Flawed Drafting: Interpreting Planning Permissions

“What are words worth? Words

Words of nuance, words of skill”

Some of the most difficult cases in every area of law arise from flawed drafting and drafting which does not adequately anticipate future eventualities. 
I will leave for another blog post the issues that arise in relation to the drafting and interpretation of section 106 agreements and undertakings, although the Secretary of State’s 12 September 2017 decision letter dismissing an appeal for planning permission for 705 dwellings at King George’s Gate, Surbiton was a salutary lesson, and essential reading, for every planning lawyer.
In the light of Lang J’s judgment this month in London Borough of Lambeth v Secretary of State, this blog post limits itself to the question as how literally should planning permissions be interpreted? Is the planning permission in fact wider in its scope than the local authority intended when granting it? Have restrictions that were initially imposed fallen away by virtue of not being reapplied to subsequent permissions for the permitted buildings or to a permission for amendments to that initial permission? 

There have been many examples where the courts have determined that the legal effect of a permission was not what the authority may have intended, applying what might be regarded as a classically pure planning law approach:

– where a planning permission is clear, unambiguous and valid on its face, regard may only be had to the planning permission itself, including the conditions imposed upon it and the reasons given for the imposition of those conditions 
– an extreme reluctance to imply extra wording into conditions (Widgery LJ’s statement in Trustees of Walton Charities v. Walton & Weybridge DC (1970): “I have never heard of an implied condition in a planning permission and I believe no such creature exists. Planning permission… is not simply a matter of contract between the parties. There is no place…within the law relating to planning permission for an implied condition. Conditions should be expressed, they should be clear, they should be in the document containing the permission.”)

– applying the judge-made principle of a “new chapter in the planning history” of a site, effectively wiping the slate clean of previous planning condition restrictions where a significant change of use or other development has occurred.

This has led over the years to many outcomes which, whilst logical on a dispassionate reading of the relevant document by a lawyer, were certainly not anticipated by the unfortunate planning officer. For instance:
– in Carpet Décor (Guilford) Limited v Secretary of State (Sir Douglas Frank QC, 17 July 1981) a condition “that no variations from the deposited plans and particulars will be permitted unless previously authorised” by the local planning authority was held not to be sufficiently unequivocal as to exclude the operation of the Use Classes Order. 
– in Dunoon Developments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 18 February 1992) a condition on a planning permission for a car showroom that stated that the use of the premises would be limited to the display, sale and storage of cars was not sufficient to exclude the operation of the General Permitted Development Order.
– in I’m Your Man Limited v Secretary of State (Robin Purchas QC, 4 September 1998) it was held that for a planning permission to be construed as limited to a temporary period, it was not sufficient for the restriction to be set out in the description of development rather than in a condition. 
– in Stevenage Borough Council v Secretary of State (HHJ Waksman QC, 3 June 2010) the owner of a retail park was held to be free of various restrictions on the types of goods which could be sold, by virtue of planning permissions having been granted for subdivision of units and other alterations, which did not reimpose restrictions from the original permission. As with a number of similar cases and CLOPUD appeal decision letters, the ruling partly relied on a liberal application of section 75(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which provides that where the proposed use of a building (or part of) a building is not specified in a permission for its erection (or alterations), “the permission shall be construed as including permission to use the building for the purpose for which it is designed“.
– in Prudential Assurance v Sunderland City Council (Wyn Williams J, 15 July 2010) the High Court held that, through the windfall of a local planning authority’s mistake faced with successive planning applications, Peel Holdings had become free of section 106 restrictions on the types of goods that could be sold from its retail park in Washington, Sunderland. 
The tide then started to turn with the Court of Appeal in Peel Land and Property Investments Plc v Hyndburn Borough Council (19 December 2013). Peel, no doubt hoping for an equivalent outcome as achieved in Sunderland, argued that the failure of the local authority, in drafting a permission for works of alteration to retail park units, to reimpose a condition restricting the goods that could be sold, meant that the restriction had been removed. However the court rejected the submissions. The works did not create a new chapter in the planning history of the units and on the facts (with no indication in the application documents that unrestricted retail use was intended) section 75(3) could not be relied upon in the way that was sought. 

