Affordable Housing Tax

In requiring the developers of private housing schemes to contribute to the provision of affordable housing, the planning system has become a tax collection system, and an inefficient, opaque one at that. 
The OECD classifies  taxes as follows:
“… compulsory, unrequited payments to general government. Taxes are unrequited in the sense that benefits provided by government to taxpayers are not normally in proportion to their payments. 

The term “tax” does not include fines unrelated to tax offences and compulsory loans paid to government. […]

General government consists of supra-national authorities, the central administration and the agencies whose operations are under its effective control, state and local governments and their administrations, social security schemes and autonomous governmental entities, excluding public enterprises.
Participants in the planning system seem to accept the political policy choice that has been made: to require developers to subsidise the provision of affordable housing, whether by requiring them to dispose of land or built units to registered affordable housing providers at less than market value (and nowadays at less than cost, given the increasing scarcity of any public sector grants or other forms of subsidy) or to make financial payments towards the provision of affordable housing elsewhere in the area. 
The provision of market housing does not in any way increase the need for affordable housing, indeed over time by increasing supply if anything it should decrease it. It may be said that mixed use communities can only be achieved by requiring the inclusion of affordable housing within market residential schemes, but that in itself does not justify the state putting the cost of the affordable housing at the door of the developer. The only reason that affordable housing section 106 planning obligations meet the requirements of regulation 122 of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 (necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms; directly related to the development; and fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development) is because of local policies seeking such obligations, supported by national policy. Policy could have easily required development across the board to contribute to affordable housing – or another category of development other than market housing. Why shouldn’t we use plain language and describe the extent of subsidy on each scheme as a tax? Hypothecated it may be but it still surely meets that OECD definition. For the rest of this post I will refer to it as Affordable Housing Tax, AHT. 
How to calculate AHT? Frequently, the high proportion of affordable housing that is required to be provided in connection with a private market housing development, when taken with the other costs of that development (including CIL where chargeable, a more straight-forward and transparent tax – that’s how bad AHT is!), would render the project unviable and so AHT ends up being as much as can be extracted from a development whilst allowing it to go ahead, assuming a fixed capped profit level for the developer and a fixed capped land value for the land owner (often less than its “real” value or actual acquisition cost). 
Take London. The London Plan requires boroughs to seek to maximise affordable housing provision. The current Mayor has indicated that his “long-term aim is for half of all new homes to be affordable”. In his November 2016 draft affordable housing and viability SPG (the subject of my 1.12.16 blog post  ), he introduced a ‘threshold approach’, whereby schemes meeting or exceeding 35% (by habitable room) affordable housing without public subsidy will not be required to submit viability information. There are also minimum requirements as to the proportions of different types of affordable housing that will be required (“tenure split” in the affordable housing industry jargon that we have grown up with). For schemes that cannot meet the threshold, viability appraisal is required to justify how much affordable housing the scheme can deliver.
Imagine such a concept in any other sector:
1. The market produces goods which reduce the need for the state to provide a service, or which are at least neutral. 

2. The market is taxed on those goods, with the tax applied towards provision of that service, instead of that service being paid for by the state. 

3. The level of that tax differs according to location but will often equate to all profits arising from the production of the goods, less a capped profit and capped input cost. 

I’m expressing no view as to whether this process is right or wrong. However, I do feel that the underlying reality has been conveniently forgotten. And the collateral damage from AHT is:
1. loading complexity into the planning process, with local planning authorities having to fulfil both a tax assessment and tax collection role

2. encouraging bad outcomes, with developers incentivised to expend resources on AHT mitigation (complex affordable housing negotiations, arguments over tenures, viability appraisal)

3. reducing housing delivery by rendering some projects unviable. 

How did we get here? There is an interesting 2002 study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “Planning gain and affordable housing: making it count”, which starts with this brief history:

“Local authorities had been experimenting with ways of using the planning system to secure affordable housing in a number of areas in England in the 1970s, but official government endorsement first came in 1979 when the rural exceptions policy was announced. This enables rural planning authorities to grant planning consent for housing on sites that would not otherwise receive permission, provided that only affordable housing is developed on them
The approach was more widely sanctioned to enable affordable housing to be secured on all larger housing developments in 1981 and subsequently included in all Planning Policy Guidance on housing (PPG3) issued since then (DETR, 2000). Provided that local planning authorities have policies in their adopted statutory development plans that assess the need for new affordable housing in their districts, they may require private developers to contribute to meeting this need. They may also set specific targets to be achieved on sites allocated for new housing in adopted plans. When developers agree to make contributions these are made legally binding contracts, where they enter into agreements with the relevant planning authority under section 106 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act as part of the process of securing planning permission.”

“In 1998, the policy was amended, to reduce site thresholds above which contributions would normally be sought, and to link it more closely with the government’s policies on social inclusion, mixed communities and urban renaissance through on-site provision of affordable housing (DETR, 1998). In the 2000 version of PPG3, the government made it clear that developers’ unwillingness to make contributions to affordable housing would be an appropriate reason, of itself, to refuse planning permission (DETR, 2000). 

