Completion Notices: More Pointy, Still Pointless?

Completion notices have always been a blunt tool, little used by local planning authorities. The Housing White Paper proposes sharpening them, but to what end?
If we blow the dust off a bit we can remind ourselves that the current completion notice procedure in sections 94 and 95 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is as follows:
– Development must have been begun within the time limit on the planning permission and that time limit must have now expired. 

– If the LPA considers that the development “will not be completed within a reasonable period” they can serve a completion notice stating that the planning permission will cease to have effect after a period specified in the notice which must be at least 12 months. 

– Any notice is only effective if confirmed by the Secretary of State, who may extend the 12 months’ period. Any person served with a completion notice who objects within a time limit set out on the notice (must be at least 28 days) has a right to a hearing before the Secretary of State before he reaches his decision.

– If the notice takes effect, the planning permission becomes invalid at the end of the specified period, but this does not affect any development carried out under the permission before the end of the period. 

The procedure is very seldom used, for various reasons:
– It doesn’t do what it says on the tin. It does not secure completion of the development. If development has stalled, the developer is already having pretty fundamental problems. The threat of a completion notice is not going to lead to a developer finding significant amount of money to overcome those problems – indeed it could jeopardise a solution being found if funders are spooked.  

– Instead, use of the procedure is likely to lead to an uncompleted development – it should perhaps be called an uncompletion notice. Furthermore, the courts have resisted to date any notion that if, by the end of the specified completion deadline, only part of a building has been built, the part built is in any way no longer unauthorised (Cardiff County Council v National Assembly for Wales, Davis J, 22 June 2006 – in that case, an unsightly part-built garage, which the Council sought unsuccessfully to enforce against after the deadline in the completion notice). 

– The test as to whether the development “will be completed within a reasonable period” is too vague, particularly in relation to major projects. What is it to be judged against?

– The need for approval by the Secretary of State adds to the potential for delay and uncertainty. 

So what is the Government now proposing? As part of its collection of “Holding Developers And Local Authorities To Account” measures, the white paper contains the following:
“2.42 We want to ensure local planning authorities have more effective tools to deal with circumstances where planning permission has been granted but no substantive progress has been made. We propose to simplify and speed up the completion notice process, whereby if development on a site has stopped and there is no prospect of completion, the local authorities can withdraw planning permission for the remainder of the site. This would make it easier for local authorities to serve a completion notice, helping to stimulate building or clear unused permissions from their planned supply of land. “

Views are sought by 2 May on two proposals:

“A.107 The Government proposes to amend legislation to remove the requirement for the Secretary of State to confirm a completion notice before it can take effect. Local authorities know their circumstances best, and removing central government involvement will help shorten the process, and give authorities greater control and certainty. The opportunity for a hearing will be retained where there are objections. 

A.108 We also intend to amend legislation, subject to consultation, to allow a local authority to serve a completion notice on a site before the commencement deadline has elapsed, but only where works have begun. This change could dissuade developers from making a token start on site purely to keep the permission alive. However, it is important that this would not impact on the willingness of lenders to invest.”

These proposals are hardly radical. The Government published a report on completion notices back in July 2001, that it had commissioned from Cardiff University and Buchanan Partnership, no longer on the web as far as I know, which back then made these recommendations (to which it appears the Government never responded):
* Greater thought should be given to tailoring the time period in the standard condition relating to the commencement of development to fit the situation. In particular, the period could be reduced to two years for minor development.
* The Government’s advice, then in Circular 11/95, against including a condition requiring that the whole of an approved development be completed should be reviewed.

* No justification for referral to the Secretary of State, and this should be replaced by a right of appeal.

* Better publicity for the system could lead to its greater use.

The first recommendation in the white paper echoes the 2001 report and is hardly controversial. There should be no reason to require confirmation by the Secretary of State if objections to the notice haven’t been received. 
The second recommendation is more worrying, when looked at in conjunction with the separate proposals in the white paper, that:
– the applicant should “provide information about their estimated ‘start date’ (month/year when a substantive start would take place) and ‘build out rate’ (the number of homes built per financial year) for all proposals for or including housing development
– developers should “provide local authorities with basic information (in terms of actual and projected build out) on progress in delivering the permitted number of homes, after planning permission has been granted”

– large housebuilders should be required to publish “aggregate information on build out rates”

Owners and developers are normally vigilant to keep planning permissions alive by carrying out a material operation prior to the implementation deadline on the permission, reflecting the frequent reality that detailed architectural and engineering work post-permission, as well as the funding structure to underpin a development, often including necessary pre-lets in the case of commercial floorspace, take longer than the deadline for implementation (in relation to which the default period is now proposed to be reduced to two years). Missing the deadline means going down a very long snake to submit a fresh application for planning permission. 
The white paper proposal envisages that an LPA could serve a completion notice at any time after the developer has carried out a material operation, even before the implementation deadline has expired. What would there be to prevent an LPA serving completion notices as a matter of routine where development appears to be slower than was previously indicated, or than housebuilder averages? The white paper itself questions whether this would “impact on the willingness of lenders to invest”. The answer is that it surely would as there would be no certainty for a lender that if the borrower developer defaults on its loan the lender will have time to step in and secure the completion of the development under the same permission – or work through another solution with the borrower. The underpinning certainty of the permission is lost. Two years to implement a permission is no period at all and if relatively minor works within that period may not suffice to keep the permission alive, banks will undoubtedly want to consider the risk profile vis a vis particular authorities very carefully. 
Why not look at more constructive opportunities with the information to be provided about actual or projected build out rates? For example:
– Remember the section 106BC procedure? Revised section 106 arrangements alleviating affordable housing requirements ceased to apply to those parts of the development that had not been completed within three years. That sort of structure could be considered by LPAs in section 106 agreements where justified.

– Any viability review mechanism could be expressed as only operable if specified amounts of development had not been achieved by defined milestones.

– Encourage LPAs to tie any funding they control, eg use of CIL monies for the benefit of the scheme, to timely build out progress.

So much can be achieved by planning obligations and conditions, instead of spending time working out how to hack at the problem with what is hardly the sharpest tool in the box.


