If a developer needs specific infrastructure to be delivered in order to enable development to proceed, how will this be documented? What if, as is usually the case, the developer would prefer to deliver the infrastructure, e.g. build the school?]

• The “London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities, could be retained as part of the Infrastructure Levy to support the funding of strategic infrastructure” [Is this retained as in retained under the current CIL system so that in London CIL would continue to operate alongside the new levy, or is this retained as in “rolled into”?]

• “We will also look to extend the scope of the consolidated Infrastructure Levy and remove exemptions from it to capture changes of use through permitted development rights” [This is odd – development pursuant to PD rights is not exempt from CIL at the moment. Is this flagging more widely that exemptions will be removed? That would have been a sensible, simplifying, approach were CIL levels to be reduced, but here we are faced with an increased Infrastructure Levy…]

3. How will the new Combined Infrastructure Levy be set?

• It will be a “nationally-set value-based flat rate charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates”. [Clearly this can’t in any circumstances mean a nationally-set flat rate charge of x per square metres but must mean a nationally-set proportion of (I assume) gross development value.]

• There will be “a value-based minimum threshold below which the levy is not charged, to prevent low viability development becoming unviable, reflecting average build costs per square metre, with a small, fixed allowance for land costs. Where the value of development is below the threshold, no Levy would be charged. Where the value of development is above the threshold, the Levy would only be charged on the proportion of the value that exceeded the threshold”. [When would the developer have certainty that the threshold was not exceeded, or indeed as to what the value (and therefore charge) is considered to be, through what procedure and with what rights to appeal against the valuation? Is the valuation a notional one, applying a formula, or an actual valuation?]

• “buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.” [the timing of the valuation date will be critical, as will how to deal with phased and revised schemes and so on].

• “It would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system” [so more than £7bn, on the basis of the findings in that study – in a way which will need not to disincentivise owners and developers from carrying out development].

That’s all I can glean from the document. It seems to me that local planning authorities will lose much flexibility, for instance in the setting of differential rates for different types of floorspace (the document does focus to a significant extent on residential development – what rate would be set for, say, offices, logistics or retail, particularly given the weaker relationship between non-residential uses and the delivery of affordable housing, and what about not for profit development – will we need to reintroduce a number of the current CIL exemptions?

4. What requirements will there be on local authorities as to how they apply combined infrastructure levy receipts?

• “With Section 106 planning obligations removed, we propose that under the Infrastructure Levy, authorities would be able to use funds raised through the levy to secure affordable housing”. I try to unpick this in my answer to question 5 below.

• “We could also increase local authority flexibility, allowing them to spend receipts on their policy priorities, once core infrastructure obligations have been met. In addition to the provision of local infrastructure, including parks, open spaces, street trees and delivery or enhancement of community facilities, this could include improving services or reducing council tax.” [So, infrastructure levy surplus receipts (after delivery of “core infrastructure”) become unhypothecated tax receipts – the less the authority spends on infrastructure, the lower it can keep its council tax, hmm…]?

• “If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income should be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.”

5. Under the new system, how can local planning authorities set requirements for affordable housing and seek to ensure that they are delivered?

• “We will be more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain, and we will ensure that the new Infrastructure Levy allows local planning authorities to secure more on-site housing provision”.

• “This could be secured through in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, capability and wishes to do so. Local authorities would have a means to specify the forms and tenures of the onsite provision, working with a nominated affordable housing provider. Under this approach, a provider of affordable housing could purchase the dwelling at a discount from market rate, as now. However, rather than the discount being secured through Section 106 planning obligations, it would instead be considered as in-kind delivery of the Infrastructure Levy. In effect, the difference between the price at which the unit was sold to the provider and the market price would be offset from the final cash liability to the Levy. This would create an incentive for the developer to build on-site affordable housing where appropriate. First Homes, which are sold by the developer direct to the customer at a discount to market price, would offset the discount against the cash liability.” [So presumably the developer could net-off the costs of on-site delivery from its infrastructure levy liability. How is this to be documented? Who adjudicates on the obvious valuation issues arising?]

• “Under this approach we recognise that some risk is transferring to the local planning authority, and that we would need to mitigate that risk in order to maintain existing levels of on-site affordable housing delivery. We believe that this risk can be fully addressed through policy design. In particular, in the event of a market fall, we could allow local planning authorities to ‘flip’ a proportion of units back to market units which the developer can sell, if Levy liabilities are insufficient to cover the value secured through in-kind contributions. Alternatively, we could require that if the value secured through in-kind units is greater than the final levy liability, then the developer has no right to reclaim overpayments. Government could provide standardised agreements, to codify how risk sharing would work in this way” [How to safeguard against misuse?]

“To ensure developers are not rewarded for low standard homes under the Levy, local authorities could have an option to revert back to cash contributions if no provider was willing to buy the homes due to their poor quality.”

• “Local authorities could also accept Infrastructure Levy payments in the form of land within or adjacent to a site.” [Back to ensuring a robust valuation process].

Again, maybe it’s just me but I’m left scratching my head. This is a wholly different approach to extracting contributions for affordable housing and for ensuring that they are delivered. Basic questions:

• How will the requirements (quantum, tenure mix, size] be set at policy stage and determined at application stage (in advance of valuations) such that there can be confidence that development will not be stalled through lack of viability?

• Are we moving to a system where all affordable housing is delivered by a local authority nominated housing provider, with less ability for the developer to seek to improve viability?

• How can there be any confidence that this mechanism will result in more on-site affordable housing than at present?

I also recommend George Venning’s LinkedIn piece on the issues arising: Planning Reforms Contain a Poison Pill.

Again, thoughts welcome – it’s not that the proposals can’t be made to work, it’s just that much more input is required and, in my view, a cautious approach needs to be taken so as to guard against the inevitable unintended consequences.

The deadline for consultation responses is 29 October. We are likely to be collating a Town response, if only on specific issues such as this. If you would be interested in feeding in your thoughts, then please let me know, although, health warning, we are not in the business of designing fruit by committee!

Simon Ricketts, 22 August 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Introducing The Planning Court Case Explorer

We understand why many participants – not just local authorities, but statutory consultees and the Planning Inspectorate – are risk averse. Judicial review is expensive, and to lose a judicial review in the courts is bad for the reputation of either [sic]. And judicial reviews can be precedent setting, establishing a new interpretation of the law. We think the proposals set out in the document should remove the risk of judicial review substantially. Most judicial reviews are about imprecise and unclearly worded policies or law. Our plans for an overhaul of planning law to create simple and clear processes and for plans that set out clear requirements and standards will substantially remove the scope for ambiguity and therefore challenge.” (Planning For The Future white paper, paragraph 5.16)

You can’t really contemplate any reform on the planning system without considering the role of the courts in the way that the system works in practice. Plainly where a public body (whether the state or a local authority) acts outside its powers, someone thereby affected needs to have access to an effective remedy, usually an order that renders it to be of no legal effect. Quite apart from the rights and procedures deriving from domestic common law principles, UK has international obligations to maintain such processes under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and, specifically in relation to access to environmental justice, under the third pillar of the Aarhus Convention. You can’t embark on a new system without a functioning mechanism to ensure that everyone plays by the rules.