In the 2001 Green Paper on reform of the planning system the government proposed widening the scope of the affordable planning policy to incorporate small sites and commercial developments. It also proposed replacing negotiated contributions by standard authority- wide financial tariffs, which would still mainly be used for on-site provision. (DTLR, 2001a, 2001b).”
In my view, a significant turning point was paragraph 38 of PPG3 (1992): “A community’s need for affordable housing is a material consideration which may properly be taken into account in formulating development plan policies.”
This from an interesting 26 October 2011 paper  by Tim Mould QC:
At the time, the introduction of that policy provoked considerable controversy in planning circles. In Mitchell v Secretary of State, Roy Vandermeer QC sitting as a deputy High Court Judge held that a planning appeal decision based upon considerations of housing price and tenure was unlawful, on the ground that such considerations had nothing to do with the character and use of land. Had that view prevailed, the now conventional approach to delivering affordable housing through the planning process would have been dead in the water, considerations of price and tenure being part and parcel of the means whereby affordable housing is actually secured through the development control process. 

That view did not, however, prevail. The Court of Appeal overturned Mr Vandermeer’s decision. In Mitchell v Secretary of State [1994] 2 PLR 23, Saville LJ said (page 26G-H) : 

“On the law as it presently stands, therefore, the need for housing in a particular area is a planning purpose which relates to the character and use of land. Given that this is so, the proposition advanced on behalf of Mr Mitchell is that the need for a particular type of housing in an area is not a planning purpose which relates to the character of the use of land if that need is itself dictated or generated by considerations of cost or type of tenure. 

I cannot accept this argument. To my mind there is no sensible distinction to be drawn between a need for housing generally and a need for particular types of housing, whether or not the latter can be defined in terms of cost, tenure or otherwise. In each case the question is whether, as a matter of planning for the area under consideration, there is a need for housing which the grant or refusal of the application would affect. 

The fact that the need may be dictated by considerations of cost or type of tenure seems to me to be immaterial….
….the fallacy in the argument is that it simply confuses the need for housing (which on the authorities is a legitimate consideration) with the reasons for that need and concentrates exclusively on the latter while effectively ignoring the former. ”

Thereafter the national planning policy for the delivery of affordable housing through the planning process became encapsulated in a departmental circular devoted to that topic – DETR Circular 6/98 “Planning and Affordable Housing“. Building on the established materiality of the need for affordable housing, paragraph 1 of the circular required local planning authorities to investigate the degree of need for affordable housing in their area and, based on that evidence, to include in their local plans a policy for seeking an element of such housing on suitable sites. Such policies would then be material consideration in determining an application for planning permission.”

Tim then points to PPS3 (2005), which is even more specific as to what was required from developers: “planning authorities were required to set overall targets for affordable housing during the plan period based on (inter alia) the findings of a Strategic Housing Market Assessment; to include separate targets for social rented and intermediate housing; to specify the size and type of affordable housing likely to be needed in particular locations; to set out the range of circumstances in which affordable housing would be required; and to set out the approach to seeking developer contributions towards affordable housing provision in their area. There was further guidance on the provision of affordable housing in rural areas.”
As we then move forward to the publication in 2012 of the NPPF, the references to seeking developer contributions to affordable housing are lost. Not because the approach has changed but because by now this is just the system, isn’t it?
The NPPF simply says this about affordable housing, para 50:

“To deliver a wide choice of high quality homes, widen opportunities for home ownership and create sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities, local planning authorities should: 

    * plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes); 


    * identify the size, type, tenure and range of housing that is required in particular locations, reflecting local demand; and 


    * where they have identified that affordable housing is needed, set policies for meeting this need on site, unless off-site provision or a nancial contribution of broadly equivalent value can be robustly justified (for example to improve or make more effective use of the existing housing stock) and the agreed approach contributes to the objective of creating mixed and balanced communities. Such policies should be sufficiently exible to take account of changing market conditions over time“
 

Similarly, there is the assumption in the Government’s 2014 planning practice guidance, along with specific references later introduced into the document as to the circumstances in which affordable housing requirements should not be sought (reflecting the 28 November 2014 written ministerial statement that set out the small sites threshold and the vacant building credit). 

Throughout this period the availability of public subsidies to support the delivery of affordable housing has reduced.  
What an example of mission creep all of this is. How enticing for successive governments to restrict general taxation by progressively increasing the burden of paying for affordable housing onto private sector residential development. 
The political sleight of hand goes further: recognising the financial impact that this responsibility places on residential development, beneath the headline proportions of affordable housing that are sought, the definition of affordable housing has been adjusted to the disadvantage of those in most need of it:
– first with the introduction of affordable rent rather than social rent (see the House of Commons Library briefing paper dated 7 May 2015), affordable rent being a reduction of at least 20% on market rent as opposed to social rent’s generally lower, fixed rent, levels
– more recently with consultation on widening the definition of affordable housing to include “starter homes” and also, for build to rent development, discount market rent (see my 4.3.17 blog post). 

