Flawed Drafting: Interpreting Planning Permissions

“What are words worth? Words

Words of nuance, words of skill”

Some of the most difficult cases in every area of law arise from flawed drafting and drafting which does not adequately anticipate future eventualities. 
I will leave for another blog post the issues that arise in relation to the drafting and interpretation of section 106 agreements and undertakings, although the Secretary of State’s 12 September 2017 decision letter dismissing an appeal for planning permission for 705 dwellings at King George’s Gate, Surbiton was a salutary lesson, and essential reading, for every planning lawyer.
In the light of Lang J’s judgment this month in London Borough of Lambeth v Secretary of State, this blog post limits itself to the question as how literally should planning permissions be interpreted? Is the planning permission in fact wider in its scope than the local authority intended when granting it? Have restrictions that were initially imposed fallen away by virtue of not being reapplied to subsequent permissions for the permitted buildings or to a permission for amendments to that initial permission? 

There have been many examples where the courts have determined that the legal effect of a permission was not what the authority may have intended, applying what might be regarded as a classically pure planning law approach:

– where a planning permission is clear, unambiguous and valid on its face, regard may only be had to the planning permission itself, including the conditions imposed upon it and the reasons given for the imposition of those conditions 
– an extreme reluctance to imply extra wording into conditions (Widgery LJ’s statement in Trustees of Walton Charities v. Walton & Weybridge DC (1970): “I have never heard of an implied condition in a planning permission and I believe no such creature exists. Planning permission… is not simply a matter of contract between the parties. There is no place…within the law relating to planning permission for an implied condition. Conditions should be expressed, they should be clear, they should be in the document containing the permission.”)

– applying the judge-made principle of a “new chapter in the planning history” of a site, effectively wiping the slate clean of previous planning condition restrictions where a significant change of use or other development has occurred.

This has led over the years to many outcomes which, whilst logical on a dispassionate reading of the relevant document by a lawyer, were certainly not anticipated by the unfortunate planning officer. For instance:
– in Carpet Décor (Guilford) Limited v Secretary of State (Sir Douglas Frank QC, 17 July 1981) a condition “that no variations from the deposited plans and particulars will be permitted unless previously authorised” by the local planning authority was held not to be sufficiently unequivocal as to exclude the operation of the Use Classes Order. 
– in Dunoon Developments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 18 February 1992) a condition on a planning permission for a car showroom that stated that the use of the premises would be limited to the display, sale and storage of cars was not sufficient to exclude the operation of the General Permitted Development Order.
– in I’m Your Man Limited v Secretary of State (Robin Purchas QC, 4 September 1998) it was held that for a planning permission to be construed as limited to a temporary period, it was not sufficient for the restriction to be set out in the description of development rather than in a condition. 
– in Stevenage Borough Council v Secretary of State (HHJ Waksman QC, 3 June 2010) the owner of a retail park was held to be free of various restrictions on the types of goods which could be sold, by virtue of planning permissions having been granted for subdivision of units and other alterations, which did not reimpose restrictions from the original permission. As with a number of similar cases and CLOPUD appeal decision letters, the ruling partly relied on a liberal application of section 75(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which provides that where the proposed use of a building (or part of) a building is not specified in a permission for its erection (or alterations), “the permission shall be construed as including permission to use the building for the purpose for which it is designed“.
– in Prudential Assurance v Sunderland City Council (Wyn Williams J, 15 July 2010) the High Court held that, through the windfall of a local planning authority’s mistake faced with successive planning applications, Peel Holdings had become free of section 106 restrictions on the types of goods that could be sold from its retail park in Washington, Sunderland. 
The tide then started to turn with the Court of Appeal in Peel Land and Property Investments Plc v Hyndburn Borough Council (19 December 2013). Peel, no doubt hoping for an equivalent outcome as achieved in Sunderland, argued that the failure of the local authority, in drafting a permission for works of alteration to retail park units, to reimpose a condition restricting the goods that could be sold, meant that the restriction had been removed. However the court rejected the submissions. The works did not create a new chapter in the planning history of the units and on the facts (with no indication in the application documents that unrestricted retail use was intended) section 75(3) could not be relied upon in the way that was sought. 

The Supreme Court in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited v The Scottish Ministers (16 December 2015) then indicated a more nuanced approach to interpretation:

When the court is concerned with the interpretation of words in a condition in a public document such as a section 36 consent, it asks itself what a reasonable reader would understand the words to mean when reading the condition in the context of the other conditions and of the consent as a whole. This is an objective exercise in which the court will have regard to the natural and ordinary meaning of the relevant words, the overall purpose of the consent, any other conditions which cast light on the purpose of the relevant words, and common sense. Whether the court may also look at other documents that are connected with the application for the consent or are referred to in the consent will depend on the circumstances of the case, in particular the wording of the document that it is interpreting. Other documents may be relevant if they are incorporated into the consent by reference … or there is an ambiguity in the consent, which can be resolved, for example, by considering the application for consent.

Interpretation is not the same as the implication of terms. Interpretation of the words of a document is the precursor of implication. It forms the context in which the law may have to imply terms into a document, where the court concludes from its interpretation of the words used in the document that it must have been intended that the document would have a certain effect, although the words to give it that effect are absent” (Lord Hodge)

Against this background it is therefore interesting to see this month another case in which the owner of a retail investment, in this case a Homebase DIY store, has achieved an outcome which was not intended by the local planning authority, and which could have been avoided by competent drafting of the decision notice. In London Borough of Lambeth v Secretary of State (Lang J, 3 October 2017), a planning permission had been granted varying conditions attached to an earlier permission. The purported effect of the widened conditions was set out in the description of development on the face of the permission:

” For: Variation of condition 1 (Retail Use) of Planning Permission Ref: 10/01143/FUL (Variation of Condition 6 (Permitted retail goods) of planning permission Ref. 83/01916 (Erection of a DIY retail unit for Texas homecare and an industrial building for cow industrial polymers) granted on 17.09.85 to allow for the sale of a wider range of goods to include DIY home and garden improvements, car maintenance, building materials and builders merchants goods, carpets and floor coverings, furniture, furnishings, electrical goods, automobile products, camping equipment, cycles, pet and pet products, office supplies and for no other purpose in Class A1 of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) Granted on 30.06.2010.


Original Wording:
 The retail use hereby permitted shall be used for the retailing of DIY home and garden improvements and car maintenance, building materials and builders merchants goods, carpets and floor coverings, furniture, furnishings, electrical goods, automobile products, camping equipment, cycles, pet and pet products, office supplies and for no other purpose (including the retail sale of food and drink or any other purpose in Class A1 of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) or in any provision equivalent to that Class in any statutory instrument revoking and re-enacting that Order. 


Proposed Wording:
 The retail unit hereby permitted shall be used for the sale and display of non-food goods only and, notwithstanding the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (or any Order revoking or re-enacting that Order with or without modification), for no other goods.”

