What If? The Trinity One Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 8 September 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Market Value Minus Hope Value = ?

Stop me if you’ve heard this song before but…

The clamour continues for Parliament to revise the principles of compulsory purchase compensation, currently set out in section 5 of the Land Compensation Act 1961.

None of the clamourers have, as far as I know, set out precisely what amendments they would make to section 5, but the concern appears to be that the principles allow land owners to benefit unduly from a windfall, by allowing them in part to be compensated for the hope that planning permission would have been granted for a valuable form of development on the land being acquired, were it not for the compulsory acquisition, and that this is unfair; goes beyond what might be considered to be “market value”, and/or is holding back the development of new homes.

This isn’t a new song. In my 20 May 2017 blog post, Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture, I tried to read between the lines of what was being said in the February 2017 housing white paper and in the May 2017 Conservative manifesto on the question of reforming the compulsory purchase compensation process.

But the volume is getting louder.

The issue is being considered by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee in its land value capture inquiry, the final session of which is on 5 September 2018, with evidence to be given at that final session by planning minister Kit Malthouse.

A pan-political coalition of 16 NGOs including Shelter, the National Housing Federation, the TCPA, CPRE and Crisis wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State on 18 August 2018 calling for reform. It was reported in absurd terms on the Sun that day:

A little more (but not much more) detail is set out in Shelter’s blog post An unlikely coalition for land reform (21 August 2018). Shelter has been lobbying on this issue, from the time that its head of policy and housing development was Toby Lloyd, now Theresa May’s housing adviser within Number 10.

The IPPR think tank (one of the signatories to the open letter) has also now published a report The Invisible Land: The hidden force driving the UK’s unequal economy and broken housing market (28 August 2018). It has the same tune:

I hesitated before writing this blog because the response is so obvious.

The law does not operate at all in the way that these people assume. No real life examples are given. Indeed, there is no indication that any practising CPO surveyor or lawyer has assisted with either the Shelter-led group’s work or the IPPR’s work. Show of hands?

The law is as set in, for example:

⁃ the written evidence submitted to the Select Committee inquiry by the Compulsory Purchase Association. The evidence includes examples of claims made following the Olympic Park CPO.

⁃ Jonathan Stott’s blog post Land value capture – Wild goose chase could lead to changing compulsory purchase legislation for the worse (11 June 2018)

⁃ Richard Harwood QC’s article (August 2018) (with his April 2018 paper given to the Compulsory Purchase Association on Land Value Capture a useful more detailed and wide ranging read).

It’s odd how the pendulum slowly swings. The refrain always used to be that the compensation system, providing the land owner with equivalence and nothing above that to reflect the compulsory nature of the acquisition, encouraged elongated objections and disputes in a way that apparently was not the case in, for example, France. Parliament (under a Labour Government), sought to address that in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 by introducing home loss payments, for qualifying residential occupiers, amounting to 10% of the market value of their interest up to £61,000 and, for qualifying property investors and business owners, basic loss payments amounting to up to 7.5% of the market value of their interest up to £75,000, together with additional occupier loss payments amounting up to 2.5% of the market value of their interest up to £25,000. In retrospect, the numbers were probably not large enough materially to affect the behaviour of those faced with compulsory purchase but the principle is perfectly logical given the monies to be saved by the public purse in removing or reducing objections to compulsory purchase.

It’s not rocket science to deduce that threatening to acquire land at less than market value (ie less than what the owner could have received for the land if he or she had chose to sell it on the open market – albeit of course the last thing he or she usually wants is to sell it!) would lead to:

⁃ owners being even more likely to hold out against compulsory acquisition in whichever way they can.

⁃ if the hope of securing permission for development is to be ignored (accepting that a land owner can never claim compensation for any value generated by the scheme underlying the compulsory acquisition – we are only talking about the prospect of development in the no scheme world), land owners and promoters of development not risking their own money in the promotion of land for development. Why would they, if the acquiring authority is going to be able to step in and effectively take the benefit of that work for free?

Maybe the problem is one of terminology. Do people think that “hope” value is something that is just that, hope, rather than a forensic examination of whether, and if so, what, development would have been likely to be approved if the scheme underlying the CPO had been cancelled on the valuation date? Maybe they should read some decisions of the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal (the Lands Tribunal, in old money) or of the courts, for instance last year Bridgend County Borough Council v Boland (Court of Appeal, 14 July 2017). Do they think that the Tribunal has ever been over-generous to a claimant in reaching its determination as to what might have been approved in the no scheme world? Examples would at least take the debate forward.

The IPPR paper points to Germany by way of example, where the German zoning system obviously largely removes the concept of hope value – you’re zoned or you’re not. But that is not at all our UK planning system. Should it be? Well that’s another interminable debate and shall we get Brexit out of the way first before, er, we move towards a continental planning system?

Of course, the idea might work as part of a system where all major development is promoted by a public body, whether or not backed by a private sector development partner. But that is a world away from where we are, is alien to our market based economy and likely to lead to long bottle-necks given the lack of suitable resources at present within most local authorities, as well as lead to questionable outcomes in terms of procurement and in terms of sustainable, economically efficient, development. The public sector does not even have the resources to allocate the right land for development without massive input from the private sector in promoting specific sites (terminology problem again – “promoting” isn’t about PR but about spending, at risk, large amounts of money on preliminary technical work, to a significant level of detail, to ascertain constraints, infrastructure requirements and capacity).

And of course, there may be political arguments for acquiring land compulsorily at less than market value. But let’s be clear that such an exceptional political intervention would need to be justified. If the current clamour is in truth a clamour for the state to be able to dispossess people of their property for less than what it is worth, be brave enough to say so, explain why it is necessary in the public interest and then we can have the debate on that footing.

But if the idea is indeed to pick up land at or near existing use value, conceptually that really isn’t difficult under the present system. Be a brave authority by allocating land for a new settlement, covering land in as many ownerships as is necessary, making clear that of course it has to be developed in its entirety to be sustainable and that piecemeal development will not be acceptable. Be clear in your policy making that recourse will be had to compulsory purchase powers where necessary. Set out the extent to which the development is dependent on new infrastructure. Make clear where the new infrastructure would not be coming forward were it not for the new settlement proposal. The practical difficulty lies more with the fact that, for compulsory purchase to be a credible delivery mechanism such that the local plan policy can be shown to be “sound”, most local authorities would need private sector backing and most private sector participants would not underwrite significant compensation liabilities without being pretty certain that there will be planning permission. This is the scratch in the record that you don’t get past. Here’s where you need to lift the stylus and move it on a bit, whether that’s a role for Homes England funding or by allowing significant new settlements to be promoted as an NSIP so that the necessary planning and compulsory purchase steps can take place at the same time.

The frustrating thing is that the compulsory purchase compensation process is far from perfect and much could be done to reduce uncertainty for acquiring authorities and their private sector partners (usually fully underwriting the authority’s liability by way of an uncapped CPO indemnity agreement). The areas where the risk of significant compensation liability can discourage use of compulsory purchase are not questions of what hope value can be attributed to the prospect that the land might have been developed for other valuable purposes in the no scheme world (where the situation arises – not often – the position is usually well documented and can largely be quantified). In my experience the scary risks, where large and unpredictable compensation numbers can in fact arise, are more in such areas as:

⁃ does the land being acquired hold, in the no scheme world, a ransom value over other adjoining land which might have been developed in the no scheme world?

