Dial P For Purdah

Parliament will dissolve just after midnight on 6 November 2019, allowing the required 25 working days before a general election on 12 December. In accordance with the Prime Minister’s 28 October statement the new Parliament will first meet “before 23 December.”

So we will have a period of “purdah” from 6 November to 12 December. What does that mean in practice? Well because, elections come around so frequently these days, my 21 April 2017 blog post Parliament, Purdah, Planning remains pretty much up to date.

Central government

The blog post sets out the Cabinet Office guidance issued the day before start of the 2017 election period. Updated guidance will probably be issued in the next few days but I don’t expect major changes. It included the following:

During the election period, the Government retains its responsibility to govern, and Ministers remain in charge of their departments. Essential business must be carried on. However, it is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long term character. Decisions on matters of policy on which a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present government should be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.”

It will be interesting to see if there will be a final spurt of decision letters being issued in the next couple of days (so far just the Secretary of State’s overturning on 31 October 2019 of the Mayor of London’s direction of refusal for proposals by Harrow School, awarding costs against the Mayor, ouch).

If a consultation is on-going at the time this guidance comes into effect, it should continue as normal. However, departments should not take any steps during an election period that will compete with parliamentary candidates for the public’s attention. This effectively means a ban on publicity for those consultations that are still in process.

As these restrictions may be detrimental to a consultation, departments are advised to decide on steps to make up for that deficiency while strictly observing the guidance. That can be done, for example, by:

– prolonging the consultation period; and

– putting out extra publicity for the consultation after the election in order to revive interest (following consultation with any new Minister).

Some consultations, for instance those aimed solely at professional groups, and that carry no publicity will not have the impact of those where a very public and wide-ranging consultation is required. Departments need, therefore, to take into account the circumstances of each consultation.”

Wouldn’t it have been nice if there were plenty of consultations underway!

As for public Bills, they automatically fall from the date of dissolution – so farewell the Environment Bill. It will be for the new Parliament to determine whether to reintroduce it and in what form.

Local government

So how does this period of purdah affect local government activity? For the purposes of the Government’s code of recommended practice on local government publicity this is a period of “heightened sensitivity”.

Local authorities should pay particular regard to the legislation governing publicity during the period of heightened sensitivity before elections and referendums […]. It may be necessary to suspend the hosting of material produced by third parties, or to close public forums during this period to avoid breaching any legal restrictions.

During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities should not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views or proposals in such a way that identifies them with any individual members or groups of members. Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published by local authorities during this period unless expressly authorised by or under statute. It is permissible for local authorities to publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections.

In general, local authorities should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters…”

However, it is important to note that, as set out in the Local Government Association’s 2017 guidance Purdah: A short guide to publicity during the pre-election period, the election is not an excuse not to determine planning applications:

Local government sometimes views this period as a time when communications has to shut down completely. This is not the case, and the ordinary functions of councils should continue, but some restrictions do apply, by law, to all councillors and officers.”

Planning Inspectorate

During the purdah period, I do not expect the Planning Inspectorate to be issuing any decisions or reports in relation to controversial proposals which may be used for electoral advantage by any party.

Going to be nice and quiet isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts, 1 November 2019

Personal views, et cetera

More Plans Grounded: West Of England; Sevenoaks; London

My 13 July 2019 blog post Less Than Best Laid Plans: Political Pragmatism commented on the previous Secretary of State’s 18 June 2019 letter to PINS, which stressed the need for pragmatism on the part of local plan inspectors.

MHCLG must be careful not to shoot the messenger. Inspectors are continuing to point out basic flaws in plans which, in most cases, have been pretty clear to the planning community for some time. Aside from the passive aggressive approach of that letter, which I hope will not be supported by the new Secretary of State, inspectors are also facing increasing hostility from some local political leaders.

West of England joint spatial strategy

I referred in my 17 August blog Gestation Of An Elephant: Plan Making to the inspectors’ letter dated 1 August 2019, which was provisionally recommending withdrawal of the West of England joint spatial strategy. Since then the inspectors have set out their detailed reasoning in a subsequent letter dated 11 September 2019 which focuses on the “key points which have led us to conclude that there are very substantial soundness problems with the plan.

The plan had identified that 17,000 dwellings needed to be provided at 12 “strategic development locations”. The inspectors pointed out that despite the fact that the plan comprised two housing market areas and despite evidence as to various local housing needs, “no requirement figures (either precise or indicative) have been considered or identified for any individual settlements, for each local authority area or for any other sub- area of the West of England as a whole. Thus, we understand that the SDLs were selected on the basic presumption that any candidate SDL anywhere within the plan area could meet the plan area’s housing needs just as well as any other candidate.” There was no robust assessment of reasonable alternatives.

[We] conclude that robust evidence has not been provided to demonstrate that the 12 SDLs proposed in the plan have been selected against reasonable alternatives on a robust, consistent and objective basis. Consequently, given that the SDLs are an integral part of the plan’s spatial strategy, we cannot conclude that the spatial strategy is itself sound. Additionally, the absence of a robust SDL selection process or a strategy which is not based on specific SDLs means that there is not a clear basis on which to select alternative/additional SDLs (either in a review of the JSP or in local plans) should this be necessary if one were to “fall away” (eg because of deliverability problems) or if the quantum of development needs were to change over time.”

The inspectors plainly were aware of that need for “pragmatism” (indeed the advice is acknowledged paragraph 49 as a matter to which they attached “great weight”). They say this:

We first set out our concerns about the spatial strategy and the SDL selection process in June 2018, a few weeks into the examination. In the spirit of pragmatism and recognising the desirability of getting a sound plan in place, we gave you the opportunity to prepare a considerable amount of further evidence in an attempt to address these concerns. Unfortunately, this has not been successful and for the reasons detailed above our concerns remain and, indeed, have deepened. In the light of this we consider that any further work to simply re-justify the selection of SDLs included in the plan or any change in the way the existing strategy is merely articulated in the JSP, could not now be considered to be anything other than retrospective justification of the plan. Consequently, it would be very unlikely to persuade us that the SDLs, and thus the spatial strategy overall, were selected on a robust, consistent and objective basis.

The approach to SDLs was not the only issue. The inspectors also set out their concerns as to:

⁃ “the approach to, and policy steer on, the purpose, amount and distribution of non-strategic growth; and

⁃ the plan’s proposals for overall employment land provision if, as we believe is likely, we were to conclude that policy 4 is not sound, including proposals for, or the policy steer on, growth at Bristol Port and Bristol Airport if, as we believe is likely, we were to conclude that the plan is not currently sound in these particular respects.”

Furthermore:

Additionally, if we were to conclude that the contended OAN of 102,800 is significantly underestimated, there would be a need to provide for a significantly higher objective-assessed need for housing in the plan.

Moreover, each of these elements cannot be considered in isolation, as the preferred and justified approach in relation to one is likely to impact on at least some of the others. Furthermore, there would need to be robust justification that there are exceptional circumstances to justify any proposed alterations of the Green Belt boundary for housing or any other purposes. It is also very likely that key policy decisions would need to be taken in respect of most or all of these elements of the plan.”

Finally, there is recognition of the confusion caused to local communities by endless stages of re-consultation in relation to flawed plans:

At the hearings we heard from a number of examination participants who were already confused by the processes of, and multiple rounds of consultation undertaken in, getting the plan to this stage. This was particularly so given the parallel processes of developing and consulting on the emerging local plans for each authority and the Joint Local Transport Plan 4. Continuing with the examination along the, undesirable, lines detailed above would also be likely to be more complicated in consultation and public participation terms than returning to the plan preparation stage, thus potentially hindering the community’s ability to comment on and influence the plan.