Simon Ricketts 25.2.17

Personal views, et cetera

Five Problems With Neighbourhood Plans

The real effects of neighbourhood plan making on housing delivery and on the efficient, democratic operation of the planning system are hard to pin down and yet the Government continues to champion its role. Are we really heading in the right direction? After all, despite the positivity of government sponsored initiatives such as mycommunity.org.uk  it isn’t all sweetness and light. Here is my personal worry list:
1. Neighbourhood Plans are usurping the role of local plans, whilst being subject to a lighter-touch examination process
The Court of Appeal, in R (DLA Delivery Ltd) v Lewes District Council  (10 February 2017), has now confirmed that a neighbourhood plan may be made without there being an up to date local plan. Until such time as the local plan comes forward, as the only up to date development plan, the neighbourhood plan’s policies will benefit from the statutory presumption in section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and from paragraph 198 of the NPPF: “[where] a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted”.
This gives neighbourhood plans a role which was surely not foreseen by Parliament. Neighbourhood plans are intended to be in general conformity with the local plan’s strategic policies. But instead any policy vacuum can be filled by the neighbourhood plan’s own strategic policies. Whilst the Planning Practice Guidance urges collaborative working between neighbourhoods and local planning authorities, this does not prevent problems from arising which are exacerbated by two further factors:
–  in order to survive the ‘relatively limited‘ (Court of Appeal in DLA Delivery, para 5) examination process, neighbourhood plans only have to satisfy the ‘basic conditions’ set out in the paragraph 8(2) of Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as applied to neighbourhood plans by section 38A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, rather than the wider and more rigorous soundness test applicable to local plans. 
–  the Neighbourhood Planning Bill proposes to accelerate the process, by deeming post-examination pre-referendum neighbourhood plans to be a material consideration in the determination of planning applications (clause 1) and by deeming post-referendum neighbourhood plans to be treated as part of the statutory development plan ahead of formally being made by the district or borough council (clause 2). It will be easier for the Secretary of State to dismiss appeals on the basis of inconsistency with emerging neighbourhood plans (a sensitive subject for DCLG given for example Holgate J’s quashing in Woodcock Holdings Limited v Secretary of State, 1 May 2015 and a series of examples of the Secretary of State having consented to judgment in similar circumstances). 
2. The Neighbourhood Plan process is “complex and burdensome”
Not my words but a description given by participants, according to recent research by the University of Reading: Neighbourhood Planning Users Research Revisited.  
Any community embarking on a neighbourhood plan has to be ready for the long haul. Because policies within the plan can have real consequences for communities and developers alike, it is no surprise that the process can be litigious. 
R (Crownhall Estates Limited) v Chichester District Council  (Holgate J, 21 January 2016) was the third (third!) judicial review in relation to the Loxwood Neighbourhood Plan, with the claimant developer seeking unsuccessfully to challenge the plan’s provision for only 60 homes against a background of a failure of the district council to meet its obejectively assessed housing needs. 

I do not believe that there is a transcript of Dove J’s rejection in Swan Quay LLP v Swale Borough Council on 31 January 2017 of a challenge to the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan which contained a policy preventing redevelopment of the claimant’s property on the basis that it would lead to ‘gentrification’. The ruling is summarised by the Faversham Creek Trust in a press release.  
Challenges commonly focus on whether there has been compliance with the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, another unsuccessful ground of challenge in DLA Delivery. R (Stonegate Homes Limited) v Horsham District Council (the late, missed, Patterson J, 13 October 2016) was an example of a successful challenge on this basis. The Haddenham Neighbourhood Plan is another, where Aylesbury Vale District Council consented to judgment.
3. Neighbourhood Plans dissipate the local planning authority’s resources

Parish councils such as Haddenham are unlikely to have the resources to resist a legal challenge, leaving the responsibility to the local planning authority which, under the legislation, formally “makes” the plan. How much say will they have over the way in which the defence case is brought and, as importantly, why should the local planning authority’s resources be stretched in this way?

We also have of course dissipation of CIL proceeds, with 15% of CIL proceeds available to be spent by parish councils, increased to 25% where a neighbourhood plan is in place – proceeds that would otherwise have applied towards infrastructure projects required to deliver development. 
4. Neighbourhood Plans are unnecessary and marginalise the role of the local planning authority

District and borough councils are designed to operate down to ward level. We elect ward councillors to represent our local interests – that is to say, the things we care about in relation to our home environment, our neighbourhood. Local plans can and do include policies at neighbourhood level. Additionally, there is scope for area action plans to provide more detailed site-specific policies where justified. 

We should all engage more with local plan making. Does the distraction of neighbourhood planning fuel the inaccurate sense that what happens at district or borough level is remote and not to do with us? What if the energy that one sometimes sees expended on neighbourhood planning were to be properly harnessed at local planning authority level, with proper access to officers and with consistency of plan making over a strategically sensible area?
5. Neighbourhood Plans are not fit for the further roles that Government continues to give them
Neighbourhood planning is of course voluntary. It is more prevalent in affluent areas and its heartland is in the south east (Turley research, 2014). In unparished areas it is the preserve of unelected groups. And yet the Government intends it to play a grown up role alongside local plans. Indeed, given that they have statutory force, unlike the NPPF, have neighbourhood plans in fact become more important than the Government’s own planning policies?
Gavin Barwell’s 12 December 2016 written ministerial statement (see my blog post That Ministerial Statement) set out that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a neighbourhood plan that is part of the development plan should not be deemed to be ‘out-of-date’ under paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework where the following circumstances arise at the time a planning decision is made: 
* the written ministerial statement making the policy change on 12 December 2016 is less than 2 years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for 2 years or less;

* the neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and

* the local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites. 

The statement is of course the subject of a judicial review. In the meantime, the Government’s Housing White Paper has added the further qualification that neighbourhoods should be able to demonstrate that their site allocations and housing supply policies will meet their share of local housing need and that the local planning authority should be able to demonstrate through the White Paper’s housing delivery test that, from 2020, delivery has been over 65% (25% in 2018; 45% in 2019) for the wider authority area (to ensure that delivery rates across the area as a whole are at a satisfactory level). 
 The White Paper also proposes changes to the NPPF to “highlight the opportunities that neighbourhood plans present for identifying and allocating small sites that are suitable for housing, drawing on the knowledge of local communities”.

Finally, local planning authorities will now be “expected to provide neighbourhood planning groups with a housing requirement figure, where this is needed to allow progress with neighbourhood planning. As part of the consultation on a new standard methodology for assessing housing requirements, we will seek views on whether a standard methodology could be developed for calculating housing need in a neighbourhood plan area“.
Let us remember that these are voluntary plans, prepared by parish councils and community groups. Are we not seeing, yet again, a relentless move towards process and complexity, in an effort to make running repairs to a mechanism that was not designed for this function? 
Simon Ricketts 19.2.17
Personal views, et cetera

From The White Paper Mountain, What Do We See?

