Great Expectations: Pip & The Brownfield Land Registers

“We changed again, and yet again, and it was now too late and too far to go back, and I went on“. (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations)
Permissions in principle will change our planning system significantly, mark my words. In my 11.6.16 blog post  I posed a series of questions arising from the legislative skeleton that is sections 150 and 151 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. 
Victorian part-work style, we now have had the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Permission in Principle etc) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2017  (made 6 March 2017, in force 27 March 2017), the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017  (made 20 March 2017, in force 16 April 2017) and the Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017 (made 20 March 2017, 15 April 2017). The statutory instruments don’t yet give effect to all of what sections 150 and 151 enable, but we now have some answers. 
This blog post is not a full summary of how the regime will operate. There are various good summaries but I particularly recommend the Lichfields 27 March 2017 ‘essential guide‘.
A few headlines from the new regime:
1. Local planning authorities will be under a statutory duty to publish their brownfield land registers by 31 December 2017 and then maintain them, reviewing the entries at least annually. 
2. The registers will be in two parts:
– Part 1: previously developed land with an area of at least 0.25 hectares that is suitable and available for residential development and where residential development is achievable (all defined terms)
– Part 2: land in Part 1 where the local planning authority has exercised its discretion to enter the land in Part 2 and has decided to allocate the land for residential development having followed defined publicity, notification and consultation procedures. 

3. The information that must be recorded for each entry is specified and includes

– “the minimum and maximum net number of dwellings, given as a range, which in the authority’s opinion, the land is capable of supporting”

– “where the development includes non-housing development, the scale of any such development and the use to which it is to be put“. 

4. Part 2 will not include sites where the development would require environmental impact assessment. So, if the proposed development falls within Schedule 2 column 1 of the 2011 EIA regulations (for most purposes, more than 150 dwellings or on more than 5 hectares), a negative screening opinion or direction must first be obtained (but remember, indicative screening thresholds as to when significant environmental effects are likely to arise allow for the possibility of projects much larger than 150 dwellings). 

5. There are no statutory rights of appeal if the local planning authority refuses to include land on the register (ECHR article 6 compliant?). Judicial review would, as always with any decision of a public body, be available but the decision to include land on Part 2 is at the local planning authority’s discretion so that would not be easy.  

6. Once land is on Part 2 it has automatic “permission in principle” for five years. In order to be able to carry out the development, application for technical details consent is required, particularising “all matters necessary to enable planning permission to be granted”. The statutory determination period for technical details consent is ten weeks for major development and otherwise five weeks, so deliberately shorter than the equivalent periods in relation to “traditional” non-EIA planning applications (thirteen and eight weeks respectively). A section 106 agreement may be required if the usual tests are met. 

7. There is no defined limit on the extent of non-housing development that can benefit from the procedure, alongside residential development. 

8. The procedure applies to conversion and extension of existing buildings as well as development. 

For a wider overview of where this mechanism is heading, there are also useful references in DCLG Planning Update Newsletter March 2017, from which it is clear that further regulations will follow to (1) allow applications for permission in principle to be made for minor development (ie basically less than ten homes) for sites on part 1 of a brownfield land register and to (2) allow automatic permission in principle to stem from allocation in defined categories of statutory development plans rather than just from designation on a brownfield land register. Guidance is also in the offing (dovetailed with the revised NPPF? We can but hope). 
We also await the Government’s response to its February 2016 technical consultation on implementation of planning changes  chapter 2 (permission in principle) and chapter 3 (brownfield register). It was originally promised to be published alongside the regulations. In the meantime, a number of passages in the consultation document are useful in putting flesh on the bones:

“The result of a grant of permission in principle is that the acceptability of the ‘prescribed particulars’ cannot be re-opened when an application for technical details consent is considered by the local planning authority. Local planning authorities will not have the opportunity to impose any conditions when they grant permission in principle. It will therefore be important for the development granted in principle to be described in sufficient detail, to ensure that the parameters within which subsequent application for technical details consent must come forward is absolutely clear.”

