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

First World Problems: Basements

Does anyone actually need to excavate a basement? Despite, or because of, the cheek by jowl impacts on neighbours arising from the construction process and/or concerns as to structural implications, basement excavation does have one benefit – of regularly testing various areas of planning law. 
Permitted development rights
We have yet to see whether Team Javid/Barwell have the same enthusiasm for permitted development rights as Team Pickles/Lewis, with their three tier approach to development management: permitted development rights without the need for prior approval; permitted development rights with the need for prior approval where specific issues arise, and planning permission “for the largest scale development” (budget, 2014). 
Basement development exposes the difficulties with the permitted development process. Indeed the case of Eatherley v London Borough of Camden  (Cranston J, 2 December 2016) has blown a huge hole in the concept of permitted development rights as its conclusions could be applied to all but the most minor forms of development. It will surely have implications for the Government’s more ambitious, but currently stalled permitted development proposals summarised in my 15.6.16 blog post  .
As summarised by Cranston J, the central issue was “a question about the extent to which subterranean development can be carried out relying on the current regime of permitted development rights. The question is of general interest but arises particularly frequently in central London because of economic and social factors, in general terms, the increasing pressure for space. It is a matter of controversy in the planning world and there is a split between local planning authorities as to the correct answer”. 
Class A, Part 1, Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 grants deemed permission for the “enlargement, improvement or other alteration of a dwellinghouse” subject to defined limitations. 
The judge held that the proposals involved excavation works which, as a matter of fact and degree, constituted “an engineering operation” which did not benefit from any permitted development right:
“In my judgment the planning committee asked itself the wrong question with its focus on the works being “entirely part” of the overall development, which would “by necessity” involve engineering works. It concluded that because this was the case it followed that the works did not constitute a separate activity of substance. That is not the approach laid down in the authorities. The Council’s conclusion that the engineering works were not a separate activity of substance followed from a misdirection. It should not have asked itself whether the engineering works were part and parcel of making a basement but whether they constituted a separate activity of substance. The Council needed to address the nature of the excavation and removal of the ground and soil, and the works of structural support to create the space for the basement.” 
So now, objectors to projects that are being pursued in reliance upon permitted development rights will be alert to elements of the works that can be said to be engineering works that would require a separate planning permission. 
The judgment is topical – in November 2016, DCLG published Basement Developments and the Planning System – Call for Evidence  which “seeks evidence on the number of basement developments being taken forward: how these developments are currently dealt with through the planning system; and whether any adverse impacts of such developments could be further mitigated through the planning process. This review is not considering whether or not basement development should be permitted, but rather how the planning process manages the impacts of that development where it is permitted. ” The deadline for consultation responses is 16 December 2016.
Other uncertainties of the (similarly worded) equivalent part of the predecessor Order were considered in Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea v Secretary of State  (Patterson J, 17 June 2015):
 – whether the limitation in the Order if “the enlarged part of the dwelling house would have more than one storey” is referring to the dwelling house as enlarged by development, i.e. includes the original dwelling house, or whether it is referring to that part of the dwelling house permission for which is given by Class A of the GPDO. The judge held that it was the latter, simply excluding anything more than a single level basement.
– whether the limitation in the Order if “the enlarged part of the dwelling house would be within 7 metres of any boundary of the curtilage of the dwelling house opposite the rear wall of the dwelling house” is referring to the dwelling house being developed, i.e. the application dwelling house, or to another dwelling house opposite the dwelling house being developed”. The judge held that it was the former. 

Article 4 directions
One clear flaw in the Government’s reliance on permitted development rights is the relative ease with which LPAs can disapply the process through Article 4 directions (without giving rise to any rights to compensation if the direction is expressed to come into force at least a year after it is made). In relation to both of the cases referred to above the relevant LPAs have now put directions in place.
On 3 October 2016 the London Borough of Camden confirmed a direction made under Article 4(1) of the GPDO, covering the whole of the borough. From 1 June 2017 planning permission will be required for basements. The direction covers: 
“The enlargement, improvement or other alteration of a dwellinghouse by carrying out below the dwellinghouse or its curtilage of basement or lightwell development integral to and associated with basement development, being development comprised within Class A, Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Order and not being development comprised within any other Class.” 

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea made an Article 4 direction on 19 March 2015 which came into force a year later.
Restrictive policies
To the extent that planning permission is required, where the proposed works fall outside the scope of permitted development rights, LPAs have been tightening their policies so as to be able to take a more restrictive approach. 
Lisle-Mainwaring v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea  (Lang J, 24 July 2015) was an application (supported by a basement excavation contractor!) to quash RBKC’s adoption of a revision to its development plan so as to include a basements planning policy  , claiming that the council and the plan inspector “failed to take account of a material consideration, namely the permitted development rights for basement development, and the risk of greater reliance on them if the BPP were adopted, without the benefit of any planning control over construction noise and loss of amenity”, failed to consider “reasonable alternatives” to the policy under the SEA Directive and failed to consult adequately on the new policy. (Ms Lisle-Mainwaring also of course painted her house in candy-cane stripes as part of a bizarre protest against opposition to her proposed three storey basement, thereby creating even more work for the planning bar). 
The 2015 basements policy prevented double basements in most circumstances and restricted the construction of basements under the garden to no more than 50% of the garden area (previously 85%). RBKC has since adopted, on 14 April 2016, a more detailed basements SPD  as well as a code of practice on noise, vibration and dust 
(Of course, policies should not be applied regardless of specific circumstances. By a decision letter dated 18 September 2015  an appeal was allowed for a double basement as part of the redevelopment of the former Kensington Tavern site, albeit partly on the basis of a fallback position by virtue of existing planning permissions). 
First world problems
Celebrity super basements are of course a particular headache for RBKC. 
Brian May continues to lobby  and litigate  against, we have had Jimmy Page reportedly  objecting to a super basement proposal by Robbie Williams, and of course the saga of Foxtons founder’s plans for “new subterranean space for leisure facilities to include a swimming pool and conversion of the existing undercroft into a car museum” at his home in Kensington Palace Gardens, opposed by, amongst others, the French and Japanese embassies and Indian High Commission. 
The dispute as to whether planning permission and listed building consent for the works had been validly implemented and whether lawful development certificates had been lawfully issued came to court in Government of the Republic of France v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea  (Holgate J, 27 November 2015), with the court finding for Hunt. I believe that the case is now heading to the Court of Appeal.
It all makes for interesting press of course – and certainly interesting law – but would most of us would choose to spend our money three storeys down were we to win life’s lottery? 
Simon Ricketts 5.12.16
Personal views, et cetera