After so long we have reached the top of the mountain: the white paper and accompanying documents have all been published today, 7 February 2017. However, now we see a series of further peaks on the horizon. 
A good way into the white paper itself, Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, is to start at the back end. From page 72 you have the detailed proposals listed, including a series of proposed changes to the NPPF and other policies which are now the subject of a consultation process from today until 2 May 2017. The consultation focuses on a series of 38 questions but some of the questions are potentially very wide-ranging. Further consultation is proposed on various matters, including 
– housing requirements of older people and the disabled

– Increasing local authorities’ flexibility to dispose of land at less than best consideration and related powers

– Potentially increasing fees for planning appeals (up to a maximum of £2,000 for the largest schemes, recoverable if the appeal is allowed)

– Changes to section 106 processes (with further consideration being given to dispute resolution “in the context of longer term reform”)

– Requiring housebuilders to provide aggregate information on build-out rates and, for large-scale sites, as to the relevance of the applicant’s track record of delivering similar schemes

– Encouragement of use of CPO powers to support the build out of stalled sites. 

There is a supplementary consultation paper on planning and affordable housing for build to rent  containing a further 26 questions, with a consultation deadline of 1 May 2017.
There are responses to previous consultation papers and reports:
– Summary of responses to the technical consultation on implementation of planning changes, consultation on upward extensions and Rural Planning Review Call for Evidence  (including a u-turn on the previous idea of an upwards extensions permitted development right in London, now to be addressed by policy). 
– Government response to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into the report of the Local Plans Expert Group 
There is plenty to get to grips with, for example:
– the housing delivery test and new methodology for assessing objectively assessed need

– an understandable focus on whether the applicant will proceed to build out any permission and at what rate, although with a worrying reduction of the default time limit for permissions from three to two years

– Homes and Communities Agency to become “Homes England”. 

It is also reassuring to see the Government applying real focus to build to rent, reducing its emphasis on starter homes – and also reducing its reliance on permitted development rights. 

However, it is surprising how much still remains unresolved. We will apparently have a revised NPPF “later this year” but for much else the start date looks to be April 2018, for example a widened affordable housing definition including watered-down starter homes proposals (no longer a statutory requirement and with reference to a policy target of a minimum of 10% “affordable housing ownership units” rather than the requirement of 20% starter homes previously proposed) and a new methodology for assessing five year housing land supply. 

Liz Peace’s CIL review team’s review of CIL: “A new approach to developer contributions”  (October 2016 but only now published) remains untackled. The Government’s response will be announced at the time of the Autumn Budget 2017. 

Decision-makers will need to grapple very quickly with the question as to the weight they should give to the white paper as a material consideration, given the Government’s clear policy direction now on a range of issues. 


Simon Ricketts, 7.2.17
Personal views, et cetera

Hillingdon JR: Lucky Strike Out?

In R (London Borough of Hillingdon & others) v Secretary of State  (Cranston J, 30 January 2017) the Government achieved an impressive strike out of the first challenge to the proposed third runway at Heathrow, following the Government’s 25 October 2016 announcements. My 15 October 2016 blog post Airports & Courts wins no prizes for predicting a series of such challenges.  
Following the strike out, the draft Airports NPS  was promptly published on 2 February for a 16 weeks’ consultation period. 
However, was this somewhat of a lucky win? The Government’s position, accepted by Cranston J, was that the effect of section 13(1) of the Planning Act 2008 was that there can be no legal challenge of a Government announcement of a decision to publish a draft NPS, but that any challenge instead has to be made within a six week window following final designation of the NPS.
Section 13(1) provides as follows: 
“A court may entertain proceedings for questioning a national policy statement or anything done, or omitted to be done, by the Secretary of State in the course of preparing such a statement only if –



(a) the proceedings are brought by a claim for judicial review, and

(b) the claim form is filed [before the end of] the period of 6 weeks beginning with [the day after] —

 
(i) the day on which the statement is designated as a national policy statement for the purposes of this Act, or



(ii) (if later) the day on which the statement is published.”

So was the 25 October 2016 announcement something done “in the course of preparing” an NPS? Hmm.
Was the operation of section 13(1) intended to be so different from sections 23 and 25 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, which provide for a six week deadline for challenging a compulsory purchase order from publication of notice of its confirmation and the exclusion that a CPO otherwise “shall not, either before or after it has been confirmed, made or given, be questioned in any legal proceedings whatsoever“? So, according to the 1981 Act, no challenges before the CPO has been made but the Supreme Court in R (Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Limited) v Wolverhampton City Council  (12 May 2010) has entertained a judicial review of a council’s resolution to make a compulsory purchase order. Is the drafting within the 2008 Act distinguishable from the 1981 Act? Even if it is, where is the logic? With CPOs the widely understood risk of JR of the resolution to make a CPO, before section 25 cuts in to prevent further challenges until the order has been finally confirmed or rejected, is the reason why acquiring authorities commonly seek to leave as little time as possible between that final resolution and making the order. There is no reference in Cranston J’s judgment to this (surely) analogous process

.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, the decision to go for a strike out – always high stakes, given the risk of adding to the time needed to dispose finally of the challenge or at least the risk of egg on face – has so far proved to be the right one, although I do not know whether the claimant local authorities plan to appeal. Even if cleared for take off, the proceedings would in any event face a bumpy ride give that judicial review is a remedy of last resort and it could be said that the claimant authorities should first be making representations to the draft NPS before resorting to litigation?
It was a good week all round for Heathrow. By a decision letter dated 2 February 2017  the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and Transport allowed an appeal by the airport, permitting enabling works to allow it to implement “full runway alternation during easterly operations” (ie, basically, regular easterly departures from the northern runway), after a June 2015 (yes 2015) inquiry and initial refusal by Hillingdon Council in March 2014 (yes 2014) of the airport’s planning application.  
Finally, a post script on challenges to CPO decisions, and to my 22 September 2016 blog post Regeneration X: Failed CPOs. Local Government Lawyer reports that after an oral hearing Collins J has granted Southwark Council permission to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision not to confirm the Aylesbury Estate CPO, Dove J having previously refused permission on the papers. Collins J apparently also “proposed that a meeting should be held between the two parties before any litigation began, considered that it would be unlawful for Southwark to offer more than was allowed under the Compensation Code, and recognised that the decision had significant knock-on effects for other schemes“. It would be no surprise at all to me if the decision is eventually overturned. 
You may now unfasten your seat belts.