“We expect that the parameters of the technical details that need to be agreed, such as essential infrastructure provision, will have been described at the permission in principle stage and will vary from site to site”

“We are proposing that local planning authorities should use existing evidence within an up to date Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment as the starting point for identifying suitable sites for local brownfield registers. To support this, we will encourage authorities to consider whether their Assessments are up to date and, if not, to undertake prompt reviews. 


While sites contained within the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment are a useful starting point, we will encourage local authorities to ensure they have considered any other relevant sources if these are not included in their Assessments. This could include sites with extant planning permission and sites known to the authority that have not previously been considered (for example public sector land). 


We will also expect authorities to use the existing call for sites process to ask members of the public and other interested parties to volunteer potentially suitable sites for inclusion in their registers. We propose that this would be a short targeted exercise aimed at as wide an audience as is practicable. That will enable windfall sites to be put forward by developers and others for consideration by the authority. 

Authorities that have recently undertaken a full Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment may not consider this to be necessary when initially compiling a register. However, in areas without up to date evidence and for all authorities completing subsequent annual reviews of their register, the process of volunteering potentially suitable sites will play an important role in refreshing the evidence base and help ensure all suitable sites, including windfall sites, are included.”

“We intend to introduce measures that will apply where additional action is needed to ensure that sufficient progress is being made. These measures could include a policy based incentive which would mean that local planning authorities that had failed to make sufficient progress against the brownfield objective would be unable to claim the existence of an up-to-date five year housing land supply when considering applications for brownfield development, and therefore the presumption in favour of sustainable development would apply.

“We propose that the measures we adopt would take effect fully from 2020, and would apply to any local planning authority that had not met the 90% commitment by that date. However, in light of the need for local planning authorities to make continuous progress towards the 90% commitment, we are also interested in views on any intermediate objectives and actions that might apply. “

Be in no doubt, eventually we will have a mechanism that:

– imposes hard statutory deadlines on authorities to publish and regularly update their registers
– whilst light on statutory recourses for developers whose land is not included, will be focused on by Government – woe betide authorities that do not play ball

– will in many cases provide a quicker route to development than the familiar allocation, outline permission, reserved matters approach

– will be potentially relevant for establishing the development credentials of a site even if in due course a traditional planning application is intended

If you have residential development or conversion in mind, the first step is to seek to ensure that your property is on Part 1 of the first round of brownfield land registers, to be published by 31 December 2017. Within the 73 authority pilot areas  this process is well underway. Although care is needed to secure reference to an appropriate scale of development, that’s a pretty immediate way to secure acceptance that your site is suitable for residential development!

Simon Ricketts 1.4.17
Personal views, et cetera

Advertisements

From The White Paper Mountain, What Do We See?

After so long we have reached the top of the mountain: the white paper and accompanying documents have all been published today, 7 February 2017. However, now we see a series of further peaks on the horizon. 
A good way into the white paper itself, Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, is to start at the back end. From page 72 you have the detailed proposals listed, including a series of proposed changes to the NPPF and other policies which are now the subject of a consultation process from today until 2 May 2017. The consultation focuses on a series of 38 questions but some of the questions are potentially very wide-ranging. Further consultation is proposed on various matters, including 
– housing requirements of older people and the disabled

– Increasing local authorities’ flexibility to dispose of land at less than best consideration and related powers

– Potentially increasing fees for planning appeals (up to a maximum of £2,000 for the largest schemes, recoverable if the appeal is allowed)

– Changes to section 106 processes (with further consideration being given to dispute resolution “in the context of longer term reform”)

– Requiring housebuilders to provide aggregate information on build-out rates and, for large-scale sites, as to the relevance of the applicant’s track record of delivering similar schemes

– Encouragement of use of CPO powers to support the build out of stalled sites. 