Consequently, whilst we recognise that the Councils’ preference might be to continue with the examination if at all possible and, although we will not reach a final decision on the way forward until we have had the opportunity to consider the Councils’ response to this letter, we remain of the view that withdrawal of the plan from examination is likely to be the most appropriate option.”

Sevenoaks district local plan

The Sevenoaks plan is another one that has pretty much crash-landed on take off. The hearing sessions started on 24 September 2019. On 17 October 2019, the inspector wrote a one and a half page letter to the council to indicate that she has “significant concerns about a number of aspects of the Plan, both in terms of legal compliance and soundness.

She states:

“My main concern relates to the lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue of unmet housing need and the absence of strategic cross boundary planning to examine how the identified needs could be accommodated. Indeed, the Council did not formally ask neighbouring authorities if they were in a position to address its unmet housing need until just before the Local Plan was submitted for Examination. I am not satisfied, therefore, that the Council has addressed this key strategic matter through effective joint working, but has rather deferred it to subsequent Plan updates. This is evidenced by the ‘actions’ set out in the Statements of Common Ground with neighbouring authorities submitted to the Examination. I consider this to be a significant failure in the Council’s Duty to Co-operate. Any failure of the Duty to Co-operate cannot be rectified during the Examination and therefore the only option is for a Report recommending non-adoption to be issued or for the Plan to be withdrawn from Examination.

Furthermore, I have significant concerns about the soundness of the Plan in respect of a number of areas including the approach to Sustainability Appraisal, the chosen Strategy for Growth, the assessment of the Green Belt and housing supply and distribution.”

What is no doubt frustrating to the council, aside from the very visible and expensive failure, which will have significant practical consequences not just for the district but for plan-making by nearby authorities, is the lack at present of more detailed reasoning. A more detailed letter is promised. However, surely nothing excuses the council’s intemperate response, which is hardly likely to assist a positive outcome. The council’s disappointment is clear enough from its formal response dated 21 October 2019:

The Inspector’s initial conclusions are at odds with the independent advice that the Council received in advance of submission, including our discussions with the Government’s own Planning Advisory Service (PAS), the opinion of a QC and industry experts – including former senior Planning Inspectors. This extensive peer review was undertaken in good faith, to inform the examination process and avoid the circumstances that we now appear to find ourselves in.”

However, surely comments attributed to the council’s leader in its press statement issued the same day are inexcusable, for instance:

To call into question an evidence-led approach comes to the root of our concerns with the actions of the Inspector. If we are not to follow the evidence to make our Plan then the Government may just as well dictate how many homes an area should have and then pick sites, we need to put an end to the thinly veiled charade that local plans are in any way locally led.

“But the most damning comment has to be left for the Inspector’s approach to publish her brief note before allowing the Council to either see her full reasoning or have a chance to respond. This suggests her mind is far from open and she and her masters have made their minds up.

“Sevenoaks District Council will stand up for its residents and the District’s environment against what we believe is a huge abuse of the process by the Planning Inspectorate and the Government department responsible. We will not allow them to run roughshod over the huge weight of evidence we have amassed, community views we have collated and the few powers we have left as a planning authority.

London Plan 2019

We finally have the inspectors’ report into the London Plan, together with their detailed recommendations.

I set out the peculiar legal framework that applies to the London Plan in my 23 April 2017 blog post Make No Little Plans: The London Plan. An additional peculiarity is that the Mayor of course does not have to accept the inspectors’ recommendations. If he does not intend to accept the recommendations, he has to send the Secretary of State a statement of his reasons (see regulation 9 of the The Town and Country Planning (London Spatial Development Strategy) Regulations 2000) and the Secretary of State has the power to direct that modifications to the plan be made “if it appears to the Secretary of State that it is expedient to do so for the purpose of avoiding (a) any inconsistency with current national policies …, or (b) any detriment to the interests of an area outside Greater London” (see section 337 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999).

London First’s Sarah Bevan, who played a crucial role at the examination, representing the interests of London First members, has prepared a good summary of the inspectors’ findings.

The inspectors conclude that subject to recommended modifications the plan meets the tests of soundness and provides an appropriate basis for the strategic planning of Greater London. However, some of the conclusions and recommended modifications will not have made welcome reading for the Mayor and his team, for instance in relation to:

Viability

The inspectors identify that the viability assessment work underpinning the plan is broadly acceptable but has shortcomings, particularly in relation to specialist housing for the elderly and purpose built student accommodation, and the assumptions about the redevelopment of sites with currently operating supermarkets. The inspectors are not persuaded that “these forms of development would be viable if they are required to meet all of the policy requirements in the Plan”. (paragraphs 80 and 81).

To be effective in London, the approach to viability at the planning application stage set out in current national policy and guidance will require consideration of the viability evidence supporting both the London Plan but also the relevant local plan. In other words, it is only where there is an up to date local plan in place supported by appropriate viability evidence, that we would expect full weight to be given to the assumption that planning applications that fully comply with all relevant development plan policies are viable.” (paragraph 24).

Small sites strategy realism and overall housing target

The inspectors recommend that the overall housing target should be reduced due to given that the target for what can be achieved from small sites is “aspirational” and “not realistic”. “In some cases the imposition of such large increases in this element of the target is heavy-handed and not helped by the lack of detailed engagement with the boroughs in deciding the small site capacity methodology. As some suggested a more nuanced approach might have borne fruit.” (paragraph 165).

Green belt

The inspectors’ “inescapable conclusion…that if London’s development needs are to be met in future then a review of the Green Belt should be undertaken to at least establish any potential for sustainable development. Therefore we recommend that this Plan include a commitment to a Green Belt review [PR35]. This would best be done as part of the next London Plan. Given its strategic nature and to ensure consistency the review should be led by the Mayor and should involve joint working with authorities around the administrative boundary as well as the boroughs. This would form the basis for the Mayor to consider Green Belt release as a means to deliver housing and industrial development that cannot be accommodated in the existing built up area or in adjoining areas.” (paragraph 457).

The inspectors also recommend amending the policies that preclude boroughs reviewing green belt boundaries applying the “exceptional circumstances” test and that seek refusal for development proposals that would cause harm to the green belt without reference to the “very special circumstances” test.

Airports, fracking

The inspectors identify policies, such as those in relation to Heathrow and other airports and in relation to fracking, which are inconsistent with national policy or in relation to which there is insufficient justification.

So what stance will the Mayor take towards these recommendations? There has been a certain scepticism on the part of many potential participants in the process, borne of what has happened with previous versions of the plan, that, no matter what the recommendations, those which are unpalatable to the Mayor will not be accepted.

Particularly with the Mayoral election process looming, it is perhaps unsurprising that this is how it may well play out. He has already come out with some pretty hostile comments, reported in a Guardian piece on 21 October 2019: Sadiq Khan to fight government attempt to water down green policies.

The prospects of a new adopted London plan before the 7 May 2020 Mayoral election appear to be fading fast, although it will be interesting to see the extent to which the existing ministerial team at MHCLG are prepared to stand up for the inspectors’ green belt approach.

The inspectors’ conclusions will also have implications for authorities outside London, in the rest of the south east, many of which are green belt authorities already failing to plan to meet local housing needs:

“If London cannot accommodate all of its development needs, the most significant strategic issue facing the wider South East for the coming decades will be how and where to accommodate that growth outside London in a way that will contribute towards achieving sustainable development. Many representors, with a wide variety of interests, have argued that this could and should be achieved. However, it is clear from past experience and evidence about increasing development pressures that areas in the wider South East outside London already face, that there are no easy solutions or clearly identified potential growth locations. Furthermore, it is apparent from the representatives from the South East England Councils, East of England Local Government Association and individual local authorities outside London that there is limited appetite to consider the possibility of accommodating significant amounts of additional development associated with the growth of London.” (paragraph 111)

Much as every politician tries to avoid the very subject, isn’t green belt the underlying theme of this entire blog post?