One advantage of calling a tax a tax would be that we could then have an honest conversation as to whether it is right that CIL always has priority over AHT. That 15% of CIL that is for neighbourhoods to apply (25% where a neighbourhood plan is in place) – can’t AHT take priority over that? Indeed, given that neighbourhood slice doesn’t even have to be spent on the provision of infrastructure (but on either “the provision, improvement, replacement, operation or maintenance of infrastructure” or “anything else that is concerned with addressing the demands that development places on an area”), why not advise that in areas of particular need of affordable housing the neighbourhood slice should automatically go toward affordable housing?
Of course the very term “affordable housing” is politician-speak. After all, all housing is affordable to some and unaffordable to others. Don’t we really mean “subsidised housing”, “low income housing” or “public housing”? I’m surprised indeed we haven’t yet seen it rebranded as “community housing”. 
But what other approach could be taken to securing it, other than the present one?
An interesting exercise would be to calculate, nationally or authority area by authority area, the annual level of AHT that is secured from developers by way of section 106 obligations (some useful national figures to begin with are within Annex A of the Government’s May 2016 starter homes consultation paper) and then to work out what that might equate to if it became an across the board (all development, not just housing) CIL-type charge. As I say, why should the cost of affordable housing solely fall on residential development? Indeed, arguably it is employment development that adds more directly to the need for homes. 
Indeed, as part of any review of CIL, doesn’t the concept of a Community Housing and Infrastructure Levy, or CHIL, have a ring to it?
Furthermore, whilst there is a much bigger role for local authorities to play in delivering affordable housing, direct and in conjunction with registered providers and the private sector (and potentially with a greater focus on neighbourhood, community, participation in delivery and management), why not turn the system on its head and boost production by making it positively in the developer’s interest to deliver affordable housing, through offering tax credits? This has been the US model, via the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), ironically now under threat due to Trump’s proposed tax changes (see for example Bloomberg piece Trump Corporate Tax Shakeup Puts Housing Developers in Tailspin 26 April 2017). 

Or do we have it right with our present system? Question. 
Simon Ricketts 28.5.17
Personal views, et cetera

Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture

To what extent might the state choose to tax land owners, through reducing their compensation entitlement, in order to facilitate the provision of housing or infrastructure, rather than subsidise that provision through more general tax raising? How can the state capture land value gains created by its own infrastructure provision, or due to its own strategic planning for development?
These questions are central to a number of current areas of public policy thinking, including:
– Using compulsory purchase 
– Land auctions and land value capture charges
– Benchmark land values in viability appraisal
– CIL reform
There are some confluences arising in this area between current Conservative party thinking, other political parties, Transport for London and Shelter to name but a few. I’m not sure that land owner interests have yet joined all the dots. Developers may wish to partner more closely and regularly with local authorities with compulsory purchase powers, but in other situations should also be aware of the risks ahead for their businesses if additional costs are not sufficiently predictable as to come off the land price or if they cause land owners simply to hold rather than sell. 
Using compulsory purchase

Compulsory purchase is already a practical mechanism for securing land where there is a compelling case in the public interest for interfering with private property rights. Of course it isn’t easy, and will never be. The power is draconian. The necessary procedural safeguards to protect against its abuse make for a slow, procedurally technical process and for uncertain outcomes.

Another disincentive for local authorities can be the significant compensation costs payable, given the fundamental principle that the land owner is entitled to what the value of his interest would have been were it not for the compulsory acquisition (the ‘equivalence’ principle). Even where compensation liability is being underwritten by a developer partner, the extent of compensation is:
– likely to affect whether the project is viable after all; and
– not ascertainable until all parties are too far in to back out due to the leisurely pace at which a compensation figure is determined (both pre- and post-reference to the Lands Tribunal, aka Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal). 
The Conservative manifesto, published on 17 May 2017, refers to compulsory purchase in this one paragraph:
“We will enter into new Council Housing Deals with ambitious, pro-development, local authorities to help them build more social housing. We will work with them to improve their capability and capacity to develop more good homes, as well as providing them with significant low-cost capital funding. In doing so, we will build new fix-term social houses, which will be sold privately after ten to fifteen years with an automatic Right to Buy for tenants, the proceeds of which will be recycled into further homes. We will reform Compulsory Purchase Orders to make them easier and less expensive for councils to use and to make it easier to determine the true market value of sites”

I am guessing that what is planned goes further than making the current system work better. Changes are being considered which would enable in some circumstances greater use of compulsory purchase and, in some circumstances, acquisition at lower values than the equivalence principle would suggest. 
The February 2017 Housing White Paper says this:
“2.43 Compulsory purchase law gives local authorities extensive powers to assemble land for development. Through the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the Neighbourhood Planning Bill currently in Parliament we are reforming compulsory purchase to make the process clearer, fairer, and faster, while retaining proper protections for landowners. Local planning authorities should now think about how they can use these powers to promote development, which is particularly important in areas of high housing need. 

2.44 We propose to encourage more active use of compulsory purchase powers to promote development on stalled sites for housing. The Government will prepare new guidance to local planning authorities following separate consultation, encouraging the use of their compulsory purchase powers to support the build out of stalled sites. We will investigate whether auctions, following possession of the land, are sufficient to establish an unambiguous value for the purposes of compensation payable to the claimant, where the local authority has used their compulsory purchase powers to acquire the land.

2.45 [ ]