⁃ where business premises are being acquired, is the business likely to claim disturbance compensation on the basis of total extinguishment (by demonstrating that there is not a reasonable relocation opportunity open to it)? If so, the acquiring authority will often have little feel for what the ultimate justifiable compensation figure will be due to lack of access to information that is confidential to the business, other than published accounts.

But my basic pleas are:

⁃ for the Government to take a careful look at how the present system works in practice before making any amendments to section 5.

⁃ for those seeking to justify changes to the system to be more precise about their concerns, based on real examples, and as to what changes they are seeking.

⁃ for Parliament one day to have time to review properly and consolidate compulsory purchase legislation.

Oh and, obviously, the answer to the question was that Market Value minus Hope Value = < Market Value.

Simon Ricketts, 31 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Let A Million New Homes Bloom

It is financially, legally and politically challenging to deliver new communities but without them the gap will continue to widen as between the quantity – and quality – of homes that the country needs and those that are built.

Credit should be given to the Government for continuing to push. Are its efforts too diffuse and/or insufficiently strategic, in terms of being within a clear framework, or is it simply being pragmatic in encouraging locally-supported proposals without specifying locations or indeed the process for delivery? That is for others to judge but this blog post is intended to serve as a reminder of where we stand by way of ministerial statements, and particularly focuses on where we are with the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc.

NPPF

The July 2018 NPPF continues, by way of paragraph 72, to support locally-led new settlements, with a change from the March 2018 draft in the reintroduction of the reference from the 2012 NPPF to garden city principles:

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

a)  consider the opportunities presented by existing or planned investment in infrastructure, the area’s economic potential and the scope for net environmental gains;

b)  ensure that their size and location will support a sustainable community, with sufficient access to services and employment opportunities within the development itself (without expecting an unrealistic level of self-containment), or in larger towns to which there is good access;

c)  set clear expectations for the quality of the development and how this can be maintained (such as by following Garden City principles), and ensure that a variety of homes to meet the needs of different groups in the community will be provided;

d)  make a realistic assessment of likely rates of delivery, given the lead-in times for large scale sites, and identify opportunities for supporting rapid implementation (such as through joint ventures or locally-led development corporations); and

e)  consider whether it is appropriate to establish Green Belt around or adjoining new developments of significant size.”

Garden Communities Prospectus

MHCLG published on 15 August 2018 its Garden Communities prospectus, inviting “bids for ambitious, locally supported, proposals for new garden communities at scale. In return for tailored assistance to help design and deliver the vision for these places, we expect local areas to deliver significant housing and economic growth. We will look to assist as many as we can, in locations where there is sufficient demand for housing.

Bids are due by 9 November 2018. The prospectus sets out the necessary criteria as follows:

Scale

The Government “will prioritise proposals for new Garden Towns (more than 10,000 homes), but will consider proposals for Garden Villages (1,500-10,000 homes) which are particularly strong in other aspects. For instance, demonstrating exceptional quality or innovations, development on predominantly brownfield sites, being in an area of particularly high housing demand, or ability to expand substantially further in the future.”

Strategic fit

All proposals must demonstrate how the new garden community fits with the housing need for the housing market area, including expected future population growth. We will prioritise proposals which respond to housing need in high demand areas. We also particularly welcome proposals which release more land through local plans to meet local housing need, and / or go above local housing need.

All proposals should demonstrate how the new garden community fits with wider strategies to support economic growth and increase productivity. We expect to see ambitious proposals which create a variety of new jobs and the timely delivery of infrastructure necessary to underpin this.”

Locally-led

Strong local leadership is crucial to developing and delivering a long-term vision for these new communities. All proposals should have the backing of the local authorities in which they are situated, including the county council in two-tier areas. We are particularly interested in proposals which demonstrate collaboration across local authority boundaries. To ensure that the potential local growth benefits have been considered, it will be desirable for proposals to have the support of the Local Enterprise Partnership, where the area has one.

Proposals should set out how the local community is being, or will be, engaged and involved at an early stage, and strategies for continued community engagement and involvement. We are clear that local communities – both current and future residents – must have a meaningful say in developing the proposal from design to delivery.”

Garden community qualities

High quality place-making is what makes garden communities exemplars of large new developments, and all proposals must set out a clear vision for the quality of the community and how this can be maintained in the long-term, for instance by following Garden City principles.”

Deliverability and viability

Proposals should address:

⁃ delivery models and timescales

⁃ infrastructure requirements

⁃ opportunities to capture land value

⁃ access to finance and private sector investment

(NB this post is not intended to be an update to my 20 May 2017 blog post Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture. However, I would note first the specific advice in the new NPPF that local planning authorities’ role in identifying and helping to bring forward land for development should “include identifying opportunities to facilitate land assembly, supported where necessary by compulsory purchase powers, where this can help to bring more land forward for meeting development needs and/or secure better development outcomes” and secondly the open letter, Sharing land value with communities dated 20 August 2018 from 16 campaign groups to the Secretary of State, which included the request that Parliament “should reform the 1961 Land Compensation Act to clarify that local authorities should be able to compulsorily purchase land at fair market value that does not include prospective planning permission, rather than speculative “hope” value.” It is interesting to see the broadness of consensus between a variety of organisations but these issues are not at all straight-forward! More in due course.)

Delivery timescales and accelerated delivery

We will prioritise proposals that offer a strong prospect of early delivery and a significant acceleration of housing delivery. They should consider the scope for innovative ways to deliver new homes, such as off-site construction, custom build and self-build, as well as providing opportunities for a diverse range of house builders. Priority will be given to proposals that can demonstrate how build out will be achieved at pace, whilst maintaining quality.”

In terms of delivery vehicles, the prospectus says this:

Whilst we are not prescribing any particular model, for proposals at scale, a Development Corporation may be an appropriate vehicle to consider. We have taken action to enable the creation of new locally accountable New Town Development Corporations. These vehicles can help provide long-term certainty to private investors, resolve complex co-ordination challenges, invest directly in infrastructure that unlocks development, and use compulsory purchase powers to help lay out a new town.

(The reference to “new locally accountable New Town Development Corporations” is a reference to the new mechanism available for designating new towns by way of the New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018 which were made and came into force on 23 July 2018. Guidance as to their operation was published in June 2018.)

Who can apply?

The support of the relevant local planning authority or authorities is a prerequisite:

Proposals are invited from local authorities and private sector partners (such as master developers or land owners). Proposals submitted by private sector partners must be expressly supported by the local authority.

We particularly welcome joint proposals from one or more local authorities, as well as proposals which demonstrate support from developers and / or landowners.”

Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor

There is specific paragraph in relation to the CaMKOx corridor (or whatever we are meant to call it):

For proposals within the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor, Government will continue to work with local partners to consider how the delivery of new homes and settlements can best support the overarching vision for the axis. This includes the contribution these places can make to the National Infrastructure Commission’s finding that up to 1 million homes will need to be built in the corridor by 2050, if the area is to maximise its economic potential.”

CaMKOx

There are a number of related Government-sponsored initiatives in relation to the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.

The Government published in November 2017 its vision for the corridor, Helping the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford corridor reach its potential, alongside the Autumn budget and the National Infrastructure Commission’s report Partnering for Prosperity: A new deal for the Cambridge- Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc. The NIC report sets out its conclusion that:

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc must be a national priority. Its world-class research, innovation and technology can help the UK prosper in a changing global economy. But success cannot be taken for granted. Without urgent action, a chronic undersupply of homes could jeopardise growth, limit access to labour and put prosperity at risk.

The Commission’s central finding is that rates of house building will need to double if the arc is to achieve its economic potential. This requires a new deal between central and local government – one which aligns public and private interests behind the delivery of significant east-west infrastructure and major new settlements, and which seeks commitment to faster growth through a joined-up plan for jobs, homes and infrastructure. Any deal must give local areas the certainty, freedoms and resources they need to create well-designed, well-connected new communities.”

Two significant transport infrastructure projects were seen by the NIC as critical to unlocking development: the East West Rail scheme connecting Oxford and Cambridge by rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway road proposal. But the report also makes important recommendations as to necessary governance, seeking

• “New powers giving councils greater certainty over future investments, and allowing them to fund and raise finance for major infrastructure improvements that deliver new homes

• A jointly agreed plan for new and expanded housing settlements, supported by New Town Development Corporations and new infrastructure design panels

• New statutory spatial plans and investment strategies for each sub-region should be developed, as part of a 50-year vision for the arc as a whole

The Government’s vision states:

1.7 The government welcomes the NIC’s finding that up to 1 million homes will need to be built in the corridor by 2050, if the area is to maximise its economic potential.

1.8 The government has agreed a housing deal with Oxfordshire, committing to a target of 100,000 homes in the county by 2031 in return for a package of support for infrastructure and economic growth, which could include supporting the growth of employment sites across the county such as Science Vale, one of the most successful science and technology clusters in the UK. This rate of housing delivery would be consistent with a corridor-wide ambition for 1 million new homes by 2050.

1.9 The government pledges to build on the Oxfordshire deal by working with the central and eastern parts of the corridor in 2018, to realise its housing ambitions.

1.10 As the NIC has recommended, the government will also consider opportunities for one or more major new settlements in the corridor. It will do so by bringing together public and private capital to build new locally-proposed garden towns, using appropriate delivery vehicles such as development corporations. The government will work closely with the Homes and Communities Agency and local partners to explore such opportunities further.”

In terms of governance:

1.15 The government invites local partners to work with it through 2018 to agree a long term vision for the whole corridor up to 2050. This will set out how jobs, homes and infrastructure across the corridor will be planned together to benefit existing and new residents, while balancing economic growth with the protection and enhancement of the area’s historic and environmental assets.

1.16 The government believes this long-term vision should be underpinned by a series of joint statutory plans across the corridor which would deliver the vision through the planning system. As a first step, Oxfordshire has agreed, through its housing deal with government, to bring forward for adoption a joint statutory plan across the whole county. The government urges other areas in the corridor to propose how they will work together with a view to adopting a small number of joint statutory plans at the earliest opportunity to ensure that planning for business and housing is coordinated with the delivery of strategic and local infrastructure.”

In terms of capturing increases in land value:

1.18 The government will be consulting on changes to the mechanisms currently available to local authorities (the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 agreements) to make them easier to use and more flexible. This will enable local authorities to capture land value uplift taking place in the corridor more effectively. For example, the government will consult on changes to CIL that would make it easier for authorities to capture land value increases around new railway stations.

1.19 As a starting point, the government expects authorities and delivery bodies in the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor to use existing mechanisms of land value capture, and the potential new mechanisms announced at Autumn Budget 2017 (subject to consultation) to capture rising land values from the additional public investment in a fair way, having regard to the announcements made at Budget 2017.

1.20 The government will also encourage authorities to explore the introduction of a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff, in addition to CIL, supported by appropriate governance arrangements. These approaches will require developers to baseline their contribution towards infrastructure into the values they pay for land.”

East West Rail

Network Rail made an application to the Secretary of State for Transport for a Transport and Works Act Order in relation to phase 2 of its East West Rail scheme on 27 July 2018, which is the central section of the line, including track and signalling upgrades between Bicester, Bedford, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, including the reinstatement of a ‘mothballed’ section of railway between Bletchley and Claydon Junction. The deadline for representations is 7 September 2018. Phase 1, the western section between Oxford and Bicester, is already complete.

Oxford-Cambridge Expressway

Highways England is expected to announce its preferred route for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway this Autumn. The three potential corridors are:

– Option A – southern, via Aylesbury, linking to the M1 south of Milton Keynes

– Option B – central, following the east-west rail corridor

– Option C – northern, roughly following the existing A421 to the south of Bicester and via Buckingham to the east of Milton Keynes

The local authorities and communities affected of course all have differing views as to the route that should be selected. A critical (you might guess from its title) piece about the project by George Monbiot, This disastrous new project will change the face of Britain, yet no debate is allowed was published by the Guardian on 22 August 2018. The scheme will be promoted in due course as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. Given that the selected route will not be the subject of a Planning Act 2008 national policy statement it is inaccurate to suggest that “no debate is allowed“, although of course, as with other elements of the planning for CaMKOx, it has been iterative, without any form of Government framework that might be argued to require strategic environmental assessment.

Given the 9 November 2018 deadline for bids in the Garden Communities Prospectus, it is curious to note that Planning minister Kit Malthouse wrote to local authorities across the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor on 26 July 2018, inviting them “to bring forward ambitious proposals for transformational housing growth, including new settlements” with a much earlier deadline of 14 September 2018:

The National Infrastructure Commission has stated that realising its full potential as a world class economic hub would require delivery of up to 1 million new homes here by 2050. The Government welcomes this ambition. Last year, we set out a significant programme of investment in infrastructure, housing and business to support it.

Realising the ambition of 1 million homes here will require additional action from central and local partners. This action includes Government’s planning reforms, our national programmes such as the Housing Infrastructure Fund, the forthcoming national prospectus inviting proposals for locally-led new garden communities, and further work to understand the potential for housing growth across the corridor.

Government will also soon begin detailed analysis to explore potential locations for new settlements across the corridor, their alignment with transport infrastructure, and any environmental considerations.”

The precise choreography as between these calls for proposals, a decision as to the final route the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway (which in itself will be relevant to the identification of potential sites) and what local planning authorities should be doing in the meantime in relation to their emerging and submitted plans is also causing some concern within affected local authorities, if the letter dated 14 August 2018 from the leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, in response to the Malthouse letter, is anything to go by. And is the one million homes in addition to authorities’ current growth proposals?