Whilst essential as a backstop against abuse of power, the role of the courts in the operation of the planning system does of course need to be kept to a minimum. There are two areas in particular where there has always been scope to reduce the number of unnecessary claims:

1. As mentioned in that passage in the white paper, many (I’m not sure I would say “most”) “judicial reviews are about imprecise and unclearly worded policies or law.” As regards that first area, the aspiration in the white paper (“an overhaul of planning law to create simple and clear processes and for plans that set out clear requirements and standards will substantially remove the scope for ambiguity and therefore challenge”) is worthy but at present purely wishful thinking. We anticipate now a separate “Autumn” consultation into potential changes to EU-derived legislation, with a view to streamlining for instance SEA and EIA processes (no surprise – see e.g. my 4 July 2020 Have We Got Planning Newts For You: Back To Brexit blog post as well as Environment Secretary George Eustice’s 20 July 2020 speech). Of course, EU-derived environmental legislation (although, to be accurate, this is not about the EU – the relevant EU directives in turn implemented wider international treaty obligations) has been at the root of much planning caselaw, but the white paper’s proposals introduce a wide range of fresh tensions and uncertainties into the process – whether that be about the central imposition of housing requirements on local authorities, accelerated routes to development approvals or the proposed shift to a wholly new mechanism for the funding and delivery of affordable housing and infrastructure.

2. Claimants should be discouraged from using litigation simply as a tactic to secure delay or publicity, or in order to have a “low consequences” speculative last throw of the dice. Some steps have been taken to address this in recent years, most importantly the establishment of the Planning Court in March 2014 so that cases could be dealt with more quickly, by specialist judges, by the introduction of a permission stage in relation to section 288 challenges and by tightening the rules on costs protection (see my 22 June 2019 blog post No Time To Be 21: Where Are We With Aarhus Costs Protection?).

The lack of statistics as to the effectiveness of the Planning Court is frustrating. I went into this in my 8 July 2018 blog post The Planning Court and Richard Harwood QC has also recently expressed similar frustrations in the July 2020 39 Essex Chambers planning, environment and property newsletter, How common are High Court planning challenges?

At Town we recently decided to do something about it. Working alongside Landmark Chambers, on 13 August 2020 we unveiled what we call the Planning Court Case Explorer. The Case Explorer brings together, in one dataset, all judgments of the Planning Court after a full hearing, since its establishment in March 2014 to the end of June 2020 quarter by quarter (25 quarters), together with all subsequent appellate judgments. That amounts to 377 judgments by the Planning Court, 105 by the Court of Appeal and 11 by the Supreme Court. The data captured includes the length of time between the decision under challenge and the ruling, parties, judge and subject matter, with a link to the bailii transcript and usually our Town Library summary, and with a variety of search options so as to be able to interrogate the data, by way of clicking into the tables.

Only now, through this data, can it be seen that the average duration between a decision under challenge and the first instance ruling in relation to that decision is 293 days and can the extent of further delay be seen when a case goes to the Court of Appeal (an average of 726 days between the decision and the ruling) or there after to the Supreme Court (1,000 days!). In the context of a six weeks’ deadline for bring the claim in the first place and then the initial permission stage, that 293 days’ figure in my view is not unreasonable. The subsequent delays on appeal are in my view wholly unjustifiable.

Which judge in the High Court has handed down the most rulings? Lang J (69 judgments), followed a long way behind by Holgate J (28). Which Court of Appeal judge in relation to appeals from rulings by the Planning Court? Unsurprisingly Lindblom LJ (56). For each judge there is a list of his or her judgments.

Which are the most frequent parties? The Secretary of State is way ahead of the field, unsurprisingly, with 267 cases. Second, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (14 rulings). Third, Gladman Developments Limited (12).

There are limitations to the work – for instance we have not focused on win/lose statistics, given the variety of permutations of outcome, and we have not analysed the much larger number of claims which are sieved out at the permission stage. However, I hope that the analysis is a useful step towards greater transparency.

The work now has additional topicality. The Government is not just proposing to reform the planning system. On 31 July 2020 it launched an “independent panel to look at judicial review”.

As set out in the press statement:

“Specifically, the review will consider:

• Whether the terms of Judicial Review should be written into law

• Whether certain executive decisions should be decided on by judges

• Which grounds and remedies should be available in claims brought against the government

• Any further procedural reforms to Judicial Review, such as timings and the appeal process”

The panel’s detailed terms of reference make for potentially worrying reading in terms of their breadth. Don’t just take that from me – here are two recent posts by Mark Elliott, professor of public law and chair of Cambridge University’s law faculty: Judicial Review Review 1: The Reform Agenda & Its Potential Scope and The Judicial Review Review II: Codifying Judicial Review – Clarification Or Evisceration? The review also needs to be read in the context of the Policy Exchange’s agitations via its Judicial Power Project and most recently its 31 July 2020 document Reforming The Supreme Court (now let’s think about what motivation they might have for that? hmm…). This is all really important stuff – at least as important and potentially far reaching as planning reform, that’s for sure.

The panel comprises:

• Lord Faulks QC – Panel Chair

• Professor Carol Harlow QC

• Vikram Sachdeva QC

• Professor Alan Page

• Celina Colquhoun

• Nick McBride

It is very good to see Celina Colquhoun, as a well-respected and leading planning barrister, on the panel, and I hope that the operation of the Planning Court can perhaps be held out as a useful precedent, with its proactive, relatively quick, case management and judges familiar with our subject area, meaning quicker hearings with, in my view, a greater degree of predictability of outcome. 493 planning cases going to a full hearing (including appeals) in just over six years? That’s not many at all in my view, given the inherent contentious nature of our work and the extent to which there is room for dispute and uncertainty. Despite all the usual gnashing of teeth, isn’t this one aspect of our planning system that is actually working (or at least would be once the Court of Appeal adopts the same approach to timescales as the Planning Court)? In fact, where would we be without regular clarification from the courts as to what the legislation actually means?!

That leads neatly onto a reminder about our free weekly Town Library Planning Court rulings subscription service. The registration page for this and other Town Library updates (e.g. planning appeal decision letters) is here: https://www.townlegal.com/news-and-resources/#the-town-library .

Simon Ricketts, 15 August 2020

Personal views, et cetera

The Planning Court Case Explorer

For The Future

are probably the three words I most associate with the planning system in England, since you asked.

The main part of this post is a commentary by special guest and fellow Town partner Duncan Field on the Government’s Planning for the future white paper, published on 6 August 2020.

But before we get to that, some initial comments from me on timescales.

The consultation period on the white paper ends on 29 October 2020.

The aspiration in the document is that (subject to time extensions for recent plans) new local plans should be in place by the end of this Parliament, so by Spring 2024. Given that those local plans will take up to 30 months to be put in place under the new system proposed, the necessary primary legislation will need to have been passed and in force, with any necessary accompanying Regulations and guidance, by Autumn 2021.

By way of proxy for legislative timescales, the less ambitious Housing and Planning Act 2016 and Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 each took around seven months to pass through the necessary Parliamentary stages, which would mean introducing a Bill by the beginning of 2021. One perhaps has to look back to the Localism Act 2011 for planning legislation of equivalent complexity. That took eleven months from soup to nuts.

Something is going to have to give – either there is going to be rushed consideration of these proposals, which still need significant refinement, or that “end of this Parliament” aspiration is going to have to be reconsidered before long.

But in any event, things can be expected to move quickly.

On the subject of timescales, of course there are shorter term measures proposed in MHCLG’s accompanying document “Changes to the current planning system: Consultation on changes to planning policy and regulations”, which is the subject of a shorter consultation period, until 1 October.

The timescales in that document for the four sets of proposals within it are as follows:

· changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need: “Following the outcome of this consultation, the Government will update the planning practice guidance with the revised standard method for assessing local housing need.”

