Planning Law In 2018: This Is Not A Love Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Town Centres First? Two Recent Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 22 December 2017

Personal views, et cetera

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

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

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

2 kg. (It’s a whopper). 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Age Of Reasons

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

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

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

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

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

The main categories are: 

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

a)  following an inquiry or hearing; 


b)  on written representations. 


ii)  Decisions by local planning authorities – 

a)  Refusing planning permission or imposing conditions; 


b)  Granting permission; 


c)  Officer decisions under delegated powers. 

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

Working through these one by one:

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

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

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

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

Save relied on two grounds for their challenge:

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 9 December 2017
Personal views, et cetera

What’s For The Plan, What’s Supplementary?

A blog post in two halves:

– the increasing risk that SPDs (supplementary planning documents) and other policy documents will be struck down by the court if their policies should in fact be in a local plan or other DPD (development plan document)

– in the wake of the draft London Plan, a reminder that it should only contain “strategic” policies, as well as another look at the affordable housing and viability SPG (supplementary planning guidance), now subject to a judicial review. 

Bottom drawer plans

It is tempting for local planning authorities to fill policy gaps or update their policies by way of an SPD given that there is only a consultation requirement and no independent examination, or indeed by more informal plans. But care is needed. There are stringent rules as to what is appropriate for inclusion in an SPD or other policy document and what needs to be in a DPD. 

There have been two examples this year of policies having been quashed by the High Court on this basis. 
On 23 November 2017 in William Davis Limited & Others v Charnwood Borough Council Gilbart J quashed a policy in Charnwood’s Housing SPD which specified the required size mix for market and affordable homes. 
On 20 March 2017 in R (Skipton Properties Limited) v Craven District Council Jay J quashed Craven’s entire Negotiating Affordable Housing Contributions 2016 interim policy document. 

The issues turn on interpreting the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 about which Jay J says:
“Frankly, those responsible for these regulations should consider redrafting them”. 

Gilbart J agrees “with Jay J that the drafting of these Regulations is very poor and can lead to confusion, or to lengthy arguments on interpretation with not much regard being had to the realities of development control“. 

You’ve been warned. 
Regulations 5 and 6 read as follows:
 “5. (1) For the purposes of section 17(7)(za)(1) of the Act the documents which are to be prepared as local development documents are—



(a) any document prepared by a local planning authority individually or in cooperation with one or more other local planning authorities, which contains statements regarding one or more of the following -



(i) the development and use of land which the local planning authority wish to encourage during any specified period;



(ii) the allocation of sites for a particular type of development or use;



(iii) any environmental, social, design and economic objectives which are relevant to the attainment of the development and use of land mentioned in paragraph (i); and



(iv) development management and site allocation policies, which are intended to guide the determination of applications for planning permission;

(b) ………………………………………………………………



(2) For the purposes of section 17(7)(za) of the Act the documents which, if prepared, are to be prepared as local development documents are—



(a) any document which—



(i) relates only to part of the area of the local planning authority;



(ii) identifies that area as an area of significant change or special conservation; and



(iii) contains the local planning authority’s policies in relation to the area; and



(b) any other document which includes a site allocation policy.