Simon Ricketts, 26 October 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Don’t Print The Environment Bill

Two reasons not to press print:

It’s long. The Environment Bill, which had its First Reading on 15 October 2019, comprises 232 pages. It has 130 sections and 20 schedules. If you want a quicker read, the Explanatory Notes are only 212 pages.

Its shelf life may be short. Of course, we are likely to see a General Election before the Bill has made much progress (although there has been rumour that it may proceed quickly to Second Reading this month) and it will at that point fall unless a motion is passed to carry it over to the next Parliamentary session.

However, there is much within it of interest, and much of direct relevance to the operation of the planning system. I’m sure I’ll come back to various elements in different blog posts. The purpose of this post is to flag the main parts to be aware of from a planning lawyer’s perspective and first to look in particular at the improvements (yes improvements) that have been made to the first part, which sets out the new, post-Brexit regime that would apply to environmental principles and governance.

I am focusing on the relevance of the Bill to English planning law. For a detailed explanation of the territorial extent of each of its provisions, see Annex A of the Explanatory Notes, and the detailed table contained in Annex A.

NB There is no additional protection for the natural environment that could not have been secured with us still in the EU, and there are obvious risks of replacing protections in international obligations with protections in domestic legislation that (even if it is enacted in this form and brought into law) is vulnerable to political short-termism, but I set that issue to one side for the purposes of this summary.

Environmental Governance (Part 1 of the Bill)

This covers the ground previously mapped out in the December 2018 draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill which I covered in my 22 December 2018 blog post The Office For Environmental Protection, although the ground has moved substantially.

Some of the changes, and the reasoning for them, are summarised in the Government’s Response (published alongside the Bill on 15 October 2019) to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill (30 April 2019).

Having flicked through Part 1 and compared it to the December 2018 draft, I would note the following:

Clause 1 to 6 are entirely new, enabling the Secretary of State to set long-term (at least 15 year) “environmental targets” in respect of any matter which relates to (a) the natural environment or (b) people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. At least one target must be set in each of the following priority areas: air quality; water; biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction. A target in relation to particulate matter in ambient air must also be set. The Secretary of State must take independent advice before setting targets, must be satisfied that the target can be met and there are restrictions on his ability to lower the target. Draft statutory instruments containing the targets must be laid before Parliament by 31 October 2022. There are provisions in relation to reporting and regular reviews of the targets.

Interim targets must be set out in the environmental improvement plans which the Secretary of State must prepare pursuant to clauses 7 to 14 (which largely reflect the draft).

As per the draft, the Secretary of State must prepare a policy statement on environmental principles, which he must be satisfied will contribute to the improvement of environmental protection and sustainable development. The list of “environmental principles” is reduced to the following:

(a) the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into

the making of policies

(b) the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage

(c) the precautionary principle, so far as relating to the environment

(d) the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source, and

(e) the polluter pays principle.

The following were in the draft but no longer appear:

⁃ the principle of sustainable development

⁃ the principle of public access to environmental information

⁃ the principle of public participation in environmental decision-making, and

⁃ the principle of access to justice in relation to environmental matters

I get why the principle of sustainable development has been removed from the list and made an overarching requirement (and I support that as otherwise we would have risked detailed principles set out in a policy statement that may have conflicted with the NPPF, although I wonder how the overarching requirement will be interpreted without further explanation), but why the removal of those Aarhus Convention principles?

Government ministers were to be required to “have regard” to the policy statement. As explained in the Government’s Response, this has been beefed up to “have due regard”. I hadn’t appreciated that this was a higher legal threshold but will bow to others. There is still surely a question as to whether this is strong enough.

The principal objective of the Office for Environmental Protection and exercise of its functions is now set out, as “to contribute to –

(a) the protection of the natural environment, and

(b) the improvement of the natural environment”.

One of my concerns as to the potential scope of the OEP’s operations was that it might get drawn into individual planning disputes. The Government addresses this in its Response:

We agree, however, with the core of the Committee’s comments around avoiding the OEP becoming inundated with complaints relating to local matters. This is not our intention. Clause 20(7) in the Bill introduced today (formerly clause 12(4)) already directs the OEP to prioritise cases with national implications. We believe this already guards to a significant extent against the Committee’s concerns regarding the OEP having to take on too many complaints relating to local matters or being at too much risk of challenge over its own judgements. However, we have considered this matter further, and have now amended the Bill to provide that the OEP’s enforcement policy must set out how it intends to determine whether a failure to comply with environmental law is serious for the purpose of subsequent clauses (clauses 20(6)(a) and (b) in the Bill introduced today). This should provide greater transparency in relation to the OEP’s approach to the meaning of the term “serious”, and guard against this further.”

My main concern as to the previously proposed procedures was that it was envisaged that the OEP might bring judicial review proceedings in the High Court, a year or more after the decision under challenge, and secure the quashing of the decision, as one of the remedies available. Plainly, this would have introduced unwelcome and unworkable uncertainty into the development process.

I have been impressed at the openness of DEFRA and MHCLG civil servants during this process. Indeed we at Town held last year a breakfast event and, after sharing the concerns of many around the table on precisely this issue, I suggested that “statement of non-conformity” outcome might be more workable, drawing upon the approach in the Human Rights Act 1998.

To my pleasant surprise, the proposed judicial review mechanism has been replaced with provision for an “environmental review” to be brought in the Upper Tribunal.

(5) On an environmental review the Upper Tribunal must determine whether the authority has failed to comply with environmental law, applying the principles applicable on an application for judicial review.

(6) If the Upper Tribunal finds that the authority has failed to comply with environmental law, it must make a statement to that effect (a “statement of non-compliance”).

(7) A statement of non-compliance does not affect the validity of the conduct in respect of which it is given.

(8) Where the Upper Tribunal makes a statement of non-compliance it may grant

any remedy that could be granted by the court on a judicial review other than damages, but only if satisfied that granting the remedy would not—

(a) be likely to cause substantial hardship to, or substantially prejudice the rights of, any person other than the authority, or

(b) be detrimental to good administration.”

The Government’s Response said this:

The approach will have a number of benefits compared to that of a traditional judicial review in the High Court. In particular, taking cases to the Upper Tribunal is expected to facilitate greater use of specialist environmental expertise.”

Judicial review will still be available if the OEP considers that a public authority’s conduct “constitutes a serious failure to comply with environmental law”.

There are now fewer exclusions to what falls within the ambit of “environmental matters” for the purposes of Part 1. Unlike the draft, the Bill does not exclude matters relating to:

⁃ the emission of greenhouse gases within the meaning of the Climate Change Act 2008

⁃ taxation, spending or the allocation of resources within government.

Thumbnail sketch of the rest of the Bill

Part 3 covers waste and resource efficiency, including:

⁃ producer responsibility obligations

⁃ deposit schemes and charges for single use plastic items

⁃ managing waste

⁃ waste enforcement

Part 4 covers air quality and the environmental recall of motor vehicles.

Part 5 covers water, including powers to direct water undertakers to prepare joint proposals for the purpose of improving the management and development of water resources.

Part 6 covers nature and biodiversity, including:

⁃ biodiversity

⁃ local nature recovery strategies

⁃ tree felling and planting (including requirements for local highway authorities in England to consult before felling trees).