The Supreme Court in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited v The Scottish Ministers (16 December 2015) then indicated a more nuanced approach to interpretation:

When the court is concerned with the interpretation of words in a condition in a public document such as a section 36 consent, it asks itself what a reasonable reader would understand the words to mean when reading the condition in the context of the other conditions and of the consent as a whole. This is an objective exercise in which the court will have regard to the natural and ordinary meaning of the relevant words, the overall purpose of the consent, any other conditions which cast light on the purpose of the relevant words, and common sense. Whether the court may also look at other documents that are connected with the application for the consent or are referred to in the consent will depend on the circumstances of the case, in particular the wording of the document that it is interpreting. Other documents may be relevant if they are incorporated into the consent by reference … or there is an ambiguity in the consent, which can be resolved, for example, by considering the application for consent.

Interpretation is not the same as the implication of terms. Interpretation of the words of a document is the precursor of implication. It forms the context in which the law may have to imply terms into a document, where the court concludes from its interpretation of the words used in the document that it must have been intended that the document would have a certain effect, although the words to give it that effect are absent” (Lord Hodge)

Against this background it is therefore interesting to see this month another case in which the owner of a retail investment, in this case a Homebase DIY store, has achieved an outcome which was not intended by the local planning authority, and which could have been avoided by competent drafting of the decision notice. In London Borough of Lambeth v Secretary of State (Lang J, 3 October 2017), a planning permission had been granted varying conditions attached to an earlier permission. The purported effect of the widened conditions was set out in the description of development on the face of the permission:

” For: Variation of condition 1 (Retail Use) of Planning Permission Ref: 10/01143/FUL (Variation of Condition 6 (Permitted retail goods) of planning permission Ref. 83/01916 (Erection of a DIY retail unit for Texas homecare and an industrial building for cow industrial polymers) granted on 17.09.85 to allow for the sale of a wider range of goods to include DIY home and garden improvements, car maintenance, building materials and builders merchants goods, carpets and floor coverings, furniture, furnishings, electrical goods, automobile products, camping equipment, cycles, pet and pet products, office supplies and for no other purpose in Class A1 of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) Granted on 30.06.2010.


Original Wording:
 The retail use hereby permitted shall be used for the retailing of DIY home and garden improvements and car maintenance, building materials and builders merchants goods, carpets and floor coverings, furniture, furnishings, electrical goods, automobile products, camping equipment, cycles, pet and pet products, office supplies and for no other purpose (including the retail sale of food and drink or any other purpose in Class A1 of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) or in any provision equivalent to that Class in any statutory instrument revoking and re-enacting that Order. 


Proposed Wording:
 The retail unit hereby permitted shall be used for the sale and display of non-food goods only and, notwithstanding the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (or any Order revoking or re-enacting that Order with or without modification), for no other goods.”

However, for some reason, whoever drafted the permission did not bother to go on and include the proposed wording as a condition. Lang J applied I’m Your Man and held that the purported restriction was of no effect. Lambeth Council’s “intended purpose was not given legal effect by the wording of the 2014 permission, because of flawed drafting.
As set out in Landmark Chambers’ helpful summary , Lang J has granted permission for the case now to go to the Court of Appeal:
I do not accept the Claimant’s critique of my judgment, and the application of the current law to the facts of this case. However, I am left with some unease about the result.  The principle established in I’m Your Man Limited v Secretary of State for the Environment 77 P & CR 251, and its application, merits consideration in a higher court which is not bound by precedent in the same way as the High Court. The interpretation and application of the judgments of the Supreme Court in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd & Anor. v The Scottish Ministers [2015] UKSC 74, [2016] 1 WLR 85 is still evolving, and merit consideration by the Court of Appeal in this case.”