· securing of First Homes through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system: “We intend to begin by making planning policy changes, to ensure that clear expectations are set. However, to ensure that First Homes are delivered, nationwide, on a consistent basis, we are keeping under consideration the option to strengthen the policy through primary legislation at a future date. We also intend to introduce an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy for First Homes, to enable delivery prior to wider developer contribution reform. This would require changes to regulations. Lastly, we are also considering significant reforms to the system of developer contributions. We will ensure that First Homes will continue to be delivered under a reformed approach”

· supporting small and medium-sized builders by temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing: “Following the consultation, a decision will be taken on whether to proceed with this approach. If it is taken forward, this could be through the introduction of a Written Ministerial Statement in the Autumn.”

· extending the current Permission in Principle to major development: “Following this consultation, if we introduce Permission in Principle by application for major development, we aim to introduce amending regulations this Autumn, with the regulations expected to come into force by the end of the calendar year. Changes to the fee structure would require separate changes to the Planning Fees Regulations.”

The white paper is in my view a considered document and less radical than might have been expected, although certainly ambitious in its breadth. Proposals spin out of it, one after the other, often just in a sentence or two. There are of course areas where there needs to be further thought or explanation. For me, there are two big ones in particular:

⁃ the way in which housing numbers are to be set by the Government for individual authorities and how to resolve the inevitable tension between a swifter examination process and a process that allows proposals in a plan (and the basis for proposals not being in the plan) to be properly tested (particularly where the plan is going to be the equivalent of a series of outline planning permissions for its growth areas);

⁃ how this new infrastructure levy is really going to work and how obligations are going to be addressed that presently are dealt with by way of section 106 agreement, in particular the delivery of affordable housing.

There will also have to be a clear working through of the respective powers and responsibilities across the system, as between government, strategic authorities, local planning authorities and neighbourhoods.

I must say that I found Chris Katkowski QC’s explanations in the latest Have We Got Planning News For You episode really helpful in bringing the proposals, and the thinking behind them, to life. And, boring to say, there is no substitute for reading the actual document.

We are going to drill down into the likely practical implications of the proposals in our next webinar, arranged for 5 pm on 13 August. Do register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ddkW3FG1SeS4j1XuV5KK6A . The panel will be:

• Chris Young QC (barrister, No 5 Chambers)

• Steve Quartermain CBE (consultant, Town Legal LLP)

• Catriona Riddell (Catriona Riddell & Associates)

• Duncan Field (partner, Town Legal LLP)

• Thea Osmund-Smith (barrister, No 5 Chambers)

• Gordon Adams (Battersea Power Station)

• myself

Now, Duncan’s thoughts, as follows:

Planning for the Future begins with some fairly combative language, referring to “our outdated and ineffective planning system” and drawing comparisons with a patched up building which needs to be torn down.

In truth the Government’s proposals do not go quite as far as that and in practice, to continue with the same analogy, we might end up with a better and more sustainable outcome if we were to save the parts of the “patched up building” which have architectural merit. The biggest problem with the current system is not that it is all inherently bad but that it is not sufficiently resourced; it is a pity that planning reforms by successive Governments have never really grappled with that central issue. The good news on this occasion is that the new system will be accompanied by a comprehensive skills and resources strategy for local authorities and key participants in the system; let’s hope the Government delivers on that.

Further on in the document there are some powerful words from the Secretary of State which bring home just how important a time this is for the planning system and what it can deliver.  It is hard to disagree with any of this:

The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected the economic and social lives of the entire nation. With so many people spending more time at home than ever before, we have come to know our homes, gardens and local parks more intimately. For some this has been a welcome opportunity to spend more time in the place they call home with the people they love. For others – those in small, substandard homes, those unable to walk to distant shops or parks, those struggling to pay their rent, or indeed for those who do not have a home of their own at all – this has been a moment where longstanding issues in our development and planning system have come to the fore.

Onto the objectives for reform, which can be summarised as follows:

• Reduce complexity and with it, uncertainty and delay.

• In doing so, deliver a more competitive market with a greater diversity of developers.

• Remove the discretionary nature of individual development management decisions and replace it with a rule-based system of development control.

• In doing so, reduce planning risk and the cost of capital for development.

• Reduce the time it takes to produce a local plan.

• Simplify assessments of housing need, viability and environmental impacts.

• Restore public trust and encourage more widespread public participation.

• Get better at unlocking growth and opportunity, encouraging beautiful new places, supporting town and city centres and revitalising existing buildings as well as new development.

• Harness digital technology.

Linked to this is a long list of desired outcomes including the user experience, home ownership, access to infrastructure, economic growth and innovation.

We then come to the main proposals which the Government intends to bring forward:

1. Local plans

a. These will be simplified so that they only identify land for development, the sites that should be protected and the development that can take place.  There would be three categories of land:

i. Growth – sites suitable for comprehensive development which, once allocated, will have outline approval for development.

ii. Renewal – sites where smaller scale development is appropriate, which would benefit from a statutory presumption in favour of development once allocated.

iii. Protected – sites with environmental or cultural characteristics where development should be subject to more stringent controls.

An alternative approach might be a more binary system (growth and renewal with permission in principle versus protected areas) or more scope for the existing development management approach in areas other than those allocated for “growth”.

b. Plans should become digital, visual and map-based, interactive and data rich, using a standardised approach to support open access.

c. Local plans (and neighbourhood plans) will be more focused on giving clear area-specific requirements for land that is allocated for growth and renewal including design codes; generic development management policies and duplication of national policy and guidance needs to be avoided.

d. Plans should be subject to a single test of achieving sustainable development instead of the current tests for soundness and the duty to co-operate.  There would be no Sustainability Appraisal and instead this would be replaced by a simplified process for assessing the environmental impact of plans.

e. Local plans would meet housing need by reference to a standard method for establishing housing requirements developed and set at a national level; this would mean distributing the national housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes annually, and one million homes by the end of the Parliament, taking into account local factors including constraints, opportunities and affordability.  The Housing Delivery Test would stay.

f. Local plans would have to be brought forward by reference to a fixed 30 month statutory timescale with six stages and individual timings for each stage.

g. Local planning authorities would be under a duty to review their plans every 5 years; powers of intervention would remain such as the issuing of directions and preparation of a plan in consultation with local people.

h. Neighbourhood Plans to be retained but with more focus on form of development to reflect the proposals for Local Plans.

This is a refreshingly clear vision of what local plans might become and a digitalised system would be transformative for the user experience and public engagement. However, there are some big questions around how to encourage strategic planning across local authority boundaries for the bigger than local issues (the Government is open to suggestions), how in practice the “sustainable development” test would work and, linked to that, how robust the new environmental assessment process will be.

Equally as important, what will the effect of these promised changes be on current local plans? Without further incentives or assurances around their continuing effect in any transitional arrangements as we switch over to the new system, there must be a real concern they will be halted in their tracks.

2. Development Management

a. As indicated above, growth areas allocated in a local plan would have outline permission for the principle of development; details would be agreed and full planning permission achieved through a new reserved matters process, a local development order or possibly, on bigger sites, via a development consent order.

b. Renewal areas would benefit from a new statutory presumption in favour of development and would benefit from either a new automatic consenting route where specified forms of development meet design and other prior approval requirements, a faster planning application process or a local or neighbourhood development order.

c. Proposals which do not conform to the local plan in renewal and growth areas could still come forward, exceptionally, through a planning application process.

d. In protected areas, proposals will have to be brought forward via a planning application (subject to any permitted development rights or local development orders) and will be judged against the NPPF.

e. Generally, the development management process will be based on a more streamlined end-to-end process with firm deadlines for determination through a mix of:

i. Digitalisation;

ii. Data access;

iii. Shorter and standardised applications with reduced or limited supporting material;

iv. A standardised approach to technical information, conditions and developer contributions; and

v. Delegation of detailed planning decisions to planning officers where the principle of development has been established.

f. The Government will build in incentives for prompt determination of applications by local planning authorities such as deemed approval of some applications or refunds of application fees.

g. The process will still be subject to call-in powers and appeals but the Government expects the volume of call-ins and appeals to reduce over time.

h. There will be encouragement for faster build out by making provision in local plans/design codes for a variety of development types by different builders (picking up on the conclusions of the Letwin Review).