Simon Ricketts 4.2.17

Personal views, et cetera

What Happened To The Beautiful Jigsaw? Government Policy v The Plan-Led System

“If we are doing things in parallel, it does mean when we get towards the summer we can make sure these things are knitting together properly and actually bring them together, with those pieces of the jigsaw starting to come together as one whole piece—hopefully, one whole beautiful piece as well” – Brandon Lewis, then minister for housing and planning, 24 February 2016, in evidence to the Commons CLG Select Committee – responding to concerns as to the various changes to the planning system then (and still) underway, including proposed changes to the NPPF, LPEG review and the Housing and Planning Bill (now an Act but still inchoate). (And he was referring to summer 2016…)
Of course a few other things happened to knock summer 2016 off course. But still we wait for the full picture and hence the growing frustration over continued delays to the Housing White Paper and speculation as to its contents.
“OK, that’s politics”, we may say, but is there a more fundamental, longterm, problem to be tackled?
“[M]inisters cannot frustrate the purpose of a statute or a statutory provision, for example by emptying it of content or preventing its effectual operation” (Supreme Court in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 24 January 2017, para 51). 
On reading this, it struck me that there is a logical disconnect at the heart of the modern planning system. Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires that decisions be taken in accordance with the statutory development plan “unless material considerations indicate otherwise”. However, the Government’s non-statutory NPPF, despite an amorphous status as a “material consideration”, somehow often ends up trumping the statutory plan (for example – currently – by way of para 49 deeming policies for the supply of housing to be regarded as out of date in defined circumstances, triggering the para 14 presumption and – under the changes consulted upon last year – by way of the proposed housing delivery test). From where does the NPPF gain its authority in our statutory plan-led system? What is to prevent an LPA from deciding to give its policies little weight and how does the resultant uncertainty help anyone?
The Court of Appeal in Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes, Richborough Estates v Cheshire East Borough Council  (Court of Appeal, 16 March 2016) set out the position as follows:
“The NPPF is a policy document. It ought not to be treated as if it had the force of statute. It does not, and could not, displace the statutory “presumption in favour of the development plan”, as Lord Hope described it in City of Edinburgh Council v Secretary of State for Scotland [1997] 1 W.L.R. 1447 at 1450B-G). Under section 70(2) of the 1990 Act and section 38(6) of the 2004 Act, government policy in the NPPF is a material consideration external to the development plan. Policies in the NPPF, including those relating to the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, do not modify the statutory framework for the making of decisions on applications for planning permission. They operate within that framework – as the NPPF itself acknowledges, for example, in paragraph 12 (see paragraph 12 above). It is for the decision-maker to decide what weight should be given to NPPF policies in so far as they are relevant to the proposal. Because this is government policy, it is likely always to merit significant weight. But the court will not intervene unless the weight given to it by the decision-maker can be said to be unreasonable in the Wednesbury sense”
Whilst the statutory role of government guidance is clear in relation to plan-making (section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 provides that “in preparing a local development document the local planning authority must have regard to…national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State”) there is no such statutory signposting in relation to decision-making. 
It didn’t have to be this way. Consideration was indeed given to giving the NPPF statutory status as the Localism Act went through Parliament. The then minister of state for decentralisation Greg Clark stated in Public Bill Committee on 15 February 2011:
“There are some suggestions that a reference to the significance of the NPPF would be helpful. Against that, however, I have heard some concerns in our discussions that link to the points made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich about not taking a year zero approach to things and completely designing the system from scratch. One of the features of the present regime with which the right hon. Gentleman is familiar is the importance of section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. That provision establishes the primacy of the development plan, which obviously needs to be consistent with national policy. If we were to establish in the Bill a new primacy for national policy that is different from how we have managed in recent decades, I would want to be cautious that we did not introduce something, albeit with the best of intentions, that changed the accepted understanding of the importance of the primacy of the development plan and that, in effect, interferes with section 38(6) without good purpose. If there is a balance of advantage in the approach, I think we can contemplate it, but it behoves us to reflect carefully on the representations that have been made, which I undertake to do.

Scotland’s National Planning Framework has statutory effect pursuant to section 1 of the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006
In relation to infrastructure, we of course have a statutory regime of national policy statements  to set the framework for decisions in relation to development consent orders, with ten NPSs having been prepared so far pursuant to section 5 of the Planning Act 2008.
In contrast to these regimes, the NPPF can be amended with little Parliamentary scrutiny. 
The position is even worse in relation to written ministerial statements on planning policy matters, when one recalls, for example:
– Eric Pickles’ 20 May 2010 statement that the then intended abolition of regional strategies was to be a material planning consideration in decision-making, which led to Cala Homes (South) Limited v Secretary of State  (Court of Appeal, 27 May 2011). The court concluded that “…it would not be safe for the Court to assume that at this stage there are no circumstances in which any decision-maker could rationally give some weight to the proposed abolition of regional strategies. In view of the uncertainty created by the legal obstacles…[the need for Parliamentary process to be undergone and SEA]… and any decision-maker who does think it appropriate to give some weight to the Government’s proposal when determining an application or an appeal would be well-advised to give very clear and cogent reasons for reaching that conclusion, but that does not mean that there could be no case whatsoever in which any decision-maker might be able to give such reasons.

– Eric Pickles’ 28 November 2014 statement introducing the vacant building credit and small sites affordable housing threshold, which led to West Berkshire Council v Secretary of State  (Court of Appeal, 11 May 2016). Despite the absolute wording of the statement, it was interpreted by the court as necessarily admitting of exceptions, leading now to a mess of conflicting appeal decisions by inspectors, well documented by Planning magazine (27 January 2017 issue).
– Gavin Barwell’s 12 December 2016 statement amending (without prior consultation) the five year housing land supply threshold in para 49 of the NPPF, which has recently led to a judicial review being brought by a group of no fewer than 25 housebuilders and developers. 
Brandon Lewis’ statement at the outset of this post is quoted in the Commons CLG Select Committee’s review of consultation on national planning policy  published on 1 April 2016. The Committee responded to his optimism as follows:
“We welcome the Minister’s indication that any changes to the NPPF resulting from this consultation will be made during summer 2016, and that he intends to draw together the outcomes of the consultation with those of the other changes affecting the sector“. 

The Committee’s formal recommendations included: 

“As a priority the Department should publish clear timescales for the next steps for this consultation, including timescales for the Government’s response, implementation, and suitable transitional arrangements. If the changes to the NPPF are delayed beyond summer 2016, we expect the Minister to write to us to explain the reasons and provide updated timescales”

” As a matter of principle, we believe that when changes are made to the wording of a key policy framework such as the NPPF, there should be a two-stage consultation process: first on the overall policy, and subsequently on the precise wording which will give effect to the change. If there is no further consultation on the specific wording of the consultation proposals, it is essential that the Department listens carefully to concerns about ambiguity or lack of clarity in the revised NPPF, and provides clarification where required”

“To ensure that proper consideration is given to the impact of changes resulting from this consultation, and from other developments in the housing and planning sector, the Department should carry out a comprehensive review of the operation of the NPPF before the end of this Parliament. The review must include sufficient opportunity for appropriate consultation with stakeholders, and should follow a two-stage approach to consulting, first on general principles, and subsequently on precise wording.”
All sensible, but what a waste of energy. Nine months after the report there has been no Government response!