However, for some reason, whoever drafted the permission did not bother to go on and include the proposed wording as a condition. Lang J applied I’m Your Man and held that the purported restriction was of no effect. Lambeth Council’s “intended purpose was not given legal effect by the wording of the 2014 permission, because of flawed drafting.
As set out in Landmark Chambers’ helpful summary , Lang J has granted permission for the case now to go to the Court of Appeal:
I do not accept the Claimant’s critique of my judgment, and the application of the current law to the facts of this case. However, I am left with some unease about the result.  The principle established in I’m Your Man Limited v Secretary of State for the Environment 77 P & CR 251, and its application, merits consideration in a higher court which is not bound by precedent in the same way as the High Court. The interpretation and application of the judgments of the Supreme Court in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd & Anor. v The Scottish Ministers [2015] UKSC 74, [2016] 1 WLR 85 is still evolving, and merit consideration by the Court of Appeal in this case.”

It is worth noting two post-Trump cases where the Court of Appeal has rejected submissions that a narrow interpretation should be given to specific conditions.
First, R (XPL Limited) v Harlow Council (Court of Appeal, 13 April 2016), where a condition preventing “repairs or maintenance of vehicles or other industrial or commercial activities (other than the parking of coaches and other vehicles …” outside specified hours at a coach depot was held to extend to a prohibition on the running of engines. 

Secondly, Dunnett Investments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 29 March 2017) where the court had to determine whether the following condition is to be interpreted as excluding the operation of the General Permitted Development Order so as to allow change of use from offices to residential by way of the prior approval process:

“This use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, and for no other purpose whatsoever, without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained“.

Did prior approval from the local planning authority pursuant to the GPDO amount to “express planning consent” for the purposes of the condition?
The Court of Appeal reviewed the case law on interpretation of conditions:
In relation to the interpretation of, specifically, a planning condition which is said to exclude the operation of the GPDO, other authorities are of some assistance. From them, the following themes can be discerned.


i) It is rightly common ground that a planning condition on a planning consent can exclude the application of the GPDO (see Dunoon Developments v Secretary of State for the Environment and Poole Borough Council (1993) 65 P&CR 101 (“Dunoon Developments”)).


ii) Exclusion may be express or implied. However, because a grant of planning permission for a stated use is a grant of permission for only that use, a grant for a particular use cannot in itself exclude the application of the GPDO. To do that, something more is required (see, e.g., Dunoon Developments at [107] per Sir Donald Nicholls VC). 


iii) In Carpet Décor (Guilford) Limited v Secretary of State for the Environment (1981) 261 EG 56, Sir Douglas Frank QC sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge said that, because in the absence of such a condition the GPDO has effect by operation of law, the condition should be in “unequivocal terms”. Although “unequivocal” was used by Mr Katkowski in his written argument, during the course of debate he accepted that that term was now less appropriate, given the modern trend away from myopic focus upon the words without proper reference to their full context. However, he submitted (and I accept) that, to exclude the application of the GPDO, the words used in the relevant condition, taken in their full context, must clearly evince an intention on the part of the local planning authority to make such an exclusion.”

The court did not accept the claimant’s arguments:
The first part of the condition sets out the scope of the permission. I respectfully agree with Patterson J (at [60]), the second part (“…and for no other purpose whatsoever…”) is not, as Mr Katkowski would have it, merely emphatic of the scope of the planning permission, but is rather a clear and specific exclusion of GPDO rights. Whilst, as I have described, each case depends upon its own facts, it is noteworthy that, in Dunoon Developments (at pages 105-6), in finding that the words “limited to” a particular purpose did not exclude GPDO rights, Farquharson LJ compared that phrase with “… and for no other purpose…” as considered in the earlier case of The City of London Corporation v Secretary of State for the Environment (1971) 23 P&CR 169, which he considered was far more emphatic and (he suggested) possibly sufficient to exclude the operation of the GPDO. In this case, we have a more emphatic phrase still, namely “… and for no other purpose whatsoever…”. Further, although we are concerned with rights under the GPDO and not the UCO, the interpretation of that phrase to exclude the operation of the GPDO is at least consistent with R (Royal London Mutual Insurance Society) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government[2013] EWHC 3597 (Admin); [2014] JPL 458, in which Patterson J held that a condition which restricted use to “only” particular uses within Use Class A1 excluded the right to use the land for other Class A1 uses, because it effectively evinced an intention to identify acceptable uses within the class whilst prohibiting other unacceptable uses within that class unless and until the merits of such use had been tested by the planning authority upon an application for planning permission (see also The Rugby Football Union v The Secretary of state for Local Government, Transport and the Regions [2001] EWHC Admin 927; [2002] JPL 740, in which Ouseley J, at [56], found that the words “for no other use” had similar effect, on the basis that such words “have no other sensibly discernible purpose than to prevent some other use which might otherwise be permissible without planning permission”). The third part of the condition before this court makes it the more abundantly clear that automatic or direct GPDO rights are excluded, by requiring a planning application if such uses are to be pursued.”
Furthermore, “”express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority” cannot sensibly include planning permission granted by the Secretary of State through the GPDO. It means what it says, i.e. planning permission granted by the local planning authority.”
What are the odds on Lang J’s judgment in Lambeth surviving the Court of Appeal?
In the meantime, and possibly whatever the outcome of that case, there is unpredictability. This is particularly unhelpful given the pressures on local planning authorities to issue permissions without unnecessary delay, and without the resources for a lawyer to check what may often on their face appear to be approvals of minor revisions and alterations. Mistakes happen. The extreme reluctance of authorities to issue revocation or modification orders to put mistakes right, a reluctance born of the liability to pay compensation that thereby arises, is another story – and in my view a large part of the problem. 
Simon Ricketts, 14.10.17
Personal views, et cetera

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Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere: Devolution

The prospect of devolution can perhaps cause people to get too excited (Brexit; Catalonia) or perhaps not excited enough (the last Labour Government’s experiment with regional assemblies; the current roll-out of combined authorities). Predictably, this blog post focuses on the latter category. 
First of all, in order to understand planning in Great Britain you need to understand its post-devolution administrative structure, following the enormous changes of the last 20 years. 
It is now 20 years since referendums in Scotland and Wales led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales, with the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland Act 1998 following a year later, leading to the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. 
Slowly but surely, four different planning systems have developed, summarised in a January 2016 House of Commons library briefing paper, Comparison of the planning systems in the four UK countries.
In relation to English devolution issues, perhaps dull is good, with arguments often focusing on worthy but dull questions of efficiency of administration and decision making, and the unlocking of funding streams. 

