Sajid Javid: Agent Of Change?

Sajid Javid’s statement Strengthened planning rules to protect music venues and their neighbours on 18 January 2018, confirming that the “agent of change” principle would be included in the revised NPPF, was widely supported. 
But this was hardly news was it? Go back to the February 2017 housing white paper:

Noise and other impacts on new developments 

A.140 The National Planning Policy Framework, supported by planning guidance, already incorporates elements of the ‘agent of change’ principle (this provides that the person or business responsible for the change should be responsible for managing the impact of that change) in relation to noise, by being clear that existing businesses wanting to grow should not have unreasonable restrictions put on them because of changes in nearby land uses since they were established. 

A.141 We propose to amend the Framework to emphasise that planning policies and decisions should take account of existing businesses and other organisations, such as churches, community pubs, music venues and sports clubs, when locating new development nearby and, where necessary, to mitigate the impact of noise and other potential nuisances arising from existing development. This will help mitigate the risk of restrictions or possible closure of existing businesses and other organisations due to noise and other complaints from occupiers of new developments.

The latest statement takes this further forward not one jot. I was blogging about the agent of change principle back in October 2016 in my post Noise Annoys.

The prod for the 18 January announcement was the introduction into the House of Commons on 10 January 2018 of a private members’ bill, the Planning (Agent of Change) Bill, by Labour MP John Spellar. Following the debate on 10 January, the Bill (which has not actually been published at this stage, as is often the case with private members’ bills of this nature which are largely intended just intended to draw attention to an issue) was due to receive a second reading on 19 January but this has now been postponed until 16 March. Presumably the intention of the bill was simply to keep the Government focused on what it had already indicated to do. If this is how politicians have to spend their time but it all seems odd to this outsider. 
The agent of change concept really now does have momentum, with a strong campaign run by the Music Venue Trust and supported by the Local Government Association. It is frustrating that even such an apparently simple change to policy (oversold in Javid’s statement as a new “rule”) takes so long to introduce. 
The Welsh Assembly was able to move rather faster, introducing an equivalent policy change by its letter letter Supporting the Night Time Economy and the Agent of Change Principle (26 May 2017):
Existing policy in Planning Policy Wales already says new uses should not be introduced into an area without considering the nature of existing uses. Under the agent of change principle, if new developments or uses are to be introduced near a pre-existing business, such as a live music venue, it is the responsibility of the developer to ensure solutions to address and mitigate noise are put forward as part of proposals and are capable of being implemented. 

PPW also encourages local planning authorities to consider the compatibility of uses in areas and afford appropriate protection where they consider it necessary, as part of their development plans. The revisions to PPW will add to this and allow for the designation of areas of cultural significance for music through development plans.”



The letter advises Welsh planning authorities that they “should begin to apply this principle, where it is a relevant consideration, with immediate effect.” Javid could have taken this approach with his 18 January announcement and it is a disappointment that he did not.  
The Mayor of London has also of course introduced a policy into the draft London plan. 



There has also been coverage this week of the supposed news of further slippage in the publication of the draft NPPF, which would cause further delay to the final document. Senior MCHLG servant Melanie Dawes was reported in Planning magazine as saying to the CLG Commons Select Committee that it would be “ready for consultation in the next few months – I hope just before Easter or thereabouts”, meaning that we should assume it may be at the end of March (“or thereabouts”!). But again, this wasn’t news, given that Government chief planner Steve Quartermain’s 21 December 2017 letter to local authorities had promised the draft “early” in 2018. The letter states that the final version of the revised NPPF would be “before the end of the summer“. In my view this is careful wording: we should not necessarily assume that we will see it this side of the Parliamentary recess (which starts on 20 July). Which of course has an immediate influence on those authorities who had either been rushing to submit their local plans by the end of March 2018 or waiting until after that deadline, depending on their tactical judgment as to how they would be affected by the proposed standardised methodology for assessing housing needs – that end of March deadline is now a late summer deadline. 

Honestly, it would be enough to make one scream, if it wasn’t for the neighbours. 
Simon Ricketts, 19.1.18
Personal views, et cetera

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Dear Mr Raab, This Case Illustrates Much Of What Is Wrong With Planning

Spare a thought for Dominic Raab, who was appointed minister for housing on 9 January 2018. (Is he also minister for planning as his predecessors were? Who knows?). Linklaters-trained lawyer, he may have thought that the EU was byzantine in its tiers of policy making but that is surely as nothing compared to the English planning system. 
I do hope that Mr Raab sits down to read Dove J’s judgment in Richborough Estates Limited (and 24 other co-claimants) v Secretary of State (12 January 2018). This is of course the challenge by various land promoters and house-builders to the written ministerial statement made on 12 December 2016 (without prior consultation) by Mr Raab’s predecessor but one, Gavin Barwell. I blogged about the WMS at the time (That Written Ministerial Statement, 29 December 2016). 
For me the case illustrates the unnecessary policy complexities arising from unclear statements, ad hoc glosses to previous policies and the unclear inter-relationship between the NPPF, PPG and written ministerial statements. It also evidences the obvious tension between on the one hand the Government’s desire to increase housing land supply by ensuring that failure by authorities to provide adequately has real consequences and on the other hand the Government’s desperation to retain public confidence in neighbourhood planning. If that wasn’t enough, you have within it the attempt by policy makers to take into account the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Suffolk Coastal – that one should also definitely be on Mr Raab’s reading list. 
You will recall that, despite the policy in paragraph 49 of the NPPF 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 (triggering the presumption in favour of sustainable development in paragraph 14), the WMS provided that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a neighbourhood plan should not be deemed to be ‘out-of-date’ where the WMS is less than two years old or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for two 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.
Effectively the five year housing land supply target was being significantly watered down, to a three year target, where an up to date neighbourhood plan, allocating sites for housing (however few) was in place. The policies in that plan would still have full effect. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Suffolk Coastal, which clarified the operation of paragraphs 14 and 49, the Government changed its PPG but policies in neighbourhood plans which met the criteria in the WMS were still to be given ‘significant weight’ notwithstanding there not being a five years’ housing supply. 

