New Cases, Old Law: Verdin, Cumberlege

There have been two interesting judgments already this August, both by well-respected members of the planning bar sitting as deputies. Not everyone is away. Both cases illustrate the political and unpredictable nature of decision-making where neighbourhood plan issues arise. Between them they include a range of traditional, but still interesting and difficult, planning principles:
– When is the decision maker taken to have a closed mind or for his or her decision to be improperly infected by lobbying?
– How should the decision maker determine whether proposed planning conditions may or may not be relevant to the decision?
– The test to be applied when determining when a decision may be invalid when a consideration, that is capable of being material, is not taken into account.
– the extent of the requirement for consistency in decision making. 
– the effect on a decision of a material error of fact in its reasoning
The first two issues are addressed (as well as others) in Verdin and the last three issues are addressed in Cumberlege.
Verdin (t/a the Darnhall Estate) v Secretary of State & Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council  (Robin Purchas QC sitting as a deputy High Court judge, 10 August 2017). 
This proposal for 184 dwellings on the edge of Winsford, Cheshire, had been recovered on appeal for the Secretary of State’s own decision, rather than being left for an inspector to determine, due to the then emerging Winsford neighbourhood plan. (It will be remembered that the Secretary of State’s policy, most recently stated on 12 December 2016, for a further period of six months which ended on 12 June 2017, has been to recover for his own decision making all appeals in relation to “proposals for residential development over 25 dwellings in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local planning authority but the relevant plan has not been made“. This has slowed down and added uncertainty in relation to many appeals that frankly should have been left for capable inspectors to determine.)

After a very slow application and appeal process (application July 2013, refusal November 2013, inquiry June 2014, reopened inquiry following representations that material considerations had changed September 2015, decision letter July 2016), the Secretary of State had dismissed the appeal, against his inspector’s recommendations. In so doing he partly relied on a finding that the scheme was in conflict with the Winsford neighbourhood plan. Unlike his inspector, who found that there were “very substantial social benefits from the proposal“, the Secretary of State found that any benefits of the proposal not outweighing a combination of that conflict and “moderate harm to the environmental dimension of sustainable development from the adverse impact of the loss of open fields”. As part of his downgrading of the benefits that the inspector saw as arising from the scheme, the Secretary of State took the view that four proposed conditions put forward by the appellant (requiring self-build housing as part of the development; requiring training and employment measures; requiring local building firms to be used, and requiring local procurement) did not meet the six tests in the NPPF (necessary; relevant to planning and to the development to be permitted; enforceable; precise; reasonable in all other respects) and therefore he did not take them into account.

The deputy judge’s judgment is interesting for the factual references in passing to the lobbying and internal deliberation that is going on behind the scenes. See for instance paragraph 129, referring to lobbying from the local MP seeking to delay the decision until after an inspector had reported on the local plan (presumably with the hope that the report would assist objectors’ case on the five year housing land position) and referring to civil servants’ internal email correspondence which was said by the appellant to demonstrate that the decision was being delayed to give time for the neighbourhood plan to be made. Paragraph 144 also refers to “the existence of a draft submission from one officer in the planning casework division which proposed a recommendation that the appeal be allowed but which was subsequently changed in the submission that was made to ministers”. 