Directly elected regional administration of London was reintroduced in 2000 following a referendum in May 1998, in which there was a 72% majority vote (out of a 34% turnout) for the establishment of the Greater London Authority, to be led by an elected Mayor. Despite the low turnout, the size of the “yes” vote did seem to recognise the need for a unified voice for London that had been missing since the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986. 
The Labour Government of the time attempted to use elements of the London model to introduce directly-elected regional assemblies across England. However, it became plain that there simply was not the public appetite. Voters rejected the proposal for a regional assembly for the North East 77.9% to 22.1%, on a turnout of 48% in November 2004 and other proposed referendums for the North West and for Yorkshire and the Humber were then dropped. Whilst there is still some nostalgic harking back to the regional planning of the time, the ridiculously complicated structure in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 took the form of regional spatial strategies, prepared by ‘regional planning bodies’, comprising regional assemblies of co-opted local authority members. The process was closely overseen by central Government and indeed each final regional spatial strategy was published by the Government. So, hardly devolution – and with regional boundaries that often had no historic or emotional basis – although a potentially helpful administrative structure for coordinating local authorities and determining local authority housing targets.
Regional spatial strategies, along with all mentions of the “r” word including the regional planning boards, regional assemblies and regional development agencies (save for the London Development Agency, which survived a little longer) were swept away following the coalition Government coming into power in 2010. The new mantra of localism dictated the removal of top-down targets in favour of the bottom-up idea that it would be more effective for local authorities to determine how to meet their and their neighbours’ housing needs via the Localism Act 2011’s “duty to cooperate”, a Cheshire cat’s smile if ever one there was. Coordinated investment into the regions, including application of EU structural funds, became more difficult following the abolition of the regional development agencies, a vacuum only partly filled by LEPs (voluntary local economic partnerships between local politicians and business people). 
But local politicians (the public? I’m not so sure) continued to press for greater devolution of powers to the regions, particularly against the background of the greater autonomy given to Scotland in particular in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum (where there was a 55% vote against independence on an 85% turnout – that was clearly a vote that clearly did matter to its electorate). The Government embarked on negotiating a series of ‘devolution deals’ with groups of local authorities. The first deal, to create the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, was announced in November 2014. 
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 was, as set out its explanatory notes, “intended to support delivery of the Government’s [2015] manifesto commitment to “devolve powers and budgets to boost local growth in England”, in particular to “devolve far-reaching powers over economic development, transport and social care to large cities which choose to have elected mayors” and “legislate to deliver the historic deal for Greater Manchester”. The Act takes forward a number of reforms which are intended to allow for the implementation of devolution agreements with combined authority areas and with other areas. It is enabling legislation which provides a legislative framework which can be applied flexibly to different areas by secondary legislation.” 

The devolution deals to date are listed on the Local Government Association’s website. The powers agreed to be devolved have been different in each case. The position is well summarised in a House of Commons library briefing paper, Devolution to local government in England (23 November 2016):


It will be seen that some deals include the power to create a spatial plan for the area, and/or the power to establish Mayoral Development Corporations. Some deals will also permit the combined authority to use compulsory purchase orders, with the consent of the local authority in which the land or property is located.

I looked specifically at the West Midlands Combined Authority in my blog post Devo West Mids (24 October 2016). 
So far we have had mayoral elections for six combined authorities, which all took place in May 2017. Turnouts were all very low indeed:

Whilst regional devolution may not capture the attention of voters (in fact I’m sure it is utterly confusing to most), undoubtedly it presently brings the promise of significant funding streams from Government. Professor Janice Morphet has also pointed in her 2016 book Infrastructure Delivery Planning to the work of economist Paul Krugman in showing the growth in national GDP that can result from investment decisions being made at a sub-national level. More practically, big personalities are important. That has been the experience in London – and Greater Manchester and the West Midlands both now have strong Mayors, in the shape of Andy Burnham and Andy Street respectively, who will undoubtedly drive those great city regions in an equivalent way. 

A further election, in the Sheffield City Region, is due to be held in May 2018. Why the delay in Sheffield? The city region, which will control additional spending of £30m a year over the next 30 years, was originally going to include Chesterfield and Bassetlaw (which authorities would thereby be able to participate in the significant government funding available). However, Derbyshire County Council (which would automatically thereby be drawn into the arrangement and which opposed “powers for key services in the town being handed to a Sheffield City Region Mayor”) successfully judicially reviewed the process, alleging consultation flaws in R (Derbyshire County Council) v Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority, Secretary of State and Chesterfield Borough Council (Ouseley J, 21 December 2016). Chesterfield is in the county of Derbyshire and Bassetlaw is in the county of Nottinghamshire. Ouseley J accepted that the views of the public should have been, but were not, specifically sought as to whether Chesterfield Borough Council should be a part of the combined authority. The case led first to the Sheffield City Region mayoral election being delayed by a year and then to Chesterfield and Bassetlaw withdrawing their applications for full membership (in the case of Chesterfield after Derbyshire had resolved in June 2017 to carry out a full referendum of all Chesterfield residents). 
The momentum generally appears to have paused. Section 1 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 places a duty on the Secretary of State to provide annual reports to Parliament setting out progress on devolution across England as soon as practicable after 31 March each year. The Local Government Association is concerned that this year’s report has not yet been published.   
We are at an interesting point. 

First, am I being too downbeat about the benefits of further devolution? I see that Lord Heseltine and Ben Rogers are speaking on Giving Power to the People: The Future of Devolution at the Future City Festival on 19 October 2017. Is there currently the political, or public, will?
Secondly, what now for London? In my view, the devolution of power to London (including reducing to an extent the powers of individual boroughs) has been a success. The moves towards greater powers for the Mayor of London have continued, which is welcome, but should there be more? Ben Rogers wrote an interesting FT piece Would more independence for London benefit the nation? on 3 October 2017.

Thirdly, and most importantly, what changes will Brexit bring? For a start we will see an end to EU structural funding, much of which was to be passed to local areas, although the Government has guaranteed any spending of these funds that is agreed before the UK leaves the EU. But more fundamentally, as again Professor Janice Morphet has pointed out, in her 2017 paper (not yet published) to the Oxford Joint Planning Law Conference we risk losing part of the drive towards devolution that arises from the EU’s principles of subsidiarity and fairness, which translate into for instance the application of structural funds and the development of the Trans European Networks which have been an impetus for transport infrastructure investment. 
Ultimately, might it be the case that some devolution is ruled by the heart and some by the head? English devolution may be in the latter category, described indeed this week in EG this week by Jackie Sadek as a “fragile flower”. Let’s hope it’s not trampled upon by politicians with only a March 2019 deadline in mind. 
Simon Ricketts, 6.10.17
Personal views, et cetera

Mending The Planning System (Has Anyone Tried Switching It Off And On Again?)

When I recently blogged about the Raynsford review of the planning system, I really wasn’t expecting shadow CLG Secretary of State Roberta Blackman-Woods to announce yet another one at the Labour party conference, at a CPRE fringe event. This is CPRE’s write-up. It will be called “People and Planning”. According to Building magazine we can expect proposals to streamline the compulsory purchase system and “tougher measures to stop developers sitting on sites“, as well as a rethink on CIL and on the Government’s recently announced OAN methodology consultation. 
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had the following passages in his conference speech, leading on from references to the Grenfell Tower tragedy:
We have a duty as a country to learn the lessons from this calamity and ensure that a changed world flowers . I hope that the public inquiry will assist. But a decent home is a right for everyone whatever their income or background. And houses should be homes for the many not speculative investments for a few. Look at the Conservative housing record and you understand why Grenfell residents are sceptical about their Conservative council and this Conservative government.

Since 2010: homelessness has doubled, 120,000 children don’t have a home to call their own, home ownership has fallen, thousands are living in homes unfit for human habitation. This is why alongside our Shadow Housing minister John Healey we’re launching a review of social housing policy – its building, planning, regulation and management.