Richborough and the other claimants sought to quash the WMS on various grounds. They argued:

– the WMS was inconsistent with paragraphs 14 and 49 of the NPPF and in having the effect of amending paragraph 49 without explicitly doing so represented an approach which was irrational and unlawful;

– the Government had made errors of fact in the research that was relied upon in formulating the policy;

– the WMS was invalid for uncertainty and confused given a lack of clarity as to how the three years’ supply was to be calculated;

– irrationality in the face of the stated intention of the NPPF to “boost significantly the supply of housing“;

– breach of legitimate expectation that there would be public consultation before planning policy for housing was changed by the WMS. 

Dove J found for the Government on all grounds. He found that the Government has a very wide discretion in the way that it brings forward planning policy:
Provided […] that the policy produced does not frustrate the operation of planning legislation, or introduce matters which are not properly planning considerations at all, and is not irrational, the matters which the defendant regards as material or immaterial to the determination of the policy being issued is [sic] a matter entirely for the defendant“. 
The policy was capable of “sensible interpretation“: three years’ housing land supply was to be calculated using the same methodology as for calculating five years’ supply. 
The judge did not interpret the WMS, with the subsequent addition of the guidance in the PPG, as amending paragraph 49 or 14 of the NPPF, albeit that it did “change national policy in relation to housing applications in areas with a recently made [neighbourhood plan]“. I am still struggling with this one – undoubtedly the WMS has changed the application of the NPPF in areas with a neighbourhood plan that meets the NPPF criteria. Even if this is not unlawful, surely this approach to policy making is to be discouraged – the NPPF does not now mean what it says. 
The judge found that there was an adequate evidential basis for the WMS and errors of fact had not been made. The bar was low given that the WMS had only stated that ‘recent analysis suggests…“. 
As regards the suggestion of irrationality in the face of the stated intention of the NPPF to “boost significantly the supply of housing“, the judge noted that this “is not an objective which exists on its own and isolated from the other interests addressed by the Framework…Amongst the other concerns for which the Framework has specific policies is, of course, Neighbourhood Planning...”
The judge set out the circumstances in which a legitimate expectation to consultation arises and found that such an expectation did not arise because a limited number of other policy announcements in relation to housing and planning matters had not been preceded by consultation. I understand that the claimants are likely to seek permission to appeal on this last ground. 
So, there is disappointment for those of us who saw Gavin Barwell’s WMS as an inappropriate attempt to rewrite (without the consultation which would have been so helpful in arriving at a workable policy) a key protection that is within the NPPF against authorities that fail properly to plan for housing. The disappointment is reduced since the Suffolk Coastal ruling and the change to the PPG which followed (no doubt largely because the Government was faced with this litigation) where the Government sought to clarify that the WMS did not change the operation of paragraph 49, although “significant weight” should be given to the neighbourhood plan. 
But, stepping back, the planning system has become as tangled again as it was at the time of the great bonfire of the previous planning policy statements and circulars in 2012 – we are having to pick uncertainly through unclear passages in the NPPF, the PPG and the WMS, reliant on regular revelations from the courts as to what the documents actually mean; decision-makers are having to ascertain the relative weight to be applied to various, often inconsistent, policies at national, local and neighbourhood level, and in the meantime the Government apparently has carte blanche to change its policies without prior consultation (policies were meant to be just in the NPPF, guidance in the PPG if you remember…).
There is a heavy burden on the shoulders of those drafting the new NPPF, that’s for sure! And a massive and important job to do for our new housing minister.
Simon Ricketts, 12 January 2018
Personal views, et cetera

Brownfield Land Registers: A Bit Of Progress

I last blogged about the new brownfield land regime back in April 2017. Back then, the deadline of 31 December 2017 had been set for local planning authorities to publish their first registers. We were also waiting for the final set of regulations that would set out the procedure by which, if your land is listed in part 1 of the register, you can apply for “permission in principle” (if your land is in part 2 of the register it is automatic). 
This blog post takes a quick look at some of the registers that have been published to see the approaches that authorities are taking – after all, whilst authorities had the 31 December deadline for publishing their registers, there was no minimum number of sites to be included, whether on part 1 or part 2 and no procedure for appeal or independent scrutiny if a land owner considers that their land has been wrongly overlooked. 
In the longer term, I hope that something will be done about authorities that only pay lip service to the process, although it is difficult to see what, without a more prescriptive system, or other sticks and carrots being applied. DCLG’s planning update newsletter published on 21 December 2017 stated:
“DCLG will assess progress in January, and it will be important that published registers contain up-to- date information on brownfield land suitable for housing. 