In promoting what will be significant change for many in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc and what will be of vital importance to the country as a whole (in terms of the potential that is there to be unlocked in terms of homes and economic growth) the Government is treading a fine line. Its strategy appears to be not to go down the route of one set-piece consultation document (along the lines of the much maligned HS2 white paper) but rather to promote (without the commitments to a fast-track through the planning system that were so controversial in relation to the ecotowns programme) a range of interventions, some ostensibly voluntary (hold up your hands if your authority wants growth – against the backdrop of likely combined authorities and joint plans), some inevitably less so.

Will local planning authorities and communities rise to the challenge? The notion of new community NSIPs appears to remain off the table, probably for good reason given the practical good sense in successful proposals being locally driven. But what if that one million homes figure is simply unachievable on a locally led basis?

Simon Ricketts, 24 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

What Is Mitigation?

If you are asking this in the context of People Over Wind (EU Court of Justice, 12 April 2018), you are asking the wrong question. Whilst the reference to “mitigation” is useful shorthand (as in my 20 April 2018 blog post, EU Court Ruling: Ignore Mitigation Measures In Habitats Screening), the precise position is more complicated and, despite a helpful judgment of the High Court this week, not easy to resolve in a practical way.

The People Over Wind ruling can be summarised very briefly by paraphrasing its final paragraph: In order for a competent authority to determine whether it is necessary to carry out an appropriate assessment of the implications, for a site protected under the Habitats Directive or Birds Directive, of a plan or project, it is not appropriate, at the screening stage, to take account of the measures intended to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of the plan or project on that site.

In that case the measures which the court held could not be taken into account were requirements to be contained in a construction management plan to “provide details of intended construction practice for the development, including … (k) means to ensure that surface water run-off is controlled such that no silt or other pollutants enter watercourses …’.

In referring the case to the EU Court of Justice, the Irish High Court had referred to the requirements as “mitigating measures“. The promoter of the scheme which was under challenge had described them as “protective measures“, but the EU Court of Justice disregarded the distinction:

25     […] Article 6 of the Habitats Directive divides measures into three categories, namely conservation measures, preventive measures and compensatory measures, provided for in Article 6(1), (2) and (4) respectively. It is clear from the wording of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive that that provision contains no reference to any concept of ‘mitigating measure’ (see, to that effect, judgment of 21 July 2016, Orleans and Others, C‑387/15 and C‑388/15, EU:C:2016:583, paragraphs 57 and 58 and the case-law cited).

26      It follows that, as is apparent from the reasoning of the request for a preliminary ruling, that the measures which the referring court describes as ‘mitigating measures’, and which Coillte refers to as ‘protective measures’, should be understood as denoting measures that are intended to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of the envisaged project on the site concerned.

The court’s position was clear: “full and precise analysis of the measures capable of avoiding or reducing any significant effects on the site concerned must be carried out not at the screening stage, but specifically at the stage of the appropriate assessment.”

So the big question is whether there are any measures which can be taken into account at the screening stage which are not caught as avoidance or reduction measures.

There was a judgment of the High Court this week, R (Langton) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Natural England (Sir Ross Cranston, 15 August 2018), where this is dealt with briefly in the context of a broader series of challenges arising from DEFRA’s badger culling programme and (more relevant for the purposes of this blog post) decisions in August and September 2017 by Natural England to grant badger culling licences. I only address the latter below, although I may come back in a later blog post to other parts of the judgment in the context of the requirements of a lawful consultation process.

The claimant argued that in granting licences in Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation, Natural England had not carried out adequate assessment under the Habitats Regulations.

Natural England’s standard form assessments, undertaken in May 2017. “In each case the conclusion to these screening assessments was that the licensed culling of badgers was unlikely to have a significant effect on the qualifying features of the relevant site. In none of the areas was an in-combination assessment considered applicable.” (paragraph 79)

The assessments identified the possible disturbance effects of badger culling as follows:

disturbance to the species (firearm report, lamping, vehicles, humans), physical damage to habitats/species (vehicles, trampling, digging-in of traps), physical damage to non-target species, and “indirect damage to species from an increased abundance of other mammalian predators (in particular foxes) due to reduced badger population density.”” (paragraph 81)

Each of the assessments referred to “mitigation measures” which had been incorporated into the proposal and stated that complying “with the mitigation measures will ensure that there is no significant likely effect alone“.

The measures were various restrictions proposed to be included as conditions on licences, including:

⁃ limiting shooting activities to outside the bird breeding season

⁃ restricting vehicles to existing tracks

⁃ various restrictions on the location of traps and of activities. (paragraph 83)

Sir Ross Cranston sets out the law on Habitats Regulations Assessment at paragraphs 94 to 96 and then addresses the challenge to the validity of the decisions from paragraph 126 onwards.

The claimant argued that Natural England hadn’t adopted a precautionary approach (particularly in relation to the risks arising from a greater proliferation of foxes as a result of badger culling), and as a consequence had not even carried out HRA screening in relation to a number of SACs and SPAs, and that the screening process had improperly taken into account avoidance or reduction measures in breach of People Over Wind.

The court said this on the precautionary principle:

The precautionary principle in this context is fundamental, but “[i]t is for a third party who asserts that there is a risk which cannot be excluded on the basis of objective information to produce credible evidence to the court that the risk is a real one…”: R (on the application of DLA Delivery Ltd.) v Lewes District Council [2017] EWCA Civ 58, [30], Lindblom LJ (with whom Lewison LJ agreed), Boggis v Natural England[2009] EWCA Civ 1061, [37], per Sullivan LJ (with whom Longmore and Mummery L.JJ agreed).” (paragraph 133)

The court considered that “Natural England’s failures, even if only to record that no consideration of the risk was necessary with these close-by sites to cull areas, was a breach of its duty under the Habitats Regulations.” (paragraph 133).

However, it found that, on the evidence, the outcome would not have been substantially different if it had considered fox predation risk arising from granting culling licences

The court then turned to the implications of People Over Wind from paragraph 154 onwards. It referred to the Hart judgment from 2008, approved by the Court of Appeal in Smyth (2015) finding that there was no legal reason why preventative safeguarding measures incorporated into a project should be ignored at the initial screening stage.

It has of course been widely assumed that this approach has been overruled by People Over Wind. It is therefore intriguing how Sir Ross Cranston addresses the issue.

In paragraph 155 he refers to the measures in People Over Wind as measures “which seem to have involved reducing run-off” and indicates that the EU Court of Justice had found that they “should be understood as denoting measures intended to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of the envisaged project on the site concerned“.

He records at paragraph 156 the claimant as submitting that “the conditions which Natural England had attached to the cull licences, following advice to applicants, fell within the People Over Wind ruling and should not have been taken into account at the screening stage. These were that no culling activity would take place in certain locations (e.g., Severn Estuary SPA) or at certain times of the year (e.g., bird-breeding season with Dorset Heathlands SPA and Poole Harbour SPA).”

In the final paragraph of a 76 page judgment he then simply concludes:

In my view the licence conditions which Natural England attached to the licences in Areas 16 and 17 are not the mitigating or protective measures which featured in the People Over Wind ruling. They are properly characterised as integral features of the project which Natural England needed to assess under the Habitats Regulations. I accept Natural England’s submission that it would be contrary to common sense for Natural England to have to assume that culling was going to take place at times and places where the applicants did not propose to do so.”