2.46 We will keep compulsory purchase under review and welcome any representations for how it can be reformed further to support development.”
Note the references to encouraging the use of compulsory purchase where development has stalled, and investigating the use of auctions to establish land value (more on that later in this blog post).
Revealingly, in the week before the publication of the manifesto there was a press release with this passage in its “notes to editors”:
“To further incentivise councils to build, the Conservatives also intend to reform compulsory purchase rules to allow councils to buy brownfield land and pocket sites more cheaply. At the moment, councils must purchase land at “market value”, which includes the price with planning permission, irrespective of whether it has it or not. As a result, there has been a more than 100% increase in the price of land relative to GDP over the last 20 years and the price of land for housing has diverged considerably from agricultural land in the last fifty years. Between 1959 and 2017, agricultural land has doubled in value in real terms from £4,300 per acre to £8,900 per acre, while land for planning permission has increased by 1,200%, from £107,000 to just over £1,450,000. Local authorities therefore very rarely use their CPO powers for social housing, leaving derelict buildings in town centres, unused pocket sites and industrial sites remain undeveloped.
I’m guessing at the following policy strands for a future Conservative government from these various statements:
1. Further encouragement for use of CPO powers in the right circumstances, including particular encouragement where a “Council Housing Deal” is in place (guaranteeing social housing with a fixed-term right to buy for tenants) and possibly where private sector development is shown to have stalled (link this and the “delivery” elements of the Housing White Paper and this could be quite a stick to wield).
2. Further process reform likely.
3. Reform likely of the process for determining the compensation price to be paid, so that (1) figures are known earlier on, (2) the land auctions model is followed (see later in this blog post) to determine values in appropriate circumstances and (if those ‘notes to editors’ are to believed) (3) in some circumstances authorities will be able to acquire land for less than it is worth (possibly ruling out hope value unless planning permission or a certificate of appropriate alternative development under section 17 of the Land Compensation Act 1961, has actually been obtained). 
The last point (still speculation) has caused consternation and excitement in equal measure. The principle of equivalence is at stake, but equally this opens up the prospect of securing land for development at an undervalue so as to achieve affordable housing at no cost to the state. Money for nothing (unless you are the land owner). Shelter for example have been lobbying for a similar approach. Their May 2017 paper Financing the infrastructure and new homes of the future: the case for enabling acquiring authorities to purchase land for strategic development under a special CPO compensation code May 2017 lobbies for Government to:

enable acquiring authorities to purchase land for strategic development under a special CPO compensation code. This would involve three changes:

1)  An amendment to the National Planning Policy Framework to allow planning authorities to designate land for strategic development; 

2)  An amendment to Section 14 of the 1961 Land Compensation Act to disregard prospective planning permissions on land designated for strategic development; 


3)  An amendment to Section 17 of the 1961 Land Compensation Act to restrict the use of certificates of alternative development on land designated for strategic development.”

Shelter’s delight at the references in the Conservatives’ recent policy announcements is plain to see from their subsequent 16 May 2017 blog post Compulsory purchase and council homes – a new direction for housing policy?
Do the Conservatives really intend such a radical market intervention, or do they misunderstand how the compensation system currently works? The reference in the press release’s “notes to editors” that “councils must purchase land at “market value”, which includes the price with planning permission, irrespective of whether it has it or not” is of course wrong. The prospect of planning permission for development in the “no scheme world” is taken into account in arriving at a valuation but the existence of a planning permission is never assumed. 

However logically necessary the concept is, the “no scheme world” (or “Pointe Gourde”) rule been much criticised for being difficult to apply in practice. Its complexities were most recently explored by the Supreme Court in Homes & Communities Agency v JS Bloor (Wilmslow) Ltd  (22 February 2017), where Lord Carnwath said this:
The rule has given rise to substantial controversy and difficulty in practice. In Waters v Welsh Development Agency [2004] 1 WLR 1304; [2004] UKHL 19, para 2 (“Waters”), Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead spoke of the law as “fraught with complexity and obscurity”. In a report in 2003 the Law Commission conducted a detailed review of the history of the rule and the relevant jurisprudence, and made recommendations for the replacement of the existing rules by a comprehensive statutory code…”

Lord Carnwath had himself of course chaired that review. Too late for the litigants in Bloor, now finally, by virtue of section 32 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017  (which introduces new sections 6A to E into the Land Compensation Act 1961) we have a codified version of the “no scheme world” rule. (The compulsory purchase provisions within the 2017 Act are well summarised by David Elvin QC in a paper  to the 2017 PEBA conference). 

New section 6E has refined the rule so that it is now more difficult for claimants to rely on increases in value of their land created by the transport project for which the land has been acquired, where regeneration or redevelopment was part of the justification for the transport project. 
The big question is whether a more radical manipulation of the “no scheme world” rule might be possible, even if it parted from the principle of equivalence. After all, if land for development could be secured at little more than agricultural value…?
It would be mightily difficult, indeed controversial to the extent of potentially being counter-productive, if land is to be acquired without prolonged legal wrangling. If in the real world your land has hope value for another form of development, why should that be ignored? However, in fact it’s not legally impossible.
Article 1 of the protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights states as follows:
Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law. 

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”

(Incidentally, the Conservative manifesto confirms: “We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.“)
The European Court of Human Rights interprets Article 1 of the protocol so as to require compensation to be paid in relation to the confiscation of property. In Lithgow v UK  (European Court of Human Rights, 8 July 1986), a case arising from Labour’s nationalisation of various industries under the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977, the court said:
“The Court further accepts the Commission’s conclusion as to the standard of compensation: the taking of property without payment of an amount reasonably related to its value would normally constitute a disproportionate interference which could not be considered justifiable under Article 1 (P1-1). Article 1 (P1-1) does not, however, guarantee a right to full compensation in all circumstances, since legitimate objectives of “public interest”, such as pursued in measures of economic reform or measures designed to achieve greater social justice, may call for less than reimbursement of the full market value”.