In July we published planning guidance, a data standard, and a template , to support local planning authorities in preparing and publishing their registers, and to ensure registers are published in a consistent and open format which can be aggregated by users of the data.”
From a quick google, it seems to me that authorities have met the deadline. However:
– the sites included do not appear to go beyond sites which were already in play by virtue of either having permission, an allocation or having featured in the authority’s strategic housing land availability assessment
– sites have not yet been included in part 2

– whilst the government’s data standard and template have been followed, the supporting information is pretty sparse. 

These are three authorities that I chose to look at, by way of a random selection:
Elmbridge Borough Council’s register only contains sites that already have planning permission. 
Milton Keynes Council has decided not to include any sites on part 2 of its register. Its part 1 sites all come from its SHLAA as well as unimplemented planning permissions. 
The notes to Islington Council’s register set out uncertainties as to the required methodology:
“The Regulations and PPG are not clear about whether the 5 dwelling threshold for inclusion on the BLR refers to net or gross dwellings. Regulation 4 of the Regulations merely requires sites to be included if they have an area of at least 0.25 hectares or is capable of supporting at least 5 dwellings. This suggests the threshold is a gross figure. 

However, Schedule 2 of the Regulations requires sites on the BLR to set out the minimum net number of dwellings which, in the authority’s opinion, the land is capable of supporting. 

This is an important distinction as there are several sites – all extant permissions – which are less than 0.25 hectares, and permit 5 or more dwellings gross but less than 5 dwellings net. Hence the decision to enter these sites onto the BLR hinges on whether we assume the 5 dwelling threshold is net or gross. 

Islington have assumed that the Regulations refer to the gross figure in terms of assessing capability under Regulation 4, although a site’s net figure is used for the ‘MinNetDwellings’ column. The council will monitor changes to guidance and other boroughs BLRs for best practice, and may revert to a net figure in future in terms of assessing sites against the Regulations.”

Islington identifies all of the sites on its register as in unknown ownership:
The BLR identifies all sites as unknown ownership, which reflects the lack of access to up-to-date Land Registry records for these sites. Islington will aim to secure ownership data for sites on future iterations of the BLR.”
These approaches are not untypical and it is underwhelming. DCLG will need to turn the thumbscrews in time for the first annual update of the registers if this process is going to do anything other than round up the usual suspect sites. 
The formatting does at least allow for some useful data gathering, such as this map of London brownfield sites.

Barton Willmore have carried out some interesting analysis as to the numbers of homes identified by the Manchester authorities in their register. 

Of course one of the benefits of finding your land within part 1 of the register is the idea that you will be able to apply for “permission in principle” as a supposedly quick route to planning approval. However this is only relevant if the site is very small, given that the cap is nine dwellings – and given that the minimum size for inclusion on the register is five dwellings this is all pretty niche. Be that as it may, the Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) (Amendment) Order 2017 was laid before Parliament on 21 December 2017 and will come into force on 1 June 2018. The order sets out the procedure for applying for PiPs. Lichfields’ 2 January 2018 blog post Take a chance on me: what we know about permission in principle on application is a good summary, also covering the fee rates for applications. 

On reading my April 2017 blog post again, I was surprisingly optimistic about the brownfield land registers. Nine months on, I suppose at least we now have the initial registers in place but surely now we need to see:
– greater engagement between land owners and LPAs so as to begin to use the process to unlock sites which are not already in play.

– consultation in relation to moving appropriate sites onto part 2 so that they secure automatic permission in principle (and without the nine units cap there is in relation to part 1, although they must be below the threshold for EIA).

– a real incentive for development of sites on the register, including supportive policies in the forthcoming revised NPPF. 

Simon Ricketts, 5 January 2018
Personal views, et cetera

Planning Law In 2018: This Is Not A Love Song

This is not a proper simonicity blog post but a quick review of the year that was 2017, followed by a comment-free look at 2018, which promises, conversely, to be the year of the review.
2017: review of the year

To use the popularity or otherwise of simonicity blog posts during the year as a proxy, these were some of the main issues that engaged us:
NPPF Paras 49 & 14: So What Is The Supreme Court Really Saying? (1,588 views) (10 May 2017)
20 Changes In The Final Version Of The London Mayor’s Affordable Housing & Viability SPG (731 views) (20 August 2017)
Viability Assessment Is Not A Loophole, It’s A Noose (707 views) (4 November 2017)
Housing Needs: Assessed Or Assumed? (694 views) (20 September 2017)
Five Problems With Neighbourhood Plans (565 views) (19 February 2017)
Green Belt Policy: Will It Change?  (520 views) (11 November 2017)
Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture (509 views) (20 May 2017)
Courts Interpret NPPF Paras 14, 133/134, 141 (But Couldn’t It Be Clearer In The First Place?) (492 views) (8 July 2017)
Slow Train Coming: Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges In The South East (442 views) (6 May 2017)
The New EIA Regulations (357 views) (29 April 2017)
2018: year of the review?
The policy agenda for the coming year includes:
* the Government’s green paper on social housing, announced by Sajid Javid in September 2017, which he described as a “wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector, […] the most substantial report of its kind for a generation“. 
 • recommendations from a review panel, chaired by Sir Oliver Letwin “to explain the significant gap between housing completions and the amount of land allocated or permissioned, and make recommendations for closing it”. An interim report is expected for the Government’s Spring statement in 2018 and full report by the time of the Autumn budget in 2018. 