This vision for the new development management system feels less clear: permission in principle and outline planning permission are used interchangeably in places as a consequence of land being allocated for growth; however, over and above this, there appears to be provision for a “full” planning permission through a new reserved matters system or local development orders or even development consent orders. Would this not remove a lot of the benefit of allocating land for growth?  There is also a myriad of possible ways in which land allocated for renewal might gain consent and, in the meantime, we retain the current planning application process as well.  If the Government is not careful it might add to the complexity of development management.

Certainly, we can all get on board with the much-needed streamlining of the development management process from end to end, with more standardisation, reducing the quantity of application documents and increased use of digital technology.  However, resourcing this change will be key to its success.

3. Building better, building beautiful and sustainable places

Design and place-making is still high up on the Government’s political agenda.  Proposals in this space include the following:

a. A National Model Design Code to be published in the Autumn which will work alongside the National Design Guide and the Manual for Streets; together these are expected to have a bearing on design of new communities and to guide decisions on development. (This will be an early entrant into the current planning system.)

b. Local guides and codes are to be prepared wherever possible to reflect local character but need to have input from the local community before they are given any weight in the planning process.

c. A new expert body will be set up to help local authorities make use of design guidance and codes, as well as performing a wider monitoring and challenge role for the sector.

d. The much-heralded “fast-track” for beauty will be achieved through:

i. The NPPF – which will have provision for schemes that comply with local design guides and codes to be approved quickly;

ii. Legislation to require that sites in growth areas should have a masterplan and site-specific code as a condition of the permission in principle which is granted through allocation in the local plan; and

iii. Widening permitted development rights through the use of “pattern books” for different building types.

e. The NPPF will require targeted consideration of measures to support climate change mitigation and adaptation. (In our view, policy has been playing catch-up on climate change for some time – this is long overdue and should be welcomed.)

f. There will be a quicker and simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts, stepping away from the current frameworks such as Strategic Environmental Assessment, Sustainability Appraisal and Environmental Impact Assessment.  The key requirements for the new framework will be:

i. early consideration;

ii. clear and easy to understand; and

iii. avoidance of duplication.

A further consultation on this is expected in the Autumn.

g. The Government intends to review and update the planning framework for listed buildings and conservation areas, to ensure their significance is conserved while allowing, where appropriate, sympathetic changes to support their continued use and address climate change.

h. Improvements to the energy efficiency standards for buildings will be brought forward to help meet the 2050 net zero commitment.

The intention here is clear and consistent with the recent focus of the Government on design and beauty in the planning system.  The area with the most loaded questions is the promised framework for assessing environmental impact; in our view, there is clear scope to reduce the voluminous and highly technical nature of the current framework but now is not the time to water it down in terms of its ambit and its protective function.  We will have to wait until the Autumn to find out more.

4. Infrastructure

There are radical proposals for the funding of infrastructure:

a. Replace S106 obligations and the current version of Community Infrastructure Levy with a new Infrastructure Levy calculated as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory, nationally-set rate or rates (potentially variable by area).

b. This new levy will be charged on the final value of a development (or an assessed sales value where the development is not sold, e.g. build to rent) by reference to the rate in force when planning permission is granted.  This would have to be paid before occupation.

c. Local authorities would be able to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure.

d. The London Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy and similar strategic Community Infrastructure Levies in combined authorities could be retained.

e. The Infrastructure Levy Could be extended to capture changes of use without additional floor area and through permitted development.

f. The new levy would be extended to fund affordable housing.  Allowance would be made for in-kind delivery on-site, which could be made mandatory where an authority has a requirement, a capability to deliver on site and wishes to do so. In those circumstances local authorities would be able to specify the form and tenure of the on-site provision.  The Government anticipates that there would need to be a considered policy approach to the risk of imbalance between the value of the agreed in-kind delivery and the fluctuating nature of the levy liability, contingent as it will be on the development value.

g. Local authorities could be given more freedom on how they spend the levy.

There is a lot of detail to be worked through here.  Setting the new levy at a level which does not deter development (and indeed land supply through the price paid by developers) will be key and a difficult issue to judge.  

The Government will also need to be scrupulous in ensuring that affordable housing continues to come forward using levy funds and still comes forward as part of mixed and balanced communities.

The removal of the blunt and inflexible tool that we have come to love or hate in the form of CIL is welcome in our view and with it the removal of a considerable amount of confusing and time-consuming red tape.  For practical reasons – not least delivering site-specific solutions for development – we are not sure we are witnessing the end of S106 obligations or an equivalent just yet but they will undoubtedly be slimmed down.

5. Delivery

The consultation document ends with a few final proposals and thoughts from Government on the delivery of a new planning system:

a. As a first step there is a parallel consultation on changes to the current system including extension of Permission in Principle (by application to major development), the standard method for assessing local housing need, First Homes and supporting SME builders by temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing. More here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-current-planning-system

b. The Government sees a potential delivery role for development corporations.

c. The reforms are considered likely to reduce judicial review risk.

d. The need for resources and skills is recognised and will be addressed through a comprehensive strategy.  In principle, the Government’s view is that the cost of operating the new planning system should be principally funded by the beneficiaries of planning gain – landowners and developers – rather than the national or local taxpayer.  Funding may also be achieved through application fees and potentially the new infrastructure levy or- to a limited extent – general taxation.

e. The Government intends to strengthen the powers for local planning authorities to enforce against breach of planning control and provide incentives for enforcement action to be taken.  

To end where this overview began, resources are key and a comprehensive strategy to ensure the sufficiency of funding and skills will be very welcome, as long as it does what it says on the tin. This will be vital to the success of the new system.

We know now what the Government wants to achieve. It is up to all of us in the sector to help them make it work and if parts of the system are worthy of retention for their “architectural” merit, to explain why that is, with reference to the Government’s objectives.

Thanks Duncan.

Simon Ricketts, 7 August 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Of Use? (& That Old C2 Number Again)

Where is this Planning Policy Paper then? Now presumably to be published by MHCLG next week, isn’t it odd to be making any such announcement when Parliament is no longer sitting, unless, anti-climatically, it is going be a factual update as to progress rather than the “big bang” moment many anticipated?

This post was just going to be a shameless plug for two webinars on the new Class E of the Use Classes Order that we at Town are running next week jointly with Landmark Chambers, at 5pm on 4 and 6 August, on the legal implications and the planning implications respectively. Details are below. We have had a great take-up (over 1,500 acceptances in total for the two sessions) but there is still capacity. What would we do without Zoom??

New Class E: The Legal Implications

5 pm Tuesday 4 August 2020

Practical answers to the questions arising from the amended Use Classes Order.

• How precisely will it work

• What about existing conditions and other restrictions?

• How to assess new applications and scope/risk of restrictive conditions

• Scheme definition in the new world

• External works

• The GPDO transitional arrangements

• Are local plan policies now out of date?

• How does CIL apply?