Whilst a distinction was drawn in the case between state nationalisation of industries and the compulsory purchase of property, the same basic principles apply. It is clear from this and other cases that individual states are given a margin of appreciation to determine what is in the public interest. For example:
Sporrong and Lönnroth v. Sweden  (22 September 1982) (a case about longterm blight caused by ‘zonal expropriation permits’)
 “…the Court must determine whether a fair balance was struck between the demands of the general interests of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights…
James v UK  (21 February 1986) (a challenge brought by the trustees of the estate of the Duke of Westminster to leasehold enfranchisement under Leasehold Reform Act 1967):
“Because of their direct knowledge of their society and its needs, the national authorities are in principle better placed than the international judge to appreciate what is “in the public interest”. Under the system of protection established by the Convention, it is thus for the national authorities to make the initial assessment both of the existence of a problem of public concern warranting measures of deprivation of property and of the remedial action to be taken… Here as in other fields to which the safeguards of the Convention extend, the national authorities accordingly enjoy a certain margin of appreciation.” The Court went on to find that the aim of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, namely greater social justice in the sphere of housing, was a legitimate aim in the public interest



Similarly, in theory a mechanism might be arrived at which in some way disentitled land owners in some circumstances from achieving a full market value for their land. But the circumstances would need to be carefully circumscribed and the reaction of most land owners would be to fight rather than one of flight. 
It is not as if compulsory purchase compensation is presently particularly generous, even with the additional loss payments (capped, even for owner-occupiers, at the lesser of 10% of the compensation payable and £100,000) that were introduced by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 specifically to sweeten the pill for land owners and make compulsory purchase less contentious! Do we really want more uncertain situations such has arisen at the Aylesbury Estate, with the Secretary of State rejecting  a CPO made by the London Borough of Southwark, on the basis of the prejudice that would be caused to leaseholders by the inadequate level of compensation payable to them, and now reportedly  having consented to judgment following a challenge by the council, such that all concerned now face a re-opened inquiry?
Furthermore, if these amended compensation principles are only to apply to, for example, Council Housing Deals, how will dispossessed owners be able to recover their property, or further compensation, if the land ends up not being used for the restricted purposes for which the land was taken?
Lastly, that manifesto reference to making it “easier to determine the true market value of sites”. Does this suggest a simplification of compensation principles? Or an overhaul of the timescales for determining compensation liability? Transport for London have recently suggested (in the paper referred to in the next section of this blog post) that the Government might make “the process of acquiring land through compulsory acquisition more transparent by:

* Introducing an independent valuation panel to determine the market value of the land based on the ‘no scheme’ principle set out in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016 

* Establishing (early in the land acquisition process) an objective and transparent evidence base on alternative development potential in the absence of the scheme, for such a panel to determine ‘no scheme’ market values, for instance through the use of a modified section 17 certificate”.
Land auctions, land value capture charges

The passage quoted earlier from the Housing White Paper refers to “auctions”. Academic Tim Leunig has been promoting  the idea of “community land auctions” for a long time and indeed the idea was toyed with in the early years of the coalition government, whilst to a number of us it seemed naive in its assumption as to how planning actually works:
“The council first asks all landowners to name the price at which they are willing to sell their land. By naming a price, the landowner gives the council the right to buy the land for 18 months at that price. The council then writes a development plan. As now, they will take into account the suitability of the land offered for development, but will also consider the price of the land, and the likely financial return to the council.”
Transport for London has more recently been promoting a more sophisticated “development rights auction model” as a method of capturing land value increases created by transport infrastructure improvements. Their 20 February 2017 land value capture report , summarises it as follows:
“For zones with high development potential (particularly for housing) with multiple landowners, the Government, TfL and the GLA should consider the development rights auction model (DRAM), a new land value capture mechanism. 

The key features of the development rights auction model are: 

* The integrated planning and consenting of land use and density in a defined zone around a major new transport facility, in parallel with the planning of the transport scheme 
* The introduction of a periodic development rights auction, in which development rights over land put forward (voluntarily) by landowners are auctioned in assembled packages to a competitive field of developers. Gains above a reserve price are shared between the participating landowners and the planning/auctioning authority. No development taxes (such as CILs or s106 payments) are payable under this scheme. All non-operational but developable public sector-owned land within the zone is entered into the auction as part of a standard public sector land pooling arrangement 

* The introduction of a high zonal CIL for those landowners who wish to self- develop rather than participate in the auction 

* The use of reformed compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers (following successful passage of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016) to deal with holdout problems that threaten to stall development, together with further consideration of other options as discussed in the report”.
The Government’s 8 March 2017 budget announcements included a memorandum of understanding  entered into with the GLA, that says this:
“At Budget 2016, the government invited Transport for London (TfL) to bring forward proposals for financing infrastructure projects from land value uplift. 

The government has agreed to establish a joint taskforce bringing together the GLA, TfL, London Councils, HM Treasury, Department for Transport (DfT) and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to explore the options for piloting a Development Rights Auction Model (DRAM) on a major infrastructure project in London.

Should a pilot of DRAM be agreed, it will be jointly evaluated by London and the government to review its effectiveness and determine whether a similar model could be applied to other infrastructure projects.”


I can’t presently relate the DRAM initiative to the reference in the Housing White Paper (quoted above) to establishing land value via auctions in CPO situations, following possession. What on earth is that a reference to?
TfL’s February 2017 paper has various other more radical policy suggestions to capture infrastructure-related land value increases, including changes to SDLT, to retention of business rates and a new “land value capture charge” This would “capture a proportion of the premium paid to landowners by new purchasers or tenants of residential property for access to new transport facilities“. (Shall we call a tax a tax though, folks?). 
There is also a current RTPI research project The Use of Alternative Land Value Capture Mechanisms to Deliver Housing in England and Wales.
Benchmark land values in viability appraisal