 • the Labour party’s review of the planning system, “People and Planning”, announced by Roberta Blackman-Woods at its 2017 party conference.

 • Nick Raynsford’s review for the Town and Country Planning Association “to identify how the Government can reform the English planning system to make it fairer, better resourced and capable of producing quality outcomes, while still encouraging the production of new homes.” A report is to be formally presented at all major party conferences in autumn 2018.

 • a revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework for consultation in the Spring of 2018 with a final version in the Summer.

 • a consultation process in Spring 2018 on detailed proposals to reform the Community Infrastructure Levy.

* further implementation of existing legislation as well as an amendment to the General Permitted Development Order to give deemed permission (subject to criteria and limitations yet to be spelt out) to the demolition of existing commercial buildings and their replacement with residential development.
Away from England:
* The Law Commission is consulting until 1 March 2018 on proposals to simplify and consolidate planning law in Wales at the request of the Welsh Government, which is drafting a planning code to consolidate existing planning legislation. 
* The Planning (Scotland) Bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament on 4 December 2017, following an independent review of the system. As well as progress in 2018 on the Bill, which proposes wide-ranging changes to the planning process in Scotland, we can also expect an amended version of Scotland’s National Planning Framework.

All of this is going to take some unpacking.
Happy new year and thanks for continuing to read, comment, share and follow. Let’s continue to join the dots and call out the spin within this increasingly diffuse policy area. Not a love song – more of a wail…
Simon Ricketts, 30 December 2017
Personal views, et cetera

Town Centres First? Two Recent Decisions

I blogged in Sequential Test: Still Testing (23 September 2016) on the uncertainties of the “town centres first” sequential test in the NPPF and in particular how much flexibility needs to be shown by a prospective developer in looking for more central sites before being granted permission in an edge or out of town centre location. At the time I wrote, the most recent judgment was that of Ouseley J in the Aldergate case. I included in my blog post extensive quotes from the judgment where he set out his views on the flexibility required in determining whether a site would be suitable. 
The issue is seldom easy. If too little flexibility is required, it is too easy for the promoter of an out of centre scheme to demonstrate that the scheme can’t fit anywhere more central. On the other hand, if too much flexibility is required, economic activity, often generated by specific trading models or retailer requirements, that would not be likely to take place in a more central location can end up being unnecessarily stifled. And what does flexibility mean? How similar would the scheme on the town centre site need to be? What if the scheme could be split (“disaggregated”) onto more than one site? How immediately available does the town centre site need to be?

The issue has come to the fore again in two recent planning appeals. 

Kingswood, Hull
By his decision letter dated 20 December 2017 inspector Robert Mellor dismissed an appeal in relation to a proposed retail development on an edge of centre site in Kingswood, Hull. He found that the proposal failed both the sequential and impact tests in the development plan (which had been adopted during the course of the inquiry) and in the NPPF, supplemented by the PPG. He also found that the proposed development would be inconsistent with the site’s allocation for employment and community uses in a 2016 area action plan. The decision letter is interesting for the analysis that the inspector gives to each of these issues but in this blog post I want to continue to focus on the question of how the sequential test is to be applied. 
The inspector was faced with an outline proposal for the erection of class A1 and class A3/A5 units totalling 11,148 sq m together with associated works on a greenfield site. The site would allow for large retail units and there was to be provision for “ample surface car parking which is likely to be free to use and which would take up a large proportion of the site“. There were two candidate alternative sites to be considered in Hull city centre, namely the Albion Square and Myton Street sites.  
First the inspector considered what flexibility was required: “there is dispute as to how alike the sites and schemes need to be for the in-centre site or sites to be considered suitable. In particular there is dispute as to the interpretation of the Framework phrase: ‘demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale’, as that wording does not itself explain what degree of flexibility is appropriate.”
The appellants argued for “the use of wording which would require the development to be implemented only on one site and which would require the development, in that and other regards, to be ‘closely similar’ to the appeal proposal. In effect this could mean seeking to insert a retail park style of development with on- site parking and a main road frontage into only one city centre site.”
The inspector did not consider “that the term ‘closely similar’ provides a useful and readily applicable definition of the limits of flexibility that is capable of wider application. In particular it is difficult to distinguish its meaning from the term ‘not precisely similar’ which is the approach that the PPG expressly seeks to exclude. Moreover the strict application of such a term as ‘closely similar’ would risk making the sequential approach unworkable for the same reasons as set out in the Tesco v Dundee case.”