The biodiversity net gain provisions introduced by clause 88 are particularly important. My 30 March 2019 blog post Biodiversity Net Gain: A Ladybird Guide summarised DEFRA’s proposals at the time. Clause 88 states:

Schedule 15 makes provision for biodiversity gain to be a condition of planning permission in England”.

Schedule 15 sets out that every planning permission shall be deemed to have been granted subject to a condition that the developer has submitted a biodiversity gain plan to the planning authority and the authority has approved it. The plan must demonstrate that the biodiversity value attributable to the development exceeds the pre-development biodiversity value of the onsite habitat by at least 10%. Certain types of development are excluded, including our old friend: development deemed to be permitted by virtue of a development order.

More anon.

Part 7 covers conservation covenants.

These provisions will also be important for users of the planning system. The provisions follow DEFRA’s February 2019 consultation paper and seek to provide a legal mechanism for landowners to give binding conservation covenants.

As described in the consultation paper, “a conservation covenant is a private, voluntary agreement between a landowner and a “responsible” body, such as a conservation charity, government body or a local authority. It delivers lasting conservation benefit for the public good. A covenant sets out obligations in respect of the land which will be legally binding not only on the landowner but on subsequent owners of the land.

Again, more anon.

Concluding remarks

So sorry to have kept you from the rugby, Brexcitements or other more healthy Saturday activities – perhaps even enjoying the natural environment.

Admission: I did press print.

Simon Ricketts, 19 October 2019

Personal views, et cetera

SOx On The Run

What a mess in South Oxfordshire, with the council now on a collision course with MHCLG over its submitted local plan, which it would dearly love to withdraw.

One of the last things that the previous Conservative administration at South Oxfordshire District Council did before purdah kicked in ahead of the May 2019 local elections was to submit its local plan to the Secretary of State for examination, on 29 March 2019.

The housing numbers in the plan were part of a funding deal that the Oxfordshire authorities had struck with MHCLG last March. Part of the deal was that the plan be submitted for examination by 1 April.

So far so good.

The Lib Dems and Greens fought the election on an anti housing growth ticket, seeking the withdrawal of the plan.

Be careful what you wish for. The council is now in Lib Dem control. As with a number of local authorities which changed political control in May, it has been placed with a dilemma, once political promises meet reality.

Its cabinet considered a report from its officers on 3 October 2019. Some highlights:

In March 2018, the Council and the other authorities in Oxfordshire signed the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal (Deal). This committed the Councils to support the delivery of 100,000 new homes across Oxfordshire between 2011 and 2031. In return, over a period of five years, Government offered £215 million of funding; £150 million for infrastructure projects, £60 million for affordable housing, and £2.5 million for the preparation of a Joint Statutory Spatial Plan and £2.5 million for wider administrative costs associated with the Deal. The Deal committed the Oxfordshire authorities to submitting outstanding local plans for examination by 1 April 2019 (South Oxfordshire & Oxford City).

Paragraph 010 of the Guidance states that where a Deal is in place, it is appropriate for the Council to consider whether the Deal justifies uplifting our housing need beyond the standard method. The emerging Local Plan considered that the Deal justified an uplift in need to 775 homes per annum (in line with the SHMA recommendations for South Oxfordshire).

In March 2019, Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) was successful in bidding for £218 million of funding from the Government’s Housing and Infrastructure Fund (HIF). It is intended this will contribute toward providing new infrastructure costing £234 million across South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse districts. OCC are finalising an agreement with Homes England (on behalf of Government) before they will secure any of the offered funding.”

“On 26 August 2019, the leader of the council received a letter (Appendix 13) from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government setting out his view that “the HIF is contingent on identified housing sites coming forward in an adopted Local Plan and, as the previous Housing Minister set out, the government expects progress on your Local Plan in order to access this funding”.”

Following further discussions, MHCLG wrote again. As summarised in the report:

“In the letter of 20 September 2019, it states that should the council choose to withdraw the plan “it would immediately put at risk the significant investment that the Government has made available to South Oxfordshire and the wider County, including jeopardising the £218m recently allocated through the HIF (Didcot Garden Town)”. The letter also says, “this is because the funding is dependent on the delivery of specific sites”.

However, the letter of 20 September 2019 is less categoric in relation to the Deal compared to the HIF, stating that “withdrawing the plan will also undermine the wider ambitions and commitments of the Housing and Growth Deal and therefore potentially impact future investment to support ambitions either directly or as part of the Growth Deal of Oxford-Cambridge Arc.”

The report put forward three options:

Option A) Allow the emerging Local Plan to continue through its examination. Any modifications proposed during the examination will be considered at the sole discretion of the Inspectors.

Option B) Withdraw the Local Plan from examination and make changes to it ahead of a further regulation 19 consultation and resubmission to the Inspectorate for examination. The extent of the changes to the Plan that would be possible under Option B would be limited to no significant changes, in comparison to those that could be made under Option C. Any representations made at that Regulation 19 would be reported to and considered by the Inspector and would not be within the control of the Council.

Option C) Withdraw the Local Plan from examination. The Council would commence work on a new Local Plan. This will allow the Council to prepare a significantly different plan (subject to compliance with the law, and national policies and guidance). The Council would need to undertake at least two rounds of public consultations (Regulation 18 and 19) before submitting the new plan for examination

Officers examined the advantages and risks of each option, together with the financial and legal implications, before concluding that “there are clear advantages over the disadvantages and officers therefore recommend Option A.

The Cabinet voted down the recommendation in favour of a resolution that reflected option C:

“MOTION

That Cabinet recommends Council to:

(a) withdraw the emerging South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2034,

for the following reasons:

the uplift above the standard method from 627 homes to 775 homes a year is excessive, and the existence of the Growth Deal should not be used as a justification for this uplift

the overall supply of homes in the Local Plan period is considered excessive as it is over 5,000 homes greater than the need identified for South Oxfordshire, even allowing provision for Oxford City’s unmet housing need.

the Local Plan does not give sufficient weight to responding to the climate emergency that we face as recognised by the decision of Council of 11 April 2019

concerns about site selection issues including:

that the scale of Green Belt release is not justified

flawed site selection having regard to the sustainability and deliverability of strategic allocations

concerns about the impact of the housing mix delivery and density policy

(b) withdraw from the Oxfordshire Statements of Common Ground linked to the emerging South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2034

(c) agree to commence work as soon as practicable on a new ambitious Local Plan, to seek to address the above concerns

(d) request a report on the merits of a joint Local Plan with neighbouring authorities

(e) request the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide financial support to support a new ambitious Local Plan

(f) explore other opportunities for funding

(g) bring forward revenue expenditure on a new Local Plan currently estimated at £2 million into the next Medium-Term Financial Plan period, representing the most cost-effective option

(h) ask officers to prepare a new Local Development Scheme and work programme and bring this to Cabinet for approval.”

The full council meeting to consider the resolution was to take place on 10 October 2019. If ratified, the submitted plan would be immediately withdrawn, as an authority is empowered to do at any stage prior to adoption pursuant to section 22 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

MHCLG was clearly rattled by the prospect of the plan being torn up and its consequences for Oxfordshire housing and infrastructure planning more generally. The Secretary of State wrote to the leader of the council on 9 October 2019 in these terms:

Following South Oxfordshire District Council Cabinet’s decision on 3 October to recommend withdrawing the emerging South Oxfordshire Local Plan (“the Plan”), I am considering whether to give a direction to South Oxfordshire District Council in relation to the Plan under section 21 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (“the 2004 Act”).

The government remains committed to making sure every community has an up-to-date and sufficiently ambitious Local Plan. Withdrawing the Plan at this stage is instead likely to create uncertainty and expose communities to speculative planning applications.