One of the most contentious issues in relation to developers’ project viability appraisals (carried out for the purposes of seeking to agree reductions in the scale of section 106 affordable housing and other obligations) is the benchmark land value that should be applied as a cost input. Clearly it should not be the actual market value (which would lead to circularity) but equally it should not be just the existing use value (EUV), which would not reflect reality and would result in schemes being assumed to be viable when in reality they would not be because the land would not be made available at the assumed benchmark value. 
The 2012 RICS guidance, Financial Viability In Planning  , advises that it is appropriate to take into account alternative use value (AUV):
“Site Value should equate to the market value subject to the following assumption: that the value has regard to development plan polices and all other material planning considerations and disregards that which is contrary to the development plan.”
As summarised in my 1.12.16 blog post  , the London Mayor is seeking to move away from accepting AUV, preferring an “EUV+” approach, ie existing use value “plus premium”, with the methodology for calculating the premium left undefined, and therefore a recipe for continuing debate. 
In practice, surely any attempt to pitch EUV+ at less than AUV is equivalent to restricting the application of the “no scheme world” rule – a policy intervention to apply that shortfall for public purposes. Except that with viability negotiations, it could of course lead to development simply not proceeding. Is there then a stalled scheme and grounds for compulsory purchase? The extent to which this sort of economic intervention is acceptable needs to be carefully limited and defined. 
CIL reform

There have been rumours that the reason why the Government parked in February any response to the CIL review team’s report was that the new ministerial team had started to think about whether in fact any replacement for CIL should encapsulate land value concepts (memories of the planning gain supplement anyone?). There is certainly no mention of CIL in the Conservative manifesto. Certainly the policy priorities as between CIL and affordable housing need to be reconsidered. 

If we weren’t in such dire straits, we could of course go back to a position where the state invested in social housing and funded public services without weighing the costs so heavily on land owners and developers. In the meantime, over the next five years we’ll definitely see answers emerge to those questions I posed back at the beginning of this overlong post. 
Simon Ricketts 20.5.17

Personal views, et cetera

CIL: Kill Or Cure?

If anyone doesn’t think that the Community Infrastructure Levy urgently needs reform, do read this 1 March 2017 VOA ruling on one of many thorny issues that arise constantly in practice: how to calculate indexation (as well as how to calculate chargeable floorspace) in relation to section 73 permissions that amend pre-CIL permissions. The copy of the ruling in the link to the gov.uk website is redacted but I can tell you that around £3m turned on the decision relating to a development of 527 dwellings. The authority in question (I will preserve anonymity) has been interpreting the Regulations in a way which it asserts to be literal and correct, but which leads to unfairly onerous liability arising (which for some people arises completely out of the blue by way of revised liability notices being served). 
The VOA member considered that the authority’s approach “is wrong and undermines the purpose of regulation 128A” (the regulation that seeks to avoid double charging in the case of development pursuant to section 73 permissions). I understand that the issue may now reach the High Court by way of judicial review. As with any tax legislation, the dilemma is as to what room is there for a purposive interpretation, however unfair the consequences of a literal reading. After all, see R (Orbital Shopping Park Swindon) Limited v Swindon Borough Council (Patterson J, 3 March 2016):
“…not only would the defendant’s approach be contrary to the whole approach to the interpretation of planning permissions it would be contrary to constitutional principles. As was said in Vestey v Inland Revenue Commissioners [1980] AC 1148 by Lord Wilberforce:


”Taxes are imposed upon subjects by Parliament. A citizen cannot be taxed unless he is designated in clear terms by a taxing Act as a taxpayer and the amount of his liability is clearly defined. 
A proposition that whether a subject is to be taxed or not, or, if he is, the amount of his liability, is to be decided (even though within a limit) by an administrative body represents a radical departure from constitutional principle. It may be that the revenue could persuade Parliament to enact such a proposition in such terms that the courts would have to give effect to it: but, unless it has done so, the courts, acting on constitutional principles not only should not, but cannot, validate it.
In that case a literal interpretation was to the benefit of the payer rather than the authority. Patterson J underlined “the importance of a close and clear analysis of what the statute actually requires“. 

The problem is that the 2010 Regulations are a hopeless mess; anything but clear to payer or authority alike – the antithesis of good tax legislation or indeed good planning legislation. The successive sets of amendments in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 have resolved some problems, ignored others and created new ones. Due to ambiguities in the Regulations, CIL liability arising from a development is in many cases dependent on the approach being taken by individual collecting authorities, which is plainly contrary to the rule of law as well as wasteful of the time and money of all concerned. Planning consultants are having to act as tax accountants, with very large amounts of money at stake, dependent not just on an accurate reading of the legislation that accords with the collecting authority’s approach (unless there is to be an appeal to the VOA) but on service of the correct notices at the correct time – the process does not allow for any mercy on the part of the authority. 

Of course the planning system has from its outset wrestled with two core unresolved issues:
– The extent to which the system should have any land value capture role

– Apportionment of responsibilities between the state and developers/land owners for infrastructure delivery/funding. 

CIL is the latest attempt to square the circle but has proved hopelessly inefficient. 
For an excellent, detailed, analysis of the underlying issues, still nothing beats Tom Dobson’s 2012 paper to the Oxford Joint Planning Law Conference. 
Tom of course subsequently was one of the team, led by Liz Peace, appointed by the Government in November 2015 to:
“Assess the extent to which CIL does or can provide an effective mechanism for funding infrastructure, and to recommend changes that would improve its operation in support of the Government’s wider housing and growth objectives.” 