He noted that the scheme was speculative without identified occupiers. “Thus the question of an individual retailer or corporate personality does not arise.” He noted that “whilst the appeal scheme is for a single terraced building, the Appellants’ witnesses did not object to the subdivision of the development into separate buildings and there is no obvious reason why those would not be suitable for the intended occupiers“. He noted that the appellants maintained that a 10% overall reduction in floorspace would provide adequate flexibility but did not justify that figure and he assumed that it could be achieved in various ways, whether by for instance removing at least one unit or generally reducing their size. He noted that flexibility by way of form or format could include “whether the proposal can be provided in one or more buildings: whether space is on one or more levels; how individual units are laid out; and how and where parking and servicing provision is made.”
The inspector then turned to the two potentially sequentially preferable sites.

He concluded that the Albion Square site “would have the capacity to accommodate all, or most, of the retail floorspace and food and beverage units sought in the appeal proposal together with on-site parking. However this would be likely to require some revisions to the layout in order to create all the large retail units on 2 levels which the appeal scheme proposes and to optimise the scheme’s attractiveness to potential occupiers. That in turn could affect how and where the residential and ice arena elements of the Council’s most recent proposals are accommodated and how much car parking could be provided. However a city centre site would be attractive to retail occupiers seeking a range of unit sizes. Some flexibility should be expected in unit scale and format. A 929sqm minimum size for all units would not be necessary on a city centre site. The Appellants had previously been satisfied with a smaller minimum unit size at Kingswood.”

He concluded that the Myton Street site was “not of sufficient size to provide all of the floorspace in the appeal scheme together with full on-site surface parking. It could provide much of the floorspace if reliance were to be placed on use of the adjacent multi-storey car park. However it would then be less attractive to retailers than the Albion Square site due to its weaker pedestrian links to the rest of the Primary Shopping Area.”
The inspector then went on to consider whether the floorspace in the appeal scheme should be disaggregated for the purposes of determining whether it could be accommodated more centrally. He concluded yes:
In this case there is no particular evidence that it would be commercially or functionally necessary to accommodate a variety of individual and as yet unidentified comparison goods retailers either in only one building or on only one site in the City Centre. I therefore conclude that in addition to the option to accommodate all of the appeal proposal on the Albion Square site, they could all be readily accommodated in the city centre, and at the same unit size, if the development were to be sub-divided with approximately half of the floorspace at The Albion Square site and half at the Myton Street site. In that event there would also be the possibility of more generous surface parking provision at Myton Street if that was considered necessary to make that scheme more attractive to some types of retailer.”
Then the inspector considered whether the alternative sites could be said to be available:
“I consider it would be unreasonable to exclude sites as non-available where there is a reasonable prospect that they will be both vacant and in single ownership within a matter of months.”
He accordingly concluded that the scheme had failed the sequential test. 

Tollgate, Colchester
The appellant’s submissions in Hull that development on a town centre on town centre site would have to be “closely similar” in order to be sequentially preferable were based on the conclusions of an inspector in relation to a partly edge of centre retail scheme at Tollgate, Colchester, accepted in a decision letter from the Secretary of State dated 4 August 2017. The inspector put it like this: 
The sequential test therefore means that whilst a sequentially preferable site need not be capable of accommodating exactly the same as what is proposed, it must be capable of accommodating development which is closely similar to what is proposed“. 
(This conclusion was perhaps strange given that it followed an earlier passage:
In this case there is no evidence that the proposed format is necessary or fundamental to the proposal. Whilst the proposal is in outline, not a single retailer has been identified, and the size and location of units within the site has not been established and there is no defined timescale or phasing. It is difficult to conceive of a more open ended proposal. The parameters established by plans show a greater level of gross floor space than permission has been sought for. Most importantly the Appellants have themselves disaggregated within the appeal site with three distinct zones. DZ1 and DZ3 are some distance apart. In these circumstances disaggregation within the sequential test would be justified.”)
The inspector found that the town centre sites put forward by the council and objectors were not suitable or available. The appeal was allowed. 

But surely, as the inspector identified in Hull, a test of “closely similar” would risk making the sequential test unworkable? The main objectors to the Tollgate appeal challenged the Secretary of State’s decision to allow the appeal. Permission was first refused on the papers by Lang J, who commented that “closely similar” was a fair summary of Ouseley J’s guidance in the Aldergate case. The objectors then renewed their challenge at a hearing on 19 December 2017 before none other than Ouseley J. Whilst Ouseley J also refused permission, his reasoning should be noted by anyone dealing with the sequential approach. His judgment was ex tempore and there is not yet an official transcript but, according to colleagues’ notes, his comments during the course of the hearing included the following:
* “If I had meant ‘closely similar’ I would have said ‘closely similar’.”
* If the developer has committed to no specific details in its scheme, then the sequential test should not require the sequential sites to meet a test which the application scheme itself could not pass.

* With reference to his statement in Aldergate, Ouseley said: judges may use particular language, but this language is not a substitute for the policy itself. Instead, the language is applying the policy in a particular context. There is a danger that people think that judges are providing a substitute for policy.

* The words of NPPF 24 are simple and meant for application in a wide range of circumstances.

* “In Aldergate, I had in mind something broader than ‘closely similar’.”

