Trial By Instagram: Privacy & Planning

Photo-sharing social media apps, weaponised by the smartphone camera, are changing our experience and expectations of place. Is the planning system, and the law of private nuisance, keeping up?

The London Evening Standard had a story for our times last night: Please stop ‘influencing’ on our doorsteps, Notting Hill residents tell ‘unapologetic’ Instagrammers.

At a personal level we have all become artists, influencers, curators, with our instant pics, filtered, composed, annotated. Fomo for you = dopamine for me. But zoom out and through endlessly snapping, sharing, liking and commenting, we are of course the product, the hive mind, the crowd source, working for the data mine, adding to the geo-cache, mapping ceaselessly where the sugar is in the city.

In this context, what sells a place? From outside in: a glimpse of the life style, the life, that could be yours. From inside out: unique views out onto a city. The two ugly i words: iconic, instagrammable.

Which all makes the parable of Fearn & others v The Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery (Mann J, 11 February 2019) so perfect.

On one side, the residents of Neo Bankside, housed from floor to ceiling in glass so as to achieve spectacular views out and having paid no doubt precisely to be able to enjoy that experience.

On the other side, at its closest point 34 metres to the north of Block C of Neo Bankside, the viewing gallery on the tenth floor of the Blavatnik Building extension to Tate Modern, from which visitors also have spectacular views, including, to the south, of those residents in their transparent homes.

Plan A from the judgment (extract)

The people in the glass houses threw an expensive stone at their large neighbour, in the form of proceedings for an injunction to prevent overlooking from the viewing gallery, on the basis that it amounted to a breach of their rights to privacy, both under the law of private nuisance and, if the Trustees of the Tate were to be considered to be a public body, under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

What makes the situation particularly unusual is that the full implications of the juxtaposition of the two developments had not been appreciated by anyone, including the local planning authority (the London Borough of Southwark). The Tate proposals went through various design iterations. The judge found:

On the balance of probabilities it is not likely that the planning authority did consider the extent of overlooking. It is more than plausible in all the circumstances that it did not, and I find that it was not given any focused attention by the planning authority.

So far as the developers of Neo Bankside are concerned, there is very little material on which to make a finding as to their awareness of the consequences of the viewing gallery. The developers were plainly aware of the nature of the Blavatnik development from time to time, and I accept Mr Hyslop’s evidence that there was consultation between the two sides. It is plain that the developers were aware of a viewing gallery because concerns were expressed as to the effect the flats would have on the viewing gallery (not the other way round). It is very likely that the developer was aware of the plans for the gallery during the concurrent planning process. However, I do not think that the developer foresaw the level of intrusion alleged by the claimants, and therefore to that extent did not foresee the consequences of its co-operation or its knowledge.

The end result of this analysis is that, so far as relevant, I find that all relevant parties were eventually aware of the viewing gallery in its present form, and aware of its function, but (so far as relevant) they did not think through the consequences of overlooking, and looking into, the flats in Block C.”

Whilst the planning system’s role does not extend to closing off all risks of nuisance actions from those affected by development, it is a shame that the full consequences of the juxtaposition of the viewing gallery and the flats were not appreciated at the time that the application for planning permission was determined so that the issue could have been considered as against Southwark’s planning policies that seek to protect residential amenity and the issue might have been pragmatically nipped in the bud.

One further complication appears to have been that the Neo Bankside development ended up being occupied other than visualised as at when planning permission was granted, with “winter garden balconies” ending up being subsumed as part of residents’ living space. Again, to what extent is it the role of the planning system to foresee issues of privacy and overlooking that may arise in consequence of internal changes such as this?

The judgment sets out the numbers of visitors that use the viewing gallery, potentially as many as 500,000 to 600,000 a year. The Tate has posted notices on the southern gallery asking visitors to respect the privacy of the gallery’s neighbours and has instructed security guards to stop people taking photographs of the flats and occupants. The judgment then describes the activities of the visitors and it is apparent that many take photographs of the flats.

The claimants also rely on reports on social media as demonstrating a photographic and “peering” interest in the flats. They, and Mr May, produced in evidence a large number of photographs from social media, some accompanied by comments, which indicate that people have been to the gallery, noted that one can see into the flats, and commented in such a way as to acknowledge that there was a surprising intrusion into privacy arising as a result of that.

The first batch of postings were all dated in a period shortly after the Mail on Sunday wrote a piece about the issue in 2016. They are 14 Instagram posts which feature various photographs of the interiors of the Block C flats with some reflections on the lack of privacy in the flats. Some juxtapose the sign asking for respect for privacy with the view into the flats themselves; another has the rubric “Invading me some privacy”; another refers to the “Birds eye view directly into the neighbouring apartments. No wandering around in pj’s” with the hashtag (among others) “#noprivacy”. The general impression from that collection of posts, which caused upset to some of the occupants, was that those visitors were interested in peering into the flats when that view was on display.

This was supplemented by investigations into social media carried out by Mr May as part of his expert functions. A member of his firm carried out a check on Instagram and found 124 posts with photographs of Neo Bankside, apparently taken from the viewing gallery, in the period between June 2016 and April 2018. It was estimated by that member that they reached an estimated audience of 38,600, but there is a certain element of intelligent guesswork in that figure. Many of photographs show the interiors of the flats. Judging by their attached comments and hashtags, many of the photographs are taken because of the architectural interest of Block C, or because of the photogenic interest of the subject matter (not always the block by itself), and some comment on the fact that you can see right into the flats. Various conclusions can be drawn from this study, depending on one’s point of interest, but I consider that they support the case of the claimants that part of the interest on the part of at least some posters was in the view of Block C flat interiors from the gallery. For others the interiors are irrelevant, and for yet others it is noted and incidental, but there is a significant discrete interest in what one can see by looking into the flats.”

The judge’s conclusions on the level of intrusion were as follows:

(a) A very significant number of visitors display an interest in the interiors of the flats which is more than a fleeting or passing interest. That is displayed either by a degree of peering or study, with or without photography, and very occasionally with binoculars.

(b) Occupants of the flats would be aware of their exposure to that degree of intrusion.

(c) The intrusion is a material intrusion into the privacy of the living accommodation, using the word “privacy” in its everyday meaning and not pre-judging any legal privacy questions that arise.

(d) The intrusion is greater, and of a different order, from what would be the case if the flats were overlooked by windows, either residential or commercial. Windows in residential or commercial premises obviously afford a view (as do the windows lower down in the Blavatnik Building) but the normal use of those windows would not give rise to the same level of study of, or interest in, the interiors of the flats. Unlike a viewing gallery, their primary (or sole) purpose is not to view.