Therefore, in exercise of the powers under section 21A of the 2004 Act (inserted by section 145(5) of the Housing and Planning Act 2016), I hereby direct South Oxfordshire District Council not to take any step in connection with the adoption of the Plan, while I consider the matter further. This direction will remain in force until I withdraw it or give a direction under section 21 of the 2004 Act in relation to the Plan.

I would like to work constructively with you to ensure that South Oxfordshire is able to deliver the high-quality homes and infrastructure required to support jobs and growth in the local community. As I set out in my letter to you on 26 August 2019, progressing the Plan is an essential step to delivering the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal. I have therefore asked my officials to get in touch with your officers to discuss next steps and will keep you updated while I consider this matter further.”

The council’s chief executive responded the next morning, on 10 October in uncompromising terms:

As you are aware, s.21A gives you the power to make a holding direction only where you are considering making a direction under s.21 of the Act. Importantly, section 21 gives you the following powers:

(i) Where you think a local development document is unsatisfactory, to direct the local planning authority to modify the document in accordance with that direction (s.21(1)(a));

(ii) To direct the Local Planning Authority to submit the local development document to you for your approval (s.21(4)). In circumstances where (as here) the Plan has already been submitted for examination, the Inspectors would have to report to you (s.21(5)); or

(iii) To direct that the Plan be withdrawn (s.21(9)).

We cannot see how you could properly consider that any of the directions that you could make under s.21 would accord with your clearly stated view that it is essential that the plan should be progressed. In particular, we do not understand that you consider the plan to be unsatisfactory in any way (s.21(a)); that there is anything in the Plan that needs your approval (s.21(4)); or that you think the Plan should be withdrawn (s.21(9)). Section 21A does not give you the power to make a general holding direction – it must be tied to a proper consideration of whether you intend to make a direction under s.21. Given that it would be inconsistent with your stated position for you to issue a direction under any of the powers available to you under s.21, it appears that there was no proper basis for your decision to issue the direction under s.21A.

Given the importance of this matter we require a response to this letter no later than 3pm today, either explaining the basis on which you consider it might be appropriate for you to issue a direction under s.21, or (assuming you accept that there would be no basis for issuing such a direction) withdrawing the s.21A Direction.

The Secretary of State did indeed respond that day:

You are correct that a holding direction made pursuant to s.21A of the 2004 Act requires the Secretary of State to be considering whether to give a direction under s.21 of that Act. As your Cabinet have stated they wish to withdraw the plan, the Secretary of State is considering whether to give a direction under s.21(4) of the 2004 Act for the plan (or any part of it) to be submitted to him for his approval instead of the Council.

In summary, this was not an attempt to issue a ‘general’ holding direction but to allow time for the Secretary of State to consider whether to give a direction under s21(4) of the 2004 Act.

I hope this has clarified the situation for you.”

The council meeting went ahead, but the local plan item was pulled from the agenda.

So what next?

The leader has issued this statement:

Surely, the council’s reading of the legislation is correct – under section 21 the intervention power applies if “the Secretary of State thinks that a local development document is unsatisfactory”. I doubt whether section 21 can be relied up to prevent a plan from being withdrawn, which would mean that the holding power in section 21A is also not available.

However, I’m not sure that this assist the council in practice. Whilst the Secretary of State may be reluctant to take this step, if the council were to seek to challenge the lawfulness of the purported direction, wouldn’t he simply use his default power in section 27, available where the “Secretary of State thinks that a local planning authority are failing or omitting to do anything it is necessary for them to do in connection with the preparation, revision or adoption of a development plan document”? He may “a) prepare or revise (as the case may be) the document, or (b) give directions to the authority in relation to the preparation or revision of the document”. Does this cover the current circumstances? If it doesn’t then the Government certainly missed a trick when extending the Secretary of State’s intervention powers by way of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

The section 27 procedure is referred to in my 18 November 2017 blog post Local Plan Interventions. Reasons need to be given, but it is pretty plain that other Oxfordshire authorities are not impressed at all at the South Oxfordshire volte face, evidenced for instance by a letter from West Oxfordshire District Council dated 10 October 2019.

With a nod to my 17 August 2019 blog post Gestation Of An Elephant: Plan Making, what is better: to let nature take its course, or intervention?

Simon Ricketts, 12 October 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Beauty & The Beast; Wheat & The Chaff

Mike Best at Turley made the point most concisely in a tweet this week:

Two themes to this blog post:

⁃ the, partly inconsistent, changes to the planning system announced over the last week;

⁃ the difficulty of sieving out from this a lot more media chaff.

The pre Conservative party conference briefings in relation to planning reforms started last week with stories in the Sun, Mail and Telegraph. What a textbook example of choosing the media (Tory), the language (middle aged “turbo charged” concept) and the interests emphasised (home-owning families):

BUILD BOOST Tories to unveil revolution in planning rules next week to turbo-charge house building in Britain (The Sun, 27 September 2019)

Communities will get legal right to fight ugly buildings in their towns (Telegraph, 29 September 2019)

Families may be able to add two storeys to their home WITHOUT planning permission, under new government reforms (Daily Mail, 30 September 2019).

EXTRA SPACE Families could add two storeys to homes WITHOUT planning permission, under new government plans (The Sun, 30 September, updated 1 October 2019 – drawing heavily on the Mail piece above – do people get paid to write these pieces? I would do it WITHOUT payment).

Robert Jenrick’s conference speech on 30 September 2019 says very little as to the detail:

“…I will simplify the system.

I’m announcing new freedoms, including to build upward so that your home can grow as your family does too.

Reducing conditions, speeding up consent. Better funded local planning in return for efficient service. The beginning of a planning revolution.

Thirdly, no new home will be built in the country from 2025 without low carbon heating and the highest levels of energy efficiency.

We want better homes – and a better planet to match.

And fourthly, these new homes must be well-designed, safe, and rooted in places to which people can belong.

I am announcing the first national design guide and asking every community to produce their own. Empowering people to make sure that development works for them, in keeping with the local heritage and vernacular, with each new street lined with trees.

So, under the Conservatives, more environmentally-friendly homes, more beautiful homes, faster and simpler planning, and a leg up on to the property ladder.”

Motherhood is still good.

The next day we have his formal announcement:

Housing Secretary unveils green housing revolution (1 October 2019). The announcement includes:

Consultation on The Future Homes Standard: changes to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations for new dwellings, (following on from his predecessor’s March 2019 commitment):

This consultation sets out our plans for the Future Homes Standard, including proposed options to increase the energy efficiency requirements for new homes in 2020. The Future Homes Standard will require new build homes to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency; it will be introduced by 2025.

This document is the first stage of a two-part consultation about proposed changes to the Building Regulations. It also covers the wider impacts of Part L for new homes, including changes to Part F (ventilation), its associated Approved Document guidance, airtightness and improving as-built performance of the constructed home.”

Update as to the proposed Accelerated Planning green paper:

The government has also confirmed proposals to speed up the planning system, including the potential for more fees to be refunded if councils take too long to decide on specific planning applications.”

“Local residents will no longer have to contend with a complicated and outdated planning system, but a more user-friendly approach designed to simply the process. Small developers will similarly benefit from the simplification of guidance, with the introduction of a new tiered planning system.

Application fees will also be reviewed to ensure council planning departments are properly resourced, providing more qualified planners to process applications for new homes and other proposals.”

“The accelerated planning green paper will be published in November 2019. Government has also set out its ambition to reduce planning conditions by a third, and will take forward proposals to allow homes to be built above existing properties as well as seeking views on demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing, revitalising high streets in the process.”

So what can we expect?