A number of the appellant’s grounds of challenge were rejected, including that the then planning minister Brandon Lewis had a closed mind in deciding not to permit residential schemes on sites not allocated in the neighbourhood plan by virtue of the letter that he had sent in 2016 to the Planning Inspectorate in relation to appeals involving neighbourhood plan issues (“wholly unarguable”); that the Secretary of State had unlawfully delayed his decision (which the deputy judge did not infer into the internal email correspondence) and that he acted unlawfully in allowing himself to be lobbied by local members of Parliament (no basis for that because the letters were made available allowing representations to be made).
However, the deputy judge went on to quash the decision on the basis that the Secretary of State had no basis for rejecting the proposed conditions requiring training and employment measures; requiring local building firms to be used, and requiring local procurement. Whilst the Secretary of State was justified in rejecting the self-build housing as going beyond the advice in the NPPF because it sought to control the values at the plots would be made available, there was no basis for his criticisms of the other conditions. The judgment includes a useful analysis of the legal tests and an examination of the conditions against those tests. 
Whilst no doubt the appellant will be pleased to have another shot at persuading the Secretary of State to arrive at a different conclusion this time round, it is disappointing to be left with the sense that timing is all and the Secretary of State and his civil servants, as well as of course objectors, know it. Who hasn’t sensed from time to time that decisions have been subject to delay whilst at the same time, conveniently for objectors, the housing land supply position has changed or an emerging neighbourhood or local plan has gained traction? And who doesn’t sense that appeals such as this are as much about the politics as the about the evidence?
Baroness Cumberlege of Newick v Secretary of State & DLA Delivery Limited (John Howell QC sitting as a deputy High Court judge, 4 August 2017). 
This related to an appeal against refusal of planning permission for an even smaller scheme, for up to 50 dwellings in Newick, Sussex. Here the appeal had been allowed by the Secretary of State who had recovered it due to the then emerging Newick neighbourhood plan. However the decision was challenged by Baroness Cumberlege and her husband, both local residents and members of the Newick Village Society. The baroness, aside from being a Conservative peer, has, according the judgment “been a parish, district and county councillor representing the village“. She argued that:
– the Secretary of State had wrongly determined that a key policy of the local plan was out of date, without explaining the inconsistency of that conclusion with the reverse conclusion reached by him in another recovered appeal decision. 

– the Secretary of State had made a material error of fact in treating the appeal site as falling outside an area of 7km designated for the purpose of protecting the Ashford Forest SPA and SAC (yes, this is a case to add to those covered in my 8.4.17 blog post, Heffalump Traps: The Ashdown Forest Cases).

Having allowed the appeal, when faced with the challenge the Secretary of State submitted to judgment on the first ground of challenge and did not participate in the hearing in front of John Howell QC – never a good moment for the developer to be left to justify as lawful that which the decision maker himself is now prepared to disown. 
For what would seem to be a limited series of issues, the judgment is a long one at over 50 pages. Helpfully, the deputy judge’s conclusions are summarised from paragraph 148 onwards. To summarise the summary (rarely a good idea):
– Where a matter is not required by legislation to be taken into account, “a decision may be invalid when no reasonable decision maker in the circumstances would have failed to take that matter into account”. 

– “There is a public interest in securing reasonable consistency in the exercise of administrative discretions, which may mean that it is unreasonable for a decision maker not to take into account other decisions that may bear in some respect on the decision to be made

– “Given that one reason why the Secretary of State may “recover” planning appeals in order to determine them himself is to introduce coherence and consistency in development control, however, avoiding apparent and unexplained inconsistencies in the Secretary of State’s own decisions on matters that may have ramifications for decision making in other cases is an important consideration in determining what may be required of him if he is not to act unreasonably”. 

– No reasonable decision maker would have failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that he had not issued any decisions relating to the question as to whether the relevant local plan policy was out of date. “It can only undermine public confidence in the operation of the development control system for there to be two decisions of the Secretary of State himself, issued from the same unit of his department on the same floor of the same building within 10 weeks of each other, reaching an apparently different conclusion on whether a development plan policy is up to date without any reference to, or sufficient explanation in the later one for, the difference”. 

– The Secretary of State made a material error of fact in relation to whether any part of the site was within the Ashdown Forest 7km radius, which led to no consideration as to whether a condition should be imposed to prevent any dwellings from being constructed in that part of the site in breach of the Habitats Regulations. 

The planning permission was quashed, although the deputy judge granted permission to appeal on both grounds.
It is indeed concerning that the DCLG would appear to have no adequate system to prevent the Secretary of State from issuing obviously inconsistent decisions – and indeed concerning that the conflicting conclusions could be reached in the first place, calling into question the extent to which objective determinations, shorn of context and politics, can be reached. Perhaps if the Secretary of State had not recovered so many appeals the problem wouldn’t have arisen. (It is even more difficult for the rest of us to keep track without a public-access searchable database). 
The political obsession with seeking to give neighbourhood plan making a strong role in decision making is coming at great cost: delay, expense, a reduction in the objectivity of decision making (in my personal view) and, most worryingly, is continuing to be a drag on the delivery of new homes. 
Simon Ricketts, 12 August 2017
Personal views, et cetera

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

Newmarket: Horses, Houses, Politics, Planning

Let’s please constrain the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can intervene in planning decision-making. Who is going to carry on investing in housing land promotion when, frankly, the outcome of betting on the horses can be more predictable?
The day before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Suffolk Coastal (where the Supreme Court justices examined the semantic intricacies of paragraphs 49 and 14 of the NPPF, extolled the virtues of expert inspectors and recognised the need to boost the supply of housing), judgment was handed down in Moulton Parish Council and the Earl of Derby v Secretary of State  (Gilbart J, 9 May 2017). 