There is a supplementary consultation paper on planning and affordable housing for build to rent  containing a further 26 questions, with a consultation deadline of 1 May 2017.
There are responses to previous consultation papers and reports:
– Summary of responses to the technical consultation on implementation of planning changes, consultation on upward extensions and Rural Planning Review Call for Evidence  (including a u-turn on the previous idea of an upwards extensions permitted development right in London, now to be addressed by policy). 
– Government response to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into the report of the Local Plans Expert Group 
There is plenty to get to grips with, for example:
– the housing delivery test and new methodology for assessing objectively assessed need

– an understandable focus on whether the applicant will proceed to build out any permission and at what rate, although with a worrying reduction of the default time limit for permissions from three to two years

– Homes and Communities Agency to become “Homes England”. 

It is also reassuring to see the Government applying real focus to build to rent, reducing its emphasis on starter homes – and also reducing its reliance on permitted development rights. 

However, it is surprising how much still remains unresolved. We will apparently have a revised NPPF “later this year” but for much else the start date looks to be April 2018, for example a widened affordable housing definition including watered-down starter homes proposals (no longer a statutory requirement and with reference to a policy target of a minimum of 10% “affordable housing ownership units” rather than the requirement of 20% starter homes previously proposed) and a new methodology for assessing five year housing land supply. 

Liz Peace’s CIL review team’s review of CIL: “A new approach to developer contributions”  (October 2016 but only now published) remains untackled. The Government’s response will be announced at the time of the Autumn Budget 2017. 

Decision-makers will need to grapple very quickly with the question as to the weight they should give to the white paper as a material consideration, given the Government’s clear policy direction now on a range of issues. 


Simon Ricketts, 7.2.17
Personal views, et cetera

7 Questions About Permission In Principle

Despite its 217 sections and 20 schedules, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 is in places the merest of sketches – nowhere more so than the illusive idea of “permission in principle” in sections 150 and 151. Here are just some of the things we don’t know:

1. What does “housing-led development” mean?

2. What types of land will be able to be included in the new register envisaged, promised by the Act’s explanatory notes to be a register of brownfield land suitable for housing, but without any such constraint in the Act itself?

3. What procedures will govern the process for selecting land for the register, allowing both proponents and opponents a fair hearing? The Act simply refers to “consultation and other procedures”. In which ways will the procedure be any speedier than any development plan process whilst complying with the European Convention on Human Rights and SEA Directive?

4. Categories of land on the register, or designated in other plans, will have automatic permission in principle for development by way of a general development order but what will be the categories and in relation to what categories of land will specific applications for permission in principle be needed? The explanatory notes suggesting that applications will be limited to minor development (ie fewer than ten dwellings) but presumably the general development order will allow for much larger development to have automatic permission in principle (with EIA, where necessary, being carried out at some undetermined stage in the process?)?

5. How detailed will be the development parameters set out in the permission in principle, given that LPAs will only be to take into account limited criteria in determining subsequent applications for technical details consent? The explanatory notes suggest that “the parameters that can be granted permission in principle are limited to location, the uses (which must be housing-led) and the amount of development”. Will that be enough to give developers something bankable in terms of predictable value/cost? The explanatory notes suggest that permission in principle cannot be subject to conditions, so how will the parameters be documented in a way which sufficiently precise?

6. In practice, will LPAs require land owners and developers to make all the running as at present, justifying that development would be acceptable with necessary supporting information and technical work, or will land owners be able to sit back, let the LPA take the local flak and wait for permission in principle to pop out of the sausage machine in place of getting a developer on board to secure planning permission? Will land owners accordingly retain more land value gain?

7. Are matters that go directly to value and viability, such as social and physical infrastructure requirements and affordable housing numbers and tenure, to be determined at permission in principle stage or technical details approval stage? The explanatory notes simply suggest that “the Secretary of State may also specify in the regulations, certain types of information for inclusion into the register alongside the entries …. For example, the site reference, address, size, an estimate of the maximum number of dwellings that the site would be likely to support, and its planning status.”

More generally, is there an Act with such blatant Henry VIII clauses, ie Parliament passing an Act with its fingers crossed behind its back so that it can amend the provisions in the statute without primary legislation? Section 2(10) takes the biscuit (“Regulations under this section may amend this chapter”), giving future Governments carte blanche to mutate the Act’s starter homes provisions in whichever way they choose. (Read “Why Henry VIII clauses should be consigned to the dustbin of history” by Richard Gordon).