We will listen to tenants across the country and propose a radical programme of action to next year’s conference. But some things are already clear tenants are not being listened to.
We will insist that every home is fit for human habitation, a proposal this Tory government voted down. And we will control rents – when the younger generation’s housing costs are three times more than those of their grandparents, that is not sustainable.

Rent controls exist in many cities across the world and I want our cities to have those powers too and tenants to have those protections. We also need to tax undeveloped land held by developers and have the power to compulsorily purchase. As Ed Miliband said, “Use it or lose it”. Families need homes.

After Grenfell we must think again about what are called regeneration schemes.

Regeneration is a much abused word.

Too often what it really means is forced gentrification and social cleansing, as private developers move in and tenants and leaseholders are moved out. 

We are very clear: we will stop the cuts to social security.

But we need to go further, as conference decided yesterday.

So when councils come forward with proposals for regeneration, we will put down two markers based on one simple principle:
Regeneration under a Labour government will be for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators. 

First, people who live on an estate that’s redeveloped must get a home on the same site and the same terms as before.

No social cleansing, no jacking up rents, no exorbitant ground rents. 

And second councils will have to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment scheme can take place.

Real regeneration, yes, but for the many not the few.

That’s not all that has to change.”

Liberal Democrats’ leader Vince Cable took a similar theme in his own party conference speech:
“If there is any single lesson from the Grenfell disaster, it is that people in poverty aren’t listened to. Nowhere is inequality more marked than in the housing market. Property wealth for the fortunate coexists with growing insecurity and homelessness for many others. Home ownership, which spread wealth for generations, is no longer a realistic prospect for younger people with moderate means.

To put this right, we must end the stranglehold of oligarchs and speculators in our housing market. I want to see fierce tax penalties on the acquisition of property for investment purposes, by overseas residents. And I want to see rural communities protected from the blight of absentee second home ownership, which devastates local economies and pushes young people away from the places where they grew up. 

Homes are to live in; they’re not pieces on a Monopoly board. But whatever we do with existing homes will not be enough. A doubling of annual housing supply to buy and rent is needed. 

For years politicians have waffled about house building while tinkering at the edges of the market. I want to recapture the pioneering spirit that in the mid-20th century brought about developments like Milton Keynes and the new towns…I want to see a new generation of garden cities and garden villages spring up in places where demand presently outstrips supply.

But we know that private developers alone will not make this happen.Just as social reformers in the 1950s and 60s saw government roll up its sleeves and get involved with building, government today has a responsibility to be bold…and to build more of the homes we need for the 21stcentury. It is utterly absurd that councils are allowed to borrow to speculate in commercial property…but are stopped from borrowing to build affordable council houses.”

The shadow of Grenfell of course looms over the politics of planning and social housing. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, had earlier in the month announced a “green paper on social housing“:
A wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector, the green paper will be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation.

It will kick off a nationwide conversation on social housing.

What works and what doesn’t work.

What has gone right and what has gone wrong,

Why things have gone wrong and – most importantly – how to fix them.”
Shelter also put out a press release, big on hyperbole, short on analysis, referring to the ‘legal loophole’ of ‘secret viability assessments’, focusing on the reduced levels of affordable housing achieved in Kensington and Chelsea compared to the borough’s 50% policy target and making the explicit link to Grenfell:
New research from Shelter reveals that a legal loophole has been used by housing developers to avoid building 706 social homes in Kensington and Chelsea – more than enough to house families made homeless from the Grenfell tower fire.”

How is the government’s position on the role of viability in planning (set out in paragraph 173 of the National Planning Policy Framework, a non-statutory, hardly obscure, planning policy document, now over five years’ old) a “legal loophole“?
Poor Raynsford review, is planning is too political for whatever emerges from it to gain traction? Its recommendations are due to be presented to next year’s party conferences. I hope that clear distinctions are drawn between changes to be made to the basic legislative hardware of the system (is it resilient, efficient, clear for users?) and to be made to the software (the NPPF, PPG structure – is it kept up to date to reflect the Government’s policy priorities and guiding users’ behaviour appropriately?), the purpose of the changes being to influence the content, scale, quality and pace of the data processing: individual plans and decisions actually coursing through the system, leading most importantly to delivery of political priorities, whatever they may be for the next Government. The review is somewhat hamstrung by not being able to set out those priorities as its starting point. 
So, what of the Government’s position? Regardless of what will be said at the forthcoming Conservative party conference, surely the current Government is not currently in a strong position to make further major changes. However, there is much unfinished legislative business, arising from:
– partly implemented enabling legislation (Housing and Planning Act 2016, Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017)

– uncompleted consultation processes (the Housing White Paper and associated documents, February 2017; Planning For The Right Homes In The Right Places, September 2017)

– other previously floated initiatives (for instance in the Conservative Party’s 2017 general election manifesto)

– other previous initiatives, partly overlapping with the above (a House of Commons library briefing paper dated 12 July 2017 lists 22 pre-June 2017 announcements that have not yet been implemented, or cancelled). 

 I have tried to take stock of where we are in terms of legislative as opposed to policy changes. This is a list of where I believe we are with the main planning law provisions of the 2016 and 2017 Acts (with relevant commencement dates indicated, although check the detail: in many cases a provision in primary legislation may have been switched on but still requires further secondary legislation for it to have any practical effect):

 Housing and Planning Act 2016 

 * Starter homes – providing a statutory framework for the delivery of starter homes – not in force, not really needed since the Housing White Paper u-turn

* Self-build and custom housebuilding – requiring local authorities to meet demand for custom‐built and self‐built homes by granting permissions for suitable sites – from 31 October 2016

* Neighbourhood planning changes – from 12 May 2016

* Permission In Principle/Brownfield Land Registers

    * Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Permission in Principle etc) (Miscellaneous Amendments)(England) Regulations 2017 – 6 March 2017

    * Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017 – 15 April 2017

    * Town and Country Planning (Register of Previously Developed Land) Regulations 2017 – 16 April 2017

* Extension of Government’s ability to designate poorly performing LPAs such that non-major applications can be made direct to the Planning Inspectorate – from 12 July 2016

* Planning freedoms schemes – from 13 July 2016

* Resolution of disputes about planning obligations – not in force

* NSIPs including a housing element where functional link or close geographical link – from 6 April 2017

* Powers for piloting alternative provision of processing services – from 12 May 2016 (but no pilots yet)

* Urban Development Corporations/designation of new town areas – from 13 July 2016

* Compulsory purchase changes – mostly from 3 February 2017

Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 
 * Neighbourhood planning changes – (partly) from 19 July 2017, subject of a previous blog post)

* Power to direct preparation of joint local development documents – not yet in force

* Restrictions on pre-commencement planning conditions – from 19 July 2017 (although Regulations not yet made)

* Restriction on PD rights re drinking establishments

    * Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No 2) Order 2017 from 23 May 2017 (subject of a previous blog post)

* More compulsory purchase changes – partly in force, various commencement dates

 And these are the limited areas where we can expect further legislation:

* CIL reform (probably limited reform in this Parliament)

* Further PD rights? Maybe not. There has been silence in relation to upwards extensions in London and further rural PD rights, although limited light industrial to residential PD rights come into force for three years from 1 October 2017, following amendments to the General Permitted Development Order last year. 