The case concerned the controversial proposals by the Earl of Derby for residential development in Newmarket, in the heartland of the British horseracing industry. 
The Secretary of State had in 2012 dismissed an appeal against refusal by Forest Heath District Council of planning permission for mixed-use development including up to 1,200 dwellings, 36,000 sq m of B1 employment floorspace. Whilst various representatives of the horse-racing industry had argued the scheme would harm their interests, through the traffic and other effects arising, the appeal was only dismissed on the ground that the scheme was premature, in that due to its strategic implications, it should be considered through the development plan process. 
There had been a policy in the local plan that included an urban extension for 1,200 dwellings north east of Newmarket that included the appeal site. However, the grouping of horseracing interests had succeeded in quashing that policy and related housing provision policies in Save Historic Newmarket Limited v Forest Heath District Council  (Collins J, 25 March 2011). 
The Council carried out a “single issue review” of its housing policies, dealing with overall housing provision and distribution, and with site allocations and published a preferred options document for consultation. The review proposed a mixed use development, including 400 dwellings, on part of the previous site, and the Earl of Derby brought forward a planning application for that level of development. The application was resolved to be approved by the district council (after overcoming an attempted judicial review by objectors who sought unsuccessfully to overturn a negative EIA screening opinion) but it was called in by the Secretary of State on 11 July 2014. The inquiry took place in April and May 2015, the inspector’s report was dated 9 July 2015 and yet the Secretary of State didn’t issue his decision  until 31 August 2016. The Secretary of State rejected the application for a number of reasons, including concerns as to highway safety, raised again in no uncertain terms by those representing the horseracing industry.
So, a year for the Secretary of State to consider the inspector’s report and over two years since his intervention in the local decision-making process! One might think that the decision, which rejected the inspector’s recommendation that planning permission be granted, would be bullet-proof in its reasoning after such a delay. Hmm. The decision has been quashed by Gilbart J following a challenge brought by two parties, one unsurprisingly being the appellant, the Earl of Derby, but the other unusually being a parish council, Moulton, concerned at the additional pressure for development that would arise in its parish if the proposals do not proceed at the application site – after all, housing has to go in someone’s back yard, somewhere, sometime, doesn’t it?
The application will now have to be redetermined. 
I want to consider the following questions which arise out of this sorry but not unusual tale:
– what went wrong in the Secretary of State’s reasoning?

– why did his decision take so long?

– what is the role in practice of lobbying and political pressure in ministerial decision-making?

What went wrong in the Secretary of State’s reasoning?



The claimants’ successful grounds of challenge were that the Secretary of State:
– failed to apply his own policies set out in the NPPF; and

– failed to have regard to his own previous decision “where he had reached conflicting conclusions to those he now holds on matters relating to highway safety, or has reached a conclusion on safety without evidence, or which is irrational“.

A world away from the complexities facing the Supreme Court in Suffolk Coastal, the Secretary of State’s mistake on the first ground was an obvious one. The inspector reported that there were no up to date development policies in relation to housing provision and that therefore paragraph 14’s “tilted balance” in favour of sustainable development applied. However, the Secretary of State fails to address this material consideration at all in his decision letter. 
Gilbart J: “In this particular decision, it is plain that the effect of the tilted balance in NPPF [14] was of considerable importance. It was one of the eight main issues identified by the Inspector, and much debate between the parties. While the effect of the change in the housing supply position after the Inspector’s report had been received could have affected the weight to be given to the arguments about the 5 year supply, the issue relating to the important absence of housing policies remained. One of its particular contexts was that this site would meet important objectives of policy in terms of sustainability, as well as the fact that it was best and most versatile agricultural land. This is a local authority area where more land has to be found for housing, as suggested by the emerging local plan allocations.
In relation to the second ground, the inspector and Secretary of State had found in the case of the larger scheme that highway safety problems were not likely to arise. There was no explanation as to his volte face.