Panelists:

• Zack Simons (barrister, Landmark Chambers)

• Duncan Field (partner, Town Legal LLP)

• Heather Sargent (barrister, Landmark Chambers)

• Simon Ricketts (partner, Town Legal LLP)

Chair: Meeta Kaur (partner, Town Legal LLP)

Register via this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ow1AXngeRyyRrBE_moQPew

New Class E: The Planning Implications

5 pm Thursday 6 August 2020

The changes to the Use Classes Order have potentially fundamental consequences for land owners, developers, local authorities and communities:

• What can we expect to be the main opportunities?

• What are the concerns and how can they be mitigated?

• How will local authorities respond?

• What now for place making and sustainability?

• Retail, employment and leisure policies in the new world

Panelists:

• Alice Lester MBE (operational director, regeneration, London Borough of Brent)

• Michael Meadows (head of planning, British Land)

• Steve Quartermain CBE (consultant, Town Legal LLP)

• Sarah Cary (executive director, place, London Borough of Enfield)

• Zack Simons (barrister, Landmark Chambers)

Chair: Meeta Kaur (partner, Town Legal LLP)

Register via this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_GnWGpSBQRWiqAeeTONsSjw

I was going to leave it at that, but then an interesting case was handed down earlier today: Rectory Homes Limited v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 31 July 2020). It doesn’t concern the recent Use Classes Order questions but rather the longstanding question as to how extra care housing should be categorised in use terms.

Usually the issue is C2 versus C3 (eg see my 16 September 2017 blog post Class Distinctions: Housing For Older People) but here it was a different question: was a proposed ‘Housing with Care’ development (Use Class C2)” development to be categorised as “dwellings” for the purposes of South Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan, which requires schemes for 3 or more dwellings to provide affordable housing? An inspector had dismissed Rectory’s planning appeal. Both parties at the appeal had agreed that the proposal fell within class C2. The difference was over whether the accommodation could be categorised as “dwellings”. “The Claimant’s stance was that because it was agreed that the residential accommodation did not fall within Class C3, none of those units could constitute a dwelling. SODC’s case was that the “housing with care” units were dwellings in both “form and function”, and as such could fall within the C2 Use Class provided that they are not in C3 use.”

The inspector found that the accommodation fell within C2 but that it comprised “dwellings” for the purposes of the policy. His reasoning was rather odd: “the Inspector appears to have taken the view that if each of the dwellings proposed would be ancillary to the C2 use of the site, the exclusion of dwellings falling within the C3 Use Class, upon which the Claimant had relied, could not apply.”

The inspector went on to find as follows:

Taken as a whole the proposal would be contrary to the development plan in that it would materially exceed the maximum number of dwellings set out in the site specific policy in the [Thame Neighbourhood Plan]. It would cause harm to the setting of The Elms and to the [Thame Conservation Area], which are both designated heritage assets, contrary to the relevant policies in the SOLP, the SOCS and TNP; special attention and great weight should be given to these harms. It would also fail to provide affordable housing, in particular on-site, to deliver a mixed community, in line with the policies of the SOCS, the TNP and the Framework. While there would be compliance with other policies, I consider that these are the most important policies for the determination of this appeal. These policies are all up-to-date.

As explored above, the proposal would result in less than substantial harm to, and thus the significance of, both the setting of The Elms and to the TCA. These should be balanced in line with paragraph 196 of the Framework with the public benefits of the proposed development. In this regard I consider that the public benefits identified above would balance those heritage harms. This is in line with Policy HA4 of the TNP which allows for a balance to be undertaken as to the overall planning conclusion, but this would not mean that there was compliance with that policy overall due to the number of dwellings being proposed.


By failing to provide affordable housing on the appeal site, the proposal would result in very substantial harm. The need for owner occupied elderly persons extra care accommodation in the area does not outweigh this harm.”

Rectory challenged the decision. I only refer below to those issues arising which touch on use classes.

Holgate J makes a preliminary point, which is topical, given much discussion at the moment as to the advantages or disadvantages of defining proposals by way of the new class E, once the Use Classes Order changes take effect from 1 September:

“I deal first with a preliminary point. The Inspector suggested in his Pre-Inquiry Note that because the purpose of the Use Classes Order is to remove certain changes of use from development control, a planning permission ought not to be expressed in terms of a Use Class, particularly as that consent would be issued before the development is constructed and begins to be used. The principal parties at the inquiry did not see this as posing any legal difficulty and ultimately it did not appear in the Inspector’s reasoning in his decision letter. I agree with them on this point. For example, the provisions on certification of lawful development require that the lawfulness of an existing use (which may be based upon a planning permission), or the lawfulness of a proposed use, should be described by reference to any Use Class applicable (ss.191(5)(d) and 192(3)(b)). I therefore cannot see why the grant of a planning permission may not also be defined in terms of a Use Class.”

So, there is no reason not to define what is granted planning permission by way of a use class rather by way of a specific proposed use. (Obviously what is applied for will need to be justified by reference to the relevant development plan and other considerations. Absent clear government guidance, that is going to be a big issue in relation to the new Class E – how much weight should pre Class E development plan policies still have?).

The judge goes on to conclude that extra care accommodation can comprise dwellings:

“It has become well-established that the terms “dwelling” or “dwelling house” in planning legislation refer to a unit of residential accommodation which provides the facilities needed for day-to-day private domestic existence (Gravesham p. 146; Moore v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1998) 77 P & CR 114, 119; R (Innovia Cellophane Limited) v Infrastructure Planning Commission [2012] PTSR 1132 at [27]-[28]). This concept is consistent with the Core Strategy’s interchangeable use of the words “dwelling”, “house”, “home” and “unit”. It can include an extra care dwelling, in the sense of a private home with the facilities needed for “independent living” but where care is provided to someone in need of care.”

Just because the proposed development is not within C3 does not mean that it cannot comprise dwellings for the purposes of policy. The inspector’s categorisation of the units of accommodation as ancillary to the main C2 use were seen by the judge as “wholly immaterial” to his decision.

Perhaps a reminder that, once we have all finished chewing over the uncertainties of new class E, the C classes are perhaps also in need of some updating…

(Zack: I reckon we could get a couple more webinars out of that exercise in due course…!)

Simon Ricketts, 31 July 2020

Personal views, et cetera

This blog post’s ear worm

E Is For Economy

It’s the economy, stupid.”

More E words: the English planning and property community was immediately, depending who you spoke to, exercised/excited by the changes to the Use Classes Order and General Permitted Development Order this week. Surprisingly so perhaps, given how heavily the changes had previously been trailed (although, it must be said, in terms of the Use Classes Order changes, not consulted upon). Inevitably and by contrast, the wider public appears to be oblivious as to what lies ahead, despite the potentially far-reaching implications of the creation of the new “commercial, business and serviceclass E within the Use Classes Order in particular.

There are many good summaries already of the changes. My Town colleagues Nikita Sellers, George Morton Jack and Meeta Kaur have prepared a detailed summary.

I am not going to consider the rights and wrongs of the changes in any detail. I have referred previously to my disappointment that the Government has not required for example its nationally described minimum space standards to be applied in relation to the creation of new dwellings by way of permitted development rights (despite having published, with curious timing, a report Research into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights, on the same day as publishing legislation which does not take into account the recommendations of that work, with no explanation for the discrepancy). The Use Classes Order changes do provide some overdue flexibility given the structural changes underway in our town centres in the light of changed shopping patterns (not just Covid-related but of course now accentuated), but they are extremely wide ranging and I query whether the various permutations of potential consequences have been adequately considered. But that is all for another day.

Instead, I wanted to pull us back to some planning law fundamentals – in what circumstances may owners find that they cannot rely on the expanded use rights after all?

First, in order to move within a use class, the initial use first has to have been instituted, so if for instance you have an as yet unimplemented planning permission for a shop, or if the development has been built but not yet been occupied, the development will first need to have been used as a shop before there can be a change to another use within the new class E (e.g. offices).