Conclusions

I draw a few conclusions from this tangle:
– There are real conceptual difficulties in being too specific about the necessary elements of a scheme which is speculative without, for instance, retailers on board with specific requirements.
– Without a requirement to show ‘need’, the only constraint on the scale of an out of centre or edge of centre scheme is the risk of being refused permission on the basis that there would be an unacceptable impact to nearby centres – aside from that, the bigger the scheme, the less likely there are to be sequentially preferable sites if there is not allowed to be a significant degree of flexibility.

– There are dangers in rigidly applying case law or previous appeal decisions across the board. Each case turns on its circumstances. Equally there are dangers in relying on paraphrasing by courts or inspectors of what policies say – go back to the wording of the policy itself. 

– In particular, take care over relying on the Colchester decision. 

– The guidance could be clearer (indeed it used to be!)

Simon Ricketts, 22 December 2017

Personal views, et cetera

(Town acted for separate groups of town centre investors in relation to the Hull and Colchester appeals. Thank you to Town colleague Ricky Gama in particular for his work on those cases and for his notes quoted above). 

How Much Weight Does The Draft London Plan Have In Decision-Making?

There’s a facetious answer, a political answer, a legal answer and a practical answer. 
The facetious answer? 

2 kg. (It’s a whopper). 



The political answer?
I’ve heard Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe confirm at a London First event that the Mayor will immediately take it into account. The Mayor’s website says:
The current 2016 consolidation Plan is still the adopted Development Plan. However the Draft London Plan is a material consideration in planning decisions.  It gains more weight as it moves through the process to adoption, however the weight given to it is a matter for the decision maker.”
The legal answer?
It’s not totally totally up to the decision maker. That statement suggests that the Mayor or the boroughs could give controversial new policies in the plan (for instance increased restrictions in relation to student housing schemes) significant weight even at this stage, before the outcome of the consultation process which runs to 2 March 2018 or before the inspector has reported following the examination in public anticipated for Autumn 2018. That is not quite right. 
In my view, paragraph 216 of the NPPF undoubtedly applies to the London Plan as a statutory development plan:

 “From the day of publication, decision-takers may also give weight to relevant policies in emerging plans according to:

•the stage of preparation of the emerging plan (the more advanced the preparation, the greater the weight that may be given);

•the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies (the less significant the unresolved objections, the greater the weight that may be given); and

•the degree of consistency of the relevant policies in the emerging plan to the policies in this Framework (the closer the policies in the emerging plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given).”

The application of paragraph 216 was closely examined by the High Court in Woodcock Holdings Limited v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 1 May 2015). A decision by the Secretary of State to dismiss (against his inspector’s recommendations) an appeal for 120 homes and related development in West Sussex was quashed. One of the grounds relied upon by the court was that the Secretary of State, in deciding to place significant weight on an emerging neighbourhood plan which had not undergone examination had not considered the second and third criteria within paragraph 216:
In my judgment, the policy in paragraph 216 of the NPPF should be read as a whole. It is not a policy which simply makes the trite point that decision-makers may give weight to relevant policies in emerging plans. Rather it is a policy that they may do so “according to” the three criteria or factors which follow. The policy clearly stipulates that the three criteria are relevant in each case. Of course, when dealing with a particular planning proposal it may be the case that the relevant policies in a draft plan have not attracted any objections and so it would not be necessary to consider the second criterion beyond that initial stage. But plainly the second criterion is material in each case in order to ascertain whether a relevant draft policy has attracted any objections and if so, their nature, before going on to make an assessment of the significance of any such objections.”
(As an aside, following the quashing the Secretary of State redetermined the appeal, dismissing it again. That second decision was again challenged and the Secretary of State consented to judgment. Lo and behold, third time round the Secretary of State has now finally allowed the appeal in a decision letter dated 7 December 2017. Never give up!)
Applying Woodcock, I do not see how a decision maker can apply significant weight to the draft London Plan’s policies before knowing what objections have been made to them. It is presently a wish list (although of course, unlike with for instance local plans, the Mayor can reject the recommendations of the inspector who examines the plan, meaning that if he is sufficiently determined, those wishes are likely to be granted). 
The practical answer?

Aside from being able to reject the plan examiner’s recommendations, the Mayor holds another trump card: time. Given the current delays on the part of the Planning Inspectorate, if he directs refusal of a scheme that is referable to him, on the basis of inconsistency with the draft plan, by the time any appeal is heard the plan is likely to have at least reached the examination stage. 
The Planning Inspectorate’s most recently published stats make depressing reading:

You can add to that the further delays that often happen with appeals recovered for the Secretary of State’s own determination. 
When it comes to challenging decision makers’ reliance on emerging draft policies, justice delayed is justice denied. 
Notwithstanding the likely timing difficulty facing anyone seeking to challenge formally the Mayor’s approach, we should surely not accept assertions that the emerging London Plan should be accorded significant weight in decision making, particularly when inconsistent with the current statutory development plan (namely the current London Plan, any adopted borough plan and any made neighbourhood plan). Otherwise, will people feel that it is worthwhile investing time and resources in the examination process? What will be the point of the examination?
Simon Ricketts, 15 December 2017
Personal views, et cetera
 

The Age Of Reasons

Two recent cases have considered the extent to which decision-makers in relation to planning matters are under a duty to give reasons for their decisions. This has never been an easy question and the answer has practical consequences because:
 – for decision-makers, articulating reasons is time consuming and sometimes not to easy to get right

– for those benefiting from a decision, there is the risk that the decision is opened up for legal challenge if those reasons appear to be flawed

– for those objecting to a decision, without reasons being given to explain how it was reached, legal challenge, or even proper scrutiny, is made much more difficult. 