Gilbart J: “There is not a single reference by the SSCLG to the previous decision, let alone to the previous Inspector’s Report. In my judgement, the very least that was required of the SSCLG was to acknowledge the fact of the previous conclusions, and face up to the fact that he was being asked to reach conclusions which on any view were entirely at odds with the those he had reached in 2012. NHG had not held back in its case at inquiry that the first decision was wrong on this issue, with which contention the Claimants (and FHDC) disagreed, as did the Second Inspector. But despite that, it received no mention or consideration at all in the Decision Letter.”

How wasteful for such an important decision to fall at two basic hurdles – hardly Brecher’s Brook, were they? A single careful sentence in each case would in my view have saved the decision letter. 
Why did the Secretary of State’s decision take so long?


Call-in in this case led to a delay of over two years before his decision was received and the re-determination process will now add significantly to that delay, at no-one’s cost save for the Earl of Derby and indeed those in housing need. 
Gilbart J gives this explanation for the delays that occurred after the inspector’s report was received by the Secretary of State on 9 July 2015:
“About four months after the inquiry had finished the [Newmarket Horsemen’s Group] elected to make further representations in September 2015, as did the local member of Parliament the Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP. The SSCLG circulated them for comment at the end of October 2015. He then circulated the comments he had received.

In February 2016, the Planning Consultants for the Claimant Lord Derby made representations, which were also circulated for comment. The responses received were also circulated. In April 2016, the SSCLG circulated the representations he had received, and also invited comment on the then recent Court of Appeal decision in Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes Ltd & Anor [2016] EWCA Civ 168, circulating the further responses on 5th May 2016.”

So we can see that the problem comes down to a combination of a slow decision-making process and the opportunities that gives third parties to seek to bolster their case with post-inquiry representations, relying on the inevitability of changing circumstances over time; indeed, the longer the decision-making takes, clearly the more vulnerable it is to such interventions. No doubt, the ministerial changes that followed the June 2016 referendum were another factor but my basic principle still holds, in my view. 

It may be said that the Secretary of State needs to be allowed sufficient time to make a considered decision. But the outcome of the challenge demonstrates that time does not ensure quality of outcome. A study as to what was happening week by week in relation to the decision, from July 2015 to August 2016 would surely be instructive. 
What is the role in practice of lobbying and political pressure in ministerial decision-making?

The principles to be applied by the Secretary of State in deciding to call in an application for his own determination have always been left extremely flexible. As summarised in a helpful July 2016 House of Commons library briefing paper on calling in planning applications , the 1999 ‘Caborn principles’ still apply:

“Such cases may include, for example, those which in his opinion: 

* may conflict with national policies on important matters; 


* [may have significant long-term impact on economic growth and meeting housing needs across a wider area than a single local authority]; 


* could have significant effects beyond their immediate locality; 


* give rise to substantial cross-boundary or national controversy; 


* raise significant architectural and urban design issues; or 
• may involve the interests of national security or of foreign Governments. 

However each case will continue to be considered on its individual merits “. 

The list of recent call-in decisions is a pretty long one.

A decision to call in or not to call in an application is barely justiciable in practice (as long as properly reasoned to a basic extent) given the breadth of the criteria. 
In this case the reasons stated in the inspector’s report as to why the Secretary of State had called in the application (for a relatively limited amount of development, against the background of an emerging supportive local development plan policy) were apparently:
“3.1  The proposal may have significant long-term impact on economic growth and meeting housing needs.

3.2  The proposal could have significant effects beyond its immediate locality.

…which tell us nothing.  
This obviously leads to speculation, however ill-founded. The Independent for instance inevitably ran a story, “Tory minister lines up with racing royalty against new homes”  on 16 August 2014. 