(e) What I have said above applies to the upper three flats in this case. It applies to a much lesser extent to flat 1301, because that is rather lower down the building and the views into the living accommodation are significantly less, and to that extent the gallery is significantly less oppressive in relation to that flat
.”

It is interesting that the judge does not comment as to whether what is done with the photographs taken, frequently uploaded and shared on social media, adds to the degree of intrusion.

After detailed legal analysis, the judge rejected the Article 8 claim on the basis that the Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery is not exercising functions of a public nature.

He also rejected the claim in nuisance, but again after interesting analysis:

1. He finds that as a matter of principle there are situations where the law of nuisance can protect privacy, at least in a private home, both under traditional common law but also by giving effect to Article 8 by extending existing causes of action.

2. “That does not mean, of course, that all overlooking becomes a nuisance. Whether anything is an invasion of privacy depends on whether, and to what extent, there is a legitimate expectation of privacy. That inquiry is likely to be closely related to the sort of inquiry that has to take place in a nuisance case into whether a landowner’s use of land is, in all the circumstances and having regard to the locality, unreasonable to the extent of being a nuisance…”

3. The planning process is not by itself a sufficient mechanism for protecting against infringement of all privacy rights.

4. “The question is whether the Tate Modern, in operating the viewing gallery as it does, is making an unreasonable use of its land, bearing in mind the nature of that use, the locality in which it takes place, and bearing in mind that the victim is expected to have to put up with some give and take appropriate to modern society and the locale. Although there is an overall assessment to be made in order to comply with the tests referred to above, I shall approach the question by first breaking the consideration down into three elements – location, the use of the defendant’s property and the nature and use of the claimants’ properties.”

5. Tate’s legal submissions sought to place reliance on the fact that planning permission had been granted, drawing upon a statement by Lord Carnwath in Lawrence v Fen Tigers (Supreme Court, 26 February 2014):

“...a planning permission may be relevant in two distinct ways: (i) It may provide evidence of the relative importance, in so far as it is relevant, of the permitted activity as part of the pattern of uses in the area; (ii) Where a relevant planning permission (or a related section 106 agreement) includes a detailed, and carefully considered, framework of conditions governing the acceptable limits of a noise use, they may provide a useful starting point or benchmark for the court’s consideration of the same issues.”

6. In this case however the planning permission “provides little or no assistance…The level of consideration given to the overlooking, if there was any at all, is not apparent from the evidence that was placed before me.

7. Nor were the planning policies for the area relevant as they did not “really engage with the important factors which have to be considered in considering a nuisance claim“.

8. “The other way in which Lord Carnwath suggested that the planning permission might be relevant is in providing evidence of the relative importance of the activity to the area. Since the planning permission in this case did not really address the viewing gallery, as opposed to the building as a whole, it is not possible to draw any conclusions from it as to the views of the planning authority on this point, so the permission is of no evidential use here either.”

9. The character of the locality is a significant relevant factor:

“The locality is, as appears above, a part of urban south London used for a mixture of residential, cultural, tourist and commercial purposes. That usage, thus described, does not say much about the privacy of high-rise glass-walled residential buildings. However, the significant factor is that is an inner city urban environment, with a significant amount of tourist activity. An occupier in that environment can expect rather less privacy than perhaps a rural occupier might. Anyone who lives in an inner city can expect to live quite cheek by jowl with neighbours. That is implicitly acknowledged by the claimants when they say they do not object to the fact that they are overlooked from the windows of the Blavatnik Building.”

Planning policies for the area “are of little or no assistance in determining what the current nature of the locality is. If they reflect the current usage, then they are irrelevant and add nothing. If they reflect a desire to move the area along to a different usage then they reflect the aspirations of the planners, but they do not affect what the nature of the locality should be treated as being for the purposes of the law of nuisance. In Fen Tigers the Supreme Court considered the question of whether the grant of planning permission could be taken to affect the character of a neighbourhood, and rejected the suggestion that that could be the case. The Justices considered the proposition that it might affect the character of the neighbourhood if it covered a large area but not a small area, and rejected that too (see eg Lord Neuberger at paras 86-88). If an actual planning decision cannot affect the character of the locality for the purposes of the law of nuisance, then the aspirations of a local authority for an area, as expounded in a local plan, should not be able to do it either. It therefore seems to me that the plans for the area do not bear on the character of the locality in this case.

Second, if I am wrong about that, then even if (as seems to be the case) there is an emphasis on cultural matters, and the benefits of a vibrant Tate Modern, it does not seem to me that that leads to the conclusion that this is an area in which a viewing platform should necessarily be actually expected in that context.

Third, while such generalised planning matters might be capable of resolving a conflict between a residential use and a cultural use (at least so far as planning is concerned), they do not assist in resolving the question of a conflict between a viewing platform (which is a particular subset of the cultural activities of the Tate Modern) and some residential accommodation.

10. The operation of a viewing gallery is not an inherently objectionable activity in the neighbourhood.

11. Turning to what it is that the claimants complain about:

They complain that their everyday life in the flats is on view because of the nature of the view. The nature of the view is the complete (or largely complete) view that one has of the living accommodation from the viewing gallery. It is that that is commented in one or two the Instagram postings. That arises (obviously) because of the complete glass walls of the living accommodation. I have considered whether the claimants would have had had a complaint if they had lived in flats designed with more wall and less window. If the owner/occupier/developer of such a flat would still have a complaint in nuisance, then so must the claimants. If he/she would not then I have to consider whether the claimants in this case would nonetheless have a cause of action themselves, arising out of the glass construction.”

The claimants would not have a nuisance claim if they lived in flats with more wall and less window.

The developers in building the flats, and the claimants as successors in title who chose to buy the flats, have created or submitted themselves to a sensitivity to privacy which is greater than would the case of a less-glassed design. It would be wrong to allow this self-induced incentive to gaze, and to infringe privacy, and self-induced exposure to the outside world, to create a liability in nuisance. Other architectural designs would have reduced the invasion of privacy to levels which should be tolerated; that is the appropriate measure in my view. If the claimants have a design which raises the privacy invasion then they have created their own sensitivity and will have to tolerate what the design has created. I remind myself that the first designs for these flats did have some privacy protection built in.

In making that determination I am not indulging in any criticism of the claimants or the developers; nor am I criticising the architectural design. I am aware that is no part of the law of nuisance to discourage architectural adventure. However, the architectural style in this case (including the more striking design of the block as a whole) has the consequence of an increased exposure to the outside world for all the reasons contained in this judgment. That should not be allowed to alter the balance which would otherwise exist.”

The winter gardens also have to be considered. A very material part of the perceived intrusion into privacy comes from the fact that the occupiers can be viewed in the winter gardens, which they treat as an extension of their living accommodation. Furthermore, the glass of the winter gardens allows a view to the glass of the internal double-glazed door, which in turn allows a further view into the living accommodation.