How are decision-makers meant to balance non-statutory, unstructured interventions from ministers with the outcomes pointed to by statutory planning policies? This surely a very difficult task for decision-makers and with the constant risk of unwelcome surprises for those at the sharp end. Personally, I would go further than the Select Committee’s recommendations and instil basic, legally binding, procedural discipline into ministers’ approach to policy making, given the risk that the statutory planning system is otherwise frustrated, emptied of content or prevented from effective operation (to use the words of the Supreme Court). 
Simon Ricketts 28.1.17
Personal views, et cetera

The Unfortunate Case Of The Council’s Sports Hub

It’s easy for a planning lawyer to summarise R (Boot) v Elmbridge Borough Council  (Supperstone J, 16 January 2017). The High Court confirmed what we already know from paragraph 89 of the NPPF – that “the provision of appropriate facilities for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation and for cemeteries, as long as it preserves the openness of the Green Belt and does not conflict with the purposes of including land within it” is not inappropriate development, but that conversely, if harm is caused to the openness of the Green Belt, even limited harm, the development is inappropriate and permission should be refused save in very special circumstances.
The court duly quashed a planning permission granted on 26 January 2016 for the “Elmbridge Sports Hub” – a proposed athletics stadium, ‘league’ football pitch and training pitches (grass and artificial) for Walton Casuals FC, Walton and Hersham FC and Walton Athletics club to replace their current facilities, on a former landfill site in Waterside Drive, Walton-on-Thames.

However, scratch beneath the surface of any case and there are usually some interesting factors. 

This is not a developer-led proposal. It’s being promoted by Elmbridge Borough Council, on land that it owns. The development is proposed to be funded by the sale by the Council, for the development of 52 homes, of Walton and Hersham FC’s present ground at Stompond Lane. 
Most developers would not take the risk of starting construction work ahead of their permission being free from legal challenge. However, Elmbridge embarked on construction on 21 March 2016, despite the scheme already at that stage having become significantly controversial. Indeed the claimant’s solicitors, renowned claimant firm Richard Buxton & Co, were already on board for objectors and had previously scored an early blow by securing an EIA screening direction from the Secretary of State in July 2015, when the application had already initially gone to committee, requiring environmental impact assessment to be carried out. The Secretary of State ruled:
“Whilst this is a finely balanced case, the proposal does raise concerns to suggest the potential for significant environmental impacts through surface disturbance of the former landfill site, uncertainty about the extent of the contamination of the site and the potential for gas migration to both the River Thames and nearby residential properties.”
Why did development start when the permission was still at risk, presumably when proceedings had already been served, or at least a pre-action protocol letter? I don’t know any of the details but I do note that the local elections took place a little afterwards in May 2016. Was this at all relevant?
Rolling ahead to 2017, by the time that the permission was quashed, the construction project was significantly advanced. With the developer a local planning authority, responsible for planning enforcement, this is surely hardly a comfortable position.  

Image from Get Surrey website

Elmbridge had tried unsuccessfully to delay the court hearing, fixed for 6 December 2016, to allow a second planning application to be determined, for a revised version of the scheme, a request that was rejected by Ouseley J in November.  
The second application eventually went to committee on 17 January 2017, the day after the first permission was quashed and on the basis of a detailed officers’ report, resolved to approve it (perhaps no surprise there). Having delayed the scheme first on an EIA point and secondly on the council’s flawed approach to green belt policy, no doubt objectors will be looking for their next line of attack. 
So a straight-forward ruling by Supperstone J but the situation on the ground is plainly a mess. How does a local planning authority get itself into this sort of position? To what extent is this about financial or political imperatives and, against the backdrop of a construction project in mid flow (one dreads to think of the financial consequences under its construction contract if the authority now pauses or abandons the project), how easy was it for members to determine the second application with open minds but on the contrary how difficult it may be for objectors to prove to a court that minds were already made up?
Simon Ricketts 21 January 2017
Personal views, et cetera

The Rest Of The Iceberg: Delegated Decisions

What percentage of planning decisions would you say were made by officers, acting under delegated powers, rather than by members?
Back in 2002 the then Labour Government introduced a target that 90% of planning decisions should be delegated to officers but in recent times ministers appear to have gone quiet on the issue, despite greater use of delegated powers plainly leading to faster determination of applications. And if (big if) an LPA has an up to date local plan and/or neighbourhood plan, one of the benefits should be that decision-making on planning applications should be more straight-forward. 

The Planning Practice Guidance simply says: “The exercise of the power to delegate planning functions is generally a matter for individual local planning authorities, having regard to practical considerations including the need for efficient decision-taking and local transparency. It is in the public interest for the local planning authority to have effective delegation arrangements in place to ensure that decisions on planning applications that raise no significant planning issues are made quickly and that resources are appropriately concentrated on the applications of greatest significance to the local area.”  
So I was ready to write a blog post suggesting that perhaps there should be greater encouragement for delegation arrangements, whereby applications only need to go to committee unless there is genuine uncertainty as to the application of policy. After all there is a certain logic to a model where politicians arrive at the detailed plan for their area and then officers make depoliticised decisions in accordance with that plan.
However, the statistics are interesting. When one looks at the latest DCLG figures for England, for July to September 2016  published on 15 December 2016, 94% of decisions were taken by officers over the quarter. (There were 115,800 decisions in the quarter of which 108,500 were delegated). This is the same percentage as for the same quarter in 2015 and 2014, prior to which the proportion was significantly lower. 
94%! So the more major applications that many of us focus on are the tip of a very large iceberg. Do people think that there is scope for this proportion to go even higher?
The criteria for selection of applications that are to be determined by officers are of course set out in the LPA’s scheme of delegation, within its constitution. There can be significant differences as between the approaches of authorities. So long as the decision as whether an application is to go to committee or is to be determined by an officer is made within a valid scheme of delegation there is little scope for legal challenge – see for example R (Technoprint) v Leeds City Council (Wyn Williams J, 24 March 2010). 
However, nowadays the delegated decision-making process itself is more transparent. Regulation 7 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 (made under section 40(3) of the equally catchily titled Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014) provides as follows:
“(1) The decision-making officer must produce a written record of any decision which falls within paragraph (2). 


(2) A decision falls within this paragraph if it would otherwise have been taken by the relevant local government body, or a committee, sub-committee of that body or a joint committee in which that body participates, but it has been delegated to an officer of that body either—


(a) under a specific express authorisation; or



(b) under a general authorisation to officers to take such decisions and, the effect of the decision is to—

(i) grant a permission or licence; 


(ii) affect the rights of an individual; or


 (iii) award a contract or incur expenditure which, in either case, materially affects that relevant local government body’s financial position.