Secondly, there must not be a condition on the planning permission authorising the current use that has the effect of preventing use changes that would otherwise have been enabled by way of the Use Classes Order and/or General Permitted Development Order. This is familiar but not straightforward territory. There is much case law as to whether particular phrases in conditions actually achieved what the local planning authority intended and indeed whether the benefit of the condition was lost through the grant of subsequent permissions which did not expressly impose it.

The general answer is that it depends on a careful analysis of the existing planning permission (and of course any provisions within any section 106 agreement).

The Supreme Court considered a situation like this in London Borough of Lambeth v Secretary of State (Supreme Court, 3 July 2019), which I summarised in my 4 July 2019 blog post What Really Is The Meaning Of Lambeth?

The original permission read:

The retail unit hereby permitted shall be used for the retailing of goods for DIY home and garden improvements and car maintenance, building materials and builders’ merchants goods and for no other purpose (including any other purpose in Class I of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1972 or in any provision equivalent to that Class in any statutory instrument revoking and re-enacting that Order).”

It was then amended to read:

The retail use hereby permitted shall be used for the retailing of DIY home and garden improvements and car maintenance, building materials and builders merchants goods, carpets and floor coverings, furniture, furnishings, electrical goods, automobile products, camping equipment, cycles, pet and pet products, office supplies and for no other purpose (including the retail sale of food and drink or any other purpose in Class A1 of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) or in any provision equivalent to that Class in any statutory instrument revoking and re-enacting that Order).”

The council then approved by way of section 73 a further change so that it was to read:

The retail unit hereby permitted shall be used for the sale and display of non-food goods only and, notwithstanding the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (or any Order revoking and re-enacting that Order with or without modification), for no other goods.

However, the council neglected to include that wording in a condition. It was simply part of the description of the development.

The Supreme Court held that the permission was to be interpreted as constraining the use of the retail unit so that it was for the sale of non-food goods only. But for our purposes, this is an example that the courts (1) routinely treat conditions as able validly to restrict the operation of the Use Classes Order and/or General Permitted Development Order and (2) are perhaps currently more benevolent towards the local planning authority’s position than has previously been the case where there has been procedural imprecision, as long as what was intended was clear.

My 14 October 2017 blog post Flawed Drafting: Interpreting Planning Permissions referred to another recent example, Dunnett Investments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 29 March 2017) which concerned this condition:

This use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, and for no other purpose whatsoever, without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained“.

The court held that “express planning consent” did not include prior approval pursuant to the “office to residential” permitted development right. The restriction applied.

So care is needed! Where there are restrictive conditions which would restrict the flexibility that the new class E would otherwise give, of course consideration can be given to applying to remove those conditions by way of section 73 application.

Thirdly, when applications for planning permission are now to be determined, careful consideration will need to be given to the proposed description of development and no doubt there will be issues arising as to whether decision makers are justified in imposing conditions which restrict the operation of the new Use Classes Order and General Permitted Development Order flexibilities. It will be the B1(a), (b) and (c) arguments all over again, but writ large.

I hope that we will have updated Planning Practice Guidance. In the meantime, the current Planning Practice Guidance has passages such as these:

“It is important to ensure that conditions are tailored to tackle specific problems, rather than standardised or used to impose broad unnecessary controls.

1. necessary;

2. relevant to planning;

3. relevant to the development to be permitted;

4. enforceable;

5. precise; and

6. reasonable in all other respects.”

“Is it appropriate to use conditions to restrict the future use of permitted development rights or changes of use?

Conditions restricting the future use of permitted development rights or changes of use may not pass the test of reasonableness or necessity. The scope of such conditions needs to be precisely defined, by reference to the relevant provisions in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, so that it is clear exactly which rights have been limited or withdrawn.Area-wide or blanket removal of freedoms to carry out small scale domestic and non-domestic alterations that would otherwise not require an application for planning permission are unlikely to meet the tests of reasonableness and necessity. The local planning authority also has powers under article 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 to enable them to withdraw permitted development rights across a defined area, where justified.

Will that guidance be sufficient to avoid disputes? I doubt it.

Am I entitled to apply for planning permission simply for Class E use? Given that Parliament now deems changes within class E not be material, why not? How will such applications be determined as against development plan policies which are likely to be at odds with such an approach, and how will CIL be calculated, given that many CIL charging schedules distinguish as between, for instance, retail and office use?

Fourthly, planning permission will still be required for operational works that materially affect the external appearance of the building. To what extent will local planning authorities seek to exert control by that route, as we have sometimes seen with office to residential conversions? How to guard against plainly substandard conversions of shops to offices and of, for instance, units on out of town business parks to shops?

Fifthly, there is going to be much focus on how precisely the General Permitted Development Order operates in relation to the new class. For an initial period, until 31 July 2021, the GPDO will operate as against how the relevant use was categorised before the changes to the Use Classes Order became effective. Are we to expect further changes to the GPDO in the coming period?

Sixthly, quite apart from these planning law constraints, private law constraints imposed by way of, for instance, restrictive covenants and user covenants in leases will still apply.

But, there’s no way round it, class E has huge implications for much of the world around us, from central business district to market town, to out of town retail or business park. It also brings with it, and this is its very point, huge opportunities to allow for adaptation and for entrepreneurship. How is all this going to work out in practice? Will people start using the new freedoms and then find that inevitably in due course the rules tighten again, by which time the horse has bolted, or, that for land owners, they may have unwittingly lost the right to the use which was most valuable in investment terms? E is also for experiment.

Simon Ricketts, 24 July 2020 (expanded version 25 July 2020)

PS and for Emily! Happy birthday daughter.

Personal views, et cetera

Build, Build, Build* (*Terms & Conditions Apply)

The Government is about to announce two major proposals for significant deregulation of the planning system by way of amendment of the Use Classes Order and the General Permitted Development Order. According to Robert Jenrick’s 30 June 2020 letter to MPs:

“I will create a new broad category of ‘commercial, business and service’ uses which will allow commercial, retail and leisure uses greater freedom to adapt to changing circumstances.”

(“In undertaking this reform, I recognise that there are certain uses which give rise to important local considerations; for example to ensure local pubs and theatres are protected, or to prevent the proliferation of hot food takeaways or betting shops”).

There will also be “… a new permitted development right to encourage regeneration and put empty buildings back to good use. This will serve to bring forward additional much needed homes and boost investment opportunities for the construction industry.

The right will allow free-standing vacant and redundant commercial and residential buildings to be demolished – and rebuilt as residential use within the footprint of the existing building. I recognise that development in certain locations requires individual consideration and therefore, I propose that the right does not apply, for example, in national parks and conservation areas or to listed buildings.”

The reforms, due to come into law in September, follow on from those contained in the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, which were laid before Parliament on 24 June 2020 and which were summarised in my 26 June 2020 blog post New Planning Legislation! A Detailed Guide. The most radical of these measures was the creation of a new “building upwards” permitted development right: “works for the construction of up to two additional storeys of new dwellinghouses immediately above the existing topmost residential storey on a building which is a purpose-built, detached block of flats”.

My Town colleagues Lida Nguyen, Rebecca Craig, Victoria McKeegan and Meeta Kaur have created a flow chart to describe how the new “building upwards” right will work, when it comes into law on 1 August 2020. It is not straight-forward:

The new rights will of course be equally complex to navigate. The complexity of dealing with any use classes or permitted development rights question is accentuated for those without an expensive subscription to a legal updating service: the Government still does not provide access to up to date consolidated versions of secondary legislation and so it is extremely difficult for non-professionals to navigate the inevitable regulatory trip hazards.