* 20% increase in planning application fees (definitely)

* Completion notices reform (maybe, floated in Housing White Paper, subject of a previous blog post)

* Statutory three month deadlines for Secretary of State decisions (maybe, floated in Housing White Paper)

* Planning appeal fees (maybe, floated in Housing White Paper). 

* Regulations as to the “technical details” procedure for permissions in principle (definitely)

 I had to get my head round all of this in preparing to speak at Conference.*

*The RTPI’s Planning Issues For The Housing Agenda conference on 4 October.

Simon Ricketts, 30.9.17

Personal views, et cetera

Class Distinctions 2: Student Housing

Happy freshers’ week. 
I blogged recently about how the planning system struggles when it comes to housing for older people. But there are worse problems when it comes to student housing. Some recent press articles are at the end of this post, but first you need to get through some law I’m afraid (there may be an examination on it later). 
For a start, from a legal perspective there is a similarly poor fit with the Use Classes Order.
Shared student living in converted houses has since 2010 (in England, 2016 in Wales) been hived off from use class C3 (residential use) into use class C4, the HMO (“houses in multiple occupation”) use class: “small shared houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom”.
This definition excludes: 
– HMOs in blocks of flats (eg what seems to be the main model these days in relation to purpose built student accommodation blocks, with clusters of self-contained flats, each housing six students, sharing cooking and living accommodation) 

– Houses shared by more than six students.

The background to the creation of C4, which was not all about students, but in part a response to concerns about pressures being caused to communities by high concentrations of HMOs more generally, is well summarised in a House of Commons library briefing paper, Houses in multiple occupation & planning restrictions (14 July 2017). 
By virtue of Part L of the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, unless the relevant local planning authority has made an article 4 direction to contrary effect, planning permission isn’t needed to change from C4 to C3 (residential use), or vice versa. Many university towns and cities have made article 4 directions, requiring planning permission to change from C3 to C4 use, for example Sheffield, Leeds, Loughborough, Leicester, Nottingham, Southampton and Durham to name but a few. 
Against the background of almost universal university expansion, this constraint on supply of converted accommodation, denying much of the already (in most areas at least) expensive PRS market to students, has surely played its part both in further increasing student housing costs and in giving students fewer practical alternatives to living in purpose-built student accommodation, often now built and operated by large specialist student housing providers. 
As far as the planning system is concerned, purpose built student housing blocks are generally treated as “sui generis” (outside any use class) and therefore specific planning policies are required at an individual local planning authority level to control them (or to impose standards in terms of unit size, daylighting and sound insulation). In some ways they now often more closely resemble clusters (stacked high) of quasi C4 HMO style accommodation, with bedrooms in self-contained clusters of six, each with its own kitchen and communal area. 
Planning permission is required to make a material change from a sui generis use. Whether there is a material change in the character of the use is for the decision maker to judge. As long as conditions or section 106 agreement planning obligations aren’t breached, change to, say, co-living may not require planning permission. 
Ensuring that purpose built student accommodation is affordable is a big issue. In recent years we have seen student rent strikes, supported by the NUS. In London, we wait to see what further controls will be proposed in the draft London Plan, now expected on 29 November. In the meantime, there was nothing in the Mayor’s draft housing strategy published on 6 September 2017 (in 236 pages I could only find one passing reference to students). To what extent will the policies set out in the previous Mayor’s March 2016 housing SPG remain? The SPG takes the following approach in relation to purpose built student accommodation (PBSA):

– “providers of PBSA are encouraged to develop models for delivery of PBSA in london which minimise rental costs, via its layout and location, for the majority of the bedrooms in the development and bring these rates nearer to the rate of a affordable student accommodation described below
– requirement for affordable student accommodation where a proposed provider does not have an undertaking with a specified academic institution(s) that specifies that the accommodation will be occupied by students of that institution(s)

– affordability determined by reference to a formula that equates to 55% of average student income. For the academic year 2016/2017 this equated to £5,886 or less and for a 38 week contract a weekly rent of £155. 

– the extent of affordable housing to be secured “should be the maximum reasonable amount subject to viability” (our old friend!)

– to enable PBSA providers to maximise the delivery of affordable student accommodation by increasing the profitability of the development, boroughs should consider allowing the temporary use of accommodation during vacation periods for ancillary uses and should consider setting nil CIL rates for affordable student accommodation. 

– eligibility for affordable student accommodation should be based on assessment of need. 

Now that reading list:

Oliver Wainwright, A new urban eyesore: Britain’s shamefully shoddy student housing (The Guardian, 11 September 2017)

Rhiannon Bury, Student housing may be a property bubble in waiting (Telegraph, 18 September 2017)

Could it be the end of the Newcastle student flat boom? Council set to vote on greater controls (Evening Chronicle? 15 January 2017)

Letter: Students vs Residents – this situation in Bath around housing is not students’ fault (Bath Chronicle, 5 September 2017)

Students in Wales taking out loans to afford ‘luxury’ flats (BBC website, 22 September 2017)

It seems to me that there are various issues to be unpacked here:
– the need for authorities properly to plan for the consequences of increases in student numbers

– competing needs as between between student and general needs housing

– often unjustified “there goes the neighbourhood” concerns about the impacts of students on an area. 

– affordability

– the extent to which universities should retain responsibility for housing their students, affordably and to appropriate quality standards.

Class, discuss. 
Simon Ricketts, 24.9.17
Personal views, et cetera

Housing Needs: Assessed Or Assumed?

The new draft methodology to be used by English local planning authorities for determining their level of housing need is deceptively simple. Is it indeed too simple?
The current system (difficulty level: advanced)
The NPPF currently advises that LPAs should “use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area”. They should:
“prepare a Strategic Housing Market Assessment to assess their full housing needs, working with neighbouring authorities where housing market areas cross administrative boundaries. The Strategic Housing Market Assessment should identify the scale and mix of housing and the range of tenures that the local population is likely to need over the plan period which: 

* meets household and population projections, taking account of migration and demographic change; 


* addresses the need for all types of housing, including affordable housing and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes); and 


* caters for housing demand and the scale of housing supply necessary to meet this demand

The PPG provides more detailed guidance but in practice the recommended approach is complex, relying on a shifting, uncertain evidence-base with subjective judgements to be made. Disputes over the calculation of “objectively assessed needs” are far too time-consuming, technocratic, uncertain and expensive. 