Those areas were not originally intended as part of the living accommodation. The planning documents make clear that they were conceived as a form of internal balconies, which the occupiers could enjoy as an additional amenity to their living accommodation. The experts both agreed on that. That is why the areas were single glazed, and not double glazed. The flooring was also intended to be different, to reflect that. They were not intended to be heated, though the developers did actually extend the under-floor heating into them. Had the occupiers operated their flats in that way then in my view they could have expected less privacy in respect of that part of their flats – one does not expect so much privacy in a balcony, even one as high as these. I agree with Mr Rhodes’ evidence to that effect.

In that respect, too, the owners and occupiers of the flat have created their own additional sensitivity to the inward gaze. They have moved more of their living activities into a quasi-balcony area and provided more to look at. Had they not done that, there would have been less worth looking at – less to attract the eye – and fewer living activities to be intruded upon. It is true that to a degree there would still have been a view through the winter gardens and through the double-glazed doors, and to that extent the privacy of the living accommodation would still have been compromised by something more usual (extensive glass doors giving on to a balcony-equivalent) but the whole package would have been a less sensitive one.”

12. Remedial steps could be taken, for instance by lowering solar blinds, installing privacy film or installing net curtains.

Recommendations for further reading

In true online tradition, if you liked this post [in fact whether or not you liked it] you will like Barbara Rich’s beautiful and reflective 15 February 2019 blog post Curtains For The Zeitgeist.

Simon Ricketts, 2 March 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Delivery!

MHCLG’s announcements this week have clarified three separate issues which go to whether the “tilted balance” in paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF applies in relation to applications for planning permission for housing development.

Where the tilted balance applies, Government policy is of course that planning permission should be granted unless:

(i) the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance [being specific categories of policies set out in footnote 6 to the NPPF] provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed; or

(ii) any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.”

Two situations where the tilted balance applies are:

⁃ “where the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites” with an appropriate buffer percentage of 5%, 10% or 20% calculated by reference to paragraph 73 of the NPPF; and

⁃ “where the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing was substantially below [a defined percentage of] the housing requirement over the previous three years” the defined percentage being 25% in the case of Housing Delivery Test results published in November 2018, 45% in the case of results published in November 2019 and 75% in the case of results published in November 2020 and thereafter. (Additionally, the authority needs to publish an action plan where the delivery percentage is less than 95%, “to assess the causes of under-delivery and identify actions to increase delivery in future years“).

Paragraph 177 of the 2018 NPPF disapplies the presumption in favour of sustainable development (and therefore the possibility of the tilted balance applying) where the project requires appropriate assessment under the Conservation of Habitats Regulations, which has proved problematic following the Court of Justice of the European Union’s judgment in People Over Wind, which led to far more projects requiring appropriate assessment.

This week’s announcements have clarified three things:

1. How “deliverable” is defined for the purposes of that first situation.

2. The presumption in favour of sustainable development is no longer disapplied if there is a negative appropriate assessment.

3. What the November 2018 Housing Delivery Test results are for in relation to each English local planning authority (the results not having been, er, delivered on time by MHCLG).

After a long wait, and initial indications that this would all be done before Christmas, on 19 February MHCLG published:

Government response to technical consultation on updates to national planning policy and guidance

housing delivery test 2018 measurement

further revised NPPF

The revisions to the NPPF are limited but care will be needed when referring to decisions and court rulings to be clear as to the relevant policy basis: the 27 March 2012 NPPF, the 24 July 2018 NPPF or the 19 February 2019 NPPF.

What is deliverable?

Footnote 11 to the 2012 NPPF defined “deliverable” as follows:

To be considered deliverable, sites should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years and in particular that development of the site is viable. Sites with planning permission should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that schemes will not be implemented within five years, for example they will not be viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans.”

The degree of probability required, given the words “realistic prospect“, was considered by the Court of Appeal in St Modwen Developments Ltd v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 20 October 2017), where Lindblom LJ said this:

35…Deliverability is not the same thing as delivery. The fact that a particular site is capable of being delivered within five years does not mean that it necessarily will be. For various financial and commercial reasons, the landowner or housebuilder may choose to hold the site back. Local planning authorities do not control the housing market. NPPF policy recognises that…


37… Had the Government’s intention been to frame the policy for the five-year supply of housing land in terms of a test more demanding than deliverability, this would have been done…


38 The first part of the definition in footnote 11—amplified in paras 3–029, 3–031 and 3–033 of the PPG—contains four elements: first, that the sites in question should be ” available now”; second, that they should “offer a suitable location for development now”; third, that they should be ” achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years”; and fourth, that “development of the site is viable ” (my emphasis). Each of these considerations goes to a site’s capability of being delivered within five years: not to the certainty, or—as Mr Young submitted—the probability that it actually will be. The second part of the definition refers to “[sites] with planning permission”. This clearly implies that, to be considered deliverable and included within the five-year supply, a site does not necessarily have to have planning permission already granted for housing development on it. The use of the words “realistic prospect” in the footnote 11 definition mirrors the use of the same words in the second bullet point in paragraph 47 in connection with the requirement for a 20% buffer to be added where there has been “a record of persistent under delivery of housing”. Sites may be included in the five-year supply if the likelihood of housing being delivered on them within the five-year period is no greater than a “realistic prospect”—the third element of the definition in footnote 11 (my emphasis). This does not mean that for a site properly to be regarded as “deliverable” it must necessarily be certain or probable that housing will in fact be delivered upon it, or delivered to the fullest extent possible, within five years.”

The wording in glossary to the 2018 NPPF was made more specific:

“”Deliverable: To be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years. Sites that are not major development, and sites with detailed planning permission, should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years (e.g. they are no longer viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans). Sites with outline planning permission, permission in principle, allocated in the development plan or identified on a brownfield register should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.”

Due to concerns as to potential ambiguity (which I didn’t really see) as to the treatment of non-major development (ie developments of less than ten homes, with a site area of less than 0.5 hectares), the wording has now been changed in the 2019 NPPF to read as follows

“Deliverable: To be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years. In particular:

a)  sites which do not involve major development and have planning permission, and all sites with detailed planning permission, should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years (for example because they are no longer viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans).

b)  where a site has outline planning permission for major development, has been allocated in a development plan, has a grant of permission in principle, or is identified on a brownfield register, it should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years

But there will remain room for argument: “realistic prospect” inevitably requires judgement and the local planning authority’s assessment as to the position of individual sites will always be potentially controversial given its interest (and/or that of objectors to development) in demonstrating an adequate supply so as to avoid the tilted balance. We will no doubt still see cases such as East Cheshire Council v Secretary of State (Deputy Judge Justine Thornton QC, 1 November 2018), East Bergholt Parish Council v Babergh District Council (Sir Ross Cranston, 7 December 2018) and (no transcript available but the link is to a useful Cornerstone summary) R (Chilton Parish Council) v Babergh District Council (Deputy Judge Robin Purchas QC, 2 February 2019.