Many of us of course continue to query whether the new right should have been further constrained – that the flow diagram is too simple (leading one to wonder perhaps whether the traditional planning application route isn’t quite so unwieldy after all…). Clive Betts, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, set out a number of specific questions in his 8 July 2020 letter to MHCLG Minister of State Christopher Pincher:

⁃ “What will the Government do to ensure that basic standards, including minimum room sizes and guarantees of amenity space, will apply to new PDRs.”

⁃ “What will the Government do to ensure that local authorities do not, as a consequence of new PDRs, miss out on the funding they need to provide vital infrastructure and affordable housing for their communities?”

⁃ (With reference to the proposed Building Safety Bill, which will implement a new fire safety regime) “Could you confirm…that where a building is extended in height above 18 metres (or six storeys) through the new PDR, that it will then fall under the scope of the new building safety regime?

⁃ “What rights will local authorities have to object to a scheme which damages the local streetscape?”

⁃ “How will the rights of existing business, e.g. pubs and restaurants, be protected to ensure that they can continue to operate in an area changing its mix of development?”

⁃ “What research has the Government undertaken into the potential impact on leaseholders of these changes and what protections will the Government put in place to ensure that they are not financially disadvantaged as a consequence?”

(We now have further detail in relation to the proposed Building Safety Bill, referred to in that third bullet point. MHCLG has published its 18 July 2020 press statement Landmark building safety law to keep residents safe and accompanying guide, although until we see the draft Bill on 20 July we will not have the answer to that question as to whether the duties in the Bill will apply to development carried out by way of permitted development rights, which personally I would guess that surely they would but we shall see…).

Aside from those substantive concerns, which will equally apply to the proposed “demolish commercial to replace with residential” permitted development right, there are inevitably a number of uncertainties as to various aspects of the “building upwards” right. For instance:

⁃ Does the existing building have to be entirely in residential use? What if, say, there are any commercial units on the ground floor?

⁃ How is the adequacy of natural daylight to be determined? This cannot be allowed to turn into inconclusive debates as to “BRE compliance” given the flexibility urged in the BRE guidance itself as to application of its tests.

⁃ What is the scope for the local planning authority to refuse prior approval on the basis of effect on amenity, overlooking, privacy and loss of light? If any exercise of the right would lead to one or more of these problems, due to the inherent circumstances of the building, can the local planning authority refuse permission even if that thwarts the owner’s ability to rely on the right?

⁃ What amounts to “completion” and what are the practical implications of the development having been substantially carried out but not completed by the three years’ deadline?

Any project to construct additional storeys onto an existing block of flats also of course brings all manner of private law complexities: a minefield of landlord and tenant, building management, private nuisance and rights to light issues for example. It is often not the need for planning permission that scuppers the proposal.

Don’t just listen to me: it’s worth reading the Government’s own Regulatory Policy Committee’s lukewarm endorsement of the impact assessment accompanying the 24 June changes. The assessment had estimated that the “building upwards” right could lead to approximately 81,000 homes being built above existing structures. I would be astonished.

Simon Ricketts, 18 July 2020

Personal views, et cetera

The New Towns Question (Again)

Whilst we wait for this planning policy paper, the speculation rises. Old ideas get dusted down again, pitches are rolled.

The post-war new towns programme saw 27 UK new towns built by state-sponsored development corporations under the New Towns Act 1946 and later amending legislation. One of the conundrums that successive governments have grappled with over the last 40 years or so is how to create the conditions in which the private sector, rather than the state, can bring forward and deliver residential-led proposals at scale, whether in the form of new towns or urban extensions.

The jargon doesn’t help. We don’t seem to want to call it what it is, so an urban extension becomes a “sustainable urban extension”, which becomes a SUE. A new town presumably is a bit much for our sensitive modern ears, so to big up the environmental credentials, and to tip a hat to Ebenezer Howard, it becomes a new garden village, garden town or garden community (or, when the “eco-“ prefix became fashionable a decade or so ago, eco-town). The precise terminology is usually driven by the Government funding stream of the day, eg

⁃ The Eco-towns prospectus, July 2007 (“Eco-towns are a major opportunity for local authorities, house builders, developers and registered social landlords to come together to build small new towns. Eco-towns should be well designed, attractive places to live, with good services and facilities, and which connect well with the larger towns or cities close by. Uniquely, they offer an opportunity to design a whole town – business and services as well as homes – to achieve zero-carbon development, and to use this experience to help guide other developments across the country. The essential requirements we are looking for are:
(i) eco-towns must be new settlements, separate and distinct from existing towns but well linked to them. They need to be additional to existing plans, with a minimum target of 5,000 – 10,000 homes;”
(ii) the development as a whole should reach zero carbon standards, and each town should be an exemplar in at least one area of environmental sustainability;
(iii) eco-town proposals should provide for a good range of facilities within the town – a secondary school, a medium scale retail centre, good quality business space and leisure facilities;
(iv) affordable housing should make up between 30 and 50 per cent of the total through a wide range and distribution of tenures in mixed communities, with a particular emphasis on larger family homes;
(v) a management body which will help develop the town, provide support for people moving to the new community, for businesses and to co-ordinate delivery of services and manage facilities
.”)

The Locally-Led Garden Villages, Towns and Cities prospectus, March 2016 (“Expressions of interest are sought by 31 July 2016 for “garden village” projects defined by the Government as developments of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes that meet specified criteria. Up to 12 proposals are to be supported. The list of information required has now been published. This follows DCLG’s March 2016 prospectus that covered both garden villages and garden towns/cities (10,000 homes plus). Key criteria include:

⁃ backing from the relevant local authorities

⁃ engagement with the local community

⁃ embedding of “garden city principles””) (see 17 June 2016 blog post How Does Your Garden Village Grow?)

⁃ the Garden Communities prospectus, August 2018 (“The Government “will prioritise proposals for new Garden Towns (more than 10,000 homes), but will consider proposals for Garden Villages (1,500-10,000 homes) which are particularly strong in other aspects. For instance, demonstrating exceptional quality or innovations, development on predominantly brownfield sites, being in an area of particularly high housing demand, or ability to expand substantially further in the future.”) (see my 24 August 2018 blog post Let A Million New Homes Bloom).

New settlement” is probably the least value-laden term and that’s what I’ll use for the rest of this post.

One of the current hot topics, ahead of this planning policy paper which may go in an entirely different direction, has been whether the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime under the Planning Act 2008 should be extended so as include new settlements and other major residential-led projects.

In some ways, this wouldn’t be a huge leap.

After all, the system was extended by way of the Infrastructure Planning (Business or Commercial Projects) Regulations 2013, to allow the Secretary of State to designate business and commercial projects as NSIPs (with very limited take up – two projects as far as I know, neither of which yet the subject of a formal application, the London Resort theme park proposal and the International Advanced Manufacturing Park Two project).

It was extended again in April 2017, by way of section 160 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, to allow NSIPs to include “related housing development” that has some special or functional connection with the particular infrastructure project, capped at around 500 homes (with no take up yet as far as I am aware).

At the time that the decision was made to allow business and commercial projects to use the NSIPs system, the idea of also allowing major residential development projects to be included was considered, but rejected:

“Planning for housing and the determination of planning applications for housing development is a primary role of local councils and the Government does not consider it appropriate to remove this responsibility from them. The Government has taken a number of steps to make clear the role of local councils in planning for housing including through the National Planning Policy Framework.