(3) The written record must be produced as soon as reasonably practicable after the decision-making officer has made the decision and must contain the following information—


(a) the date the decision was taken;


(b) a record of the decision taken along with reasons for the decision;



(c) details of alternative options, if any, considered and rejected; and



(d) where the decision falls under paragraph (2)(a), the names of any member of the relevant local government body who has declared a conflict of interest in relation to the decision.”
The High Court in R (Shasha) v Westminster City Council  (Deputy High Court Judge John Howell QC, 19 December 2016) recently held that this means that there is a duty to provide reasons where a decision is taken under delegated powers. He quashed a planning permission granted by Westminster City Council for development of a site at Portman Mansions, Chiltern Street on the basis that the officer’s report did not adequately deal with a number of material considerations. 
Of course this may be seen as strange given that, since 25 June 2013, LPAs are generally no longer required to give reasons for granting planning permission. The deputy judge dealt with that argument as follows:
“The suggestion that imposing a requirement to give reasons for the decision to grant planning permission under delegated powers with effect from August 6th 2014 under the 2014 Regulations sits ill with the earlier removal of the requirement in all cases to give summary reasons for the grant of planning permission on June 25th 2013 provides no reason to construe regulation 7 of the 2014 Regulations other than in accordance with its terms. The Explanatory Memorandum to Order which removed the requirement, the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) (Amendment) Order 2013, explained the change on the basis that officer reports typically provided more detail on the logic and reasoning behind a particular decision to grant planning permission than the decision notice and that the requirement to provide summary reasons for that decision added little to the transparency and quality of the decision making process but that it did add to the burdens on local planning authorities. It is at least consistent with such reasons for that change that reasons should nonetheless be required to be provided for delegated decisions. Whereas officer reports are almost invariably produced when decisions are taken by members of planning authorities, an equivalent document or one with the content that regulation 7(3) requires need not be produced when an officer takes a decision to grant planning permission. But, whether or not that provides an explanation for regulation 7 of the 2014 Regulations and whether or not the requirement it imposes may be thought anomolous given the removal of the requirement to give summary reasons in all cases, in my judgment there is no basis for reading the words “other than a planning permission” into regulation 7(2)(b)(i), where they do not appear, or to exclude decisions to grant planning permission from those falling within section 7(2)(a) or 7(2)(b)(ii) if they would also otherwise fall within those provisions.
Is it just me or is there an element of “I know it’s crazy, but…” about that explanation?
Whilst it must be right that we should know the reasoning for a decision to grant planning permission, is Shasha going to lead to a more cautious approach on the part of LPAs, with the length of officers’ delegated powers reports extending to the length of reports to committee, so as to guard against similar challenges, in turn leading to longer lead-in periods and greater calls on officer time (like the rest of the iceberg, surely they are going to be underwater)? And what about that reference in regulation 7(3)(c) to “details of alternative options, if any, considered and rejected“?  Now that would be an interesting case….


Simon Ricketts 13.1.17
Personal views, et cetera

Level Playing Fields: Football Stadia & Planning

Professional football throws up such planning dilemmas. Stadia developments, usually now accompanied by a panoply of other uses, are space-hungry beasts, with extreme peaks in terms of traffic movements and noise. Football clubs are powerful institutions, often not driven by rational economic considerations, able to generate letters of support for their proposals from around the globe and with inevitably strong local political connections. And each club is effectively a monopoly: if a club says it needs to move or expand, what is a council to do? Who is going to blow the whistle?
It’s a particularly interesting week ahead for sports planning fans:

Chelsea


Chelsea FC’s proposed redevelopment of Stamford Bridge to create a new 60,000 seat stadium, with a direct link to Fulham Broadway tube station, is to be considered by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Planning and Development Control Committee on 11 January 2017 with a recommendation for approval. Whilst there are a variety of objections from local residents and groups as well as objections from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Royal Parks, 12,000 people signed and sent in standard form postcards supporting the development, including 6,449 from outside London as well as 2,481 from outside the UK – how much weight should be given to this sort of managed process?

Luton Town
Now here’s a curious situation. Luton Council’s submission version of its local plan, currently under examination, allocated a site just off junction 10 of the M1 for the relocation of league division 2 Luton Town FC from its Kenilworth Road Stadium. The site known as south of Stockwood Park, has been the club’s favoured relocation choice for many years. The club acquired it in 2015. There is a separate site in Luton town centre, known as the Power Court site, which is allocated for retail led development (although at submission stage the council made a modification to introduce the possibility of an element of use class D2 assembly and leisure). 
The club has now decided that it does not wish to build a 15,000 seat stadium on the south of Stockwood Park site and instead wishes to build a 17,500 (rising ultimately to to 22,500) seat stadium on the Power Court site. In August 2016 it made planning applications  for a stadium and associated development at the Power Court site and for retail and mixed use development at its out of town south of Stockwood Park site. The applications have not yet been determined.  
Luton Council wrote to the local plan inspector on 22 November 2016 to indicate that, as it has “clear and unequivocal statements from the landowner to the effect that a stadium will not be developed” at the junction 10 site it had decided at a council meeting on 15 November 2016 to remove from the south of Stockwood Park allocation references to a 15,000 seater stadium and related facilities. 
The local plan inspector is holding hearing sessions on 10 and 11 January 2017 to pick his way through the position and has issued supplementary questions for the sessions in the light of the turn of events. 

Millwall
The land surrounding Millwall’s New Den is the subject of a planning permission for the New Bermondsey mixed use development project, being promoted by Renewal Limited, which owns most but not all of the site. Renewal has been working with Lewisham Council to bring the scheme, which includes 2,400 new homes, community sports facilities, health centre, premises for a local church, business space and studios and enhanced public realm, to fruition. Renewal and Lewisham assert that the scheme will complement and support the club’s activities at the stadium. 

However, the club and its supporters oppose elements of the Renewal scheme, asserting that the proposals would jeopardise the status of its youth academy which would in turn jeopardise the future of the club at the New Den. The Council’s Mayor and Cabinet decided on 7 September 2016 that a CPO should be made but, following pressure (including the 27,000 signature Defend Our Den campaign), the decision was called in under the Council’s internal procedures and the Council’s cabinet is due to reconsider the decision at a meeting on 11 January 2017, albeit with, again, a recommendation that the Council should use its CPO powers. 
The issue has reached the national press, with a Guardian story  on 5 January breathlessly headlined “Millwall admit council scheme could force club to leave Lewisham”. The Council has published its own Questions and Answers  document.
Three different stories, from three different leagues. But familiar themes. How can clubs’ reasonable needs and the aspirations of their fans be mediated as against other planning objectives? And who determines need?
Simon Ricketts 7.1.17
Personal comments, et cetera

That Written Ministerial Statement

Gavin Barwell’s 12 December 2016 Neighbourhood Planning: Written Statement  has attracted criticism not just for its content, but for inserting significant changes to the operation of the NPPF without prior consultation and without indeed making an amendment to the NPPF itself. 
Paragraph 49 of the NPPF provides that:
“Relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.”
ie the presumption in favour of sustainable development in paragraph 14 is triggered. This means:
“where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of-date, granting permission unless: 

    * 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; or 


    * specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted”


The December 2016 written ministerial statement provides, “…that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a neighbourhood plan, that is part of the development plan, should not be deemed to be ‘out-of-date’ under paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework where all of the following circumstances arise at the time the decision is made:

* This written ministerial statement is less than 2 years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for 2 years or less;


* the neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and


* the local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites.”