It is worth noting two post-Trump cases where the Court of Appeal has rejected submissions that a narrow interpretation should be given to specific conditions.
First, R (XPL Limited) v Harlow Council (Court of Appeal, 13 April 2016), where a condition preventing “repairs or maintenance of vehicles or other industrial or commercial activities (other than the parking of coaches and other vehicles …” outside specified hours at a coach depot was held to extend to a prohibition on the running of engines. 

Secondly, Dunnett Investments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 29 March 2017) where the court had to determine whether the following condition is to be interpreted as excluding the operation of the General Permitted Development Order so as to allow change of use from offices to residential by way of the prior approval process:

“This use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, and for no other purpose whatsoever, without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained“.

Did prior approval from the local planning authority pursuant to the GPDO amount to “express planning consent” for the purposes of the condition?
The Court of Appeal reviewed the case law on interpretation of conditions:
In relation to the interpretation of, specifically, a planning condition which is said to exclude the operation of the GPDO, other authorities are of some assistance. From them, the following themes can be discerned.


i) It is rightly common ground that a planning condition on a planning consent can exclude the application of the GPDO (see Dunoon Developments v Secretary of State for the Environment and Poole Borough Council (1993) 65 P&CR 101 (“Dunoon Developments”)).


ii) Exclusion may be express or implied. However, because a grant of planning permission for a stated use is a grant of permission for only that use, a grant for a particular use cannot in itself exclude the application of the GPDO. To do that, something more is required (see, e.g., Dunoon Developments at [107] per Sir Donald Nicholls VC). 


iii) In Carpet Décor (Guilford) Limited v Secretary of State for the Environment (1981) 261 EG 56, Sir Douglas Frank QC sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge said that, because in the absence of such a condition the GPDO has effect by operation of law, the condition should be in “unequivocal terms”. Although “unequivocal” was used by Mr Katkowski in his written argument, during the course of debate he accepted that that term was now less appropriate, given the modern trend away from myopic focus upon the words without proper reference to their full context. However, he submitted (and I accept) that, to exclude the application of the GPDO, the words used in the relevant condition, taken in their full context, must clearly evince an intention on the part of the local planning authority to make such an exclusion.”

The court did not accept the claimant’s arguments:
The first part of the condition sets out the scope of the permission. I respectfully agree with Patterson J (at [60]), the second part (“…and for no other purpose whatsoever…”) is not, as Mr Katkowski would have it, merely emphatic of the scope of the planning permission, but is rather a clear and specific exclusion of GPDO rights. Whilst, as I have described, each case depends upon its own facts, it is noteworthy that, in Dunoon Developments (at pages 105-6), in finding that the words “limited to” a particular purpose did not exclude GPDO rights, Farquharson LJ compared that phrase with “… and for no other purpose…” as considered in the earlier case of The City of London Corporation v Secretary of State for the Environment (1971) 23 P&CR 169, which he considered was far more emphatic and (he suggested) possibly sufficient to exclude the operation of the GPDO. In this case, we have a more emphatic phrase still, namely “… and for no other purpose whatsoever…”. Further, although we are concerned with rights under the GPDO and not the UCO, the interpretation of that phrase to exclude the operation of the GPDO is at least consistent with R (Royal London Mutual Insurance Society) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government[2013] EWHC 3597 (Admin); [2014] JPL 458, in which Patterson J held that a condition which restricted use to “only” particular uses within Use Class A1 excluded the right to use the land for other Class A1 uses, because it effectively evinced an intention to identify acceptable uses within the class whilst prohibiting other unacceptable uses within that class unless and until the merits of such use had been tested by the planning authority upon an application for planning permission (see also The Rugby Football Union v The Secretary of state for Local Government, Transport and the Regions [2001] EWHC Admin 927; [2002] JPL 740, in which Ouseley J, at [56], found that the words “for no other use” had similar effect, on the basis that such words “have no other sensibly discernible purpose than to prevent some other use which might otherwise be permissible without planning permission”). The third part of the condition before this court makes it the more abundantly clear that automatic or direct GPDO rights are excluded, by requiring a planning application if such uses are to be pursued.”
Furthermore, “”express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority” cannot sensibly include planning permission granted by the Secretary of State through the GPDO. It means what it says, i.e. planning permission granted by the local planning authority.”
What are the odds on Lang J’s judgment in Lambeth surviving the Court of Appeal?
In the meantime, and possibly whatever the outcome of that case, there is unpredictability. This is particularly unhelpful given the pressures on local planning authorities to issue permissions without unnecessary delay, and without the resources for a lawyer to check what may often on their face appear to be approvals of minor revisions and alterations. Mistakes happen. The extreme reluctance of authorities to issue revocation or modification orders to put mistakes right, a reluctance born of the liability to pay compensation that thereby arises, is another story – and in my view a large part of the problem. 
Simon Ricketts, 14.10.17
Personal views, et cetera

