Politician, Heal Thyself: Pruning Planning

Let’s not use the term “red tape”. It is a value-laden term liked by politicians as it suggests that we are all tied up by unnecessary bureaucratic procedures which have arisen by way of inefficient administrative processes, when the truth is that our planning system (and every other arm of government I would therefore guess) is over-burdened with procedures that have been entirely driven by short term political aims – introduced with no rigorous testing and little understanding of their likely effects.
The previous government’s “Red Tape Challenge” produced a long list  of regulations to be scrapped but in my view has ultimately made little difference. No lessons have been learned. 
The current government supposedly has a “Cutting Red Tape” programme  with proposals awaited in various areas, including “house building” and “local authorities” but I do not sense any great activity. Indeed, it is clear from the government’s vacuous and condescending twitter feed @CutRedTapeUK that nothing much is happening.  
So what would I scrap? These are just some examples:
The vacant building credit
It was never an idea that had any logic (being in practice only of benefit to schemes that were already viable) but once first the planning policy guidance was watered down to allow for exceptions and then once the Court of Appeal in their 11 May 2016 judgment underlined that the policy necessarily could not be required to be applied automatically, it really lost any force or relevance. 
The “positive and proactive” incantation
Since December 2012, following the Town & Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) (Amendment No.2) Order 2012, notices for approval or refusal of planning permission now have to include a statement explaining “how, in dealing with the application, the local planning authority have worked with the applicant in a positive and proactive manner based on seeking solutions to problems arising in relation to dealing with a planning application”.
This has no effect in influencing the behaviour of LPAs whatsoever!
“Special measures” applications
The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 introduced a procedure for placing statistically poorly performing LPAs into ‘special measures’, enabling applicants to choose to make their planning application directly to the Secretary of State (via the Planning Inspectorate). It is high stakes for an applicant, given that there is no right of appeal from the Planning Inspectorate’s decision. 
Until now the procedure has been limited to applications for major development (eg for ten or more homes). The first application using the procedure was a Gladman scheme for 220 homes in Blaby, which was rejected  in July 2014. I am unsure how many other applicants have dared to follow suit. I’m not sure that I would advise it. 
Since 21 October 2016, a statutory instrument  has extended the procedural route to non-major planning applications as well. Untrialed, of course, so none of us know whether the procedure will remain unused or whether the Planning Inspectorate will be swamped and embroiled in fine-grained planning authority work for which they have little in place by way of the necessary procedural infrastructure. 
Various neighbourhood planning procedures
It was the 5th birthday this month of the Localism Act 2011. A huge amount of work went into the legislation and the various processes that were invented. Views may differ on the concept and reality of neighbourhood plans – and I certainly believe that the assets of community value procedure unduly raises community expectations. But for the purposes of this blog post I have in my sights the Community Right to Build and Neighbourhood Development Orders.  
As of February 2015 Community Rights UK asserted that only three community right to build applications had reached application stage. 
In a web trawl this morning I noticed that the proposed Congresbury new village hall is the subject of an order made by North Somerset Council on 8 November 2016. Reading the independent examiner’s report, I am slightly at a loss as to how this is in any way simpler as a process than a traditional planning application. 
As for Neighbourhood Development Orders, is the Cockermouth NDO made by Allerdale District Council on 10 September 2014 the sole example?
The CLG Commons Select Committee report on Community Rights  (2 February 2015) highlights a number of parts of the Localism Act where there has been little take up. 

Imagine the sheer waste in civil service and Parliamentary time creating these new bespoke procedures, and in each LPA then understanding and promoting them, only for them to rest almost entirely unused. Surely it’s scandalous. 

And it keeps coming

Of course the new bespoke procedures keep coming. We await the secondary legislation necessary to give reality to the permission in principle procedure introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016. 

Oh and the section 106 dispute resolution procedure introduced by the same Act. 
And I say nothing of CIL ahead of the Government’s long-awaited publication of the CIL review panel’s recommendations and its response. 

Simon Ricketts 26.11.16
Personal views, et cetera

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Mending Aarhus

On 1 April 2013 the Government changed the Civil Procedure Rules to introduce a system of automatic costs capping  for judicial reviews in England and Wales in relation to “environmental matters” (a broad definition that embraces many “planning” JRs). This was to seek to comply with the Aarhus Convention’s principle that access to environmental justice should not be prohibitively expensive. However, surprise surprise, in some ways arguably the Government went further than was necessary and in other ways it didn’t go far enough. 
What the system did was to allow claimants to opt for mutual cost capping when bringing a claim. If the claimant ultimately lost, as an individual (however well-resourced) his or her exposure to the successful defendant’s costs would then be capped at £5k and if a company or other body (however well-resourced) its exposure would be capped at £10k. As a quid pro quo, if the claimant won it could only recover up to £35k. The system only applies at first instance – further applications to the court for specific costs protection are required if the case then goes onto the Court of Appeal and beyond to the Supreme Court 
The Government brought in the new system ahead of the CJEU giving judgment in Case C 530/11 European Commission v United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland  (13 February 2014). The CJEU did not address the post 1 April 2013 system but found that the previous regime was indeed non-compliant. Whilst the new system has addressed most of the CJEU’s criticisms, there are certainly still gaps, for example the current restriction of automatic cost capping to judicial review rather than statutory challenges (for instance to appeal decisions by the Secretary of State and inspectors) and the way in which automatic cost capping only applies at first instance.  
The Government consulted  in 2015 on proposals to amend the automatic cost capping system, partly to seek to comply with the CJEU ruling and partly to tighten up on the process where it could. Particularly contentious elements included proposing that claimants should submit a schedule of their financial resources when commencing the proceedings so as to allow for argument as to whether the cap should be increased in the particular case, a proposal that cost capping should only be confirmed once a claim had received permission to proceed to a full hearing (ie had been ruled to be arguable) and a proposal to double the standard caps to £10,000 (for individuals) and £20,000 for all other categories of claimant. 
The Government has now published on 18 November 2016 Costs Protection In Environmental Claims, its response to that consultation document. 
It has stepped back from the more contentious proposals. In summary it proposes that the Civil Procedure Rules be amended to:
– extend Aarhus cost capping to statutory challenges engaging EU law based statutes (this would bring to an end the nonsense of the current Venn litigation saga, in which the refusals of first Ouseley J on 15 August 2016  and then Lewison LJ on 3 November 2016  to grant permission for Ms Venn to appeal are worth a read – further background in this Landmark Chambers update).

– give more certainty that there will be costs protection in Court of Appeal cases “where this is necessary to prevent the proceedings from being prohibitively expensive for the claimant”. The Government will invite the Supreme Court to set equivalent rules to apply to appeals that it hears. So not an automatic system for appeals but clearer guidance.  

– refine a definition of “members of the public” who are entitled to Aarhus cost capping. I take this as code for removing the ability for local authority claimants to obtain automatic Aarhus cost capping protection, subject to the outcome of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee’s consideration as to whether Hillingdon Council, and other local authorities engaged in the judicial review of the Government’s decision to proceed with HS2, qualify for protection under the Convention (following the ruling  of the Court of Appeal on 11 March 2015 that they do under the Civil Procedure Rules – which may have been drawn unnecessarily widely). 

– allow parties to make applications to reduce or increase the caps in particular cases. The test will be that the costs of proceedings must “neither be subjectively prohibitively expensive (they must not exceed the financial resources of the claimant) nor appear to be objectively unreasonable” (ie that set out by the CJEU in C-260/11 Edwards v Environment Agency  (11 April 2013). To make its case, the claimant would need to “provide information on significant assets, income, liabilities and expenditure. This information would take account of any third-party funding which the claimant had received”. 

– clarify that where there are multiple claimants, a separate cap applies to each claimant (reflecting incidentally the approach recently taken in R (Birchall Gardens LLP and Tarmac Trading Limited) v Hertfordshire County Council  (Holgate J, 4 November 2016)).

The Government does not intend to extend the Aarhus cost capping system to private nuisance cases (the subject of proceedings currently before the European Court of Human Rights: 39714/15 Austin v. UK) or similar non public law cases that raise environmental issues. Nor does it intend to increase the standard caps or to delay cost capping to beyond the permission stage.  
James Maurici QC has prepared a useful comparative table  of the proposals in the consultation paper and those in the response document. 
Whilst the Government seeks to limit the circumstances in which parties can apply to vary costs caps, stressing the risk of costs orders against parties that do so unreasonably, undoubtedly this will lead to additional pre-hearing sparring and uncertainty (which is not to criticise the proposal – it has sometimes been galling to see claimants obtain automatic costs protection at the standard level, when the claimants’ means may be at least equal that of the cash-strapped defendant authority).  
In my view the response document seeks to achieve a sensible and reasonable balance and for that reason will no doubt come under attack from all quarters…

Simon Ricketts 19.11.16
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Devo West Mids

Connecting the dots as to the Government’s policy announcements is never easy for all of us on the outside, trying to work out what they may turn out to mean in practice. 
An evidence session today with the West Midlands Land Commission was a good excuse for me to get to grips, belatedly, with what changes devolution may bring to planning and compulsory purchase in the West Midlands. 


Background

The West Midlands Combined Authority  was formally established on 16 June 2016 by virtue of the West Midlands Combined Authority Order 2016 . It comprises 17 local authorities and three LEPs and follows a devolution agreement dated 17 November 2015  .

The WMCA is to be chaired by a directly elected Mayor. The election is due to take place on 4 May 2017. Andy Street is to step down from his job as John Lewis chief executive to stand, as the Conservative candidate. Sion Simon is the Labour candidate. 
The devolution agreement includes the following statements in relation to planning:
“Planning powers will be conferred on the Mayor, to drive housing delivery and improvements in housing stock, and give the same competencies as the HCA.

“The Combined Authority and its constituent authorities will support an ambitious target for the increase in new homes, and will report annually on progress against this target. To ensure delivery of this commitment, the Shadow Board of the Combined Authority and the government agree that: 


    * Existing Local Authority functions, which include compulsory purchase powers, will be conferred concurrently on the Combined Authority to be exercised by the Mayor. These powers, which provide the same competencies as the Home and Community Agency, will enable the Combined Authority to deliver its housing and economic growth strategies. The government will bring forward further proposals for consultation in the New Year and will, as part of that consultation, discuss how they can be applied to support housing, regeneration and growth. 


    * The Homes and Communities Agency and the Combined Authority will work together to develop a joint approach to strategic plans for housing and growth proposals for the area. 


    * The government will work with the Combined Authority to support the West Midlands Land Commission. The West Midlands Land Commission will ensure there is a sufficient, balanced supply of readily available sites for commercial and residential development to meet the demands of a growing West Midlands economy. It will create a comprehensive database of available public and private sector land, identify barriers to its disposal/development, and develop solutions to address those barriers to help the West Midlands meet its goal to deliver a significant number of additional new homes over the next 10 years, and to unlock more land for employment use. The Combined Authority will also be able to use their proposed Land Remediation Fund to support bringing brownfield sites back into use for employment and housing provision”. 

WMCA’s ambitious objectives are set out in its Strategic Economic Plan  and include a “higher level of housebuilding than is currently provided for in development plans”. 
A Scheme for the Mayoral West Midlands Combined Authority was published on 4 July 2016 for a consultation period which closed on 21 August 2016. It seeks equivalent powers to establish mayoral development corporations, with the agreement of the relevant LPAs, as the London Mayor currently has. It also seeks, for its area, the same planning and compulsory purchase powers as the Homes and Communities Agency. 
The West Midlands Land Commission has also been set up, with terms of reference  to consider “what measures could be initiated and undertaken to ensure an improved supply of developable land from both a strategic and regional perspective”. 
WMCA has begun to work on specific strategic sites. It published on 19 October 2016 its Greater Ickneild and Smethwick housing growth prospectus. An application for housing zone status is to be made. (Although – is it just me? – the Government’s housing zones announcement 5 January 2016  is very vague as to the implications of HZ status other than the potential for an element of Government funding). 
Implications
What sort of planning powers WMCA will have to encourage, cajole and coordinate the work of its member authorities? Increased housing numbers will not come without real interventions and a new approach by all involved – in which I very much include the Government. After all:
– the Birmingham City Plan is still on hold following the previous Secretary of State’s 26 May 2016 holding direction as a result of concerns expressed by Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell as to the proposed release from the green belt of land for the development of 6,000 homes

– we are still waiting for numerous measures to be fleshed out pursuant to the Housing and Planning Act 2016, including permission in principle and also the enticing mystery that is the concept in section 154 of “planning freedoms schemes”

– there is still no sign of the amended NPPF with its stronger policy support for development on brownfield sites. 

Will the WMCA be given CPO powers equivalent to the very wide powers that the HCA has by virtue of section 9 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, or will it at least have a working arrangement with the HCA whereby the HCA will use its powers at the authority’s request? The section 9 power is much wider than LPAs’ normal “planning purposes” CPO power in section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as it can be used to achieve the HCA’s broader objectives as set out in section 2 of the 2008 Act:
“(a) to improve the supply and quality of housing in England, 

(b) to secure the regeneration or development of land or infrastructure in England, 


(c)  to support in other ways the creation, regeneration or development of communities in England or their continued well-being, and 


(d)  to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and good design in England”

The use, or threat of use, of section 9 as against suitable sites which are not brought forward for development by their owners, might well be effective – particularly when taken with acquiring authorities’ possibly improved position against owners’ “no scheme world” compensation arguments by virtue of clause 22 of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. 
Interesting also to see the London-style “Mayoral development corporations” proposal in the July Scheme document. But what about possibly developing other London-style structures, including the referral to and potential call-in by the Mayor of applications for strategic schemes?
So many unfinished legislative changes and policy announcements. As E. M. Forster (who died in Coventry – sole tenuous thematic link to blog) might have said: 
only connect
Simon Ricketts 24.10.16
Personal views, et cetera

There Goes The Neighbourhood? Recent Challenges To NDPs

There is still significant legal debate as to what is the proper scope of neighbourhood development plans. This has resulted in a series of cases in which the parish council or neighbourhood forum that has promoted the relevant NDP sits on the sidelines (due to lack of resources) as the borough or district council which has been required to make it finds itself embroiled in significant legal proceedings. 
Can an NDP be made in advance of an up to date local plan?

This question is critical because, if so, there is significant freedom for the NDP to set the local policy agenda on issues (such as housing numbers in the neighbourhood) which might be thought to be more properly the domain of the local plan (whereas if there is an adopted local plan there is the statutory constraint that the NDP must be in “general conformity” with its “strategic policies”). 

To date High Court judges have taken the view that the answer is “yes” but this will come before the Court of Appeal for the first time this coming week, when the claimant’s appeal from the ruling of Foskett J in R (DLA Delivery) v Lewes District Council  (31 July 2015) is heard on 15 and 16 November 2016. Foskett J had taken an equivalent approach to that of Lewis J in R (Gladman Developments Limited) v Aylesbury Vale District Council  (18 December 2014) and Holgate J in Woodcock Holdings v Secretary of State  (1 May 2015). 
Can an NDP require new dwellings to be occupied as a “principal residence”?
This was the main issue before Hickinbottom J (promoted to the Court of Appeal since the hearing) in R (RLT Built Environment Limited) v Cornwall Council  (10 November 2016). This of course concerned the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan’s proposed ban on new dwellings being used as second homes. 
As is so often the case in NDP challenges (see below for more of this) the first line of attack was as to the adequacy of the strategic environmental assessment that had been carried out. The claimant, a local developer, claimed that increasing the amount of market housing for local people to buy was a “reasonable alternative” that should have been assessed. The judge disagreed – as an alternative it was an “obvious non-starter” as it did not achieve the objective of the policy which was to reduce the number of second homes in the area.  
The second line of attack was that the policy would amount to an unjustified interference with the right to a home in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge held that whilst the right might in theory be interfered with if a resident had to leave the area due to changes in personal circumstances, the interference was proportionate and therefore acceptable. The LPA would also be able to take personal circumstances into account in deciding whether or not to take planning enforcement action. 
Whilst much turned on the local circumstances of the second home honeypot that is St Ives, can one extrapolate to other areas under pressure from second homes, such as parts of London?
When will a plan be quashed on the basis of inadequate strategic environment assessment?
There have been many challenges, whether to decisions to screen out SEA (eg R (Larkfleet Homes Limited) v Rutland County Council  (Court of Appeal, 17 June 2015)) or to the adequacy of the SEA process (most recently in the Cornwall case but before that in for instance in BDW Trading Limited v Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council  (Supperstone J, 9 May 2014)). Until last month, I only knew of one example of an NDP being quashed on the basis of inadequate assessment: the Haddenham Neighbourhood Plan, where Aylesbury Vale District Council consented to judgment  in March 2016 (to the chagrin of the parish council that had promoted the plan). 
So R (Stonegate Homes Limited) v Horsham District Council  (Patterson J, 13 October 2016) is quite something: the Henfield Neighbourhood Plan was quashed by the High Court following a contested hearing on 4 October (Mark Lowe QC acted for the successful claimant, who incidentally also acted for the successful defendant in the Cornwall case two days later on 6 October). The plan favoured residential development to the east of the settlement and, relying on perceived problems with the local road system, no assessment was carried out of the possibility of development to the west, despite a planning appeal having been allowed to the west and a highways reason for refusal having been withdrawn by the LPA following agreement between the appellant and the county council. The plan was quashed on the basis of a flawed assessment of reasonable alternatives within the SEA process as well as on the basis that there was no evidential basis for the examiner of the plan ruling out locations to the west or for the LPA to conclude that the plan met EU law requirements.  
The case is an encouraging example of the SEA Directive fulfilling a necessary role in providing a safeguard against loose or lazy thinking, against the background of a process where examination can be light touch (to put it charitably) and where the legislation has as many holes as a Cornish trawler net when it comes to NDPs, minnows of our plan led system. 

Simon Ricketts 12.11.16
Personal views, et cetera

The UK Government & Air Quality (ahem)

The saga over the UK government’s non-compliance with air quality standards has casualties: a recent study  estimated that around 40,000 premature deaths are caused per year due to air pollution.


The government has been in breach of the Air Quality Directive  since 1 January 2010, by failing to take measures to ensure defined maximum limits of nitrogen dioxide are not exceeded. Limits are currently exceeded in 38 out of 43 zones in the country (each zone representing a conurbation with a population exceeding 250,000). By way of example, acceptable levels are not expected to be realised in London until 2025. 
The Supreme Court in R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State  (29 April 2015) made a “mandatory order requiring the Secretary of State to prepare new air quality plans under article 23(1), in accordance with a defined timetable, to end with delivery of the revised plans to the Commission not later than 31 December 2015”. 
The Government purported to comply with the order by way of an announcement on 17 December 2015  the main thrust of which was the introduction of Clean Air Zones in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020, within which zones the most polluting vehicles would be discouraged through charging schemes. 
ClientEarth then embarked on a second set of proceedings, challenging the proposals on two grounds:
– they did not meet the Directive’s requirement that exceedance periods be kept “as short as possible”

– The government “gave disproportionate and unlawful weight to cost and political sensitivity“.

The factual background and law are set out in detail in Nathalie Lieven QC’s skeleton argument for ClientEarth.
In a bad week for the Government Legal Department, the High Court found for the claimant in a robust judgment by Garnham J handed down on 2 November 2016 (ClientEarth (no 2) v Secretary of State).

Some interesting passages:
Para 50: “…I reject any suggestion that the state can have any regard to cost in fixing the target date for compliance or in determining the route by which the compliance can be achieved where one route produces results quicker than another. In those respects the determining consideration has to be the efficacy of the measure in question and not their cost.”
Para 53: “…implicit in the obligation “to ensure” is an obligation to take steps which mean meeting the value limits is not just possible, but likely.”
Para 69: “Whatever the reason for selecting 2020 may have been, however, I am satisfied that the department erred in law in selecting so distant a date. The problem of reducing nitrogen dioxide levels was urgent and the plan to do so should have been aimed at achieving compliance in the shortest possible time, regardless of administrative inconvenience or the costs of making the necessary investigations.”
Para 86: “…In my judgement, the [Air Quality Plan] did not identify measures which would ensure that the exceedance period would be kept as short as possible; instead it identified measures which, if very optimistic forecasts happened to be proved right and emerging data happened to be wrong, might achieve compliance. To adopt a plan based on such assumptions was to breach both the Directive and the Regulations.”
Para 89: “…it seems to me likely that fixing on a more proximate compliance target date and adopting a less optimistic assumption for likely emissions might well mean that CAZs are required in more cities, but ultimately that will depend on the outcome of further modelling.”
The judge’s conclusions are set out in para 95: 
“i)  that the proper construction of Article 23 means that the Secretary of State must aim to achieve compliance by the soonest date possible, that she must choose a route to that objective which reduces exposure as quickly as possible, and that she must take steps which mean meeting the value limits is not just possible, but likely.

ii)  that the Secretary of State fell into error in fixing on a projected compliance date of 2020 (and 2025 for London); 


iii)  that the Secretary of State fell into error by adopting too optimistic a model for future emissions; and 


iv)  that it would be appropriate to make a declaration that the 2015 AQP fails to comply with Article 23(1) of the Directive and Regulation 26(2) of the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010, and an order quashing the plan. “

Despite what the Daily Mail may think, the judge did not prescribe specific steps for the government to take, rejecting Nathalie Lieven’s examples of “fiscal measures to disincentivise the use of diesel cars and vans, locally targeted scrappage schemes, targeted vehicle retrofitting schemes and measures specifically targeting diesel cars, which she suggested ought to be adopted so as either to make more certain the achievement of the objectives in the Directive or advance the date of compliance“. How the limits are to be complied with is for the government to decide.


For a detailed analysis I recommend David Hart QC’s blog post.

The ruling led to a debate in the House of Commons on 3 November 2016. The minister stated: “We accept the judgment of the court and will now carefully consider it, and our next steps, in detail“. Does “accept” mean no appeal? We shall see. 
What does the ruling mean for planning decisions?
The government’s Planning Practice Guidance has a useful section on air quality.

However Robert McCracken QC’s 6 October 2015 opinion has been widely circulated as somewhat of a lobbying document for Clean Air in London, urging a more restrictive approach. It postulates that:
– because of the government’s breaches of the Air Quality Directive, LPAs have a duty in their decision-making to seek to achieve compliance with the Directive’s limit values

– where a development would cause a breach in the locality, would make significantly worse an existing breach or delay the achievement of compliance with limit values, they must refuse permission

– even where limit values are not exceeded in the locality, LPAs must try to prevent developments from worsening air quality and to achieve best air quality. 

The opinion relies on the CJEU’s ruling in Naturschutz Deutschland v Germany  (1 July 2015), a case about water standards under the EU Water Framework Directive. The conclusions reached in the opinion would now need to be tempered by the High Court’s ruling in the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal case, PS by his litigation friend TS v Royal Borough of Greenwich  (Collins J, 3 August 2016), where a claim that the LPA failed to consider and give effect to the need to ensure that air quality standards were met was unsuccessful – particularly as the opinion specifically refers to the cruise liner proposal by way of example and suggests, not borne out by the case, that the permission would only be lawful with a Grampian condition preventing use of the terminal until air quality could be shown to be acceptable. 

However (particularly following the latest ClientEarth ruling), in order to minimise the risk of judicial review, undoubtedly care is needed in relation to the analysis and assessment of any project that is in a location where nitrogen dioxide values are exceeded, would be exceeded as a result of the scheme, or would be significantly increased. There is obviously also a read across to the question of Heathrow expansion…
Simon Ricketts 4.11.16

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