It seems that consultation will take place in due course that will refine the policy, but in the meantime it takes immediate effect:

“Following consultation, we anticipate the policy for neighbourhood planning set out in this statement will be revised to reflect policy brought forward to ensure new neighbourhood plans meet their fair share of local housing need and housing is being delivered across the wider local authority area. It is, however, right to take action now to protect communities who have worked hard to produce their neighbourhood plan and find the housing supply policies are deemed to be out-of-date through no fault of their own.”

So, suddenly local authorities have an additional “get out of jail” card even where they cannot demonstrate a five-year supply – if the proposal is in a part of its administrative area that (1) has a neighbourhood plan that has policies for the supply of housing (including allocation of sites) and (2) if the local authority has at least a three-year supply of sites.


Local authorities with a dubious housing land supply position may now be immediately tempted to secure that neighbourhood plans within their area contain policies that echo their own housing supply/allocation policies!

Those determining applications and appeals will now need to grapple with the additional questions of whether the relevant neighbourhood plan includes policies for the supply of housing (a phrase that will be examined by the Supreme Court in February in the Hopkins Homes/Richborough Estates litigation) as well whether there is a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites (of course in some situations there may be a five-year supply but not a three-year supply, if the allocated sites have a long lead-in period but the lack of a three-year supply will be irrelevant if the five-year supply is there). 

It seems that the Government does not intend to amend the NPPF but to leave it to be read alongside the written ministerial statement. So much for the intent behind the NPPF in the first place, as described rather sceptically by the Court of Appeal in Hopkins/Richborough  (17 March 2016):
“”The “Ministerial foreword” concludes by stating that “[by] replacing over a thousand pages of national policy with around fifty, written simply and clearly, we are allowing people and communities back into planning”. Some judicial doubt has been expressed about that assertion. As Sullivan L.J. said in Redhill Aerodrome Ltd. v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] 1 P. & C.R. 3 (in paragraph 22 of his judgment, with which Tomlinson and Lewison L.JJ. agreed), “[views] may differ as to whether simplicity and clarity have always been achieved, but the policies are certainly shorter”. In an earlier case in which this court had to consider the meaning of the policy in paragraph 47 of the NPPF, City and District Council of St Albans v Hunston Properties Ltd. [2013] EWCA Civ 1610, Sir David Keene had expressed the view (in paragraph 4 of his judgment, with which Maurice Kay and Ryder L.JJ. agreed), that “[unhappily] … the process of simplification has in certain instances led to a diminution in clarity”.” (paragraph 8)
The lack of any intention to amend the NPPF is particularly disappointing given the fact that the Government consulted  in December 2015 over other proposed changes to the framework, which remain in hiatus pending the forthcoming Housing White Paper. If the document is to be updated, why not do the job properly (and clear up other ambiguities at the same time), rather than to allow people and communities to be shut out again from the process by having a supposedly comprehensive policy statement that is anything but?
Policy making by written ministerial statement  is understandably attractive for politicians. Indeed, since the changes to the Government’s consultation principles in January 2016  we can presumably expect much less consultation:
“Do not consult for the sake of it. Ask departmental lawyers whether you have a legal duty to consult…Do not ask questions about issues on which you already have a final view. “
A legal duty to consult often does not arise – if, for example, there is no specific statutory requirement, if there has been no prior indication that has lead to a legitimate expectation that there will be consultation or if the proposal is not a plan or programme to which the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive applies.  
The Government’s 28 November 2014 written ministerial statement that introduced the vacant building credit and affordable housing small sites threshold predated the Government’s amended consultation principles. It may well be that there was in fact no duty on the Government to consult. However, if a public body chooses to carry out consultation it must abide by judge-made rules of lawful consultation – the Sedley principles:
a)  Consultation must take place when proposals still at a formative stage;
b)  The public must be given sufficient information to allow for intelligent consideration and response;

c)  Adequate time must be given for consideration and 
response;

d) The consultation responses be conscientiously taken into 
account in finalising the proposal.

The adequacy of the consultation undertaken ahead of the 2014 statement was of one of the grounds of challenge in West Berkshire Council v Secretary of State  (Court of Appeal, 11 May 2016). Whilst the Court of Appeal found the consultation process to be lawful, that had not been the conclusion of Holgate J at first instance. No wonder the advice is now: if you don’t have to consult, don’t. Depressing for those who might hope that open debate leads to better policy making and fewer unintended consequences.

Simon Ricketts 29.12.16

Personal views, et cetera

Trees In Court: A Festive Special

Trees stir emotions. Dwarfing us in their scale and their natural lifespan, they are integral to, define and inspire our built and natural landscapes. Their leaves connect us with the changing seasons. But they can be inconveniences: their roots, their debris, sometimes even their very presence.

The £1m lime tree
Who would spend £1m litigating over problems alleged to arise from a single lime tree in a suburban London Street? This is a recent piece from The Lawyer. HHJ Edward Bailey’s 29 July 2016 county court judgment  refusing the owner of the tree (a subsidiary of Grainger Trust plc) access over the neighbouring lawyer’s property (because the answer is of course a lawyer) under section 1 of the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992, to prune it, runs to 27 pages. All of the papers relating to the litigation, including transcripts and evidence, are at www.disputewithgrainger.com, a website created for the purpose by the neighbour. A £100,000 interim payment on account of his costs was due to be paid by Grainger yesterday. 
Sets the bar pretty high for future neighbour disputes it must be said. 
Trees & PFI
Where does the line of least resistance lie where a local authority’s PFI contractor faces increased highways maintenance costs due to the presence of trees?
Sheffield City Council, abetted by its contractor Amey, has been engaging in a systematic programme of tree felling and replacement along its highways. 

A somewhat speculative challenge was brought to the process by local residents in R (Dillner) v Sheffield City Council  (Gilbart J, 27 April 2016), following an interim injunction that was granted at short notice.