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First World Problems 2: Amalgamations And Deconversions

Securing planning permission for your proposed super-basement is definitely a first world problem (see my previous 5 December 2016 blog post). 
As is seeking to knock two or more flats or houses into one.
There’s that scene in Help! where John, Paul, George and Ringo each open their separate front doors in a terraced street, which all open into one enormous Beatle mansion. (Illusions shattered: in reality Ailsa Road, St Margarets followed by a set at Twickenham Film Studios.).

Until 2000, the general view was that amalgamations like this, as well as deconversions of flats back into single dwellinghouses, probably didn’t amount to development requiring planning permission. The statutory definition of development specifically includes sub-division of dwellings (“the use as two or more separate dwellinghouses of any building previously used as a single dwellinghouse involves a material change in the use of the building and of each part of it which is so used“, section 55(3)(a), Town and Country Planning Act 1990) but is silent as to amalgamation. 
The way in which that position has changed, without any change in legislation is an interesting example of the way in which the scope of planning law and of relevant planning considerations can change over time to reflect social priorities and concerns.
The judgment of Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC sitting as a deputy High Court judge in London Borough of Richmond v Secretary of State (28 March 2000) was a significant turning point. “It is undoubtedly the law that material considerations are not confined to strict questions of amenity or environmental impact and that the need for housing in a particular area is a material consideration…” The case involved a conversion from seven flats to one dwelling. 
It was then thought that this case could often be distinguished in terms of the number of units that were to be lost in that case and that LPAs would face an uphill struggle where they did not have policies in place restricting amalgamations resulting in the loss of dwellings. 
For instance, Kensington and Chelsea’s consolidated local plan currently states that the council will “resist development which results in the net loss of five or more residential units”. Until August 2014, the council took the view that this constrained its ability to argue that amalgamations leading to the loss of less than five units did not amount to development requiring planning permission. In R (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 15 June 2016), Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC was representing the owners of two flats in Stanhope Gardens SW7 seeking to defend a certificate of lawfulness of proposed use which they had won on appeal. The inspector had considered that without a formal change in policy, the loss of a unit by way of amalgamation could not be relevant, even though the inspector accepted that “the scale of amalgamation in the Borough may be having a material effect on the number of dwellings in the Borough“. Holgate J held that this approach was wrong – whilst the nature of the policy would be relevant to whether planning permission should be granted, this did not mean that the housing need concerns raised by the council were not significant “for the threshold purpose of deciding whether planning permission even applied“. All was not however lost for the owners – the inspector had also granted planning permission for the amalgamation and the council’s challenge to that decision was rejected. 
RBKC’s local plan partial review, which is currently under examination, proposes a more restrictive policy that would only allow any amalgamation where the resulting dwelling is less than 170 sq m. Westminster City Council takes a different approach. Policy S14 of its city plan indicates that:
“Proposals that would result in a reduction in the number of residential units will not be acceptable, except where: 

* the council considers that reconfiguration or redevelopment of affordable housing would better meet affordable housing need; 


* a converted house is being returned to a family-sized dwelling or dwellings; or 


* 2 flats are being joined to create a family-sized dwelling.”