There has also previously been much uncertainty as to the circumstances in which the new standard method for assessing local housing need should be used as the basis for assessing whether a five year supply of specific deliverable sites exists in the case of a plan with strategic policies which are more than five years old (unless those strategic policies had been reviewed and found not not to require updating). Footnote 37 in the 2019 NPPF makes clear that the standard method should indeed be used (which reflects the 5 February 2019 decision of the Secretary of State in relation to the Edenthorpe Doncaster called in application, blogged about by Lichfields on 21 February 2019).

Appropriate assessment

Hooray, paragraph 177 now reads:

The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where the plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a habitats site (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), unless an appropriate assessment has concluded that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the habitats site.

The Housing Delivery Test

Well, the results are finally in. The housing delivery test 2018 measurement. According to analysis by Savills:

⁃ no authority is subject this time round to the tilted balance by virtue of delivering less than 25% of its housing requirement over the last three years

⁃ 86 out of 326 authorities are subject to the requirement of a 20% buffer on their five year housing land supply figure as a result of having delivered less than 85% of their housing requirement over the last three years

⁃ 107 out of 326 authorities have to prepare an action plan as a result of having delivered less than 95% of their housing requirement over the last three years.

A future blog post will deal with the “need” side of the equation…

Simon Ricketts, 23 February 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Dual Purpose

I need to declare an interest as I’ve recently been acting for an electronic communications code operator but…

Ouseley J’s ruling in Westminster City Council v Secretary of State & New World Payphones Limited (5 February 2019) raises more questions than some of the media headlines would suggest.

Background

New World Payphones is the operator of an electronic communications network for the purposes of the Communications Act 2003 and the Town and Country (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

It proposed replacing two existing telephone boxes with a single new kiosk on Marylebone Road. It had made two applications to Westminster City Council: an application under the GPDO for a determination as to whether its prior approval was required for the new kiosk and at the same time an application for express consent under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 for the “display of illuminated digital advertisement panel…as part of new telephone kiosk“. The panel was to be on the rear of the proposed kiosk.

Westminster City Council refused both applications. New World Payphones appealed. The inspector allowed the appeal against refusal of prior approval under the GPDO and refused the appeal against refusal of express consent under the Control of Advertisements Regulations.

Westminster City Council then challenged the decision to allow the prior approval appeal.

The legislation

In brief summary, Class A of Schedule 2 Part 16 of the GPDO gives deemed permission for:

A. Development by or on behalf of an electronic communications code operator for the purpose of the operator’s electronic communications network in, on , over or under land controlled by that operator or in accordance with the electronic communications code consisting of –
(a) the installation, alteration or replacement of any electronic communications apparatus
….”

If the apparatus comprises a public call box, a determination is required from the local planning authority as to whether prior approval is needed for the siting and appearance of the development.

It should also be noted that whilst an illuminated advertisement needs express consent under the Control of Advertisements Regulations, there is automatic deemed consent for a non-illuminated advertisement on one glazed surface of a telephone kiosk, subject to certain restrictions.

Westminster City Council’s submissions

Ouseley J summarised Westminster’s grounds of challenge as follows:

⁃ “the grant of prior approval was outside the powers conferred by the GPDO because the new kiosk was not “for the purpose” of the operator’s electronic communication network, but instead was primarily for the purpose of advertising via the illuminated panel.”

⁃ “the Inspector had ignored an issue which it raised, namely that there was no need for the proposed kiosk. There had to be a need for the proposal before it could come within the scope of permitted development in Class A of Part 16 of the GPDO, and before consideration of its siting and appearance could be relevant. Third, as a form of belt and braces, it contended that the Inspector’s approach to the need for and purpose behind the proposed kiosk was irrational or inadequately reasoned.”

Ground 1

The judge didn’t accept the council’s formulation that that the “provision of communications facility had to be the dominant or primary purpose in order for the development to come within the scope of Part 16” and that the “operator’s purpose was to be identified by the reason for which he proposed the development.” According to the council:

A differently designed and smaller communications facility could be provided were it not for the advertising panel component of the design. This also showed what its dominant purpose was, as did New World Payphones’ statement in its written representations that a kiosk would only be replaced if both prior approval and advertisement consent were granted. The dominant purpose could not be the provision of the electronic communications facility if, in the absence of the advertising panel, the electronic communications facility would not be provided.”

The judge approached the issue in a different way, starting by considering the nature and purpose of the GPDO. “If there were no GPDO, a specific planning application would have to be made for all the developments which benefit from the general permission it gives. A whole array of different types of development, are regarded as fit for permission, subject to specific conditions. For some, and Part 16 Class A is one of them, the relevant material considerations are taken into account in the grant of the general permission, provided that certain specific material considerations are resolved through a specific decision-making process. Those specific considerations vary from one type of development to another. That restricted range of considerations is established because the others have already been resolved in favour of the type of development proposed. The restricted range is clearly tailored to the specific type of development at issue. However, the general range of considerations have not been resolved in relation to a development which does not come within the Class relied on, and the issues for specific consideration have not been tailored to such a development. The definition of the Class has to be interpreted in that light.

In my view, that means that the whole development for which prior approval is sought must fall within the Class relied on, and no part of it can fall outside it. Otherwise, the general permission in the GPDO, and the restricted range of considerations would be applied to development which falls outside the scope of the permission.”

A development therefore falls outside the scope of Class A Part 16 if it is not “for the purpose” of the operator’s network. That means, at least in the specific context of a GPDO permission, that a proposed development falls outside it, if part of it falls outside it. It cannot be said that the whole falls within the GPDO. The benefits of the GPDO, a quicker process, the limited range of material considerations, and the restricted range of conditions would be used for a development, part of which they were not intended for, and which had not been judged to merit permission on that basis. A development which is partly “for the purpose” of the operator’s network, and partly for some other purpose, is not a development “for the purpose” of the operator’s network, precisely because it is for something else as well. The single dual purpose development must be judged as a whole.”