6. Any document of the description referred to in regulation 5(1)(a)(i), (ii) or (iv) or 5(2)(a) or (b) is a local plan.”
So if a policy document meets any of the criteria in Regulation (1) (a) (i), (ii) or (iv) or 5 (2) it is in reality a local plan and will be at risk of being quashed if the procedures stipulated for a local plan have not been followed. This means that there are huge consequences for authorities whose policy documents fall within any of these criteria – rightly so, in my view (albeit with sympathy for authorities in relation to the difficulties inherent in working out whether a policy falls for instance within Regulation 5 (1) (a) (iii) – ok – or (i), (ii) or (iv) – not ok!).
In the words of Gilbart J:
“It has always been the case since the original TCPA 1947 that the policies of a proposed development plan should be the subject of consultation, and where objection is made, independent examination. PCPA 2004 and the related LP Regs 2012 made considerable changes to the mechanics of the system for bringing forward policies, whether those which have the status of development plan policies for the purposes of the legislative code, or have a less significant role.
Albeit that the procedures for the adoption of a development plan have altered over the years, it is still a fundamental feature of the system that policies which form part of the development plan must be subjected to proper scrutiny, including independent scrutiny.”
In William Davis, Gilbart J held that the relevant housing mix policy “sought to prescribe different percentages for all house sizes, and as between market and affordable housing. It related to “the development and use of land which the local planning authority wish to encourage during any specified period” and therefore fell within Reg 5(1)(a)(i). But it also contained “development management and site allocation policies, which are intended to guide the determination of applications for planning permission” and therefore also engaged Reg 5(1)(a)(iv). On that basis it could only be promoted by way of a local plan as defined.” It was therefore quashed. 
In Skipton, Jay J noted:
Affordable housing policies are ordinarily located in local plans because they relate to the development and use of land“. 
He found that even if he was wrong about the affordable housing contributions interim policy document being in fact a DPD (and failing the procedural requirements of a DPD), nor was it an SPD – policies in an SPD must be supplementary to policies in a DPD. There were no affordable housing policies that has been saved in Craven’s local plan: “it cannot logically supplement a black hole“.
He concluded:
“In my judgment, the correct analysis is that the NAHC 2016 contains statements in the nature of policies which pertain to the development and use of land which the Defendant wishes to encourage, pending its adoption of a new local plan which will include an affordable housing policy. The development and use of land is either “residential development including affordable housing” or “affordable housing”. It is an interim policy in the nature of a DPD. It should have been consulted on; an SEA should have been carried out; it should have been submitted to the Secretary of State for independent examination.”
There is a final coda to Jay J’s judgment:
“…I am not oblivious to the practical difficulties facing local planning authorities assailed by constant changes in the legislative regime and national policy. However, a local planning authority is required to keep its local plans under review. The correct course is to press on with the timeous preparation of up-to-date local plans, and in the interregnum between draft and adoption, deploy these as material considerations for the purpose of the rights and duties conferred by the 2004 Act.”



I take from these two cases that we should be scrutinising carefully policies that authorities seek to rely on that have not been tested as DPD policies undergoing proper independent scrutiny. For example management policies, site allocation policies and policies encouraging the development and use of land should all be restricted to DPDs so that they can be properly examined as the legislation requires. 
London: another kettle of fish


The above analysis is relevant to London boroughs but the position of the London Mayor is different, given that his plan making powers are not set out in the 2012 Regulations but in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. As I set out in my 23 April 2017 blog post Make No Little Plans: The London Plan, policies in the London Plan can only deal with “matters which are of strategic importance to Greater London”.
The draft London Plan was of course published on 29 November 2017. As you read its 500 plus pages, ask yourself in relation to each policy whether it truly does meet that “strategic importance to Greater London” test or are we seeing a further boxing in of the policy making powers which should be left to the boroughs?
Partly to seek to bring about changes ahead of progress with this plan and partly to seek to set out his required approach to a level of detail that would be wholly inappropriate for a “strategic” document, the Mayor has set out his approach to affordable housing and viability in a detailed, non statutory, SPG (the Greater London Authority Act does not provide for statutory SPDs). I covered the document in my 20 August 2017 blog post 20 Changes In The Final Version Of The London Mayor’s Affordable Housing & Viability SPG.
A legal challenge to the validity of the SPG has been brought by four retirement living providers (McCarthy & Stone, Churchill Retirement Living, Pegasus Life and Renaissance Retirement), based on three grounds:
– that the SPG “unlawfully represents substantive new policy, without going through the independent examination process which should apply to policy changes of this kind“. 

– lack of strategic environmental assessment

– breach of the Equality Act 2010 and other legislative requirements “since it introduces an unjustified and disproportionate new regulatory hurdle which leads to differential treatment for the elderly and women seeking to have their housing needs met in London“. 

Whether through this litigation or through the examination process that lies ahead for the London Plan itself, some interesting analysis lies ahead as to (1) what are “matters of strategic importance to Greater London” and (2) the extent to which the Mayor can lawfully go faster, or into a greater level of detail, in supplementary planning guidance. 
The examination process for DPDs, and indeed for the London Plan, can sometimes appear superficial in relation to individual policy issues, but at least there is some independent scrutiny. On the other hand where planning applications are refused on the basis of policies that the decision-maker has itself both made and approved, the position can defy any common sense notion of gravity. The authority has simply pulled itself up by its own bootstraps. 
Simon Ricketts, 1 December 2017
Personal views, et cetera