The political pressure being applied can surely not be doubted however. Recall as well that post-inquiry representations were being made against the scheme by the local MP,  Matthew Hancock. 
Even when these representations are made openly, one worries as to the further politicisation of this quasi-judicial process. But often there is suspicion that there are informal as well as formal attempts to influence ministerial decisions. The judiciary has recently of course in Broadview Energy Developments Limited v Secretary of State  (Court of Appeal, 22 June 2016) deprecated informal lobbying attempts by MPs, in that case Andrea Leadsom MP’s attempts to stop a wind farm scheme, with a conversation in the Commons tea-room and numerous emails from her to the minister, including one referring to her “badgering [him] in the lobby”. Longmore LJ in that case indicated that he “would not endorse that part of the judge’s judgment [at first instance] in which he said that lobbying of Ministers by MPs was part and parcel of the representative role of a constituency MP with its implication that such lobbying was permissible even when the Minister is making a quasi-judicial decision in relation to a controversial planning application. MPs should not, with respect, be in any different position from other interested parties.”

We have seen the influence that individual MPs can bring to bear on ministers, with MP for Sutton Coldfield, Andrew Mitchell MP, having brought about the Secretary of State’s holding direction (now lifted) in relation to the Birmingham development plan, as a result of his concerns as to proposed green belt housing allocations in his consistency. 

It may be said that planning cannot be separated from politics but it is depressing to see. It was also eyeopening to see that of the seven decisions issued by the Secretary of State in his last day before purdah, with the parties suddenly in pre-election mode, six were to refuse planning permission. When the decision as to whether a major scheme goes ahead is not to be taken at local level, with the promise of a quasi-judicial assessment, how do we ensure that the role of the inspector is respected: the careful evidence taking and testing at inquiry and neutral evaluation of that evidence as against the statutory criteria? Our role becomes that of guessers as to how the politics, against the deployed legal tactics on all sides, will play out.

This is how the next Secretary of State could make a difference: fewer call ins and fewer recovered decisions, but clearer guidance as well as renewed attempts to ensure that up to date local plans are in place. But what are the odds?
Simon Ricketts 13.5.17
Personal views, et cetera

Parliament, Purdah, Planning

The pre- general election “purdah” period starts at midnight tonight (21 April). What this means is set in Cabinet Office guidance published yesterday, 20 April.
The guidance says:

“During the election period, the Government retains its responsibility to govern, and Ministers remain in charge of their departments. Essential business must be carried on. However, it is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long term character. Decisions on matters of policy on which a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present government should be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money

So don’t hold your breath for any decision letters to be issued. 
In relation to current consultation processes, the guidance says:

“If a consultation is on-going at the time this guidance comes into effect, it should continue as normal. However, departments should not take any steps during an election period that will compete with parliamentary candidates for the public’s attention. This effectively means a ban on publicity for those consultations that are still in process. 


As these restrictions may be detrimental to a consultation, departments are advised to decide on steps to make up for that deficiency while strictly observing the guidance. That can be done, for example, by: 


– prolonging the consultation period; and


– putting out extra publicity for the consultation after the election in order to revive interest (following consultation with any new Minister).

Some consultations, for instance those aimed solely at professional groups, and that carry no publicity will not have the impact of those where a very public and wide-ranging consultation is required. Departments need, therefore, to take into account the circumstances of each consultation.”

There are currently six DCLG consultation processes which are still open:

* Review of park homes legislation: call for evidence

* Running free: consultation on preserving the free use of public parks

* Banning letting agent fees paid by tenants

* 100% business rates retention: further consultation on the design of the reformed system

* Fixing our broken housing market: consultation

* Planning and affordable housing for Build to Rent

the last two of course being particularly important for us in the housing and planning sector. 

The Department for Transport is currently consulting on its draft Airports National Policy Statement in relation to the expansion of Heathrow and on reforming policy on the design and use of UK airspace.