I do not consider that the question is whether the dominant purpose is for the operator’s network, although for certain purposes that is how a statutory purpose is judged. In the context of planning law, the concept of dual or mixed uses does not turn on dominant or secondary purposes: thus a farm, when a farm shop was added, would be used for mixed purpose of agriculture and retail; similarly a house with an office use in a part of it, would not be “residential” but a mixed use. The other use would create a mixed or dual use unless it was incidental or ancillary to the identified use, which would mean that it was part of that use and not a separate use at all, or was legally so small as to be of no significance, de minimis. I consider that the GPDO should be analysed by reference to concepts with which planning law is familiar, rather than by dominant or primary /secondary considerations.”

I do not consider that the evidence here could permit of any conclusion other than that the kiosk served a dual purpose. Part of its purpose was for the operator’s network, as a telephone kiosk. Part of it was to be the electrified advertising panel. The panel was for the purpose of displaying advertisements. It was not ancillary or incidental to the kiosk, nor legally insignificant. It does not matter whether it would have been lit if no advertisements were displayed. No relative significance has to be attributed to either part of the dual purpose; it is sufficient if the two purposes exist without the advertising use being ancillary or incidental or of no legal significance.

Ground 2

The judge rejected the council’s argument that it was relevant for a decision maker to consider whether there was a “need” for the kiosk.

The text of Class A was intended to be quite simple, and would not have been intended to import some objective “need” test, or to involve the local authority questioning precisely why the operator “required” the kiosk, and judging how good a reason that was. This would contradict the essential feature of the GPDO which is to narrow the range of considerations which a decision-maker has to consider, in order to streamline certain aspects of the planning system.”

It’s not straight-forward

I say that for a few reasons:

1. The ruling was based on the facts of the case: a proposed illuminated/digital advertisement panel and two applications having been made, one being for the display of an illuminated advertisement. Plainly the ruling can’t read across to every telephone kiosk, even those that allow for a facility to display a non-illuminated advertisement with the benefit of deemed consent under the Control of Advertisement Regulations. After all, what purpose would the deemed consent mechanism (specifically directed at telephone kiosks) serve if any kiosk that allowed for such an advertisement, by definition, did not have prior approval under the GPDO? Kiosks such as the BT image below have long been a familiar part of the UK street scene for many years (ah London 2012…)

The idea that some advertising on the surface of telephone kiosks can be considered to be inherent or ancillary, and indeed specifically is controlled by a code within the Control of Advertising Regulations that has specific criteria as to what advertisements on telephone kiosks should have automatic consent and therefore legally irrelevant at prior approval stage, is surely reflected in previous rulings such as Infocus Public Networks Limited v Secretary of State (Foskett J, 17 December 2010) (a different Infocus case to that which is cited in Ouseley J’s judgment):

As I have indicated, it is this part of the Inspector’s reasoning that I find difficult. If the primary issues for consideration, once the principle of this kind of development is acknowledged, are the siting and appearance of any kiosk, then “appearance” (though apt to include anything attached to the surface of the kiosk) would ordinarily be thought to be the intrinsic appearance of the kiosk itself. The fact that a telephone kiosk is something of a magnet for advertising material is obvious to anyone who walks along a street where telephone kiosks are situated. It has been recognised in a formal sense by the promulgation of the 2007 Regulations. Those Regulations give what would certainly seem to be a self-contained code for the regulation of advertising material generally and, in this particular context, of advertising materials attached to the surface of a telephone kiosk.

Against that background, it seems to me that a Local Planning Authority has ample powers to ensure the discontinuance of advertising that represents a “substantial injury to the amenity of the locality or a danger to members of the public”. There is a right of appeal for the owner or occupier of the site to the Secretary of State. To that extent and upon that basis, I do not consider that the existence of advertising material on a telephone kiosk that is otherwise sited appropriately in the planning context and has an intrinsically acceptable appearance is a material consideration in deciding whether prior approval should or should not have been given to the erection of that kiosk.”

2. Ouseley J rejects the dominant or primary purpose test proposed by the council, in favour of “concepts with which planning law is familiar” in the form of his “dual purpose” test which, as far as I’m concerned, is without any precedent. But then the test seems to come back in his statement that “it is sufficient if the two purposes exist without the advertising use being ancillary or incidental or of no legal significance“. Is this acknowledging the points in my paragraph 1 above?

3. To what extent is the motive of an operator relevant? Perhaps it is straight-forward in the New World Payphones type situation where the operator is making a specific application for the display of advertising alongside the application for the kiosk, but what about in other circumstances where motives can only be discerned from secondary evidence? And taking a step back, do we apply such considerations in relation to other industry business models that are dependent on advertising or sponsorship? Is the London Evening Standard a newspaper? Is Channel 4 News a news programme?

4. What are the implications for other parts of the GPDO? For instance, close to the pockets of local authorities, there is Part 12:

“A.  The erection or construction and the maintenance, improvement or other alteration by a local authority or by an urban development corporation of—

(a) any small ancillary building, works or equipment on land belonging to or maintained by them required for the purposes of any function exercised by them on that land otherwise than as statutory undertakers;

(b) lamp standards, information kiosks, passenger shelters, public shelters and seats, telephone boxes, fire alarms, public drinking fountains, horse troughs, refuse bins or baskets, barriers for the control of people waiting to enter public service vehicles, electric vehicle charging points and any associated infrastructure, and similar structures or works required in connection with the operation of any public service administered by them.”

So presumably one implication of the ruling, on the broad interpretation that some might give it, is that there no longer deemed permission for any bus shelter, refuse bin or seat that allows for advertising? If not, why not?

Permission to appeal

Ouseley J granted the Secretary of State permission to appeal, the test for which is that either (a) the court considers that the appeal would have a real prospect of success; or (b) there is some other compelling reason for the appeal to be heard.

So his judgment is unlikely to be the last word on this subject.

MHCLG consultation paper

I covered MHCLG’s consultation paper Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes in my 8 December 2018 blog post Permitted Development: Painting By Numbers Versus Painting The Sistine Chapel?, at the time not saying much about the proposal to “remove the existing right that allows the installation of, and advertising on, new public call boxes“, because the proposed restriction seemed to me not to fit well with all of the other proposals, which are for extensions of permitted development rights, nor with the theme of supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes.

It would be helpful if MHCLG were to reflect, with DCMS and Ofcom, on what comes from the Court of Appeal’s thinking when any appeal comes before it, before considering further, on the back of a specific consultation paper, whether any legislative change is in fact needed, and if so what. As I mentioned in my previous blog, in my view what is really needed is an updating of the permitted development rights in Part 16 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO to reflect the role of streetside furniture in relation to 3/4G (soon to be 5G and all that 5G will facilitate in terms of smart city functions) and wifi. The “public call box” terminology is certainly old fashioned and misleading. But, to use other old fashioned terminology, there is a big risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Simon Ricketts, 16 February 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Dual porpoises

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

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

Two more decisions to note since that blog post:

VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate, Charlton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bermondsey Biscuit Factory and Bermondsey Campus Site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More widely

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

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

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

Still messy, isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts

Personal views, et cetera

Peek Frean biscuits, from Bermondsey.

