There was a customarily short and clear judgment from Holgate J this week as to how decision makers should approach applications for prior approval for the upward extension of buildings under the General Permitted Development Order: CAB Housing Limited v Secretary of State (3 February 2022)
So I’m saying nothing, you will be pleased to hear, about the 2 February 2022 Levelling Up white paper There are plenty of summaries available – and you do need a summary! Or listen to the Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event we held, featuring Catriona Riddell (linkedin piece here), Iain Thomson (linkedin piece here) and Victoria Hutton (linkedin piece here).
Nor anything about mythical Bob, the Government’s 31 January 2022 Benefits of Brexit paper, which seemed to have little new to say in terms of the subject matter of this blog.
Nor anything about the energy price cap – although that does give additional topicality to our our next Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event plugged at the end of this post.
Nor anything about the continuing NIMBY vs YIMBY noise that I got drawn into on twitter this week – although there is at least some link between Holgate J’s judgment & all that: someone came out with the usual trope that a planning system with a large discretionary element to decision making is “good for the lawyers”. I didn’t respond, but thought to myself that a less discretionary system, whether based on zoning or permitted development rights, is of course even better for the lawyers – because it all becomes about where the legal boundary lines are.
When Parliament amended the General Permitted Development Order to allow upwards extensions, subject to defined criteria and limitations together with the need to seek prior approval for certain aspects of the proposals, the description of the matters in relation to which prior approval is required was far too vague. What do matters such as “impact on amenity” and “external appearance” actually mean? Do you take as a given the right to extend up to two storeys upwards and in that context consider external appearance, akin to considering reserved matters with the equivalent of outline planning permission already having been granted for the two storeys, or can issues of principle as to the acceptability of that upwards extension be considered, as long as they relate to amenity or external appearance,? Obviously this is a particularly critical question where the local planning authority may be resistant in principle to upwards extensions – these new rights trumpeted by the Government become rather less meaningful.
The Cab Housing case related to three appeal decisions where the relevant inspector had dismissed appeals in relation to proposals under Class AA of Part 1 of the GPDO (upwards extensions to detatched houses).
Over to Holgate J to explain:
“These challenges raise important issues regarding the true interpretation of Class AA of Part 1. First, are the claimants correct in saying that a planning authority’s control of impact on amenity limited to effects on properties contiguous with, or abutting, the subject property and are those effects limited to overlooking, privacy and loss of light? Alternatively, does that control embrace impact upon all aspects of the amenity of neighbouring premises, as the Secretary of State contends? Second, is the authority’s control of the external appearance of the subject dwelling limited to the “design and architectural features” of its principal elevation and any side elevation fronting a highway, and is it further limited to the effects of those matters upon the subject dwelling itself? The claimants contend for that interpretation and they say that the authority is not allowed to consider the effects of external appearance upon any property outside the subject dwelling. Alternatively, is the correct interpretation, as the Secretary of State contends, that the control covers (1) all aspects of the external appearance of the proposed development, and not simply the two elevations specifically referred to in AA.2(3)(a)(ii)) and (2) impact upon other premises, and not simply the subject dwelling itself?
In the decisions challenged in these proceedings, the Inspectors took the broader approach in relation to external appearance and, in two cases, to amenity. It is common ground that if the claimants’ construction of the GPDO 2015 is correct, then each of the decisions must be quashed as ultra vires. The decisions would have been taken outside the ambit of the powers exercisable by the Inspector. But, if the defendant’s interpretation is correct, then it is also common ground that each of the three Inspectors reached decisions which fell within their powers, their decisions are not otherwise open to legal challenge and the applications for statutory review must be dismissed.
The claimants point out that other Inspectors have taken a different view upon the scope of the controls exercisable in the determination of an application for prior approval under Class AA of Part 1. It has been said that the decision-maker is not allowed to assess the impact of the external appearance of a proposed addition of 1 or 2 storeys on any area outside the subject building, for example, the streetscape. It has also been said that the principle of an upwards extension of up to 2 storeys is “established” by the permitted development right itself, so that the decision on the application for prior approval should not frustrate, or resile from, that principle. Such statements have even been made in relation to other permitted development rights where the GPDO 2015 requires “external appearance” to be controlled, without going on to refer to specific elevations (see e.g. the decision letter dated 6 July 2021 on Kings Gate, 111, The Drive, Hove). If the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the GPDO 2015 is correct, then all these decisions were potentially liable to be quashed on an application under s.288 brought within time. Plainly there are differences of interpretation which need to be resolved. There is also the question: to what extent is it correct to say that the principle of development is established where a permitted development right is subject to prior approval?
The issues in this case also affect the proper construction and ambit of permitted development rights granted by GPDO 2015 under Classes ZA, A, AA, AB, AC and AD of Part 20. These provide for up to two storeys of multiple units of residential units to be erected on top of an existing purpose-built block of flats, or on top of detached or terraced buildings in commercial or mixed use or residential use.
The claimants’ narrower approach to the legal scope of prior approval in these Classes also has implications for non-residential permitted development rights. For example, the right to erect or extend an agricultural building under Class A of Part 6 of Schedule 2 to the GDPO 2015 is potentially subject to control by prior approval in respect of the “external appearance” of the building proposed. If, as some decision-makers have said, that control is limited to assessing the effects of that appearance on the building itself, then it would follow, for example, that the effects of that external appearance on the setting of a listed building nearby could not be controlled. Can this really be right?”
His conclusion was that this was not right:
“(i) Where an application is made for prior approval under Class AA of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO 2015, the scale of the development proposed can be controlled within the ambit of paragraph AA.2(3)(a);
(ii) In paragraph AA.2(3)(a)(i) of Part 1, “impact on amenity” is not limited to overlooking, privacy or loss of light. It means what it says;
(iii) The phrase “adjoining premises” in that paragraph includes neighbouring premises and is not limited to premises contiguous with the subject property;
(iv) In paragraph AA.2(3)(a)(ii) of Part 1, the “external appearance” of the dwelling house is not limited to its principal elevation and any side elevation fronting a highway, or to the design and architectural features of those elevations;
(v) Instead, the prior approval controls for Class AA of Part 1 include the “external appearance” of the dwelling house;
(vi) The control of the external appearance of the dwelling house is not limited to impact on the subject property itself, but also includes impact on neighbouring premises and the locality.”
The judge seeks to downplay the significance of these conclusions:
“The decision of each Inspector was entirely lawful. That is as far as the Court’s function permits this judgment to go. Individual decision-makers will make their own planning judgments applying the prior approval controls, correctly interpreted, to the materials before them. This judgment does not mean that individual decision-makers would be bound to determine the appeals on the three properties the subject of these proceedings in the way that in fact occurred. That is always a matter of judgment for the person or authority taking the decision. I would also add that there is no evidence before the Court to show that the correct interpretation of Class AA of Part 1, along with the related Classes in Part 20, will in practice make it impossible or difficult for developers to rely upon these permitted development rights.”
As it is, given their inherent restrictions and limitations, these new GPDO rights have not yet delivered substantially more homes. Holgate J is of course right that his interpretation will not make it impossible for developers to rely on them – but surely it will make it more difficult in many cases. Despite the analysis in the judgment as to what was said in consultation documents in relation to the new rights, I’m left wondering whether the Government appreciated what confusion these changes would cause and, ultimately, their potentially limited advantages over an application for full planning permission?
As trailed earlier, this week’s Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event will be all about reducing energy use and increasing renewables, with a sparky collection of guests I assure you… 6 pm, Tuesday 8 February 2022, link to app and event here.
Simon Ricketts, 5 February 2022
Personal views, et cetera