Sajid Javid: Agent Of Change?

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

Noise and other impacts on new developments 

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brownfield Land Registers: A Bit Of Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts, 5 January 2018
Personal views, et cetera