Further reform of the application fees system

Greater use of technology in the application process

reduce planning conditions by a third”? Search me. Sensibly framed conditions are a crucial mechanism both in ensuring timely approval of applications without requiring unnecessary details at a premature stage and in ensuring that what is approved is what is built.

That there will be further work on the very difficult and not at all new ideas, supported by successive ministers, to expand permitted development rights “to allow homes to be built above existing properties” and “demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing”. I have covered the problems in various blog posts, for instance Permitted Development: Painting By Numbers Versus Painting The Sistine Chapel? (8 December 2018) and The Up Right (13 October 2018).

What is quite interesting is the additional detail in one of the Mail’s stories, although who knows whether any of it has any factual basis:

The right will be afforded first to purpose-built blocks of flats, but will eventually be rolled out to all detached properties.” [This right was originally framed around the creation of additional homes, not about home extensions. What possible justification is there for a massive extension in domestic permitted development rights?]

Ministers will also try to accelerate the conversion of disused and unsightly commercial properties into residential homes.” [except that we know that the criteria will not include whether the commercial properties are indeed “disused” and “unsightly” – see equivalent terminology before the existing office to residential permitted right was introduced]

Under a ‘permission in principle’ system, developers will not have to get detailed planning permission before the bulldozers can move in.“ [Interesting use of terminology – do we think that the changes might in fact be introduced by way of the “permission in principle” procedure rather than by amendments to the General Permitted Development Order? Even so, I don’t see that the problems would be reduced – how to arrive at a light-touch procedure which properly addresses legitimate and inevitable concerns as to for instance design, townscape, daylight and sunlight, overlooking and section 106 requirements such as affordable housing]

Announced publication of the MHCLG National Design Guide: Planning Practice Guidance for Beautiful, Enduring & Successful Places and update to the planning practice guide Design: process and tools.

The purpose of the national design guide is to address “the question of how we recognise well- designed places, by outlining and illustrating the Government’s priorities for well-designed places in the form of ten characteristics.

It is based on national planning policy, practice guidance and objectives for good design as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. Specific, detailed and measurable criteria for good design are most appropriately set out at the local level. They may take the form of local authority design guides, or design guidance or design codes prepared by applicants to accompany planning applications.

This is how the ten characteristics are introduced, before being addressed in turn:

Well-designed places have individual characteristics which work together to create its physical Character. The ten characteristics help to nurture and sustain a sense of Community. They work to positively address environmental issues affecting Climate. They all contribute towards the cross-cutting themes for good design set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Part 3 of the national design guide, a “national model design guide”, is “to follow”.

In the meantime of course the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is working on its final report, anticipated in December 2019, following on from its interim recommendations that I covered in my 27 July 2019 blog post New Cabinet, Poor Doors, No Windows.

Christopher Hope in the Telegraph should also know better than describe planning practice guidance (that’s all it is, guidance, not even policy) as a “legal right”.

The inevitable challenge, obvious but so far unacknowledged by Government, is how to reconcile this earnest work that seeks to improve the quality of our places, with its continued attachment to deregulation via expanded permitted development rights.

Is it any wonder the public are confused and sceptical as to the planning system operates? They are continually being misled.

Simon Ricketts, 5 October 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Urgent Agenda/Urgenda

There appears to be a new domestic political urgency about climate change (to the extent that there is space for anything other than the B word). After saying as little as possible about the politics, the focus of this blog post is on law, and specifically, climate change litigation, although as can be the case with some constitutional law cases (not to mention judicial reviews in our little Planning Court world), climate change law is an area where the purpose of the proceedings, succeed or fail, is often simply to change the politics.

The politics

Party members backed a radical “Green New Deal” motion at last week’s Labour party conference Labour set to commit to net zero emissions by 2030 (Guardian, 24 September 2019). If that is to form part of the next manifesto, some serious thinking is going to be required as to how to turn headlines into costed, politically and socially acceptable reality, but the starting gun has perhaps been fired.

Ahead of the Conservative party conference this week, as I write this morning we are waiting for a series of Government announcements, trailed overnight in pieces such as ‘21st Century Conservatism’: Tories unveil fresh wave of net zero measures (Business Green, 28 September 2019) and Tories ignore tough climate change recommendations in 2050 net zero plan, but promise nuclear fusion instead (Independent, 28 September 2019), which follows Theresa May’s June 2019 tightening of the minimum 80% reduction against 1990 levels figure in the Climate Change Act 2008 Act to 100% ie net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, with an announcement on 12 June 2019 and the making of the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 on 26 June 2019. The amended target excluded international aviation and shipping pending further analysis and international engagement. The Committee on Climate Change on 24 September 2019 published advice to the Secretary of State for Transport as to how emissions from these sectors could be brought within the 2050 target.

UN

It was of course also the UN Climate Action Summit last week, with a series of actions announced, trackable via this detailed portal.

Convention on the Rights of the Child petition

Greta Thunberg announced at the UN that proceedings were being brought under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey, as G20 countries which are alleged not to have kept previously made pledges in international climate change conventions and agreements. The detailed petition (96 pages of reasoned argument, with evidence) to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (which monitors states’ compliance with the Convention) alleges that:

⁃ “each respondent has failed to prevent foreseeable human rights harms caused by climate change by reducing its emissions at the “highest possible ambition.” Each respondent is delaying the steep cuts in carbon emissions needed to protect the lives and welfare of children at home and abroad.”

⁃ “as members of the G20, which makes up 84% of all global emissions, each respondent has failed to use all available legal, diplomatic, and economic means to protect children from the life-threatening carbon pollution of the major emitters (China, the U.S., the E.U., and India) and other G20 members. As G20 members, the respondents have diplomatic, legal, and economic tools at their disposal. Yet, none of the respondents have used, much less exhausted, all reasonable measures to protect children’s rights from the major emitters”.

By recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change, the respondents have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights to life (Article 6), health (Article 24), and culture (Article 30) and are thus violating the Convention. Under the Convention, states must “limit ongoing and future damage” to these rights, including those caused by environmental threats.”

The five states were selected as the five largest emitters of carbon that are signatories to the Convention. China, USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia are not signatories.

Obviously, steps like these are taken for a variety of motives – direct legal redress is unlikely, but it all adds to the political pressure and of course shines a more direct light publicly on the relevant issues. It also made me realise that I should perhaps write this follow up to my 10 August 2019 climate change blog post The Big CC (which, I’m sorry, was a bit of a monster) to reference some of the other climate change litigation that we have been seeing.

Heathrow

The appeals from the Heathrow court rulings that I summarised in my 4 May 2019 blog post Lessons From The Heathrow Cases will be heard by the Court of Appeal on 17, 18, 22, 23, 24 & 25 October 2019. They will be live streamed.

Whilst the attacks by the various claimants to the Secretary of State’s decision to designate the Airports National Policy Statement were wide-ranging, challenges brought by Plan B Earth and Friends of the Earth focused on climate change arguments.

Plan B Earth sought to establish that “government policy” to be taken into account in designating the NPS included a commitment to the Paris Agreement limit in temperature rise to 1.5oC and “well below” 2oC. The Secretary of State acted unlawfully in not taking into account that commitment; and in taking into account an immaterial consideration, namely the global temperature limit by 2050 of 2oC above the pre-industrial level which, by the time of the designation, had been scientifically discredited as recognised by the UK Government as a party to the Paris Agreement and other announcements of support for the 1.5oC limit upon which the Paris Agreement was based (Plan B Earth Ground 1).

However, the Divisional Court held that “the Secretary of State was not obliged to have foreshadowed a future decision as to the domestic implementation of the Paris Agreement by way of a change to the criteria set out in the CCA 2008 which can only be made through the statutory process; and, indeed, he may have been open to challenge if he had proceeded on a basis inconsistent with the current statutory criteria. Nor was he otherwise obliged to have taken into account the Paris Agreement limits or the evolving knowledge and analysis of climate change that resulted in that Agreement.”