So what do we take from this? On this basis we have up to date first instance authority (I do not know whether permission to appeal is being sought) for asserting that integral features within a scheme can be taken into account. But how is it to be determined when a condition restricting operations is or is not an integral feature? I can see that conditions that define the temporal and physical limits of a permitted activity can be said to be integral features but there is not always a clear dividing line. Were the construction management plan requirements in People Over Wind so very different?

What I do take from it is the potential willingness of our judiciary (or at least one judge, technically retired – which is why he is not referred to as “Mr Justice Cranston“) to seek to push back against the ruling and seek to retain the traditional, more pragmatic, approach from Hart.

Are our courts going to be able to hold that line? The approach in Langton appears to me to be potentially less restrictive than for instance the Planning Inspectorate’s advice to inspectors (9 May 2018), which states at paragraph 17 that “there is no definition of what constitutes avoidance and reduction measures and what could be viewed as an integral part of a works or development proposal. If a measure is being introduced to avoid or reduce an effect on a European site then it can be viewed as mitigation. This includes measures outlined in SPDs such as the provision of Sustainable Alternative Natural Greenspace and Strategic Access Management and Monitoring as in the Thames Basin Heaths approach. However it can also include ‘embedded mitigation’ such as a commitment within a development proposal to employing standard methods to prevent run-off from vehicles contaminating watercourses.”

Compensatory measures

Aside from the issue arising from People Over Wind as to what are “mitigation” (short-hand for “avoidance or reduction“) measures, which need to be disregarded in the screening process (but can be taken into account as part of appropriate assessment if the need for appropriate assessment is not screened out) there is the issue as to what “mitigation” measures are in fact “compensatory” measures which cannot even be taken into account at the appropriate assessment stage.

This was the subject matter of the latest relevant EU Court of Justice case, which in short-hand I will refer to as Grace, Sweetman (25 July 2018) arising from yet another challenge brought by Irish environmental campaigner Peter Sweetman, this time against the Irish national planning board’s decision to grant permission for a wind farm project on land that stretches from Slieve Felim in Limerick to Silvermines Mountains in Tipperary, that was designated as a Special Protection Area because it hosts the natural habitat of the hen harrier.

The proposal would result in the permanent and temporary loss of habitat (directly through clearance of trees at each turbine location and indirectly on the assumption that foraging hen harriers would not come within 250m of a wind turbine) but a species and habitat management plan was proposed that envisaged the restoration of various areas to blanket bog, particularly suitable for hen harriers, and a ‘sensitive’ management regime that would provide suitable foraging habitat and an ecological corridor between two areas of open bog.

Ms Grace and Mr Sweetman argued that the management plan measures amounted to compensatory measures and therefore could not be taken into account at appropriate assessment stage by the planning board in its ruling that there would be no adverse effect on the integrity of the SPA.

The Irish Supreme Court referred the issue to the EU Court of Justice as to whether Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive “is to be interpreted as meaning that the measures proposed in the management plan relating to the contested development which seek to ensure that the total area providing suitable habitat will not be reduced and could even be enhanced may, in the circumstances of the present case, be classified as mitigating measures, or whether they must be regarded as compensatory measures within the meaning of Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.”

As in People Over Wind, the EU Court of Justice noted that “mitigating measures” is not referred to in the Directive. It indicated that “the Court has previously observed that the effectiveness of the protective measures provided for in Article 6 of the Habitats Directive is intended to avoid a situation where competent national authorities allow so-called ‘mitigating’ measures’ — which are in reality compensatory measures — in order to circumvent the specific procedures laid down in Article 6(3) of the directive and authorise projects which adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned“.

It interpreted the referring court’s question “as asking, in essence, whether Article 6 of the Habitats Directive must be interpreted as meaning that, where it is intended to carry out a project on a site designated for the protection and conservation of certain species, of which the area suitable for providing for the needs of a protected species fluctuates over time, and the temporary or permanent effect of that project will be that some parts of the site will no longer be able to provide a suitable habitat for the species in question, the fact that the project includes measures to ensure that, after an appropriate assessment of the implications of the project has been carried out and throughout the lifetime of the project, the part of the site that is in fact likely to provide a suitable habitat will not be reduced and indeed may be enhanced may be taken into account for the purpose of the assessment that must be carried out in accordance with Article 6(3) of the directive to ensure that the project in question will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned, or whether that fact falls to be considered, if need be, under Article 6(4) of the directive.

It noted that “there is a distinction to be drawn between protective measures forming part of a project and intended avoid or reduce any direct adverse effects that may be caused by the project in order to ensure that the project does not adversely affect the integrity of the area, which are covered by Article 6(3), and measures which, in accordance with Article 6(4), are aimed at compensating for the negative effects of the project on a protected area and cannot be taken into account in the assessment of the implications of the project“.

As a general rule, any positive effects of the future creation of a new habitat, which is aimed at compensating for the loss of area and quality of that habitat type in a protected area, are highly difficult to forecast with any degree of certainty or will be visible only in the future.”

It held that the measures were compensatory and could not be taken into account at the appropriate assessment stage. Article 6 was to be interpreted as meaning that, “where it is intended to carry out a project on a site designated for the protection and conservation of certain species, of which the area suitable for providing for the needs of a protected species fluctuates over time, and the temporary or permanent effect of that project will be that some parts of the site will no longer be able to provide a suitable habitat for the species in question, the fact that the project includes measures to ensure that, after an appropriate assessment of the implications of the project has been carried out and throughout the lifetime of the project, the part of the site that is in fact likely to provide a suitable habitat will not be reduced and indeed may be enhanced may not be taken into account for the purpose of the assessment that must be carried out in accordance with Article 6(3) of the directive to ensure that the project in question will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned; that fact falls to be considered, if need be, under Article 6(4) of the directive.”

For some projects this is potentially as problematic a ruling as People Over Wind, given that unless any adverse effect on the integrity of any SPA or SAC cannot be ruled out without relying on measures of this nature, the scheme can only proceed if it can be demonstrated that there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest – a high test.

In conclusion, when dealing with plans and schemes with potential effects on SPAS and SACs, precise analysis is needed of the true nature of any proposed measures being relied upon to “mitigate” (short-hand) the potential harmful effects of the development. The relevant question at screening stage is whether they are measures intended to avoid or reduce those effects or can they be said to be measures which are integral features of the project? The relevant question at appropriate assessment stage is whether they are in fact measures intended to compensate for a reduction in the parts of the site that will be able to provide a suitable habitat for the relevant species?

Simon Ricketts, 18 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Image courtesy of http://www.badgerwatchdorset.co.uk

The Big Society Theory

We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything.” (W. Golding, Lord of the Flies)

David Cameron was reported in a Third Sector piece last year as accepting that his Big Society agenda (first set out in detail in his 19 July 2010 Liverpool speech) had its failings. Whilst he did not “accept the criticism that the agenda, which encouraged more voluntary participation in public and community life and services, was simply a cover to disguise public sector funding cuts“, he believed “the fair criticism that was made kind of came in two parts”. The first was that “you can’t expect all of these big society organisations, all of these social entrepreneurs, all of these charities and voluntary bodies to spring into life”.