Simon Ricketts 11.6.16

Personal views et cetera

Brownfield Thinking

“Brownfield land” is right up there with “hard-working families” in terms of the political buttons that it presses. But what is it and what are the implications of land being “brownfield”?
There is no planning law definition other than the definition of “previously developed land” in the glossary to the NPPF:

“Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure. This excludes: land that is or has been occupied by agricultural or forestry buildings; land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill purposes where provision for restoration has been made through development control procedures; land in built-up areas such as private residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments; and land that was previously-developed but where the remains of the permanent structure or fixed surface structure have blended into the landscape in the process of time”.

It may be a surprise to some that there is nothing in the definition that connotes “under-used”, “vacant” or “derelict” – the definition does not exclude land which is currently in occupation (save occupation by agricultural or forestry buildings).

It may also be a surprise to some that (just as large parts of the green belt are anything but green) brownfield land is often anything but brown. The definition only excludes “private residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments” to the extent that they comprise “land in built-up areas”. The High Court recently confirmed (although it’s obvious on the wording of the definition) that land used as private residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments in the countryside as opposed to “in built-up areas” comprises brownfield land (Dartford v Secretary of State, 21 January 2016).

The Government has set as a policy objective that 90% of brownfield land “suitable for housing” should have planning permission by 2020. It is seeking to achieve this by a number of policy initiatives, which include:

Housing and Planning Act: permission in principle

The Act provides for the establishment of a register (which the explanatory notes to the Act, rather than the Act itself, explains is intended by the Secretary of State to be a register of brownfield land which is suitable for housing development). Local authorities will be able to place land on the register if it meets criteria which the Secretary of State will set down. The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Act state that “the criteria prescribed by the Secretary of State could for example include that the land must be available already or in the near future for housing development, that it must not be affected by physical or environmental constraints that cannot be mitigated and that it must be capable of supporting 5 dwellings or more“.

The effect of being on the brownfield land register is that, by a general development order, the Government will give automatic permission in principle for certain specified types of site suitable for housing which are on the register, or which have been allocated for that purpose in other local plan documents. The details of what the criteria will be are left for the general development order. The detailed procedure that authorities have to follow in deciding what land goes on the register is also left for later regulations.

Strengthened NPPF policies

The Government has consulted on changes to the NPPF, which would:

– provide that “substantial weight should be given to the benefits of using brownfield land for housing (in effect, a form of ‘presumption’ in favour of brownfield land). We propose to make it clear that development proposals for housing on brownfield sites should be supported, unless overriding conflicts with the Local Plan or the National Planning Policy Framework can be demonstrated and cannot be mitigated” (paragraph 22)

– include an even stronger presumption for starter homes on unviable or underused brownfield land – “Alongside these proposals, we propose to widen the scope of the current exception site policy for starter homes to incorporate other forms of unviable or underused brownfield land, such as land which was previously in use for retail, leisure and non-residential institutional uses (such as former health and educational sites). This will provide clarity about the scope of the exception site policy for applicants and local planning authorities, and release more land for starter homes.” (Paragraph 40)

strengthen the starter homes exception sites policy – “To ensure there is greater certainty that planning permission will be granted for suitable proposals for starter homes on exception sites, we propose to be clearer about the grounds on which development might be refused, and to ensure that this is fully embedded in national planning policy. Specifically, we propose to amend the exception site policy to make it clearer that planning applications can only be rejected if there are overriding design, infrastructure and local environmental (such as flood risk) considerations that cannot be mitigated.” (Paragraph 42)

– support development of brownfield land in the green belt if it “contributes to the delivery of starter homes” (weaselly word, “contributes”!) as long as there is no substantial harm to the openness of the green belt. (Paragraph 53)

The consultation period has closed and we await what emerges…

PS ask a tax lawyer about brownfield land and you will get a very different answer based on its use as shorthand for reliefs available for remediation of contaminated land.
Simon Ricketts 8.6.16

Personal views et cetera