Plan B Earth also sought to argue that the “Secretary of State erred and failed to act in accordance with section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which requires legislation to be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the ECHR rights, by failing to read and give effect to the phrase in section 5(8) of the PA 2008, “Government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”, as including the Paris Agreement” and that “in any event, irrespective of the terms of the PA 2008, the Secretary of State acted irrationally in taking into account the discredited 2oC limit and not taking into account the 1.5oC limit to which, by the time of the designation, the Government was committed.” Both grounds were also rejected.

Friends of the Earth argued, unsuccessfully, that the NPS did not adequately explain how the 2050 carbon target as set out in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 had been taken into account and /or that in a number of respects the NPS was “internally contradictory or otherwise unclear” as to its compatibility with the 2050 emissions target.

They also argued that section 10 of the Climate Change Act 2008 “requires the Secretary of State, on the basis of up to date information and analysis, to take into account the ability of future generations to meet their needs, which includes taking into account international agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the underlying science of climate change which bear upon that question.” However, the court held that “international commitments were a consideration in respect of which he had a discretion as to whether he took them into account or not.

It is well-established that where a decision-maker has a discretion as to whether to take into account a particular consideration, a decision not to take it into account is challengeable only on conventional public law grounds. In our view, given the statutory scheme in the CCA 2008 and the work that was being done on if and how to amend the domestic law to take into account the Paris Agreement, the Secretary of State did not arguably act unlawfully in not taking into account that Agreement when preferring the NWR Scheme and in designating the ANPS as he did. As we have described, if scientific circumstances change, it is open to him to review the ANPS; and, in any event, at the DCO stage this issue will be re-visited on the basis of the then up to date scientific position.

Lastly, Friends of the Earth argued unsuccessfully that the obligations of the Paris Agreement should have been taken into account in the environmental report that was prepared for the purposes of the strategic environmental assessment that informed the Secretary of State’s decision to designate the NPS.

Generally, the passages in the judgment in relation to climate change (paragraphs 558 to 660) are well worth reading. Will the Court of Appeal hold to the same line?

Plan B Earth “carbon target” litigation

Plan B Earth had previously brought a challenge to the Secretary of State’s refusal to revise the 2050 carbon target under the 2008 Act, on the basis that he was obliged to do so following the Paris Agreement.

The proceedings, Plan B Earth v Secretary of State (Supperstone J, 20 July 2018), were dismissed as unarguable.

One of the grounds of challenge was that the Secretary of State’s refusal to amend the 2050 target constitutes a violation of the claimants’ human rights. “The Claimants rely on the rights conferred by Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR, and by Article 1 of the First Protocol, both individually and in conjunction with Article 14. Mr Crow submits that in so far as the Secretary of State is acting inconsistently with his Treaty obligations and with general principles of international law, he is in breach of his positive obligations to uphold the Claimants’ Convention rights. This ground, Mr Crow acknowledges, raises a novel issue under the HRA 1998. However he observes that it is difficult to conceive of any issue that would be of greater significance to each member of the British public than the threat of climate change, which the Government has acknowledged as constituting an “existential threat”. In this context, he submits that the Government’s delay is inexcusable (Ground 4).

Mr Palmer submits that the decision not to amend the 2050 target at this time does not amount to an interference with any identifiable victim’s rights under any of the Articles relied upon. Mr Crow accepts there is no interference with any identifiable victim’s rights, but submits that there has been a violation of those rights, which have an environmental dimension. The Claimants do not identify any interference to which that decision gives rise, but only to the effects of climate change generally. The violation arises, it is said, because of the failure of the Secretary of State to take proper preventive measures. I reject this submission. The Government is committed to set a net zero emission target at the appropriate time. I agree with Mr Palmer that this is an area where the executive has a wide discretion to assess the advantages and disadvantages of any particular course of action, not only domestically but as part of an evolving international discussion. The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to the advice of the Committee, that now is not the time to revise the 2050 carbon target. That decision is not arguably unlawful, and accordingly the human rights challenge is not sustainable.”

Permission to appeal was refused by the Court of Appeal on 22 January 2019.

Urgenda

It is interesting to contrast these two rulings with the Dutch proceedings brought by campaign group, Urgenda. As summarised by the LSE/Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the Hague Court of Appeal ruled (unofficial English translation, 9 October 2018) “that by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by end-2020, the Dutch government is acting unlawfully in contravention of its duty of care under Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR. The court recognized Urgenda’s claim under Article 2 of the ECHR, which protects a right to life, and Article 8 of the ECHR, which protects the right to private life, family life, home, and correspondence. The court determined that the Dutch government has an obligation under the ECHR to protect these rights from the real threat of climate change. The court rejected the government’s argument that the lower court decision constitutes “an order to create legislation” or violation of trias politica and the role of courts under the Dutch constitution. In response to these appeals, the court affirms its obligation to apply provisions with direct effect of treaties to which the Netherlands is party, including Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR. Further, the court found nothing in Article 193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that prohibits a member state from taking more ambitious climate action than the E.U. as a whole, nor that adaptation measures can compensate for the government’s duty of care to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, nor that the global nature of the problem excuses the Dutch government from action.

An appeal was heard by the Dutch Supreme Court in May 2019 and its ruling is anticipated before the end of the year.

The end of the year? I think they need a Lady Hale.

Simon Ricketts, 28 September 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Clean Air: Promises, Promises

Lindblom LJ gave a short speech this week at drinks hosted by Cornerstone Barristers to mark the publication of Ashley Bowes’ A Practical Approach To Planning Law 14th edition. He made a nice joke about how many of the footnote references were to articles by one Dr Ashley Bowes.

No doubt Lindblom LJ’s judgment in Gladman Developments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 12 September 2019), where Ashley appeared for the successful third respondent, CPRE Kent, will now get a good airing in the 15th edition.

The case is an important addition to the growing jurisprudence in relation to the relevance of air quality issues to decision making on planning applications and appeals – and indeed is of wider relevance.

I last summarised the case law, as it was then, in my 2 February 2019 blog post What To Do About Poor Air Quality? The Shirley Case, supplemented by references to the High Court’s rulings in the Heathrow cases in my 4 May 2019 blog post Lessons From The Heathrow Cases.

In Gladman the developer had challenged an inspector’s decision letter which had dismissed its appeal in relation to a proposed residential and extra care development at Pond Farm, Newington, near Sittingbourne. The challenge was to the inspector’s conclusion as to the “effect of the appeal proposals, including any proposed mitigation measures, on air quality, particularly in the Newington and Rainham Air Quality Management Areas”.

The claim was rejected at first instance. The grounds of appeal raised “three broad issues: first, whether the inspector erred in failing to grasp the significance of Garnham J.’s decision in the ClientEarth proceedings, and the policy in paragraph 122 of the NPPF (grounds 1 and 2); second, whether he failed to deal properly with the proposed mitigation, whether he should have considered a condition preventing the development going ahead until effective mitigation had been secured, and whether his decision is vitiated by procedural unfairness (grounds 3, 4 and 5); and third, whether he failed properly to explain how Gladman’s approach to mitigation departed from the air quality action plans (ground 6).”

Or, perhaps, more plainly: was the inspector more sceptical than was legally permissible as to whether national air quality targets will be met and as to whether the developer’s proposed mitigation measures would be effective?

National air quality targets

Garnham J in the ClientEarth proceedings had ordered that the Secretary of State publish a modified air quality plan and aim to achieve compliance with the Air Quality Directive by the soonest date possible, must choose a route to that objective which reduces exposure to non-compliant air quality levels as quickly as possible and must take steps which mean that meeting the value limits is not just possible but is likely.