Surely these consultation processes will all now be extended. Can any of them be said to be “aimed solely at professional groups”?
The Government faces an interesting dilemma in relation to its awaited consultation draft air quality plan. Garnham J had ordered on 21 November 2016 that the draft be published by 24 April 2017 following previous deadline breaches summarised in my 4.11.16 blog post. The announcement of the election and consequent purdah period does not automatically extend that deadline. Will we see a draft by the deadline or will ClientEarth be back before the court?
Notwithstanding purdah, Parliament will continue to sit until 2 May 2017. The outstanding Bills are:
• Bus Services Bill

• Children and Social Work Bill 

• Digital Economy Bill 

• Health Services Supplies Bill

• Higher Education and Research Bill 

• National Citizen Service Bill

• Pension Schemes Bill

• Technical and Further Education Bill

and of course the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which is at its final stages, with final consideration by the House of Lords on 25 April 2017 of amendments made by the Commons. Whilst technically there is therefore the time available before Parliament dissolves, the BBC website  has an interesting analysis of the practical constraints that there will be on Parliamentary time during this final period. My understanding is that public Bills cannot be held over and so the Bill would fall. 
Finally, as we wait for the parties’ manifestos and various pressure groups compose their letters to Santa, this is a collection of some of the commitments which some Town Legal colleagues would personally like to see (tongue in cheek – what votes in many of these one wonders?). We will be jotting up the scores once the manifestos are published but a more than a 10% convergence would be doing pretty well I suspect…
1. Revised NPPF as previously signalled, but with consultation on final wording.

2. Real sanctions for local planning authorities which continue to delay in preparing plans or which do not plan adequately to meet housing requirements. Statutory duty to make local plans every 10 years. 

3. Review of green belt boundaries in the south east should be obligatory at least every 20 years. Where there are no green belt boundaries fixed because there are no local plans in place , the Secretary of State should appoint PINS to lead a plan making exercise at the expense of the defaulting council with step in rights if the Council wants to come back into the fold.

4. Review of effectiveness of Localism Act 2011 procedures, including neighbourhood plan making.

5. No weakening of environmental protections via Great Repeal Bill.

6. Urgent conclusion to CIL review, with short-term remedial measures, including greater flexibility for local planning authorities and developers in relation to strategic sites.

7. Enabling urban extensions and new settlements of true scale (eg 10,000 to 15,000 homes plus associated infrastructure and development) to proceed by way of NSIP.

8. Introduction of duty to cooperate to apply as between the London Mayor and local planning authorities.

9. Reform of rights to light law to reflect modern realities.

10. Greater flexibility for local authorities to dispose of land for less than best consideration.

11. Require better coordinated forward planning with statutory undertakers and infrastructure providers.

12. General commitment to consultation and piloting prior to legislative changes in relation to planning.

13. Increased resourcing in relation to the planning system so as to achieve better quality, more consistent, more timely and more efficient outcomes.

14. High speed Broadband and electric car charging should be a standard requirement.

15. Clarity on approach to viability and review mechanisms.

16. A more stable system with no more changes for the next two years at least (save for these ones!)

Back to the day job…

Simon Ricketts 21 April 2017

Personal views, et cetera

Definitely Maybe: Defining Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is defined in the NPPF as follows:
The Government carried out a consultation  in December 2015, proposing that the definition be expanded so as to include

– low cost ownership models, which “would include products that are analogous to low cost market housing or intermediate rent, such as discount market sales or innovative rent to buy housing”
– starter homes (of which more later). 

Two further changes were proposed in the February 2017 response to consultation:  
* introduction of a household income eligibility cap of £80,000 (£90,000 for London) on starter homes. 

* introduction of affordable private rented housing

The Government is accordingly consulting until 2 May 2017 on the following replacement definition for the NPPF (long isn’t it?):


Starter homes

There were howls of anguish at the starter homes initiative as first unveiled by the Government, the key elements of which were (as set out in chapter 1 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and March 2016 technical consultation):
– a legal requirement that 20% of new homes in developments should be starter homes, ie
– to be sold at a discount of at least 20% to open market value to first time buyers aged under 40. 

– Price cap of £250,000 (£450,000 in London)

– The restriction should last for a defined number of years, the first suggestion being five years, replaced with the concept of a tapered restriction to potentially eight years

– Commuted sums in lieu of on site provision for specified categories of development, eg build to rent

The obvious consequence would have been a significant reduction in the potential for schemes to include a meaningful proportion of traditional forms of affordable housing. 
After all of last year’s battles over the Bill, it is now plain from the Government’s response to the technical consultation, that the starter home concept is now much watered down:
– There will be no statutory requirement on local planning authorities to secure starter homes, just a policy requirement in the NPPF, which is to be amended accordingly. 

– Rather than requiring that 20% of new homes be starter homes, the requirement will be that 10% of new homes will be “affordable housing home ownership products” so could include shared equity or indeed low cost home ownership. 