The second fair part of the criticism, he said, was that “you can’t expect them to be able to cover all of the country, every region of the country, all in one go”.

These organisations were “very often under-capitalised, have problems in replicating their service” and had “difficulties expanding and getting the access to great technology or brilliant management or great systems”, said Cameron.”

Well, plenty of us with practical experience of the Localism Act 2011 would have a few additional comments. It is interesting to look back at what we were predicting when the Bill was going through Parliament – I don’t think I was that far off the mark in a Financial Times piece, Future Plans (27 May 2011, subscription-only). We all had concerns about the complicated procedures within the new legislation, likely to be most used those with the time and money, not always with pro-development objectives in mind. Neighbourhood plans have generated serial litigation, due to their often unhappy fit with other tiers of plan-making. Procedures such as the Community Right To Build have hardly been used. Others, such as the designation of land or property as Assets of Community Value lead to much activity and adversarial process (eg the cases referred to in my 14 July 2018 blog post, 2 ACV Disputes), whilst ultimately being pretty toothless.

Has the Big Society, localism, neighbourhood planning – call it what you will – led to better, more positive, planning outcomes that meet public needs? What should be the respective roles of democratically elected local government and of community-based bodies?

A short LinkedIn post by Nick Dines prompted me to have a quick look at a paper published this week by DCMS, Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyone (9 August 2018).

What is Civil Society for a start?

Civil society refers to all individuals and organisations, when undertaking activities with the primary purpose of delivering social value, independent of state control. The government wants to build a partnership with charities and social enterprises, with volunteers, community groups and faith groups, with public service mutuals, socially responsible businesses and investors, and with the institutions which bring sports, arts, heritage, and culture to our communities.”

The purpose of the strategy is to set out “how the government will work to support and to strengthen civil society, without compromising its independence.”

What caught my eye in Nick’s post was a reference to the possible implications of this for planning. In fact, without any detail, the document drops some pretty worrying hints and one wonders what co-ordination has so far taken place between DCMS and MHCLG:

The government will launch the Innovation in Democracy programme to pilot participatory democracy approaches, whereby people are empowered to deliberate and participate in the public decisions that affect their communities. The government will work with local authorities to trial face- to-face deliberation (such as Citizens’ Juries) complemented by online civic tech tools to increase broad engagement and transparency.”

Public votes on planning decisions? That would be popular no doubt, for those wishing to derail controversial schemes but we may as well tear up the current planning system and NPPF – and forget about meeting any objectively assessed needs. Bottom-up planning? It’s that Big Society Theory, folks.

Furthermore:

The government will continue to encourage communities to use the community rights available to them. We will issue revised guidance to help communities take ownership of local assets. We will signpost support and advice available to communities to improve and shape where they live through the new Community Guide to Action and the MyCommunity website, the licence for which we have recently renewed.

[…] the government is exploring means of ensuring community-led enterprises which take over public assets or services are able to secure the funding they need

I note that this is in a period within which local government struggles to maintain libraries and other public services, with pressure to cut budgets in fact increasing (see for instance a Room 151 piece, Councils anticipate cutting services to ‘legal minimum’ published on 9 August 2018, that reports on a recent survey of council leaders carried out by the New Local Government Network). The very definition of “civil society” by implication excludes local government. Money for “community-led enterprises” rather than democratically-led local authorities? It’s that Big Society Theory, folks.

And:

The government will explore the suggestion that the Social Value Act should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer.

..which is an enigmatic and rather odd comment. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 imposes a duty on public authorities, in procuring public services, to consider:

(a) “how what is proposed to be procured might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area, and

(b)  how, in conducting the process of procurement, it might act with a view to securing that improvement.

If what is proposed is the extension, beyond contract procurement and into planning, of the duty to consider how the relevant decision “might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area“, this would add nothing of any value whatsoever given, for instance, the very definition of sustainable development at the heart of the old and new NPPF.

Of course let’s do whatever we can to increase people’s engagement with their communities but also, more importantly (in the face of the increasing threat posed by anti-democratic populism – where a large social media following can be more influential than votes in the ballet box), local representative democracy. Neighbourhood planning and localism should not be at the expense of local representative democracy. If district and borough councils are seen as having real clout and the wherewithal to improve the conditions of their constituents, people will turn out to vote and an increasingly wide and talented cross-section of the local community will be prepared to invest time in carrying out roles as elected councillors for their wards. That’s my civil society strategy anyway.

Who wants the conch next?

Simon Ricketts, 12 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

NB I thought this was a great bit of community enterprise though:

Housing Needs, Housing Shortfalls

We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot

We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got

(David Bowie)

The new NPPF introduces the requirement for local planning authorities to use a standard method to arrive at their local housing needs assessment, “unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals. In addition to the local housing need figure, any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas should also be taken into account in establishing the amount of housing to be planned for.”

However, the precise methodology and authority by authority figures are still a moving target. The Government said this in its “response to consultation” document, published alongside the new NPPF:

A number of responses to this question provided comment on the proposed local housing need method. The government is aware that lower than previously forecast population projections have an impact on the outputs associated with the method. Specifically it is noted that the revised projections are likely to result in the minimum need numbers generated by the method being subject to a significant reduction, once the relevant household projection figures are released in September 2018.

In the housing white paper the government was clear that reforms set out (which included the introduction of a standard method for assessing housing need) should lead to more homes being built. In order to ensure that the outputs associated with the method are consistent with this, we will consider adjusting the method after the household projections are released in September 2018. We will consult on the specific details of any change at that time.

It should be noted that the intention is to consider adjusting the method to ensure that the starting point in the plan-making process is consistent in aggregate with the proposals in Planning for the right homes in the right places consultation and continues to be consistent with ensuring that 300,000 homes are built per year by the mid 2020s.”

Inevitably, with change comes uncertainty as to how the new policies will be applied to applications and plans which are currently in the pipeline. There are three key transitional arrangements:

⁃ “The policies in the previous Framework will apply for the purpose of examining plans, where those plans are submitted [for examination] on or before 24 January 2019” (paragraph 214)

⁃ “The Housing Delivery Test will apply from the day following the publication of the Housing Delivery Test results in November 2018” (paragraph 215)

⁃ “The policies in this Framework are material considerations which should be taken into account in dealing with applications from the day of its publication” [ie 24 July 2018] (paragraph 212).

I want to look at a few specific issues of interest (to me at least):

The application of the new NPPF to the draft London Plan

The footnote to paragraph to paragraph 214 is more specific than the draft, in making it clear that the equivalent cut-off date for the London Plan is “the point at which the Mayor sends to the Panel copies of all representations made in accordance with regulation 8(1) of the Town and Country Planning (London Spatial Development Strategy) Regulations 2000“, meaning that the current Draft London Plan, for which a Panel of three inspectors has been appointed to hold an examination in public late this year, will be tested against the 2012 NPPF.