Local Plans Expert Group’s recommendations (difficulty level: intermediate)
Back in September 2015, the then Secretary of State, Greg Clark, and then housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis (I know, seems like another era), appointed an independent Local Plans Expert Group “with a remit to consider how local plan making can be made more efficient and effective“. Its impressive line-up was as follows: 
Members
John Rhodes OBE – Quod, Director – Chair 

Adrian Penfold OBE – British Land, Head of Planning 

Councillor Toby Elliott – Swindon Borough Council, Cabinet Member 

Derek Stebbing – Chelmsford City Council, Planning Policy Manager 

John Howell OBE MP FSA – Member of Parliament for Henley 

Keith Holland – retired Planning Inspector 

Liz Peace CBE 

Richard Harwood OBE QC – 39 Essex Chambers 

Advisors 

Christopher Katkowski QC – Landmark Chambers 

Ian Manktelow – Wycombe District Council, Team Leader, Planning Policy 

Matthew Spry – Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners – Senior Director 

LPEG’s report was published on 16 March 2016, together with a separate volume of appendices, within which Appendix 6 sets out a simplified, standardised approach to the assessment of housing need. The methodology is summarised in this table: 


It was a detailed, thoughtful piece of work, delivered quickly. The Government then took almost as long again to publish what can best be described as a holding response on 7 February 2017, alongside publication of the housing white paper:

“The White Paper confirms that the Government will consult on options for introducing a more standardised approach to assessing housing requirements. The outcome of this consultation will be reflected in changes to the National Planning Policy Framework. We want councils to use the standardised approach and will incentivise them to do so, as this will help to speed up and reduce the cost of the plan making process for those authorities that use it. The White Paper indicates that our decision making for the £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund is likely to factor in whether authorities intend to apply the new standardised approach to assessing housing requirements. 


We expect councils that decide not to use the methodology to explain why not and to justify the methodology that they have adopted. We will consult on what constitutes a reasonable justification for deviating from the standard methodology, and make this explicit in the National Planning Policy Framework.

The Government’s proposals (difficulty level: elementary)
It is interesting that politicians (again) select a group of recognised experts and then embark on a significantly different approach. Perhaps the group wasn’t brave enough in its quest for a one size fits all formula or perhaps it recognised that, if it did, the figures would not be fit for purpose. 
However, a year after the publication of LPEG’s report, the Government has published, for consultation, its proposals: Planning for the right homes in the right places: consultation proposals (14 September 2017). The consultation period expires on 9 November 2017. 
“Subject to the outcome of this consultation, and the responses received to the housing White Paper, the Government intends to publish a draft revised National Planning Policy Framework early in 2018. We intend to allow a short period of time for further consultation on the text of the Framework to make sure the wording is clear, consistent and well-understood. Our ambition is to publish a revised, updated Framework in Spring 2018.” Planning Practice Guidance will be updated at the same time.
LPEG’s recommended approach has been further simplified, reduced indeed to a formulaic approach which will have to be followed by LPAs save in “compelling circumstances” which “will need to be properly justified, and will be subject to examination.” Amongst the elements that appear to have been stripped back from the LPEG recommendations are
– Just using ONS’ projected numbers of households as the demographic baseline for each area

– No ten year migration scenario sensitivity test

– No looking at vacancy and second home rates

– No separate consideration, as part of this methodology, of the need for affordable housing although LPAs should identify the housing need for individual groups, such as those in need of affordable housing, via a streamlined process (the Government invites suggestions as to how that might work). We also wait to see what will be in the forthcoming “green paper on social housing” announced by Sajid Javid in his speech to the National Housing Federation on 19 September 2017)

The proposed formula is as follows:

A cap is proposed on the level of any increase:

“We propose to cap the level of any increase according to the current status of the local plan in each authority as follows: 

a)  for those authorities that have adopted their local plan in the last five years, we propose that their new annual local housing need figure should be capped at 40 per cent above the annual requirement figure currently set out in their local plan; or

b)  for those authorities that do not have an up-to-date local plan (i.e. adopted over five years ago), we propose that the new annual local housing need figure should be capped at 40 per cent above whichever is higher of the projected household growth for their area over the plan period (using Office for National Statistics’ household projections), or the annual housing requirement figure currently set out in their local plan.”

DCLG has applied the new methodology to every authority in England, arriving at an overall housing need figure of 266,000 a year (including 72,000 in London) broken down authority by authority on a spreadsheet (which may not open on mobile devices). The table warns that the numbers are “indicative” and “should be treated with caution” (indeed various errors have already been found) but inevitably they have been pored over by those on all sides, whether to make the case for or against additional housing in a particular area. 

There are some curious outcomes due to the way that, for example, anticipated or planned employment growth that will lead to additional housing pressure has not been factored in, save indirectly to the extent that it may have an effect on housing affordability. The affordability ratio further skews the increases towards the south with many authorities in the north and the Midlands showing decreases as a result of these factors, regardless of their actual level of ambition. The paper stresses that LPAs can plan for more homes than the number arrived at by the methodology but to what extent will the existence of the lower number encourage objectors to push back?
The transitional provisions will certainly encourage many LPAs to make sure that their plans have been submitted for examination by 31 March 2018:

This is the briefest of overviews. The paper includes further proposals to which no doubt I’ll be coming returning. In the meantime, for a full analysis of the new approach and its likely implications, I recommend Lichfields’ paper, written by LPEG adviser Matthew Spry. 

Simon Ricketts, 20.9.17
Personal views, et cetera

Class Distinctions: Planning For Older People

Housing is needed by people of all ages but there is a particular need for specialist housing for the elderly. A research report, Housing our Ageing Population: Learning from Councils meeting the Housing Need of our Ageing Population was published by the Local Government Association on 8 September 2017. From its executive summary:
“The number of people aged over 65 is forecast to rise over the next decade, from the current 11.7 million people, to 14.3 million by 2025, a 22 per cent rise. This means that one in five of the total population will be over 65 in 10 years’ time, which will become one in four by 2050. 

In the UK, the vast majority of over 65s currently live in the mainstream housing market. Only 0.6 per cent of over 65s live in housing with care, which is 10 times less than in more mature retirement housing markets such as the USA and Australia, where over 5 per cent of over 65s live in housing with care. The suitability of the housing stock is of critical importance to the health of individuals and also impacts on the demand for public spending, particularly social care and the NHS.
Making quality options available also helps with “right-sizing”, freeing up larger under-used homes back into the housing stock. 
Not only is there great need but changes to local government funding are afoot which are going to increase the pressure for supported housing for the elderly. From the LGA report:
Funding for Supported Housing: Consultation contains the key elements of the Government’s proposals for the future funding of supported housing from April 2019 including: 

“Councils will have responsibility for funding, commissioning and quality assuring all supported housing in their areas from April 2019.

“These proposals would in effect bring to an end the current housing benefit arrangements for all specialist older people’s housing at the end of March 2019“. 

We can expect policies on housing for the elderly in the forthcoming London Plan. The Mayor of London says as much in his draft Housing Strategy, published on 5 September 2017: One of his objectives is “increasing opportunities for older homeowners to move to accommodation more suitable for their needs, including benchmarks for older people’s housing requirements in the draft London Plan” (part of policy 5.2). 
I was also pleased to see a section on planning for older people in the DCLG consultation paper, Planning for the right homes in the right places (14 September 2017) even if it only amounted to two paragraphs:
“92. Section 8 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State to provide guidance for local planning authorities as to how they should address the housing needs that result from old age or disability. Helping local planning authorities provide a simple yet robust evidence base for such groups will form part of the guidance, and will allow them to maintain the benefits of a more streamlined approach to calculating the overall housing need. 