– maximum eligible household income of £80,000 a year or less (or £90,000 a year or less in Greater London 

– 15 year restriction

– No cash buyers, evidence of mortgage of at least 25% loan to value

– It will only be applicable to schemes of ten units or more (or on sites of more than 0.5h). 

There will be a transitional period of 18 months (to August 2018) rather than the initially intended 6 to 12 months. 
Whilst we now have a more workable arrangement, plainly all that Parliamentary work was a complete waste of time. There was no need for chapter 1 of the 2016 Act – the current proposals can be delivered without any need for legislation. 
We will need to see the degree to which LPAs embrace the starter homes concept in reviewing their local plans. We will also need to be wary that we may lose the only benefit of a national standardised approach, ie the hope that there might be a standard set of section 106 clauses defining the operation of the mechanism (which will not be straightforward – see my 21.6.16 blog post Valuing Starter Homes). 
Affordable Private Rent
One of the documents accompanying the Housing White Paper was a consultation paper: Planning and affordable housing for build to rent.
The term Affordable Private Rent is now used for what we have all previously been calling Discounted Market Rent. Changes to the NPPF are proposed (subject to consultation) advising LPAs to consider asking for Affordable Private Rent in place of other forms of affordable housing in Build to Rent schemes, comprising a minimum of 20% of the homes in the development, at a minimum of 20% discount to local market rent (excluding use of comparables within the scheme itself), provided in perpetuity. The Affordable Private Rent housing would be tenure blind and representative of the development in terms of numbers of bedrooms. Eligible income bands are to be negotiated between developer and LPA. Developers will be able to offer alternative approaches where appropriate (eg greater discount, fewer discounted homes – or different tenures). “Build to Rent” will be defined and it is acknowledged that developers should be able to cease to operate the property as Build To Rent subject to payment of a commuted sum reflecting the affordable housing requirement that would otherwise have been applicable. 
There is also recognition in the consultation paper that factors in London may be different, allowing for an amended response and recognition of Mayor of London’s November 2016 affordable housing and viability draft SPG.
There will be a transitional period of 6 months from the time that the NPPF changes are made. The possibility is held out of model section 106 clauses, which would help minimise unnecessary delays. 

The recognition that Build to Rent is a model that doesn’t sit well with ‘ownership’ forms of affordable housing is what that industry (largely self-defining through scale of scheme and extent of professional management) has been lobbying for. Nor is there any more any reference to off-site starter home provision.
Wider implications
The extensions to the meaning of ‘affordable housing’ are all in the direction of private sector provision. The definition is now very wide indeed. Battles lie ahead once LPAs consider the implications of the changes for their local plan affordable housing requirements against a backdrop of, for example:
– reduced levels of socially rented housing over the last six years or so following the introduction of affordable rent (minimum discount of at least 20% to market rent), vividly demonstrated in the Government’s affordable housing statistics published on 2 March 2017:

– restrictions on housing benefit, for instance ineligibility of 18-21 year olds from 1 April 2017 under the Universal Credit (Housing Costs Element for claimants aged 18 to 21) (Amendment) Regulations 2017  made on 2 March 2017. 
– the continuing, onerous, requirement on registered providers since 2015 to reduce rents by 1% a year for four years resulting in a 12% reduction in average rents by 2020-21. 
– Loss of stock via the Housing and Planning Act 2016’s voluntary right to buy scheme in relation to registered providers and the Act’s provisions requiring local authorities to sell vacant higher value housing (the Government’s most recent statistics on sales date from October 2016 but already show significant numbers). 
A debate took place in the House of Lords this week, on 2 March 2017, on the Economic Affairs Committee’s July 2016 report, Building More Homes  in the context of the Housing White Paper. Lord Young closed for the Government saying many of the right things but, after such a background of continuing changes (I believe it was Adam Challis at JLL who recently counted 180 housing initiatives since 2010), with further uncertainty for at least 18 months, surely we now just need to get on with the matter in hand – ensuring that there are enough homes to meet all social needs, whilst not killing the golden goose without which this will simply not happen under any foreseeable system, ie profitable development by the private sector.
Simon Ricketts 4.3.17
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