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

(EIA + SEA) – EU = ?

Deadlines, deadlines. 
The EU’s 2014 amending directive on environmental impact assessment  has to be transposed by member states into domestic law by 16 May 2017. 
Given that Theresa May has announced that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be invoked by the UK government by the end of March 2017, which would see us out of the EU by the end of March 2019, does the 16 May 2017 deadline matter?
The Scottish Government is currently consulting  on transposition, with a consultation deadline of 31 October 2016. The Welsh Government is consulting  with a consultation deadline of 11 November 2016. 
I have seen no signs of any equivalent work underway for England or Northern Ireland, despite the lengthy lead-in period to the transposition process if it is to be done in accordance with the UK government’s own guidance .

This can only be deliberate but is going to lead to problems for developers and LPAs alike. 
What does the amending Directive change?
The changes are significant. For instance:
– More information is to be provided with requests for screening opinions, requiring more analysis and work at an earlier stage

– Mitigation measures considered at the screening stage need to be specified and retained in the final development proposals

– Reasoning for screening opinions and directions are expressly required

– If a scoping opinion is obtained, the ES must comply with it

– The Environmental Statement becomes an ‘EIA Report’

– It will need to be prepared by ‘accredited and technically competent experts’

– Decision makers in reaching decisions will need to decide whether the environmental information is up to date or whether further updated information is required

– The decision maker will need to decide whether to impose monitoring obligations to cover the implementation and management of the project

– The minimum public consultation period in relation to the EIA report will be 30 days (whereas the UK minimum period is of course 21 days).

It is not of course unknown for a member state to be late in transposing a Directive, but there are real consequences. The state can be fined for its failure to transpose. But, of more specific relevance to developers and LPAs, the failure to transpose the Directive by the deadline can in some circumstances lead to grounds of challenge for a claimant when, for instance, seeking to challenge a planning permission on the basis that the LPA has not complied with the requirements of the Directive. The Directive applies where projects have not been screened or scoped – or the subject of an ES submitted – by 16 May 2017. 
So, pre 16 May 2017, the 2011 Regulations will continue to apply (as long as you have screened, scoped or submitted) and post 16 May 2017 it would be prudent to comply with the substance of the amending Directive. 
But what will happen once we have left the EU? Well of course we have been promised the ‘Great Reform Bill’ which seems designed to retain UK legislation that transposes EU legislation in some holding pen, from which laws will be taken out individually over time to be amended or repealed. Accordingly, even after March 2019 (or whenever our exit from the EU turns out to be) the 2011 EIA Regulations (as amended from time to time) will continue to apply until further notice.
In my view it would be a mistake to envisage any substantial repeal of environmental impact assessment legislation, as opposed to attempts no doubt at streamlining. 
Accordingly, the stream of EIA case law will undoubtedly continue. Some 2016 highlights:
R (XY) v Maidstone Borough Council  (Deputy High Court Judge Rhodri Price-Lewis QC) – held that negative screening opinion was lawful – on the facts no requirement to treat proposal for gypsy site as inevitably part of a larger development proposal given other similar proposals in the area. 
R (Jedwell) v Denbighshire County Council  (Hickinbottom J, 16 March 2016) – reasons for negative screening opinion not given within a reasonable period of time but permission not quashed. 
R (Licensed Taxi Drivers Association) v Transport for London  (Patterson J, 10 February 2016) – challenge to London’s east-west cycle superhighway failed – determination of adverse environmental effects was for the LPA.
SEA
The SEA Directive  is fully transposed into law in England by the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004  – also destined for the Great Repeal Bill holding pen. 
In the meantime the cases continue. According to a Landmark Chambers update  we await the outcome of R (RTE Built Environment Limited) v Cornwall Council in relation to the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan, with its proposed second homes ban, following a hearing on 6 October 2016. 
More selfishly, a number of us who have contributed chapters to the forthcoming book by Greg Jones QC and Eloise Scotford, The Strategic Environmental Directive: A Plan For Success?  are hoping that it has a long and relevant shelf-life….

Simon Ricketts 8.10.16
Personal views, et cetera

Short-term implications for planning of that vote

This blog post was going to be about class C of the Use Classes Order.Instead here’s my personal take on the short-term implications for planning of that referendum vote. The most immediate implications are nothing about planning or planning law at all.

1. Obviously market volatility and uncertainty. Many investors and developers will batten down the hatches and proceed with extreme caution. But planning is a long-term activity and sensible investment in the planning process will continue

2. Others with appropriate funding may see pricing opportunities due to the strength of the immediate market reaction. So there will be some quick transactions.

3. Viability on many schemes will have changed overnight although we need to get over the initial shock wave.

4. LPAs may wish to grasp those schemes that will proceed notwithstanding the market disruption – they will be at a premium.

5. Mayor Sadiq Khan has a huge role to play. His mandate in London has been reinforced and he will represent stability in contrast to the confusion and chaos of central government, which will be distracted away from the big planning law issues.

6. A question mark now against at least the timing of some major infrastructure projects, including HS2, until we see the new Cabinet and until the economic implications of the referendum decision play out.

7. Delays to current planning law reforms where any significant ministerial thinking is required. Brains are otherwise engaged.

8. Ages until those big picture changes in relation to EU environmental and competition law – but discussion, debate and speculation on all that will be a continung distraction.

Simon Ricketts 24.6.16

Personal views, et cetera