There is also often a dilemma on the part of decision-makers because if reasons are volunteered, even if not required, they need to be rational and can render a decision susceptible to challenge, which would not have been if no reasons were given. 
Dover
Lord Carnwath’s Supreme Court’s judgment in Dover District Council v CPRE Kent (6 December 2017) dismissed an appeal from the Court of Appeal ruling that I blogged on last September in Avoiding Dover-type reasons JRs where a planning permission for a major development proposal had been quashed that had been resolved by councillors to be approved against the recommendation of their officers, who wished substantially to reduce its scale due to perceived effects on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an ancient monument. In granting permission to appeal, the Supreme Court had indicated that it “would wish to consider generally the sources, nature and extent of a local planning authority’s duty to give reasons for the grant of planning permission“.

In a nutshell, the main implication of the case is that even where there is no statutory requirement to give reasons for granting planning permission, it is now prudent to assume that reasons should always be given by a local planning authority, and particular care is needed where the decision is not fully in accordance with the reasoned recommendations made to the authority by its planning officers. 
The judgment itself starts:
“1. When a local planning authority against the advice of its own professional advisers grants permission for a controversial development, what legal duty, if any, does it have to state the reasons for its decision, and in how much detail? Is such a duty to be found in statutory sources, European or domestic, or in the common law? And what are the legal consequences of a breach of the duty? “
The judgment does not confine itself to that question but ranges widely over various decision-making procedures:
“23. The statutory rules relating to the giving of reasons are all to be found in subordinate legislation. It is hard to detect a coherent approach in their development. 

The main categories are: 

i) Secretary of State decisions (including those delegated to inspectors) – 

a)  following an inquiry or hearing; 


b)  on written representations. 


ii)  Decisions by local planning authorities – 

a)  Refusing planning permission or imposing conditions; 


b)  Granting permission; 


c)  Officer decisions under delegated powers. 

iii)  Decisions (at any level) on applications for EIA development.

Working through these one by one:

In relation to appeals determined by inquiry or hearing, there is a specific statutory duty upon the Secretary of State and his inspectors to give reasons for their decisions. 
There is no corresponding rule in relation to written representations appeals, although it is the practice for a fully reasoned decision to be given, giving rise in practice to an enforceable duty. 
When a local planning authority refuses planning permission there is a statutory requirement that the authority must in their decision notice state “clearly and precisely their full reasons”
Aside from a blip between 2003 and 2013 (when there was legislation requiring authorities to include on their decision notice “a summary of their reasons for the grant of permission” and “a summary of the policies and proposals in the development plan which are relevant to the decision“), there is no statutory requirement for local planning authorities to give their reasons for granting planning permission, save that:
– since 2014, in the case of officers’ delegated decisions there has been a duty by virtue of the Openness of Government Bodies Regulations 2014

– in relation to EIA development, decision-makers must not grant planning permission “unless they have first taken the environmental information into consideration” and “they shall state in their decision that they have done so“. 

As for the necessary standard of reasons, Lord Carnwath sets out the famous passage of Lord Brown in South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (2004):
“The reasons for a decision must be intelligible and they must be adequate. They must enable the reader to understand why the matter was decided as it was and what conclusions were reached on the ‘principal important controversial issues’, disclosing how any issue of law or fact was resolved. Reasons can be briefly stated, the degree of particularity required depending entirely on the nature of the issues falling for decision. The reasoning must not give rise to a substantial doubt as to whether the decision-maker erred in law, for example by misunderstanding some relevant policy or some other important matter or by failing to reach a rational decision on relevant grounds. But such adverse inference will not readily be drawn. The reasons need refer only to the main issues in the dispute, not to every material consideration. They should enable disappointed developers to assess their prospects of obtaining some alternative development permission, or, as the case may be, their unsuccessful opponents to understand how the policy or approach underlying the grant of permission may impact upon future such applications. Decision letters must be read in a straightforward manner, recognising that they are addressed to parties well aware of the issues involved and the arguments advanced. A reasons challenge will only succeed if the party aggrieved can satisfy the court that he has genuinely been substantially prejudiced by the failure to provide an adequately reasoned decision.” 
Lord Carnwath explains that even where there is no statutory duty to give reasons, in the interests of transparency (and with reference to, for instance, the requirements of the Aarhus Convention) a common law duty arises upon local planning authorities to give reasons (to that exacting standard) where the circumstances justify it. What circumstances? That is where the judgment is more problematic. The court approves the approach taken by the Court of Appeal earlier this year in Oakley v South Cambridgeshire District Council (15 February 2017) where it held that a duty did arise in the particular circumstances of that case: where the development would have a “significant and lasting impact on the local community”, and involved a substantial departure from Green Belt and development plan policies, and where the committee had disagreed with its officers’ recommendations. 
I don’t find the following passage in Lord Carnwath’s judgment helpful in drawing any practical dividing line between situations where reasons will or will not need to be given for departing from officers’ recommendations, which leads me to the conclusion that the only safe assumption is that they will now always need to be given (to the South Bucks v Porter standard):
“As to the charge of uncertainty, it would be wrong to be over-prescriptive, in a judgment on a single case and a single set of policies. However it should not be difficult for councils and their officers to identify cases which call for a formulated statement of reasons, beyond the statutory requirements. Typically they will be cases where, as in Oakley and the present case, permission has been granted in the face of substantial public opposition and against the advice of officers, for projects which involve major departures from the development plan, or from other policies of recognised importance (such as the “specific policies” identified in the NPPF – para 22 above). Such decisions call for public explanation, not just because of their immediate impact; but also because, as Lord Bridge pointed out (para 45 above), they are likely to have lasting relevance for the application of policy in future cases.”
The judgment certainly reinforces the care that needs to be taken by an authority where a decision is taken to grant planning permission against officers’ recommendations, if judicial review is to be avoided. It also risks delaying the taking of such decisions, referring to the “important legal principle that a decision-maker must not only ask himself the right question, but “take reasonable steps to acquaint himself with the relevant information to enable him to answer it correctly” (Secretary of State for Education and Science v Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council [1977] AC 1014, 1065B). That obligation, which applies to a planning committee as much as to the Secretary of State, includes the need to allow the time reasonably necessary, not only to obtain the relevant information, but also to understand and take it properly into account.”