Gilbart J is in lyrical form, starting his judgment with the following background:

“Sheffield is one of the great cities of Northern England. Parts of it lie within the Peak District, which abuts its western aspect. It lies where several rivers and streams (the Rivers Don, Sheaf, Loxley, Rivelin, and Porter, Meers and Owler Brooks) flow eastwards off the Pennines. Many of its roads and streets (and especially in the suburbs running westwards and south-westwards from the City Centre) have trees planted along them, in the verges or other land within the highway. Like many of the great cities of the north of England, it suffered during the deindustrialisation of the late 20th Century and the financial stringency endured by local authorities over the last 30 years or more. The upkeep of its roads and streets were not immune to the testing climate that created for local authorities, and a backlog of maintenance developed.

It is in the nature of highway trees which are well established that they are intrinsically attractive (save in unusual cases), but also that, if allowed to grow unchecked, they cause problems to the proper maintenance of the roads, verges and pavements in which they sit or which they abut. Thus, the loss of a tree may be seen as regrettable in visual terms, but it may be required if the highway is to be kept in repair. The background to this case concerns the way in which Sheffield City Council (“SCC”) has sought to deal with the backlog of repairs, and in particular of how it has dealt with the presence of trees on its roads and streets”

The grounds of challenge followed familiar territory: inadequate consultation; the need for environmental impact assessment, and engagement of the decision maker’s duty to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving and enhancing the character of conservation areas.

The grounds were rejected:

– “provided the felling or lopping of the tree is carried out in pursuance of [a highways authority’s duty to maintain (and thus repair) [the highway], there is no requirement for consent to fell the tree “. 

– “while there is a requirement in those domestic Regulations which apply the EU Directives for environmental assessment in the case of trees, it only applies to projects of deforestation on sites of at least 1 hectare in size (0.5 ha in a National Park); see Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999 Schedule 2 paragraph 2. This project cannot be called deforestation”

– It “follows from the above that: 

(a)  the execution of works in the highway to repair it does not constitute development and therefore requires no planning permission; 


(b)  the removal or lopping of trees requires no planning permission in any event; 


(c)  the removal or lopping of highway trees in a Conservation Area requires no consent under s 211 TCPA 1990 if carried out in pursuance of the duty of the highway authority to maintain the highway, keep it in repair, and free of sources of danger or causes of obstruction; 


(d)  there is therefore no question of a development consent being required for the works; 


(e)  no planning function arises relevant to s 72 LBCAA 1990; 


(f)  at most, the fact that a tree could contribute to the appearance and character of a Conservation Area could be a material consideration. There is no evidence at all that Amey and SCC failed to take it into account.

Gilbart J’s closing comments:

“I repeat that nothing in this Judgment is to be read as criticising the residents of Sheffield for seeking to protect the trees in their streets and roads, whose presence many of them appreciate so much. But as with many matters, such an understandable and natural desire must be tempered by acceptance of the important duties cast on the highway authority to maintain those roads and streets in good repair. It is unfortunate in the extreme that those advising the Claimant and others who object have failed to address both sides of the argument, and even more so that the claim was advanced, and the injunction sought, without any proper analysis on their behalf of the statutory and legal context. It may be that those who will be disappointed by the terms of this Judgment will want to see a different legislative regime in place. That is a matter for Parliament, and not for this Court.
So will Parliament now conduct a root and branch review?
Andrew Lainton’s February 2016 blog post, written when the interim injunction was granted, is, as always, worth reading.
Sycamore vs the tree of heaven
In determining in the Sheffield case that the decision by an authority to fell a tree does not engage the conservation area special duty in section 72(1) of the Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act 1990, Gilbart J had cited R (McClennan) v London Borough of Lambeth  (HH Judge Sycamore, 16 June 2014), which concerned Lambeth’s proposals to fell a tree of heaven at the rear of the grade II listed Durning Library building in Kennington Lane, within Kennington conservation area – with the objective, said Lambeth, of preventing structural damage to the listed building. Whilst section 72(1) wasn’t engaged, the judge held that Lambeth’s cabinet had failed to take into account a material consideration, namely that the tree was situated in the conservation area. The decision was quashed. Lambeth subsequently carried out public consultation but I think I know where the tree has gone.

Forest Hill Park, Labour In Vain Road
is the address in Wrotham, Kent of a caravan site which has been the subject of a TPO saga. Following the felling of various protected trees, enforcement proceedings were brought and court action was settled on the basis of an undertaking given by the defendants to cease the felling. The felling resumed, the council started proceedings for contempt of court and the defendants applied to release the undertaking, on the basis that they could fell the trees in reliance on a 1983 planning permission for “development … and continuation of use of land as caravan site”. The question that came to the Court of Appeal in Barney-Smith v Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council  (Court of Appeal, 9 December 2016) was whether the exemption from the need for consent, where felling was “immediately required for the purpose of carrying out development authorised by” a planning permission, was satisfied. The court, not unsurprisingly, held that the answer was no – even though the planning permission could have been implemented in such a way as would have necessitated the tree felling, it could be implemented in a manner which left the trees untouched and therefore the exemption did not apply.
The Hampstead Heath dam

R (Heath & Hampstead Society) v City of London  (Lang J, 28 November 2014) concerned the Hampstead Heath dam project, the decision by the City of London to approve and proceed with proposals for reservoir safety works to the ponds on Hampstead Heath. The claimant regarded the proposed works which would entail the loss of over 80 trees, as “damaging, unnecessary and over-engineered”. But Lang J held that the only legal consideration under the Reservoirs Act 1975 is public safety and that the works would not be in breach of the restrictions in the Hampstead Heath Act 1871 which requires that the City of London shall forever keep the Heath “unbuilt on” as they would fall within exceptions for drainage and improvement.  

Festive Litigation
Whatever your religion or non religion, enjoy the break (if I don’t blog again in the meantime). In the US, the constitutional status of the Christmas tree reached the US Supreme Court in Court County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union (3 July 1989). The combined display outside local authority offices of a Christmas tree, Menorah and sign saluting liberty was sufficiently secular so as not to offend the establishment clause in the First Amendment of the constitution, as opposed to a nativity scene inside a court building, which was held to be unlawful. What would the Daily Mail have to say about any UK Supreme Court justices who made such a ruling one wonders? I gather that since then the US Supreme Court has remained decidedly unfestive – according to one US commentator it has since declined to intervene in cases concerning: a Menorah and Christmas nativity scene combined with Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus; an attempt to have Christmas decertified as a federal holiday, and efforts to allow Christmas music to be played over the intercom at public schools.


What’s a lawyer to do? The High Court rises on 21 December and the new term starts on 11 January. Oh well, put another log on the fire. 
Simon Ricketts 17.12.16
Personal views, et cetera