93. When developing new planning guidance for older people, it is important that we have a shared understanding of who is included in this group. The definition of older people in Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework reflects a range of people at different ages with different needs from retirement age to the very frail elderly. We are also aware of different types of housing that accommodate such a group – ranging from general market and affordable housing to specialised, purpose-built market and rental accommodation and care homes. Given the importance of planning for the need for older people as our population ages, we are reviewing whether we need to amend the definition of older people for planning purposes. We consider that the current definition is still fit-for-purpose but would welcome views.”
Not only is more housing required, there needs to be much more specificity and definition. Whilst there are more detailed supportive passages in the Planning Practice Guidance, paragraph 50 of the NPPF simply says: 
local planning authorities should: 

    * plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes)”

As the consultation paper seems to accept, the definition of “older people” in the glossary to the NPPF is extremely wide:
“People over retirement age, including the active, newly-retired through to the very frail elderly, whose housing needs can encompass accessible, adaptable general needs housing for those looking to downsize from family housing and the full range of retirement and specialised housing for those with support or care needs.”
I’m not sure on what basis the definition can be said to be fit for purpose. Housing for the elderly doesn’t fit neatly into traditional planning law, partly because it is a wide spectrum of operating models, some being a specialist version of use class C3, dwellinghouses, and some being institutional and care based in nature, falling within use class C2. 
Class C2: “Use for the provision of residential accommodation and care to people in need of. care (other than a use within a class C3 (dwelling house). Use as a hospital or nursing home.”
Class C3: “Use as a dwellinghouse (whether or not as a sole or main residence) — (a) by a single person or by people living together as a family, or. (b) by not more than 6 residents living together as a single household (including a household where care is provided for residents).”
 I wrote a blog post last year, Time To Review The “C” Use Classes?. As with other alternative or quasi residential uses, the use class distinction matters because local planning authorities have very different policy approaches in terms of whether the proposal is acceptable in that location and as to the requirements arising, for instance in relation to affordable housing. The distinction can be crucial in relation to the extent of CIL liability and indeed whether planning permission is required in the first place.

The problem is that in reality the distinctions between C2 and C3 are becoming increasingly blurred – there is a spectrum, with no clear dividing line between the two. 
At the C3 end of the spectrum, there is sheltered housing and retirement living operated by the likes of McCarthy and Stone and Churchill Retirement Living. Churchill have produced a useful guide for planning and design professionals, Retirement Living Explained (April 2017). In order to distinguish its retirement living model from general C3 use, Churchill advocates the use of model age restricted planning condition:
“Each of the apartments hereby permitted shall be occupied only by: 

* Persons aged 60 or over; or 


* A spouse/or partner (who is themselves over 55 years old) living as part of a single household with such a person 
or persons; or 


* Persons who were living in one of the apartments as part of a single household with a person or persons aged 60 
or over who has since died; or 


* Any other individual expressly agreed in writing by the Local Planning Authority. ”

Is it right that C3 retirement living should be required to deliver affordable housing when itself it meets a non-mainstream housing need? Pending any reconsideration of that policy, Churchill’s guide includes a template section 106 agreement, suggesting the making of an off-site affordable housing contribution (with early stage review if the development hasn’t started reached shell and core stage within 28 months), given that the affordable housing requirements attaching to general market housing C3 products would be inappropriate. 

At the C2 end of the spectrum, there is a variety of operating models, with a bewildering variety of descriptions, including care homes, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living, very sheltered housing and close care. 
Hardest to categorise is what the market refers to as “extra care”, which has been described as follows: 
“Extra care housing is housing with care primarily for older people where occupants have specific tenure rights to occupy self-contained dwellings and where they have agreements that cover the provision of care, support, domestic, social, community or other services. Unlike people living in residential care homes, extra care residents are not obliged as a rule to obtain their care services from a specific provider, though other services (such as some domestic services, costs for communal areas including a catering kitchen, and in some cases some meals) might be built into the charges residents pay.” (Extra Care Housing What Is It?, paper, 2015, published by Housing LIN). 

So what are the distinguishing factors between C2 and C3?
A September 2017 blog post, Update on recent Extra Care Housing Planning Appeals and CIL Success, by Tetlow King’s John Sneddon, identifies two recent appeal decisions where inspectors agreed that proposed extra care developments would fall within use class C2. (The piece is also useful on the opportunities for ensuring that C2 developments are exempted from CIL within local planning authorities’ CIL charging charging schedules.)

My Town partner Liz Christie has previously carried out an analysis of planning appeal decisions. The most important factors for determining whether the operation is properly to be regarded as C2 or C3 use are (i) the physical layout of the building; (ii) the level of care; and (iii) the nature of the operation of the proposed development. We can go into more detail on each of these aspects, with appeal references, for anyone with a specific interest in the issues but, in summary, the whole area unnecessarily complicated and uncertain. Some standardised definitions and policy expectations would be really helpful.  
I wrote this blog post as a by-product of preparing to speak at LD Events’ 26 September 2017 conference, Alternative Residential Property 2017. See some of you there. 
Simon Ricketts, 16 September 2017
Personal views, et cetera

Policing The SPG: New Scotland Yard

Pour encourager les autres or an early demonstration of zero tolerance? 

The Mayor of London’s direction of refusal on 4 September 2017 in relation to a section 73 application to amend a 2016 planning permission for redevelopment of the former Metropolitan Police’s headquarters, so soon after publication of the final version of his affordable housing and viability SPG (see my 20 August 2017 blog post, 20 Changes In The Final Version Of The London Mayor’s Housing & Viability SPG) has certainly focused minds. 

The sale of New Scotland Yard was reported in the Guardian in December 2014 under the headline “Daylight robbery? New Scotland Yard is bought for £370m by developer: Abu Dhabi investor buys famous police headquarters for £370m and says he will replace the block with luxury apartments”. The piece reports that the then Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime “put New Scotland Yard on the market in September [2014] and said it would have cost over £50m to bring the building back up to standard. It bought the freehold for £123.5m in 2008. The sale forms part of a major revamp of the Met estate, which has raised £215m so far through the sale of 52 buildings (with plans to sell up to 200 buildings by 2016/17). The overhaul is estimated to save over £60m in annual running costs by 2016.” The then Metropolitan Police Commissioner was reported as saying that the sale was “absolutely vital“. The move was going to save more than £6m a year in running costs. The sale proceeds “would be used to kit out bobbies on the beat with tablets, smartphones and body cameras.”