What To Do About Poor Air Quality? The Shirley Case

In this week of all Brexit weeks it was interesting to see the approach of the Court of Appeal in a case, R (Shirley) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 25 January 2019), which turned on the practical extent of the Secretary of State’s duty to give effect to the objectives of the Air Quality Directive. The UK is under binding commitments in the Air Quality Directive to improve air quality, transposed into domestic law by way of the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. Was he required to call in for his own determination a planning application for development that would worsen or prolong breaches of limit values in an Air Quality Management Area (“AQMA”) for nitrogen dioxide or PM10?

Before we turn to the ruling, a quick update may be useful on the continuing saga of the Government’s continued failure to prepare a lawful Air Quality Plan in compliance with its duties under the Air Quality Directive (its deadline having been 1 January 2010) since my 4 November 2016 blog post The UK Government & Air Quality (ahem). At the point I wrote the blog post, the Supreme Court had ordered in April 2015 that the Government should prepare a legally compliant Air Quality Plan by the end of 2015, the Government had purported to publish compliant proposals on 17 December 2015 which were then found to be legally inadequate by Garnham J in his judgment in ClientEarth v Secretary of State (No. 2) (Garnham J, 2 November 2016). He gave the Government a further deadline of 31 July 2017.

The Government purported to comply by that deadline but Garnham J held that attempt too was deficient in a number of respects, in R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State (No. 3) (Garnham J, 21 February 2018). He made a declaration as to the deficiencies as against the requirements of the Directive and Regulations, ordered the urgent production of a supplement to rectify the deficiencies and that the balance of the plan should remain in force in the meantime to avoid any delay in its implementation. His judgment concluded:

I end this judgment where I began, by considering the history and significance of this litigation. It is now eight years since compliance with the 2008 Directive should have been achieved. This is the third, unsuccessful, attempt the Government has made at devising an AQP which complies with the Directive and the domestic Regulations. Each successful challenge has been mounted by a small charity, for which the costs of such litigation constitute a significant challenge. In the meanwhile, UK citizens have been exposed to significant health risks.

It seems to me that the time has come for the Court to consider exercising a more flexible supervisory jurisdiction in this case than is commonplace. Such an application was made to me when the November 2016 judgment was handed down. I refused it on that occasion, opting for a more conventional form of order. Given present circumstances, however, I would invite submissions from all parties, both in writing and orally, as to whether it would be appropriate for the Court to grant a continuing liberty to apply, so that the Claimant can bring the matter back before the court, in the present proceedings, if there is evidence that either Defendant is falling short in its compliance with the terms of the order of the Court”.

The Government published a supplement to its plan on 5 October 2018 and as far as I know there has been no legal challenge to it or application back to Garnham J pursuant to his liberty to apply. So we may finally now have a legally compliant Air Quality Plan?

In the meantime, the European Commission has commenced infringement proceedings against the UK and other member states for delays in implementing the Directive.

To bring the narrative right up to date, the Government published its Clean Air Strategy on 14 January 2019, setting out proposed measures that will in due course form part of the forthcoming Environment Bill. On an initial reading there seems to be a deliberate shift away from the areas where the Government has found it difficult to comply with the Air Quality Directive, particularly in relation to polluting emissions from vehicles. From the foreword by Michael Gove:

We often think of air pollution as a problem caused by road transport and industrial level burning of fossil fuels. These are two of the central sources of pollution, but industry and government have worked together to remedy many of the worst problems by incentivising the use of clean fuels and investing in new technology. We have already secured a significant reduction in emissions since the 1970s. But now this trajectory has slowed.

Now we need to tackle other sources of air pollutants that damage human health and the environment. Air pollution can be caused by intensive agricultural food production, heating our homes or even cleaning with certain solvents

Whether that is well based is for others to judge.

But perhaps more of that another day and now back to Shirley. The appeal before the Court of Appeal concerned an application by Corinthian Mountfield Limited for planning permission for 4,000 dwellings and associated development that had been resolved to be approved by Canterbury Borough Council.

Dove J had rejected the appellants’ claim for judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in the application. The Court of Appeal considered three grounds of appeal:

(1) whether the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan complying with Article 23 of the Air Quality Directive would be a sufficient response to breaches of limit values (ground 1 in the appellant’s notice);


(2) whether the Secretary of State had a duty as “competent authority” to use his planning powers to avoid the worsening or prolongation of breaches of the limit values, and was therefore obliged to call in Corinthian Mountfield’s application for planning permission (ground 2); and


(3) whether it was irrational for the Secretary of State to assume that any errors in the city council’s approach could be put right if it reconsidered the application, or could be brought before the court in a claim for judicial review if planning permission were granted (ground 3)
.”

The point is an important practical one – if a project is likely to increase exceedances of pollutant limit values, does that by itself lead to the risk of call in or legal challenge?

“Is the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan complying with article 23 of the Air Quality Directive a sufficient response to breaches of limit values?

Article 13 of the Directive, transposed by Regulation 17 of the Regulations, requires the Secretary of State to ensure that levels of specified pollutants do not exceed defined limit values. In zones where levels are below the limit values the Secretary of State must “ensure that levels are maintained below those limit values and must endeavour to maintain the best ambient air quality compatible with sustainable development“.

Article 23 of the Directive, transposed by Regulation 26 of the Regulations, requires that where exceedances of annual mean limit values of specified pollutants occur, the Secretary of State must draw up and implement an air quality plan to achieve the limit value.

Dove J had “concluded that when the limit values in the Air Quality Directive are exceeded, if article 13 is read with articles 22 and 23, the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan with a view to overcoming those exceedances and keeping their duration as short as possible is the “specific and bespoke remedy”. There was, he said, “no room within the scheme” of the Air Quality Directive for any “freestanding responsibility” to take any specific action on “permits” or “development consents”. He was “unable to read into the legislation any requirement to take particular actions in relation to permits or development consents”.

For the appellants, Mr Robert McCracken Q.C. submitted that the judge had erred in his understanding of the Air Quality Directive and the 2010 regulations. He had failed to adopt a suitably purposive approach, failed to recognize the high level of environmental protection required by EU law, and failed to follow the approach taken by the Court of Justice of the European Union in relevant authority. He had not grasped that the Air Quality Directive requires the taking of action, not merely the preparation of air quality plans, and that the adoption and implementation of an air quality plan is a necessary but not a sufficient response to breaches of limit values…”

As referred to in my 4 November 2016 blog post, this has been Robert McCracken QC’s position for a long time – indeed in my blog post I included a link to his 2015 legal opinion to that effect.