Whilst the political reverberations of Brexit have been an unwarranted distraction from things that might actually help to improve lives and provide homes, it is so disappointing that the review team’s report was only published in February 2017, alongside the Housing White Paper. (Why was it held up till then? There is no read-across to the white paper proposals). The report is dated October 2016 but its contents were an open secret as long ago as June last year (see my CIL BILL? 3.6.16 blog post). Not only that but the Government has indicated that it will not be responding to the report’s recommendations until this Autumn’s budget. This presumably means no substantial changes until April or October 2018 at the earliest. 

The review team considered four options:
– do nothing

– abolition

– minor reform

– more extensive reform

The report is a solid piece of work, well argued and rooted in experience. It identifies CIL’s failings (raising less money than anticipated, over-complicated, opaque) and firmly recommends extensive reform, particularly the replacement of the current system with a more standardised approach of Local Infrastructure Tariffs (LITs) and, in combined authority areas, Strategic Infrastructure Tariffs (SITs). LITs would supposedly be set at a low level calculated by reference to a proportion of the market value per square metre of an average three bedroom property in the local authority area, although the “example rates” in appendix 5 of the report are not particularly low given that there would be far fewer exemptions and reliefs and less opportunity to net off existing floorspace:
* £20 – £90 per m2 for Authorities in the North of England

* £30 – £90 per m2 for Authorities in the Midlands

* £30 – £220 per m2 for Authorities in the South and East of England

* £50 – £440 per m2 for London Boroughs

For developments of ten dwellings or more, there would be a return to the flexibility of section 106 for provision of site-specific infrastructure (netting off LIT liability) and of course abolition of the pooling restriction (come on government, if you do nothing else, remove the pooling restriction – even Donald Trump would be able to achieve that!). 

There would be transitional arrangements, with the review team speculating that these could take us to the end of this Parliament in 2020. Alas, with subsequent slippages even that now looks optimistic. 
What do we think the Government will do with the report? It is worrying that Gavin Barwell was talking at MIPIM of somehow including affordable housing in any revised system (see for instance Inside Housing’s article 24 March 2017). Keep it simple!
My personal guess is that significant change may well be too much for this government at this time. If so, ministers need to face that reality and it really is urgent that we at least push for Plan B: a further set of amending Regulations (preferably in the form of a consolidated version of the 2010 Regulations), putting right what we can, including abolition of the pooling restriction, alongside a clearer approach to indexation, to section 73 permissions and to payments in kind. The report called for interim measures but without setting them out in detail. 
Many of you remain in the “kill CIL” camp. I recognise that the CIL review team’s recommendations are radical but to go one step further and lose any levy or tariff mechanism would in my view be impractical. For bigger schemes, section 106 agreements definitely have advantages (as long as the negotiation process can be as streamlined as possible and the authority’s requirements signposted in policies) but for smaller projects a standardised approach should in theory leave everyone knowing where they stand – and another major lurch to a new system would inevitably have unanticipated outcomes. 
That June 2016 blog post was my first. And this is my 50th, with no real progress on CIL in the meantime. Gavin Barwell has rightly won many plaudits as planning minister but for many of us his real test will be to clear up quickly this CIL mess created by his predecessors (the coalition government in 2010 should have ditched it in the way that the Conservatives’ Open Source Planning manifesto document had suggested). As politicians love to say about most things, but true in the case of CIL, it’s broken. 
Simon Ricketts 25.3.17
Personal views, et cetera

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

Back Yard Back Handers

The idea, set out in the prime minister’s announcement  in relation to the Shale Wealth Fund, of the planning system encompassing direct payouts to households affected by shale oil and gas proposals, is an eye-opener on various levels – particularly given the suggestions that this will not stop at shale.

I set out below some reasons why I believe it is a wrong move and/or will not work. 
However, the proposals don’t come entirely out of the blue. 
There has been a community engagement charter since June 2013 in relation to oil and gas from unconventional reservoirs  It includes commitments from the industry to:
“Provide benefits to local communities at the exploration/appraisal stage of £100,000 per well site where hydraulic fracturing takes place;

Provide a share of proceeds at production stage of 1% of revenues, allocated approximately 2/3rd to the local community and 1/3rd at the county level
Community benefit packages like this are not new. There is also a non-statutory process in relation to on-shore wind. Community Benefits From On Shore Wind Developments  published by DECC (as it then was) in October 2014, describes a voluntary protocol agreed by the on shore wind industry. It commits developers of onshore wind projects above 5 MW in England to provide a community benefit package to the value of at least £5000 per MW of installed capacity per year, index-linked for the operational lifetime of the project. There are equivalent schemes in Wales and Scotland. The guidance stresses that payments should not be taken into account by decision-makers in determining applications. There is much focus on identifying appropriate community bodies and working through how benefits can most be effectively used by the community, with no suggestion of the monies being able to be shared out for personal gain. 
With fracking, the potential move to individual payouts was flagged in January 2014. As part of announcements that local authorities would in 100% of business rates from fracking,  it was announced that the industry would further consult about its community benefits packages, “with options including direct cash payments to people living near the site, plus the setting up of local funds directly managed by local communities”. 
For an industry paralysed by opposition to its proposals for exploratory wells, let alone extraction, this is presumably a fairly desperate attempt to turn the tide of local opinion. But the implications of such a scheme would go way beyond energy policy. Again, extending such ideas to housing is not new. Then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was reported in August 2013 as promoting the idea of payments for those affected by garden city proposals.
These are seven obvious concerns:
1. It won’t reduce the opposition
Objections are not necessarily limited to the immediate environs of the project. People have strongly held concerns about (in the case of fracking) the potential effects of shale oil and gas extraction on the environment and on climate change more generally. Those non-local objectors will not be “bought off” by any direct payment. 
Nor will local objectors, whose concerns are, it is to be assumed, strongly held and not necessarily swayed by cash. Indeed a December 2014 research report on public engagement with shale gas and oil commissioned by the previous Government would appear to support that view.  Chapter 5 addresses mixed reactions to community benefits packages: 
“The financial aspect of the package was met with discomfort for many, because it was seen to monetise the risk taken on by the community, and was thus seen as a bribe by some. The fact that money was offered was also seen to indicate the activity was extremely high risk and dangerous, as participants were unaware of money being exchanged in other situations. “