The piece reports the sale agent as saying that the sale showed “continuing international confidence in the London market”. “What was clear was that all the bidders could appreciate just what a special opportunity it was”. 
The article goes on: “The new luxury apartments are expected to generate up to £100m in stamp duty when they are sold, as they will be priced over the £925,000 level that attracts a 10% rate.”
The police vacated the building in November 2016 once the purchaser, BL Development Limited (registered in Jersey but reported in the press as “an investment vehicle controlled by UAE-based Abu Dhabi Financial Group”) obtained planning permission from Westminster City Council in April 2016 for a redevelopment comprising 268 apartments. The section 106 agreement dated 27 April 2016 provides for ten affordable homes together with a £10m payment in lieu – and no review mechanism, so a once and for all deal. 
The previous Mayor, Boris Johnson, did not intervene in the planning process. Indeed, the timing rather suggests that the application was referred to him in the run up to the 5 May 2016 Mayoral election and conveniently planning permission was issued before Sadiq Khan’s success in that election.  
I do not know how rigorous or otherwise the viability assessment was at that stage, but it does seem that the benchmark land value used was £277m, some way below the amount that the developer had to pay in reality to secure the site. The sale of this public sector land generated £370m, a figure which would otherwise have come from the tax payer to subsidise police operations. The developer was going into the viability negotiation only able to assume a value for the site that was almost £100m below what it had paid, so it could hardly be said that the whole of the problem lies at the door of the developer for having overpaid for the site in a highly competitive disposal process. 
The Mayor could of course have required as a condition of the sale process that the purchaser provide a minimum of affordable housing and thereby depressed everyone’s bids, and ultimately the sale price, accordingly. He didn’t – a political choice. 
The same month as the police leave the building, November 2016, BL Development Limited make a section 73 application to optimise the scheme – a further 27 apartments, reduced basement space, fewer car parking spaces, other design changes. Its viability assessment seeks to justify (a position accepted by Westminster City Council’s viability consultants) that no further affordable housing can be secured without the scheme being unviable, meaning a reduction in the percentage of affordable housing that would be delivered (net of the in lieu contribution) from 4% to 3%.
Westminster City Council resolves on 16 May 2017 to approve the application, despite strong concerns expressed by the Mayor at stage 1 referral on 20 March 2017. There is then a very long delay before the final stage of the process, namely stage 2 referral to the Mayor where he has a fixed 14 days’ period within which to decide whether to wave it through, call it in or direct refusal. I have no direct knowledge but I assume that discussions were continuing with the Mayor’s viability team to seek to neutralise their position and in any event to make process with the necessary variation to the section 106 agreement – perhaps also to await sight of the final version of the Mayor’s affordable housing and viability SPG. The Mayor’s SPG is published on 16 August and the application is finally referred on 24 August. On the day before the application was referred to the Mayor the applicant increases its affordable housing offer by one unit, on a “without prejudice” basis, on the condition that no viability review mechanism would be required.  
Big stakes for the developer. Is the Mayor going to intervene on such a high profile site which has generated a massive return for his authority? But, on the other hand, how would he maintain credibility in his SPG without intervening on a scheme with, at face value and without descending in detail into the viability position, such a low level of affordable housing, both as originally granted (just before he could do anything about it) and (particularly) as amended?
The application was a natural one to choose from the Mayor’s perspective as it gives rise to a number of the issues addressed in the SPG, for instance:
– approach to section 73 applications

– current affordable housing commitment well below 35% threshold

– issues in relation to assessment of assumed land value, projected sales rates and profit

– land formerly in public ownership

The Mayor’s direction states that the “level of affordable housing provision proposed is wholly unacceptable” for two reasons:

Affordable housing provision: The proposed affordable housing contribution of 10 intermediate units (3.3% by unit, 2.9% by habitable room) and £10 million off-site payment in lieu has not been adequately justified. The methodology undertaken by the applicant to assess the viability of the scheme is not in compliance with the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG and leads the GLA to conclude that more affordable housing could be supported within the scheme. On the basis of the evidence presented, the applicant has not demonstrated that the scheme will deliver the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing, and the proposals are therefore contrary to London Plan Policy 3.12 and the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG. 

Viability review mechanism: No provision has been made in the draft s.106 agreement for viability review mechanisms. Given the low level of affordable housing proposed and the significant length of the development programme, the use of review mechanisms is essential in order to reassess the viability of the scheme and determine whether additional affordable housing could be supported. The absence of viability review mechanisms does not therefore support the delivery of the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing on the site, and is contrary to London Plan Policy 3.12 and the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG.”

The stage 2 report sets out GLA officers’ “significant concerns with the applicant’s approach to the assessment of the viability of the scheme…These include the applicant’s approach to land value, sales rates and profit”. 

So what were the problems identified?
1. The applicant’s viability consultants argued that the 2016 permission had been implemented and that it should should form the basis of comparison with the amended scheme to determine whether it is viable. The 2016 permission viability assessment had previously concluded that the 2016 permission scheme was not viable even with no affordable housing. The applicant had since reviewed its assessment of that scheme and asserted that it was now in fact viable due to assumptions as to lower build costs, lower finance costs and a lower profit target, leading to a higher benchmark land value (£159.34m). When the extant scheme is being used as the baseline for the section 73 scheme, obviously improvements in the viability of the extant scheme raise the bar in terms of how profitable the section 73 scheme would need to be. The report found that this approach was inappropriate “and leads GLA officers to conclude that more affordable housing could have been achieved within the extant scheme, or otherwise that the extant scheme does not provide a reasonable basis for determining the viability of this s. 73 scheme”.
2. The Council’s viability consultants do not escape criticism. They had adopted a market value approach to arrive at a benchmark land value of £200m but, in the view of GLA officers, the consultants had “not demonstrated that their approach to site value properly reflects planning requirements for affordable housing or has been adjusted to ensure that it is compatible with the current day basis of the applicant’s assessment, as required by the Mayor’s SPG”. 

3. The applicant’s appraisal apparently did not factor in a £19.5m reduction in build costs due to a reduction in the size of the basement. 

4. An IRR (internal rate of return) approach was taken to determining a target profit. The SPG states that an IRR approach “is sensitive to the timings of costs and income, and in such cases these value inputs must be robustly justified“. The report finds that the development programme assumed for the project of 8.4 years was long for a scheme of this size and inconsistent with the construction plan submitted with the ES. Slower assumed delivery would depress the profitability of the scheme. A cross-check of profit as a factor of gross development value and of gross development costs (now required by the SPG where IRR is used) showed higher than typical rates of profit. An additional contingency on construction costs was included which was not agreed. 

5. The absence of early and late stage review mechanisms was deprecated. The developer unsuccessfully argued that to include them would be a disincentive to proceed with the section 73 scheme, as opposed to the extant scheme, which does not have them.

6. There is then this political point which I feel uneasy about given the extent to which the previous Mayor had extracted value from the site via the disposal process: “This is a site that has recently been transferred from public ownership, and is in one of the highest value areas in the country. The applicant’s affordable housing offer of 3-4% must be considered in this context.”

So what next? BL Development will need to decide whether to (1) appeal against the directed refusal (which would be a fascinating test of the status to be given to the SPG and indeed the robustness or otherwise of the various viability approaches) (2) sharpen its pencil with a view to a further application or (3) simply build out the extant scheme, fewer units, the agreed affordable housing provision, no review mechanism. 
More widely there are some public policy issues arising as to public land disposals. Maximum value can be extracted at the disposal stage or the disposal opportunity can be used to require, as a bid condition, higher levels of affordable housing than would be possible if the site were sold on an unconstrained basis. But (pace Boris Johnson) you shouldn’t be able to have your cake and eat it. 
Simon Ricketts, 9.9.17
Personal views, et cetera