Lindblom LJ examines in detail the Court of Justice of the European Union case law before agreeing with Dove J and rejecting the “purposive approach” argument:

Dove J.’s description of article 23 as providing the “specific and bespoke remedy” for a breach of article 13 therefore seems apt. This does not mean that Member States may not also adopt other measures to address a breach of article 13, in addition to preparing and putting into effect an air quality plan complying with article 23. But nor does it mean that Member States are compelled by any provision of the Air Quality Directive to do that. A demonstrable breach of article 13 does not generate some unspecified obligation beyond the preparation and implementation of an air quality plan that complies with article 23. The case law does not suggest, for example, that in such circumstances a Member State must ensure that land use planning powers and duties are exercised in a particular way – such as by imposing a moratorium on grants of planning permission for particular forms of development, or for development of a particular scale, whose effect might be to perpetuate or increase exceedances of limit values, or by ensuring that decisions on such proposals are taken only at ministerial level“.

Did the Secretary of State have a duty as “competent authority” to use his planning powers to avoid the worsening or prolongation of breaches of limit values?

Again, the answer was no:

I cannot accept that argument. It finds no support in relevant case law. In my view, as Mr Maurici and Mr Pereira submitted, it is not possible to construe the provisions of the Air Quality Directive and the 2010 regulations as constraining the Secretary of State’s very wide discretion either to call in or not to call in an application for planning permission when the limit values under article 13 have not been complied with, or when an air quality plan under article 23 has not yet been put in place or has proved to be deficient or ineffective. The air quality legislation does not do that. It does not have the effect of narrowing the Secretary of State’s call-in discretion in such circumstances, let alone of transforming that discretion into a duty, or of requiring a particular application for planning permission to be refused. None of the provisions of the Air Quality Directive engages with the process of making decisions to authorize individual projects of development. If a proposed development would cause a limit value to be breached, or delay the remediation of such a breach, or worsen air quality in a particular area, neither the Air Quality Directive nor the 2010 regulations states that planning permission must be withheld or granted only subject to particular conditions. These may of course be material considerations when an application or appeal is decided, and so too the measures in an air quality plan for the relevant zone, if there is one, or in an action plan prepared under the Environment Act 1995. But the Air Quality Directive and the 2010 regulations do not, in those or any other circumstances, compel the decision-maker to refuse planning permission, or impose on the Secretary of State an obligation to make the decision himself.”

Was the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in the application irrational?

Given that planning permission had not yet been granted by the city council, it was open to the council to take the application back to committee if it was not called in.

Lindblom LJ held that the Secretary of State’s freedom to exercise his call-in discretion is considerable. “The Secretary of State also knew that if he did not call in the application, the city council would be able to consider it again, taking account of any further representations made to it, and, with the advice of its officers and professional consultants, revisiting the committee’s resolution to grant planning permission. And if planning permission were to be granted, it could be challenged by a claim for judicial review. It was not perverse for the Secretary of State to have these considerations in mind when he made his decision not to call in.”

Lastly, the Court of Appeal considered and rejected for four reasons the appellants’ submission that a reference should be made on the first ground of appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union:

⁃ the appeal failed in any event on the other grounds so a decision on the questions in the reference would not be necessary to enable this court to give judgment;

⁃ the issue was in the court’s view “acte clair” (ie reasonably clear and free from doubt)

⁃ a reference would cause unjustifiable delay in a case where the decision under challenge was procedural, not substantive

⁃ a reference was opposed by all four respondents.

Concluding thoughts

The case is an interesting example of the way in which EU law has become so familiar to the lawyers and judges of our domestic courts. Nearly all of our environmental law is EU-derived. Post-Brexit, when EU-derived legislation such as the Air Quality Standards Regulations will continue to apply (unless and until amended or revoked) on a free-standing basis and without the backing of the Directive, it is inconceivable to imagine that we will not all in practice still draw upon the CJEU’s case law to assist in matters of interpretation.

Over time this may change, once our legislation starts to diverge with that of the EU (we see already the deliberately differing objectives and approaches of DEFRA’s Clean Air Strategy) and once differing strands of judicial interpretation start slowly to open up. It’s going to get complicated. Our judges will always be more resistant to the purposive approach to interpretation – legislation should mean what it says – which is why in our common law system it is so important that our laws are precise rather than broad statements of principle in the way that has led to so much litigation in relation to EU Directives.

The case also illustrates the scale of the hurdles to be cleared in persuading our courts to refer issues to the Court of Justice of the European Union. If there had been a reference in Shirley, could we have completely ruled out the prospect of a surprise finding, à la People Over Wind? I’m still grumbling, five years on, about the Supreme Court’s refusal in the HS2 Action Alliance case to refer the Strategic Environmental Assessment issues that we raised to the CJEU. The risk/prospect of referral is generally a low one.

The earlier ClientEarth sequence of cases (within which there was in fact a reference) raises the separate question as to whether it is sufficient for responsibility for compliance with environmental targets to remain with Parliament and whether the proposed Office for Environmental Protection would have sufficient power as against a future Government that is dragging its heels. Would the OEP be able to fulfil that supervisory role that Garnham J has had to take in the ClientEarth litigation?

But in the meantime, it is helpful to have the Court of Appeal’s clarification that non-compliance by the Government with its international responsibilities does not lead to what would effectively been an embargo on any form of development where it could be argued that there might be an adverse effect on air quality in an AQMA, regardless of the local improvement measures to which the relevant local authorities had committed under the Directive and Regulations, and regardless of the usual statutory requirement for decision makers to determine applications in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. It would have led to decision-making chaos.

But that shouldn’t let anyone off the hook. The onus really must continue to rest with the Government and local authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that roadside emissions are reduced to acceptable levels, no matter how politically unpopular the implications (eg further charging zones, making it more expensive and less convenient to use a polluting vehicle and the reverse for users of public transport – and priority being given to pedestrians and cyclists in our cities). The onus must also rest with developers to seek to ensure that their proposals are, in the language of the draft London Plan, air quality neutral or positive.

Clean air may be invisible but surely, one day, it will be seen as a vote winner?

Simon Ricketts, 2 February 2019

Personal views, et cetera

The Secretary Of State & London

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

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

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

Purley Baptist Church site, Croydon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir William Sutton Estate, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcombe House, Notting Hill

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

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

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

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

Kensington Forum Hotel

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

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

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

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

Getting messy isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts, 26 January 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Purley scheme, image from inspector’s report

CIL The Merciless

Failing to serve a CIL notice can have huge consequences, as R (Shropshire Council) v Secretary of State (Mr C M G Ockleton, vice president of the Upper Tribunal, sitting as a High Court judge, 16 January 2019) illustrates.