As underlined in his 27 July 2018 letter to the London Mayor, even when it is tested against the 2012 NPPF the Secretary of State is “not convinced” that the assessment of need in the current draft “reflects the full extent of housing need in London to tackle affordability problems.” He is looking to see modifications on a series of matters:

⁃ “A number of policy areas in the draft that are inconsistent with national policy, such as your policies allowing development on residential gardens and your policy on car parking. [NB whilst these might be areas of political difference they are not areas where the MHCLG’s approach would drive up numbers – far from it]

The detail and complexity of the policies within the draft London Plan have the potential to limit accessibility to the planning system and development.

⁃ The draft Plan strays considerably beyond providing a strategic framework.

⁃ The draft Plan does not provide enough information to explain the approach you will take to ensure your targets are delivered, including collaboration with boroughs and neighbouring areas.

⁃ There are a number of policies in the draft Plan which seek to deal with matters relating to building standards and safety. It is important that there is a consistent approach to setting building standards through the framework of Building Regulations

But, presumably as a quid pro quo for not sending the plan back to the drawing board to be tested against the methodology for assessing housing need in the new NPPF (which would arrive at significantly higher need figures than the basis for the draft plan), the Secretary of State is looking for the Mayor to review and revise the plan as soon as it is adopted:

It remains crucial however that you bring forward a revised London Plan that has regard to new national policies at the earliest opportunity. You will want to note paragraph 33 and annex 1 of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out that the Government expects plans to be reviewed early where all identified housing need is not being met and to ensure a plan is in place which reflects current national policy. I would therefore expect you to review the London Plan to reflect the revised National Planning Policy Framework immediately once the London Plan has been published. I remind you that if this is not forthcoming, I have powers to direct the review to ensure London delivers the plan and homes that communities need.”

Of course, since the current draft is not likely to be adopted until late 2019 and Sadiq Khan’s current term ends in May 2020, this will presumably increase the potential for politicking as between candidates and parties. Not good for consensus building, or perhaps other kinds of building, although if a new plan does not come forward presumably we can expect to see more MHCLG intervention in relation to major applications in London.

Other plans submitted for examination before 24 January 2019

Nothing in planning is of course black and white. Paragraph 214 of the new NPPF says that plans submitted for examination before 24 January 2019 will still be tested against the 2012 NPPF, but of course the 2012 NPPF allowed significant room for argument as to what the appropriate methodology might be for any authority “to use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, as far as is consistent with the policies set out in this Framework“. To what extent might inspectors allow the new standard method to be used for plans submitted before 24 January 2019?

Already since the publication of the new NPPF we have seen the East Cambridgeshire local plan inspector, Louise Nurser, issue her preliminary findings in a letter dated 30 July 2018 in which she accepts that the use of the new standard methodology is appropriate “in the particular circumstances of East Cambridgeshire” even though the plan was plainly submitted well before the relevant date. I set out her reasoning below:

“I conclude that it is a sound approach for the standard method to be used to set the OAN for housing within East Cambridgeshire at a minimum of 11,960 dwellings between 2016 and 2036. Indeed, in the context of a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (PE05) of considerable vintage (2013), which had already been used as the primary evidence base for the development strategy which is to be superseded by the Plan before me, it would not have been appropriate to update the evidence base in isolation of the wider HMA, so that it could be used a second time. Ideally, for the purposes of this plan, the housing needs of the wider Housing Market Area would have been thoroughly considered through a new Housing Market Assessment.

However, it is clear from the different stages in which the constituent plan making bodies find themselves that such a scenario would be unrealistic, particularly in the context of the clear indication from the recently published Framework that the standard method should be used in plan making in the future, and as a consequence, it is highly improbable that a completely new HMA would ever be commissioned.

I draw particular comfort from the fact that the annual dwelling requirement using the revised OAN figure of October 2016, for the district, which is based on the SHMA, is 586 dwellings per annum (PE06). This is comparable with the figure of 598 dwellings per annum, using the standard method (PE07). As such, the use of the standard method to determine East Cambridge’s housing needs is an acceptable and a pragmatic approach to determining the district’s needs. In coming to this conclusion, I must stress that my conclusions relate to the particular circumstances of East Cambridgeshire, which has already adopted a plan on the basis of the 2013 SHMA evidence.

I can see that there does not seem to be a significant difference in the case of East Cambridgeshire as to the outcome under the two approaches, but is her reasoning essentially, as she says, pragmatic – it would have been impractical to expect the 2013 strategic housing market assessment to have been updated as a base for the new plan? Might this be a position that various other authorities find themselves in? Does the new standard method amount to an appropriate evidence base for these purposes?

What now of the tilted balance?

Paragraph 11 of the new NPPF of course contains an amended form of what was paragraphs 14 and 49 of the 2012 document, the presumption in favour of sustainable development (or the “tilted balance” in the jargon) which applies where there is a shortfall in housing supply.

There is a shortfall where:

⁃ the “local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites” (with a 5 to 20% buffer – see paragraph 73); or where

⁃ (for decisions after the publication of the Housing Delivery Test results in November 2018) the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing was substantially below the housing requirement over the previous three years (with “substantially below” defined in paragraph 215 – starting at 25% of what is required and ratcheting up first to 45% and then to 75%).

Where there is a shortfall, the “policies which are most important for determining the application” are deemed to be out of date, meaning that planning permission should be granted unless (i) the application of policies in the NPPF that protect a defined list of categories of areas or assets of particular importance 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 the policies in this Framework taken as a whole“.

In my view this wording is clearer than the 2012 NPPF and should be easier to apply.

However, the effects of a shortfall are much reduced where there is a neighbourhood plan (which, after 11 December 2018, must be less than two years old) which contains policies and allocations to meet its identified housing requirement, the local planning authority has at least a three year supply of deliverable housing sites and the authority’s housing delivery was at least 45% of that required over the previous three years (25% until December 2019). (See paragraphs 14 and 216). In these circumstances, “the adverse impact of allowing development that conflicts with the neighbourhood plan is likely to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits“.

Relevance of degree of shortfall

In deciding an appeal against the refusal of planning permission for housing development, how far does the decision-maker have to go in calculating the extent of any shortfall in the five-year supply of housing land? That was precisely the question considered last week by the Court of Appeal in Hallam Land Management Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 31 July 2018). The case concerns the policies within the 2012 NPPF but the principles are just as applicable to the new NPPF.

In his decision letter dated 9 November 2016 the Secretary of State had dismissed an appeal by Hallam Land against refusal of planning permission by Eastleigh Borough Council for a development of up to 225 dwellings, a 60-bed care home and 40 care units together with associated development in Hamble.

His conclusions as to the degree of shortfall in housing supply simply stated this:

The Secretary of State notes the Inspector’s comment (IR108) that at the time of inquiry the Council were not able to demonstrate more than a four and a half years supply of deliverable housing land, and that there is evidence of an existing need for affordable housing. Whilst the Secretary of State notes that the Council are now of the view that they are able to demonstrate a 4.86 year supply...”

Weighing this shortfall into the balance he dismissed the appeal on the basis that the adverse impacts of the proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh its benefits.