The Planning Act 2008 already bars dwellings from being consented as “associated development” alongside a nationally significant infrastructure project. The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 additionally sets out that the Government may not prescribe housing as a form of business and commercial development. [This of course preceded the 2017 change!]

Given the strong support for the exclusion of housing from the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime and the Government proposes to take no further action in this respect”.

(Major infrastructure planning: extending the regime to business and commercial projects: Summary of responses and government response (June 2013)).

The Government hangs on to the mantra that new settlements must be “locally-led” but isn’t this just an attempt to avoid being seen as directly responsible either for the consequences of its own target-setting or for properly underwriting on a longterm basis the costs of delivery? After all, why shouldn’t business and commercial projects be “locally led”, and how does call-in fit in?

Since 2018 we have had the wording in what is now paragraph 72 of the NPPF: “The supply of large numbers of new homes can often be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns, provided they are well located and designed, and supported by the necessary infrastructure and facilities. Working with the support of their communities, and with other authorities if appropriate, strategic policy-making authorities should identify suitable locations for such development where this can help to meet identified needs in a sustainable way.

But is it really satisfactory for the Government to continue with the position that planning for housing is the role of local councils and that it is not going to remove that responsibility from them?

The Government has sought to address concerns that proposals of this scale may be difficult to deliver by way of the traditional Town and Country Planning Act 1990 regime, even if there is local support (big “if”). By way of the New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018, it introduced an option for the procedures within the New Towns Act 1981 to be used by way of the creation of a “locally-led new town development corporation” at the application of the relevant local authority or locally authorities. MHCLG’s 2018 guidance document explains how the process is meant to work, although you will have to blow the dust off it – another process which I do not think has yet been used (and I place local development orders in a similar category – very little take up, and what there has been has not been in relation to new settlements).

So if no appetite for state-sponsored new settlements, no appetite for local authority sponsored new settlements under the 2018 Regulations and great difficulty with delivery through the traditional planning system (eg the West of England and North Essex Authorities plans, and more besides) – what else can be done to unlock the potential?

It is unsurprising that thoughts turn again to the NSIPs process.

Think tank (groan) the Social Market Foundation published a paper in June 2020 Unlocking Britain: Recovery and renewal after COVID-19 with a disparate series of proposals across various areas of policy. It is curious that in relation to planning, the paper’s big idea is to greatly expand the use of the NSIPs process:

““Here are the simple legislative steps we need to take to achieve this, and it can all be done by changes to the Planning Act:

A. Remove the need for DCOs to be made in accordance with an NPS – this won’t work for projects that are not of national significance, and some NPS do not exist, or are out of date anyway;

B. Shorten the time period required for public examination to four months (rather than six months as currently) because we would be dealing with smaller projects;

C. Reduce the time for the planning inspector and the Secretary of State (separately) to make their decisions under this process from three months to two months;

D. Limit the ability for the Secretaries of State to extend the time period they have for final decision–making (currently three months, hopefully changing to two months as per the above) to only being for special circumstances, such as national security or a national emergency.

When considering the changes (A) to (D) above, these mirror the provisions within the Planning Act that already exist for “material amendment” to DCOs – so there is an existing legislative precedent for this accelerated procedure.

Overall, this will mean that infrastructure projects, or housing developments of more than 1,000 homes, can be delivered with a high degree of certainty of success, within 12 months of the plan being submitted.”

So the idea of residential-led NSIPs for schemes of 1,000 homes or more. I’m really not sure that such centralisation of decision making in relation to so many projects is remotely practical, let alone desirable (whether for promoters, local authorities or communities.

There is a great critique of the proposal in Lichfields’ blog post Following Orders: five actions necessary for DCOs and the NSIP regime to be used for large-scale housing (Matthew Spry and Nicki Mableson, 7 July 2020). Matthew and Nicki don’t leap to conclusions but examine:

⁃ What’s the problem for large scale housing projects?

⁃ How could DCOs help and what are the barriers?

⁃ What is needed to make a housing DCO regime effective?

They conclude that the potential is there, probably for schemes of more than 5,000 homes, but identify that action would be needed in at least five key areas, including the way that “need” and “location” are to be identified.

The post was published the same day as I was chairing a webinar discussion on exactly the same set of issues (panellists John Rhodes OBE (director, Quod), Bridget Rosewell CBE (Commissioner, National Infrastructure Commission), Gordon Adams (Battersea Power Station), Kathryn Ventham (partner, Barton Willmore) and Michael Humphries QC (Francis Taylor Building)). If you would like a link to a recording of the session please let me know.

Later in the week, a further much more detailed research document was published: Can development consent orders help meet the challenges of our time? by Barton Willmore, Womble Bond Dickinson, the Copper Consultancy. I recommend the document. It is written by people with practical experience of the subject and is based on solid survey work. It is everything that a think tank report is not.

Its recommendations:

“We also think that there are benefits to be gained from applying DCO principles to existing planning mechanisms as well as developing a DCO option for delivery of new settlements.

We therefore believe the Government and industry should look to explore the extension of the DCO process for new settlements and other complex developments by preparing a National Settlements Strategy (NSS) that:

• Identifies broad parts of the country suitable for new settlements/largescale developments (developed under DCO (and NPS) engagement principles with input from Local Authorities and devolved administrations);

• Enables different consenting and delivery models to be applied;

• Incorporates the DCO as a consenting model;

• Is drafted to provide the national needs case that gives certainty, to unlock significant financial investment from the UK and internationally; and,

• Is equivalent to the National Policy Statements.”

They conclude:

“In preparing a National Settlement Strategy we need to acknowledge up front that there will be some challenging issues, not least around managing engagement and Strategic Environmental Assessments. Equally, a DCO option for new settlements may look very different to a DCO for more established infrastructure projects. Therefore, we would welcome your views on some or all of the following questions, along with any wider reflections you have on this research:

1. How can a national settlements strategy be prepared in a way that engages regions and local communities alongside national infrastructure providers to create long term stability?

2. Which planning processes can benefit from applying the certainty principles established by the DCO process and how?

3. What could a DCO option for delivering new settlements look like in practice?

We will take these responses forward, along with our own thinking, into a second phase of work on how to make our recommendations a practical reality.”

Now that’s what I call a planning policy paper! We may see later this month whether these ideas are at all taking root.

Simon Ricketts, 11 July 2020

Personal views, et cetera

PS I got quite nostalgic thinking about failings of the eco-towns programme, having acted for the Bard Campaign in Bard Campaign v Secretary of State (Walker J, 25 February 2009). What a counsel team we had – Ian Dove QC (now Dove J), Chris Young (now QC) and Richard Harwood (now QC). This was a challenge to the Government’s April 2008 “consultation” document, “Eco-towns – Living a Greener Future”.

We basically challenged everything about it. Our case was that:

“In breach of the common law relating to consultation, the SEA Directive, the Aarhus Convention and the Code of Practice on Consultation, the Secretary of State has failed:
1. to consult on the principle of constructing eco-towns, alternatively any such consultation has to give sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response;

2. to consult on the key locational criteria for eco-towns;

3. to consult at all on the 42 locations proposed which were rejected by ministers in favour of the 15 proposed locations;

4. to provide adequate information to enable informed representations to be made. Instead, information has been produced late, has dribbled out in response to requests and some relevant (and non-confidential) material is still being withheld from the public;

5. to provide adequate time for consultation, given the late production of material.

Additionally,
6. a declaration is sought (because this still appears to be in issue) that the Eco-Towns policies are subject to the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and Regulations.”

We lost on all grounds and Keene LJ refused us permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. But the programme was abandoned in the run up to the 2010 general election. It’s often not the law that gets in the way – it’s politics.

To-morrow never dies