The inspector considered the air quality improvement objectives within Swale Borough Council’s action plans for the two relevant air quality management areas. He thought it “optimistic… to expect that NO2 concentrations will fall by the amount” predicted by Gladman in a “without development” scenario.

“The sensitivity scenarios are probably too pessimistic: as the appellants’ witness pointed out, tightening of emission standards for new vehicles should, over time, bring about substantial further reductions in NO2 emissions from traffic. But I was given no firm data on the rate at which this is likely to occur. In the absence of any conclusive evidence on this point, I consider it would be unsafe to rely on emission levels falling between 2015 and 2020 to the extent that informed the modelling of original Scenarios 2 to 5. My view is reinforced by the High Court’s finding on the excessive optimism of future emissions modelling. This means that original Scenarios 3 and 5 cannot be taken as reliable projections of the likely impacts of the appeal proposals on air quality.”

The judge at first instance did not accept Gladman’s submissions that this approach by the inspector was unlawful in that he did not take into account the extent of the duty on the Secretary of State to secure that air quality value limits were likely to be met as soon as possible. The inspector “was not required to assume that local air quality would improve by any particular amount within any particular timeframe”. The Court of Appeal agreed:

It was not known what measures the new draft national air quality plan would contain, let alone what the final version would contain following public consultation. The inspector did not know how any new national measures would relate to local measures, nor what would be “the soonest date possible” by which the new national air quality plan would aim to achieve compliance. He could not reach any view on whether the measures in the new national air quality plan were likely to be effective in securing compliance by any particular date (paragraph 31 of the judgment). In the judge’s view, the inspector had “properly engaged with the ClientEarth (No.2) decision”; had “understood what the judgment required”; had “carefully analysed the evidence that was presented before him (DL 99-106)”; had “formed a judgment as to what the air quality is likely to be in the future on the basis of that evidence”; and was “entitled to consider the evidence and not simply assume that the UK will soon become compliant with [the Air Quality Directive]” (paragraph 32).

I can see no error in any of those conclusions of the judge. In my view, as was submitted to us by Mr Richard Moules on behalf of the Secretary of State and Dr Ashley Bowes for CPRE Kent, the inspector did see the true significance and effect of Garnham J.’s judgment in ClientEarth (No.2). In deciding Gladman’s appeals, he had to consider the evidence before him, in the particular circumstances of the local area, including local air quality. That is plainly what he did. He was not obliged to embark on predictive judgments about the timing and likely effectiveness of the Government’s response to the decision in ClientEarth (No.2), and the requirement to produce a national air quality plan compliant with the Air Quality Directive.”

“It was not within the inspector’s duty as decision-maker to resolve the “tension”, as Mr Kimblin put it, between the Government’s responsibility to comply swiftly with the limit values for air pollutants and the remaining uncertainty over the means by which, and when, the relevant targets would be met. In different circumstances, and on different evidence, an inspector might be able to assess the impact of a particular development on local air quality by taking into account the content of a national air quality plan, compliant with the Air Quality Directive, which puts specific measures in place and thus enables a clear conclusion to be reached on the effect of those measures. But that was not so here.”

The Court of Appeal also held that Supperstone J at first instance was right to reject the submission that “the inspector failed to apply the principle that the planning system assumes other schemes of regulatory control will operate effectively. This policy, in his view, was directed at a situation where there is a parallel system of control…, the essential principle being that the planning system should not duplicate those other regulatory controls, but should generally assume they will operate effectively. As the judge saw it, the Air Quality Directive was “not a parallel consenting regime to which paragraph 122 is directed”. There was “no separate licensing or permitting decision that will address the specific air quality impacts of [Gladman’s] proposed development.

As Mr Moules and Dr Bowes submitted, the Air Quality Directive and the 2010 regulations are not a licensing or permitting regime of that kind. The Air Quality Directive is “programmatic in nature”. It imposes obligations on the state to comply with the relevant limit values within the shortest possible time, and by the means chosen to achieve compliance. In the United Kingdom the approach adopted by the Government is to promulgate an air quality plan for the relevant zones or agglomerations. Paragraph 122 of the NPPF, properly understood, did not contemplate any assumption being made about that process. It does not require a planning decision-maker to assume that the Government will have acted expeditiously to take the action required to discharge its own responsibilities under the legislative scheme for air quality.”

Proposed mitigation measures

Gladman submitted that “the inspector, in finding Gladman’s financial contribution to mitigation was unlikely to be effective, failed to grapple properly with its approach to mitigation, which was based on DEFRA’s “damage cost analysis”.”

The first instance judgment goes into more detail as to the mitigation measures. They amounted to a financial contribution of £311,018.80. There was no detail as to how the money was to be effectively spent.

The judge at first instance referred to Gladman’s expert witness’s own acknowledgement as to “the difficulty in predicting the effectiveness of the mitigation. The likely effectiveness of that mitigation was a “live issue” at the inquiry. The inspector had to reach his own conclusion on the matter, exercising his planning judgment – as did the Secretary of State in Shirley and the inspector in Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Wealden District Council [2017] EWCA Civ 39 (paragraph 50 of the judgment). In paragraphs 104 to 106 of his decision letter he had reached a conclusion on the evidence that he was entitled to reach, and he had explained what was wrong with the proposed mitigation. As the judge put it, the “contributions had not been shown to translate into actual measures likely to reduce the use of private petrol and diesel vehicles and hence reduce the forecast NO2 emissions …”

The Court of Appeal agreed:

It was not the methodology that was in contention. It was the likely effectiveness of the financial contributions themselves when translated into practical measures. The thrust of the objection by CPRE Kent, which the inspector accepted, was that it could not be demonstrated that the financial contributions would produce practical mitigation sufficient to overcome the likely effects of the development on local air quality.

This was a classic matter of planning judgment. The inspector did not have to accept that because an appropriate arithmetical method had been used in calculating the level of financial contributions, the mitigation measures themselves would be effective. It was for him to consider, in the exercise of his planning judgment, whether the mitigation would be effective. He was not confident that it would. Disagreement with this conclusion is not a proper basis for complaint in proceedings such as these.”

Lastly, should the inspector have imposed a Grampian-style condition of his own volition, to address his concerns, rather than simply dismiss the appeal?

The Court of Appeal disagreed:

There is no statutory requirement, or principle of law, to the effect that in determining an appeal under section 78 of the 1990 Act, the Secretary of State, or his inspector, must always – and even if entirely unprompted by any of the parties – seek to make an unacceptable proposal acceptable by imposing a planning condition in “Grampian” form to prevent the development going ahead until a particular objection to it is overcome.

Nor is there any statement of national planning policy creating such a requirement.”

Concluding remarks

An interesting case, the relevance of which goes beyond air quality matters:

⁃ a decision maker, in determining what is the baseline position, is not required to assume that targets in Government policy will actually be met.

⁃ a decision maker can of course decide not to have regard to proposed mitigation measures if the decision maker is not confident that they will achieve their intended objective.

Finally, a procedural point. CPRE Kent had been a rule 6 party at the inquiry. They chose to become an interested party in the litigation, given their particular interest in the issues and, quite possibly, a concern that the Secretary of State might not hold the position in terms of validity of the inspector’s approach (after all, the local planning authority was not represented at either stage of the proceedings). It’s a brave step for an NGO – unlikely to recover its costs for participating and indeed at risk of an adverse costs award in some circumstances – but no doubt here vindicated.

Simon Ricketts, 22 September 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Lindblom LJ & (in written form) Ashley Bowes