Mr Jones, a self-builder, secured planning permission for a large new home with triple garage. Good news.

He received a liability notice for CIL assessing the amount of CIL that would be payable on commencement of the development as £36,891.43. Bad news.

He then applied for and secured full relief from CIL, relying on the self-building exemption. Good news.

In order not to lose the benefit of the relief, regulation 54B (6) provides that a “person who is granted an exemption for self-build housing ceases to be eligible for that exemption if a commencement notice is not submitted to the collecting authority before the day the chargeable development is commenced.”

You can see what is going to come next.

There was a section 106 agreement under which Mr Jones was obliged to notify the council when works pursuant to the planning permission were to begin, as the commencement date triggered a contribution of £9,000 under the agreement. Mr Jones sent the council an email with a heading referring to the section 106 agreement, notifying the council that works would commence the next day, which the council acknowledged, under the same heading.

Mr Jones didn’t send a separate commencement notice in the form required by the CIL Regulations.

The worst of news: he then receives a demand notice requiring the full £39,891.43 on the ground that the development had commenced without a commencement notice being sent to the council plus a surcharge of £2,500 for “invalid commencement“.

Mr Jones responded with a letter of horror and apology, saying that he knew about the Regulations and thought that he had given sufficient notice of commencement by his email of 10 July. The relevant Council official replied in sympathetic terms but pointing out that the CIL process is separate from the planning process and is controlled very precisely by national regulations in relation to which the local authority had no discretion.”

Mr Jones, then instructed solicitors and counsel (good money after bad) and after various exchanges his representatives appealed against the demand notice (or rather a replacement demand notice that the council issued, given that the deadline for appealing against the first demand notice had passed).

Good news: The inspector allowed his appeal: the inspector “accepted that “on a literal interpretation of the Regulations” the email did not include particulars required by Form 6 (the form specified for the purpose under reg 67) and failed to identify the LN reference, but that the “oversight” was not fatal to Mr Jones’ case, because the email did refer to the relevant site and planning permission and unambiguously specified the intended date of commencement. In these circumstances, at para 10, he held that “in practice, substance, form and all intent and purposes the email communication has the same effect as Form 6”. He said he was content that “the purpose behind CIL reg 67 has been satisfied in spirit at least” and “the apparent failure to strictly comply with the terms of reg 67(2) should be put aside”. There was in any event no prejudice to the collecting authority because it was aware of the date.”

Alarm bells ring – “satisfied in spirit at least” when you are dealing with the CIL Regulations??

Bad news: the council challenges the appeal decision in the High Court and the Secretary of State consents to judgment, leaving poor Mr Jones to fight on. Potentially £40k+ down and now in High Court litigation, with exposure to paying the council’s legal costs if he loses.

Even worse news: the High Court finds for the council:

First, the email did not amount to a valid commencement notice because it did not comply with the requirements of regulation 67 (2, which requires that it must:

(a) be submitted in writing on a form published by the Secretary of State (or a form to substantially the same effect);

(b) identify the liability notice issued in respect of the chargeable development;

(c) state the intended commencement date of the chargeable development; and

(d) include the other particulars specified or referred to in the form.”

Secondly, the case law does “not justify a process of simply looking to see the apparent purpose of the regulations and treating any act fulfilling that purpose as sufficient to comply with them. The Regulations make perfectly clear that the consequence of failure to comply is loss of the exemption; and failure to comply means failure to submit a notice under reg 67.

Finally the judge rejected the submission by Saira Sheikh QC “that in the circumstances of the present case the court should in its discretion refuse to grant relief to the Council. The requirements and the forms for fulfilling them are readily available, were made available to Mr Jones, and he accepted that he knew a commencement notice needed to be given. Only when the consequences of his failure were brought home to him in a substantial charge did Mr Jones claim that an email sent to the Council on an entirely different topic was his attempt to comply with the detailed requirements of which he was aware. There is no trace of any waiver or attempted waiver by the Council, and I do not see that Mr Jones could properly have interpreted the reply to his email in relation to s 106 as a waiver of the obligation to submit a commencement notice if he wished to maintain his self-build exemption. The argument based on the Inspector’s view that the Council should have told him (again) that he needed to submit a commencement notice is without merit: the Inspector was simply wrong about that. No system of administration could survive a duty imposed on a recipient of an email on one subject to remind its sender of all other notices on different subjects that he might want to send. The fact that the penalties are discretionary does not mean that the imposition of CIL itself is discretionary: it is not. The Council seems to have behaved as sympathetically as they could, imposing a minimum interest charge; and maintaining the imposition of the surcharge, in the absence of which Mr Jones would have no right of appeal. His difficulties have been caud maintaining the imposition of the surcharge, in the absence of which Mr Jones would have no right of appeal. His difficulties have been caused entirely by his own acts and I see no good reason to relieve him from the consequences at the expense of the ratepayers of Shropshire.

What an unforgiving process this is. As commented by solicitor David Brock in a tweet when Town Legal circulated this case yesterday:

The complications and traps of the CIL Regulations and self-builders are not really compatible. Which is odd given that Government encourages self- and custom-house building

Of course, the Government will say that it already has proposals in hand to deal with injustices such as this, in its consultation document Reforming developer contributions: Technical consultation on draft regulations. In Mr Jones’ situation there would now be (once the draft regulations are finalised and in force) “a surcharge equal to 20 per cent of the notional chargeable amount or £2,500, whichever is the lower amount.”

Clearly, the proposals will assist but cases such as that of Mr Jones illustrate both the absurdly rigid nature of the system but also the curious approach of charging authorities, on the one hand sympathetic, but on the other hand going out of the way to take court proceedings to overturn an inspector’s decision that might be said to have arrived at a morally right outcome by the wrong legal reasoning (which would admittedly have created a terrible precedent). And as for that sentence in the judgment…

“His difficulties have been caused entirely by his own acts and I see no good reason to relieve him from the consequences at the expense of the ratepayers of Shropshire“.

First of all, whilst mercy is not possible under the regulations and it is difficult to see how the legal answer could have been any different, surely a little sympathy expressed for Mr Jones might have been appropriate and secondly, this betrays some degree of misunderstanding as to the modern system of local government finance and I wonder how much money from CIL receipts Shropshire Council already has sitting in its accounts, to which it now adds this windfall?

Simon Ricketts, 19 January 2019

Personal views, et cetera

PS Good news last week: obviously subscribe to Tom Dobson’s new blog, Man Plans God Laughs, last week’s piece being on that consultation document. (NB pic below is of Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless – who would obviously have enjoyed CIL – rather than of Tom, where the relationship is more nuanced).