Had he reached a properly reasoned decision on the housing supply question or had he just ducked it? At the inquiry there had been much argument as to the extent of housing supply. Hallam asserted that it was between 1.78 and 2.92 years. In post inquiry representations, the council asserted that the figure was now 4.86 years. However two inspectors’ appeal decisions in the borough had concluded otherwise. In the 24 May 2016 Bubb Lane decision letter the inspector had found that the council had a “considerable way to go to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable sites”. In the 7 October 2016 Botley Road decision letter the inspector had concluded that there were 4.25 years of supply.

It is not necessary for the decision maker to arrive at a precise conclusion as to the level of shortfall. As Lindblom LJ states:

Relevant authority in this court, and at first instance, does not support the proposition that, for the purposes of the appropriate balancing exercise under the policy in paragraph 14 of the NPPF, the decision-maker’s weighting of restrictive local plan policies, or of the proposal’s conflict with such policies, will always require an exact quantification of the shortfall in the supply of housing land.

Accordingly, Lindblom LJ did not “think that in this case the Secretary of State could fairly be criticized, in principle, for not having expressed a conclusion on the shortfall in the supply of housing land with great arithmetical precision. He was entitled to confine himself to an approximate figure or range – if that is what he did. Government policy in the NPPF did not require him to do more than that. There was nothing in the circumstances of this case that made it unreasonable for him in the “Wednesbury” sense, or otherwise unlawful, not to establish a mathematically exact figure for the shortfall. It would not have been an error of law or inappropriate for him to do so, but if, as a matter of planning judgment, he chose not to do it there was nothing legally wrong with that.”

It was not clear “whether the Secretary of State reached any concluded view on the scale of the “acknowledged shortfall”. His reference in paragraph 17 to “the limited shortfall in housing land supply” suggests he had not found it possible to accept Hallam Land’s case at the inquiry, as recorded by the inspector in paragraph 62 of his report, that the supply of housing land was as low as “2.92 years, or 1.78 years if the need for affordable housing is included”, or even the “material shortfall” to which the inspector had referred in paragraph 108, in the light of the council’s concession that it was “not able to demonstrate more than a four and a half years supply of deliverable housing land”. A “limited shortfall” could hardly be equated to a “material shortfall”. It would have been a more apt description of the shortfall the council had now acknowledged in conceding, or contending, that it was able to demonstrate a supply of 4.86 years – the figure to which the Secretary of State referred in paragraphs 19 and 30 of his decision letter.”

If he did adopt, or at least assume, a figure of 4.86 years’ supply of housing land, or even a range of between four and half and 4.86 years, his approach could not, I think, be stigmatized as unlawful in either of those two respects. It could not be said, at least in the circumstances of this case, that he erred in law in failing to calculate exactly what the shortfall was. In principle, he was entitled to conclude that no greater precision was required than that the level of housing land supply fell within a clearly identified range below the requisite five years, and that, in the balancing exercise provided for in paragraph 14 of the NPPF, realistic conclusions could therefore be reached on the weight to be given to the benefits of the development and its conflict with relevant policies of the local plan. Such conclusions would not, I think, exceed a reasonable and lawful planning judgment.”

However, “even if that assumption is made in favour of the Secretary of State, there is in my view a fatal defect in his decision in his failure to engage with the conclusions on housing land supply in the recent decisions in the Bubb Lane and Botley Road appeals.”

In both decision letters the shortfall was characterized as “significant”, which plainly it was. This was more akin to saying that it was a “material shortfall”, as the inspector in Hallam Land’s appeal had himself described it in paragraph 108 of his decision letter. Neither description – a “significant” shortfall or a “material” one – can be squared with the Secretary of State’s use of the adjective “limited”. They are, on any view, quite different concepts.”

“Quite apart from the language they used to describe it, the inspectors’ findings and conclusions as to the extent of the shortfall – only “something in the order of four year supply” in the Bubb Lane appeal and only “4.25 years’ supply” in the Botley Road appeal – were also substantially different from the extent of the shortfall apparently accepted or assumed by the Secretary of State in his decision in this case, which was as high as 4.86 years’ supply on the basis of evidence from the council that had been before the inspector in the Botley Road appeal and rejected by him.”

“One is left with genuine – not merely forensic – confusion on this important point, and the uncomfortable impression that the Secretary of State did not come to grips with the inspectors’ conclusions on housing land supply in those two very recent appeal decisions.”

In a short judgment, agreeing with the lead judgment of Lindblom LJ, Davis LJ makes the position plain:

I have the greatest difficulty in seeing how an overall planning judgment thereafter could properly be made without having at least some appreciation of the extent of the shortfall. That is not to say that the extent of the shortfall will itself be a key consideration. It may or not be: that is itself a planning judgment, to be assessed in the light of the various policies and other relevant considerations. But it ordinarily will be a relevant and material consideration, requiring to be evaluated.

The reason is obvious and involves no excessive legalism at all. The extent (be it relatively large or relatively small) of any such shortfall will bear directly on the weight to be given to the benefits or disbenefits of the proposed development.”

The decision was quashed.

Was David Bowie writing for the Secretary of State, or for all of us?

My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare

I had to cram so many things to store everything in there

Simon Ricketts, 5 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Town Library: Planning Court Case Law Resource

If you are a user of this blog, you may be interested in our new resource: The Town Library. It has been a labour of love.

In starting up as a planning law firm, what we really wanted was a case law service providing weekly summaries of, and hypertext links through to, all final judgments of the Planning Court from the previous week, as well as all subsequent appellate judgments and other court rulings of relevance to planning lawyers, together with access to a complete chronological list of all rulings since the Planning Court was established in April 2014. We found that this sort of focused resource is not available, even on a paid subscription basis from commercial providers of legal information services.

But rather than giving up, we embarked on creating our own service, helped by legal engineers Wavelength Law and the invaluable BAILII case law resource (to which we have made a charitable donation).

Our summaries (prepared by my colleagues Susie Herbert and Harriet Ballard) start in March 2018, although the list of cases in the Town Library goes back to 2014.

For the last couple of months we have been testing and using the Town Library internally but now, and until further notice, we are opening this up as a free service to all. The system please just requires your details for subscription to the weekly update (click here).

Some restrictions and disclaimers:

⁃ Summaries are provided for information only rather than to be relied upon as legal advice.

⁃ This is a free service and we depend on the goodwill of BAILII. Please abide by their reproduction and copyright policy and consider a donation – the Government should take responsibility for ensuring that there is free access to rulings of our courts, but it doesn’t.

⁃ Weekly updates may be sparse between now and the new court term starting on 1 October (although there have been a few interesting cases this week which will appear in next week’s update).

⁃ We are learning as we go. Feedback is welcome. Please don’t be surprised if there is the occasional glitch or omission.

We hope soon to be able to draw upon all of this information so as to provide some statistical analysis that I hope will help regular users of the Planning Court. My 8 July 2018 blog post raised an eyebrow at what little specific information there is as to how the court is performing.

Further wings of the Town Library are…planned.

Simon Ricketts, 2 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera