Elsewhere In Kensington

Last weekend’s blog post was written in different times. 
As predicted given May’s weak majority, Sajid Javid stayed in position as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The announcement of Alok Sharma as housing and planning minister on 13 June was frankly a disappointment. No doubt he is a capable politician, but the task of planning for housing should be a critical priority for the government and to appoint again a junior minister without experience at a senior level of government, without a cabinet role and without previous planning or housing experience was not a good sign. The appalling fire in the Grenfell tower in the early hours of 14 June and the anger that followed was an immediate reality check as to why we need to get a grip on the seriousness of what we face. Come back Lord Heseltine. 
This country has a housing crisis. Not enough homes are being built, there is a need for housing which is affordable for those of low means (including social housing with fixed rents) and we must ensure that what is occupied, new or old, is safe. 
If, as the housing white paper trumpeted on its cover, we have a broken housing market, who is going to fix it, when and how?
Who is also going to make sure that the Building Regulations remain fit for purpose and that, crucially, local authorities have the powers and resources properly to enforce them? What is the bulwark against those inevitably lobbying for another “red tape challenge” or “one in two out” rule? This is wider than about the Grenfell tragedy, whatever its causes turn out to be. The next tragedy may well not be a fire but another lapse or loophole, where we will be told, again, that “lessons will need to be learned”, that there will be a “full public inquiry” and all of the other usual platitudes. 
It is truly depressing that the present government (as well indeed as the Labour party) has Brexit (a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma) as its main policy focus rather than something as urgent and important as providing sufficient and safe housing. And more widely, to what extent has one reason for Brexit been to allow the UK government greater freedom to relax regulations that were designed to protect us or our environment? The government’s continued prevarication on air quality (largely pushing compliance down to local authorities) and the disdain for EU environmental protections expressed by our new Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs bring this into clear and immediate focus. But do we agree with these priorities? Housing, safety and security are fundamental human rights. Where do the objectives of Brexit (whatever they may be) appear on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for any of us?
But this is meant to be a planning law blog. I had intended this week to look at a recent inspector’s decision letter in relation to a planning appeal, as well as two recent rulings from the Court of Appeal. By coincidence, the local planning authority for all of them is the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. 
On 12 June 2017, an inspector, David Nicolson, dismissed an appeal by Notting Hill Gate KCS Limited for planning permission for the demolition of the existing buildings on a large site at the junction of Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Church Street and redevelopment to provide office, residential, and retail uses, and a flexible surgery/office use, across six buildings (ranging from ground plus two storeys to ground plus 17 storeys), together with landscaping to provide a new public square, ancillary parking and associated works. 
On the site at present are a number of buildings, including the ugly and tired 12 storey office block known as Newcombe House; a linear block along Kensington Church Street with shops and restaurants, and Royston Court, a 5 storey building with ground floor retail and 20 self-contained studio units on the upper floors owned and managed by Notting Hill Housing Trust. The studios are occupied by former rough sleepers, in accordance with the grant conditions for its acquisition and refurbishment from the Rough Sleepers Initiative, although this is not secured at present by any section 106 obligation. The site is surrounded by four conservation areas but is outside all of them. There are listed buildings in the area, including Kensington Palace, listed grade 1. 
Notting Hill Housing Trust proposed to compensate the Borough for the loss of nominations to Royston Court through the provision of 10 two-bed homes outside the Borough and committed that proceeds from the sale would be invested in the provision of new family homes in lower value areas.
The inspector identified the main issues in this appeal as “the effects of the proposals on: 

a)  the character and appearance of the area with particular regard to the relative height, scale and massing of the proposed tower and the architectural quality of its design; 


b)  the settings of nearby conservation areas and listed buildings; 


c)  the availability of social rented floorspace within the Borough.”

The inspector was satisfied on the first issue. On the second issue he found that there would in some instances be less than substantial harm, but that (subject to the scheme including sufficient affordable housing) this would be outweighed by the public benefits arising. However, the appeal was dismissed on the final, affordable housing, issue, for two reasons:
– There would therefore be a loss of social rented housing floorspace within the borough contrary to its policy CH3b which resists the net loss of both social rented and intermediate affordable housing floorspace and units throughout the borough
– The inspector considered that the site value of £33m within the appellant’s viability appraisal was too high and he consequently did not accept the appellant’s position that affordable housing “could not be provided on site or, more importantly, that there needs to be a loss of all the existing 20 social housing bed spaces on the site or a net loss in the borough“.

With a compliant affordable housing offer, or adjusted viability appraisal, the door is now open to the appellant to reapply. No doubt it is disappointing for all concerned that after such a slow and expensive process, appeal procedures are not such as to allow the appellant to respond to an inspector’s conclusions, perhaps by increasing its affordable housing commitment, before the formal decision was issued. Would that in some instances speed things up, or simply lead to additional brinksmanship?

Now turning to the two Court of Appeal rulings. In both cases our haphazard planning legislation, with its layers of amendments and its practical failings/ambiguities, has again been found wanting, although in neither case of any assistance to the claimant: 

– In Republic of France v Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (16 June 2017) the Court of Appeal unsurprisingly found that section 26H of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (a provision inserted by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013) is of no use as a procedure for certifying that sufficient works have been carried out so as to keep a listed building consent alive – it simply exists to certify that specific works would not require consent on the basis that they would not affect the character of the listed building as a special architectural or historic interest. There is therefore still no procedure for listed building consents, analogous to section 192 of the Town and Country Planning Act in the case of planning permissions. Nor is there a definition of “material operation” in the Listed Buildings Act. The court found that equivalent works may suffice as for planning permissions but the position remains unsatisfactorily uncertain for all concerned – in that case on one side of the grandest of neighbourly disputes Jon Hunt seeking to keep alive consents for a five storey super-basement scheme at 10 Kensington Park Gardens, on the other side the French Ambassador’s residence at 11 Kensington Park Gardens and, trying to adjudicate between competing interests, RBKC (I previously blogged on 6 December 2016 as to the extent to which the borough is particularly beleaguered by these types of cases in First World Problems: Basements).
– In R (Khodari) v Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (11 May 2017), the Court of Appeal held that obligations to requiring dwellings within a development to be “permit free”, ensuring that no one who occupied the additional units would apply for a resident’s parking permit, could not be secured by way of section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, given that the obligation did not fall within the restrictive list in section 106(1) of the types of obligation that may be secured (ie (a) restricting the development or use of the land in any specified way; (b) requiring specified operations or activities to be carried out in, on, under or over the land; (c) requiring the land to be used in any specified way; or (d) requiring a sum or sums to be paid to the authority … on a specified date or dates or periodically). In London the issue is academic only as the wider powers within section 16 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1974 can be recited but outside of London it is certainly an unnecessary headache. (The claimant, Mr Khodari, wasn’t even really concerned about the “permit free” issue – he was simply looking for a technicality to quash the permission as the permission was being relied upon by his landlord in proceedings being taken to end his tenancy).

Both cases currently seem an unnecessary distraction and examples of the disputes that increasingly occupy too much time for planners – certainly first world problems in contrast to the more fundamental challenges those affected by the Grenfell disaster now face. Donations to the British Red Cross London Fire Relief Fund may be made here.

Simon Ricketts 18.6.17
Personal views, et cetera

Nightmare On Marsham Street: What Now?

So much for fixing the broken housing market. Those poor DCLG civil servants. Here we are again in wholly uncertain territory – anathema to planning, anathema to business. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote I wrote a blog post on how we can possibly give any useful advice in these sorts of situations, How To Predict; How To Advise.
This blog post simply sets out various questions, to which I do not know the answer. 
First, how long will May stay as PM? Will we see a Conservative leadership challenge, will we have an early election (again)?
Secondly, will May lead a minority government, dependent vote by vote, issue by issue on the DUP and/or common positions with other parties, or will this be a true coalition government with a formal coalition agreement? In either case, what terms will the DUP extract? This will certainly be an early test for the PM of her negotiating skills, ahead of the start of Brexit talks that start on 19 June (the same day as the Queen’s Speech – the future comes at you fast doesn’t it…) and indeed ahead of the resumption of Parliament on 13 June. Will she be able to bring her own party to the table with the DUP given the DUP’s stance on LGBT, abortion and climate change (on the last of which, see this 9 June 2017 Greenpeace summary)? Will an alliance with the DUP be consistent with the Northern Ireland power-sharing arrangements within the Good Friday Agreement? Are they a competent partner, given for instance the “cash for ash” debacle that has cost all of us dear (see i-news 17 May 2017 )?
Thirdly, specifically in relation to planning matters in England, does a minority government matter, given a Conservative majority within England itself? After all, when it comes to planning and other devolved matters, the EVEL (English Votes For English Laws) amendments made in 2015 to Parliamentary standing orders come into play. As with matters of Northern Irish politics, the detailed operation of EVEL is far from my special subject, but basically if provision in legislative business is certified by the Speaker as only affecting England, or England and Wales, and within devolved legislative competence, only the members of Parliament within the relevant administrations have a vote. This is all explained in more detail in a House of Commons Library research paper  (2 December 2015). In fact the Housing and Planning Bill was the first to have its provisions certified, on 28 October 2015, under the new standing orders. Short of legislation, many other planning functions of the Secretary of State can of course be conducted without the need for a vote in Parliament, although necessarily only by proceeding with extreme caution given the political vulnerability. Two other thoughts on this issue: (1) the standing orders can be changed by a simple majority – a minority government will be vulnerable to that, so for how long will EVEL survive? and (2) EVEL of course means that DUP votes count for nothing in relation to English and Welsh devolved matters.  
Fourthly, who will the ministerial team be? Former housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell of course lost his seat and it will be tough to replace him with someone with an equivalent grasp of the detail (although it does seem like yesterday that I wrote my 17 July 2016 blog post when his appointment was first announced). Whilst Secretary of State Sajid Javid retained his seat, he has long been rumoured as out of favour with the PM (eg Conservative Home piece  8 February 2017) but, with the new mantra of ‘stability’, will he stay in position?
Fifthly, what of the current policy agenda, with so many pieces of unfinished business? I set out where things were left in my 21.4.17 blog post, Parliament, Purdah, Planning. Is it realistic to expect a new incumbent to make quick progress, simply accepting the previous agenda and direction? Surely not. Save for the most technical, least politically sensitive matters, a delay surely is to be expected. Whether that matters in most areas is another question – on the one hand we have all been using that ‘stability’ mantra for a long time but on the other hand, if the repeated Conservative manifesto commitment on housing numbers is to be achieved, we can’t carry on as we are. As Einstein may or may not have said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results = insanity. 
Sixthly, is there the political capacity at the moment for more far-reaching reforms? Surely, faced the unique challenge of the Article 50 negotiations (with their fixed March 2019 deadline) and a precarious hold on power, the prospects of radical thinking in any other area, including planning and infrastructure, have significantly receded. In practice, how much time will the cabinet have for CIL reform let alone more radical land value capture/compulsory purchase compensation law changes; or for HS2 phase 2, let alone Crossail 2?
Nightmarish? Possibly. Fascinating? Absolutely!!
Simon Ricketts 10.6.17
Personal views, et cetera

The Tomorrow People: Planners & Technology

This blog post scratches at the future of planning, which is a ridiculous topic in some ways. After all, whether the political priority of the day is to predict and provide, or to intervene and influence, the whole of planning is about the future (albeit learned from the past, and carried out in the inevitable fog of the present). Isn’t that why it is so fascinating?
Do we really know what lies ahead, however robust the OAN, however detailed the TEMPro modelling, however in-depth the OBR forecasting?
Politically, economically, technologically, the future comes at us fast – the outliers are always here already if only we notice them. 
Focusing on technology in the last month:
We have seen massive IT resilience issues in the light of the Google Docs malware attack, particularly affecting public services reliant on older software, and in the light of the BA global systems failure.
We have seen the partnership announced between Moda Living and Uber to provide up to £100 monthly Uber credits to Moda tenants, who would forego a parking space.

We have also seen Google’s revised plans for its Kings Cross development, and indeed its Toronto plans also announced last month. Bloomberg’s Toronto piece is worth setting out in its entirety:

“Sidewalk Labs LLC, the urban innovation unit of Page’s Alphabet Inc., has applied to develop a 12-acre strip in downtown Toronto, responding to a recent city agency request for proposals, according to two people familiar with the plans. Details of the proposal are private, but these people said the bid fits with the company’s ambition to create a connected, high-tech city or district from scratch.

Last year, the company began talking openly about building a theoretical urban zone “from the internet up,” with some of the same tools and principles that have fueled success at many tech companies. Before applying in Toronto, Sidewalk Labs discussed creating a district in Denver and Detroit with Alphabet executives, according to the people. They asked not to be identified discussing private plans.

In a speech last week at the Smart Cities NYC conference, Sidewalk Labs Chief Executive Officer Dan Doctoroff said the firm is exploring development of a “large-scale district.” 

“I’m sure many of you are thinking this is a crazy idea,” Doctoroff said, according to news website StateScoop. “We don’t think it’s crazy at all. People thought it was crazy when Google decided to connect all the world’s information. People thought it was crazy to think about the concept of a self-driving car.”

A representative for Sidewalk Labs confirmed Doctoroff’s speech but declined to comment further. Doctoroff was CEO of Bloomberg LP and worked as deputy mayor of New York City when Bloomberg founder Michael Bloomberg was mayor. 

Canadian officials set up Waterfront Toronto, a public corporation designed to revitalize a 2,000-acre downtown plot, in 2001. Earlier this year, the agency requested proposals for part of that area: a new “community” called Quayside to be developed with a private “innovation and funding partner.” Quayside would be “a testbed for emerging technologies, materials and processes that will address these challenges and advance solutions that can be replicated in cities worldwide,” the city wrote in its invitation. 

Andrew Hilton, a spokesman for Waterfront Toronto, declined to comment on the applicants for Quayside or its funding structure. The agency plans to identify its development partner by June at the earliest, according to its proposal document.

Formed two years ago, Sidewalk Labs was among the first independent units of Google before it turned into the Alphabet holding company. So far, the most visible project is LinkNYC, a network of ad-supported Wi-Fi kiosks in New York City run by Intersection, a Sidewalk Labs investment.

But the vision extends well beyond corner kiosks and other “smart city” efforts that typically involve selling software and infrastructure to local agencies facing budget pressures. Doctoroff has spoken often about how technology like autonomous transit, high-speed internet, embedded sensors and ride-sharing services could transform urban life. He’s also hinted at tech’s ability to overhaul zoning rules and control housing costs, a particular interest of Alphabet’s Page. 

Technology-focused companies such as Google, Amazon, Tesla, Apple and Facebook (not to mention Bloomberg itself) are massive influences for all of us in the planning world, directly through their increasing space and employment requirements (with their HQs being medieval fortress cities of ancillary uses) but also through the scale of their pioneering ambition. 

Self-driving cars, drone deliveries, blockchain, smart cities – to what extent does our planning system even attempt to plan for, or at least not make more difficult to achieve, an internet-of-things future that is more connected, more without boundaries than we can quite imagine? When I started work in the 1980s I never imagined an email, let alone a smartphone, or an online purchase. And nor did any plan of the time. 
There’s this passage in the Conservatives’ manifesto:
“Digital technology will also transform the management of our national infrastructure. We are leading the world in preparing for autonomous vehicles and will press ahead with our plans to use digital technology to improve our railways, so that our roads and tracks can carry more people, faster, more safely and more efficiently. Smart grids will make the most efficient use of our electricity infrastructure and electric vehicles, and we will use technology to manage our airspace better to reduce noise pollution and improve capacity. We will step up our programme of support for businesses developing these new technologies, creating a better environment for them to be tested in the UK.”
Whatever the election outcome (which you in the future reading this after next Thursday will know – please tell), this is all obviously right. But how do we do it, and do it right? If the Conservatives return to office, rapid progress needs to be made in response to their Building Our Industrial Strategy green paper  from January 2017. 
We also need to examine whether our planning system is fit for the future. I have previously blogged as to how in my view the C classes of the Use Classes Order do not reflect modern ways of living. I don’t believe that the B classes of the Order reflect modern ways of working. 
Another passage in that manifesto caught my eye:
“Digital land 

And we will use digital technology to release massive value from our land that currently is simply not realised, introducing greater specialisation in the property development industry and far greater transparency for buyers. To make this happen, we will combine the relevant parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hydrographic Office and Geological Survey to create a comprehensive geospatial data body within government, the largest repository of open land data in the world. This new body will set the standards to digitise the planning process and help create the most comprehensive digital map of Britain to date. In doing so, it will support a vibrant and innovative digital economy, ranging from innovative tools to help people and developers build to virtual mapping of Britain for use in video games and virtual reality.

Clearly that didn’t come from nowhere and googling led me to the really interesting wealth of material being created by the government-funded Future Cities Catapult on the Future of Planning. Their website has a series of blog posts, as well as a couple of papers with plenty of examples (with web links) of where emerging technologies are being used to improve planning processes:
 – Future of Planning: State of the Art Innovations in Digital Planning 
 – User Research Insights Report: Prototyping the Future of Planning 
For example:
– The GLA’s infrastructure mapping  
– Chicago’s State of Place walkability index

– Adelaide’s 3D city model  

stickyworld, being used by Canterbury City Council and the London Borough of Wandsworth

City Swipe being used in Santa Monica to learn citizens’ preferences and concerns about the city’s urban core. 

– and what about smelly maps

My personal experience is that local authorities’ online systems are now largely excellent, with most using similar indexing and searching systems. If you know what you’re looking for and have sufficient broadband capacity, the systems work.
The Planning Inspectorate needs to catch up in terms of online availability of appeal documents – its NSIPs unit is by comparison a paragon of excellence, driven largely by the modern, prescriptive, inclusionary, processes of the Planning Act 2008. 
Of course there are bearpits to be avoided with online availability of information, for instance, careful attention is needed to prevent the publication of sensitive personal data, as Basildon Council discovered to its cost last month with a £150,000 fine from the Information Commissioner
We also need to be thinking about how the planning system needs to adjust to a world of online campaigns and representations. In my 2014 Oxford joint planning law conference paper Heroes And Villains – Challenge And Protest In Planning: What’s A Developer To Do?, I put it like this:

“Via social media, we can readily show our frustrations and organise ourselves, quickly establishing a strong presence, strength in numbers and political influence, sharing data and knowledge.. Whilst there will always be a role for the old-fashioned demonstration with placards, has the traditional planning system yet caught up with the consequence of thousands of objections able to be generated on-line by use of SurveyMonkey and equivalent free software? How much detail does the objector need to provide for his or her objection to be registered and dealt with individually, and to what extent is the sheer quantity of objections received to a particular proposal a material planning (as opposed to a political) consideration? How are decision-makers and developers alike to cope with the occasional personalisation of campaigns? Some will recall the effigy of Secretary of State, Nicholas Ridley, that was burned by objectors following his announcement, that he was minded to grant planning permission for Consortium Developments’ proposed development of 4,800 homes at Foxley Wood in Hampshire in 1986 (subsequently overturned by his successor, Chris Patten). It is so much easier these days for objectors to turn up the heat on individuals via Twitter and Facebook from the comfort of their smartphone, often under a pseudonym. ”

Three years on, this is even more so. 

Away directly from planning, more widely in the industry, building information management (BIM) systems have already transformed construction and project management but only occasionally stray into earlier planning stages. 
Modelling has also reaped enormous benefits in the visualisation of development proposals as well as the modelling of the effects of development on daylighting, assisting for example with the excellent and challenging research document Guiding Light: Unlocking London’s Residential Density prepared by Gordon Ingram Associates in association with London First – partly using game engine software. 
When it comes to planning law, in my view we are way off the pace in terms of the technological applications that would make answers more accessible for the public and make professional planning lawyers’ work quicker (ie cheaper) and more accurate. For example:
– wouldn’t it be good to be able to carry out a thematic search within an authority’s website of all decisions in relation to a specific policy?
– why should Compass effectively have a monopoly in relation to thematic searches of planning appeal decisions?

– Why is http://www.gov.uk such a mess as a resource and a backward step on the old departmental sites?

– why is due diligence on planning aspects of real estate transactions such a regular reinvention of the wheel without the standardisation that the City of London Law Society has for instance applied to certificates of title?

– why has the Law Society still not updated since 2010 (2010! Pre-CIL even) its model section 106 agreement

– why is there no reliable way of checking with the High Court whether judicial review proceedings have been lodged?

– for on line access to court transcripts, why are we reliant on the fantastic BAILII, the British and Irish Legal Information Institute , a charity reliant on donations  ?

Don’t we all need greater processing power?
This was already feeling current as a topic and then I noticed that PlanTech Week is happening from the 12 to 16 June. You never know what’s around the corner. 
Simon Ricketts 3.6.17
Personal views, et cetera