If members are now going to depart from officers in resolving to grant permission, or in their reasons for doing so, in most cases it may now be prudent for the application to return to a subsequent committee meeting for reasons to be properly formulated. 
Save
The Dover judgment confines itself to decisions as to whether to approve or refuse planning applications but of course there are many other important decisions within the development management process. Lang J’s judgment in Save Britain’s Heritage v Secretary of State (29 November 2017) concerned a challenge by Save Britain’s Heritage to the decision by the Secretary of State not to call in for his own determination the Paddington Cube application, which had been resolved to be approved by Westminster City Council.
She sets out the statutory position as follows:
“19. There is no statutory duty to give reasons for not calling in an application. However, the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure)(England) Order 2015 envisages that reasons may be given when the minister decides to call in an application. By article 17, if an application is called in, the local planning authority is required to serve on the applicant a notice “setting out the terms of the direction and any reasons given by the Secretary of State for issuing it“.

Save relied on two grounds for their challenge:

“Ground 1. The Claimant submitted that the Defendant’s decision was unlawful because he failed to give reasons for not calling in the applications, in breach of the Claimant’s legitimate expectation that reasons would be given. The legitimate expectation arose from a change in practice, announced in a Green Paper and in Parliament in December 2001. Thereafter, ministers began to give reasons for not calling in planning applications, when previously they had not done so.”

“Ground 2. Alternatively, the Claimant submitted that the court should find that there was a general common law duty to give reasons under section 77(1) TCPA 1990
Lang J reaches the conclusion that where there is no statutory duty, government practice can change: there was previously a government policy to give reasons but “…in February 2014, in the course of preparation for the High Court case of Westminster City Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2014] EWHC 708 (Admin), a departmental decision was made to cease the practice of giving reasons.” Accordingly she could not “accept Mr Harwood QC’s submission that the practice of giving reasons remains in force because it has not been formally and publicly revoked by a ministerial statement or published policy document. It is a fundamental principle of public law that public bodies cannot lawfully fetter the future exercise of their discretion under statutory powers, by adopting policies which cannot be changed.”
The 2014 case was of course the challenge to the decision not to call in the Elizabeth House redevelopment application that had been resolved to be approved by the London Borough of Lambeth. In setting out his reasons for not intervening (even though there was no statutory requirement to give reasons), the then Secretary of State made a number of errors and the challenge only narrowly failed on the strange basis that the reasoning was so bad that it should not be taken as a formal attempt to give reasons, for which there was no statutory requirement:
Mr Cameron understandably expressed surprise that it was said that the letter was so obviously wrong that the defendant could not have meant what is set out in it. However, I am satisfied that regrettably that is the case. The letter cannot be regarded as one which was intended to give reasons. The defendant was relying on his right not to give reasons and the letter must be read accordingly. It is plain when the advice to him is seen that he could not have been unaware of nor could he have misunderstood his policy. It follows that the first three grounds relied on must fail since in addition there is no question of giving reasons. While it may be that it would be desirable if the defendant were required to give reasons why he decided not to call-in in a case which did meet the criteria for call-in but it is not open to me in the light of the existing authorities to impose such a duty.” (Collins J)
It is interesting to consider Collins J’s comment in that final sentence, and Lang J’s reasoning, in the light now of Lord Carnwath’s judgment. Lang J distinguished decisions in relations to planning applications from decisions not to call in applications in the following way:
“I accept the submissions of the Defendant and the Second Interested Party that Oakley is distinguishable since a call-in decision is a very different type of decision to a decision by a local planning authority to grant planning permission. A call-in decision is in essence a procedural decision by the Secretary of State on whether to intervene in the planning process; it does not result in the grant of any substantive rights.”
Wouldn’t it be clearer if we had a comprehensive statutory framework that dealt with these basic questions?

Simon Ricketts, 9 December 2017
Personal views, et cetera