2. Contamination of the planning process

Regulation 122(2) of the CIL Regulations 2010 provides that
“A planning obligation may only constitute a reason for granting planning permission for the development if the obligation is—

(a)necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms;

(b)directly related to the development; and

(c)fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.”

It is of course a fundamental principle of the UK planning system that planning permissions cannot be bought or sold. However, let’s face it, our system is already influenced by financial considerations. For example:

– the Localism Act 2011 amended section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 so as to require decision-makers to take into account in their decisions “any local finance considerations, so far as material to the application”

– local authorities are rewarded by Government for allowing homes to be built, by way of the new homes bonus and the business rates system increasingly encourages authorities that go for growth. 
– a proportion of CIL receipts is payable to parish councils, with little restriction in practice on what the monies can be spent on.
There is nothing necessarily wrong in my view with these interventions. Monies are directed to democratic bodies acting in the public interest. But we should be planning for the long term, for future generations rather than those who happen currently to live beside a major proposal. 
3. This is not about compensation for impacts
The VOA reported in August 2014   that there is no evidence that shale oil and gas exploration will affect house prices. I assume their view has not changed. 
The compulsory purchase compensation system provides protection for those whose land interests are taken or where, even if no land is taken, there is reduction in land value due to the physical effects arising from the operation of development projects. The common law of nuisance provides additional protections. 
4. It will be complicated
Who draws the boundary lines that determine who qualifies? What distinctions are there between home owners and tenants? Will there be minimum residency requirements? What about second home owners? What about clawback if people move out of the area within a short period of time, having accepted the payment? How will it be treated for tax purposes? All in all a lot of detail to be resolved and even the. There will inevitably be those who feel that they have been unfairly excluded. 
5. Slippery slope
Why not every form of development? This legitimises dialogue on planning being about how much should be paid to individuals affected, not what is in the public interest.
6. Dissipation of funds
The on-shore wind protocol contains good examples of how community benefits can deliver worthwhile projects, in the public interest. This opportunity is wholly lost with individual payouts.  

7. Whatever happened to localism?

The most depressing aspect of the announcement is that it appears to be a recognition or hunch that, for all the promotion of, initially, the Big Society, from 2010 and then neighbourhood planning, with the structures created by the Localism Act 2011, what drives behaviour is not community but me, myself, I. In order to persuade us each to allow development to proceed, apparently monies have to change hands, directed not to our parish council or other community group but directly into our bank accounts. 
Tell me if I have this wrong…

Simon Ricketts 8.8.16
Personal views, et cetera
 

CIL BILL?

Pretty good CIL scoop by EGi, not yet denied by anyone.

Apparently two of the CIL working group’s recommendations are that:

– section 106 agreements rather than CIL should be the delivery mechanism for infrastructure in relation to large developments;

– there should be a nationally standard low level of CIL.

The recomendations may be included in the forthcoming Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill to the extent that primary legislation would be needed.

They certainly chime with the BPF’s own consultation response.

The cynical would point to CIL working group chair Liz Peace’s former role as chief executive of, er, the BPF. However, that would disregard the strength and independence of the group as a whole on CIL issues:  Gilian Macinnes (PAS), Steve Dennington (Croydon Council), Tom Dobson (Quod), Andrew Whitaker (Home Builders Federation), John Fuller (leader, South Norfolk District Council) and Michael Gallimore (Hogan Lovells). When the real report comes out, it will be worth reading and let’s hope that the Government don’t mangle whatever its recommendations turn out to be.  

But I’m excited already. Wouldn’t be great if we could move to a two tier model:

– for most developments, no section 106 agreements at all, replaced by a combination of (1) CIL and (2) wider use of standardised conditions than planning obligations to secure contributions and site-specific infrastructure. Authorities run scared from using conditions to secure contributions and affordable housing, sometimes without reason (Planning Practice Guidance: “where the six tests will be met, it may be possible use a negatively worded condition to prohibit development authorised by the planning permission until a specified action has been taken (for example, the entering into of a planning obligation requiring the payment of a financial contribution towards the provision of supporting infrastructure“)

– for major complex developments (eg opportunity area sites in London, urban extensions and new settlements), no CIL, replaced by section 106 agreements documenting the most efficient mechanism for delivering necessary infrastructure in a timely way? Not to reduce the financial burden for developers but rather to make their money work harder and go further with efficient timely infrastructure delivery. No more problems over regulations 122 or 123, no more uncertainty as to whether infrastructure will come forward hand in hand with development. 

Section 106 agreements aren’t going away any time soon though: given their forthcoming role as delivery mechanism for starter homes, and with no sign any time yet of any standardised drafting from the Government to discourage the inevitable goldplating and gaming that will arise.  Shame that. 

I fell off the L is for Localism blog a few years ago. Starting over. 

Simon Ricketts 3.6.16

Personal views et cetera