Amalgamations are a drag on net housing supply in both boroughs. Housing in London 2015: The evidence base for the Mayor’s Housing Strategy (Mayor of London, September 2015) reports:

“Between 2011/12 and 2013/14 a net 5,010 homes were created through conversions and a net 1,160 homes were lost through de-conversions.

Conversions were most common in accessible Inner London locations, and de-conversions in high price areas. The ward with the most conversions in this period was St. Leonard’s in Lambeth with 74 followed by Childs Hill in Barnet with 65. The three wards with the highest numbers of de- conversions were all in Westminster – Hyde Park (with 42), Knightsbridge and Belgravia (27) and Bayswater (26).


Planning Resource briefly reported (subscriber only content) a ruling by Lang J on 27 July 2017 in Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea v Secretary of State, where she apparently quashed the decision of a planning inspector, who had allowed an appeal against refusal of planning permission partly on the basis of a certificate of lawfulness of proposed use or development for a proposed amalgamation that had been issued before the council’s August 2014 change in stance. Presumably she considered that circumstances had materially changed such that the certificate could no longer be relied upon. 

The battle has moved now to whether planning permission should be granted, rather than whether it is necessary. On 13 July 2017, in Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea v Secretary of State and Noell and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea v Secretary of State and Lahham Deputy High Court Judge Neil Cameron QC quashed two decisions where separate inspectors had granted permission on appeal. The inspector had made a mistake of fact in both decisions when calculating housing land supply as he deducted vacant units returning to use from the requirement whilst including those units in the supply and by stating that the housing land supply would be boosted further by recent deliverable planning permissions when those planning permissions were already accounted for in the calculated supply. The Secretary of State did not defend either claim. Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC acted for the owners (if there’s a golden thread that runs through the case-law on amalgamation, it’s Christopher). 
Pending a tighter policy being in place, Inspectors have indeed still been allowing appeals in Kensington and Chelsea. For instance:
Warwick Gardens, Kensington, 17 May 2017:
“In regards to the development plan, whilst I find conflict with Local Plan Policy CH3 and London Plan Policy 3.14 in that a unit of residential accommodation would be lost, and saved UDP Policy H17, the appeal proposal would not prejudice the Council’s ability to meet its housing supply targets or give rise to unacceptable harm in regards to housing choice. Indeed, it would assist to address the imbalance in the housing stock in regards to 3 bedroom dwellings. Consequently, I do not consider that the appeal proposal conflicts with the development plan when taken as a whole.”

15 Cheyne Place, Kensington, 10 April 2017:

“The proposal would conflict with Policy CH3 of the CLP and 3.14 of the LP, which seek to ensure that that there is a sufficient supply and choice of housing. Notwithstanding this conflict, I do not find that, in this instance, the proposal would undermine the Council’s ability to achieve its housing targets. In addition, it would also make a contribution towards an identified need for three bedroomed units. Moreover, the emerging Local Plan Partial Review indicates that the Council intend to accept amalgamation development of this scale. Therefore, in culmination, I attribute significant weight to these matters which outweighs the moderate conflict the proposal has with the CLP and LP.”
28 Victoria Road, Kensington, 11 January 2017:
“I saw at the site visit that the garden arrangement as existing is not ideal. There are presently no separate areas that 2 individual units could use and, if shared, residents of the upper floors would be able to gain views into the bedroom window of the ground floor flat whilst using the garden. To restrict the use of the garden to the ground floor occupants would leave the larger unit with no outdoor amenity space apart from a small terrace at first floor level.

77 Drayton Gardens, Kensington, 4 November 2016:

“As part of its Local Plan Partial Review, the Council is about to consult on a policy which would permit the amalgamation of two residential units to one, if the gross floorspace of the resulting unit would not exceed 170 sqm. Mr Burroughs’ unchallenged evidence is that the resulting unit in this case is 99 sqm. ”

“The amalgamation of two residential units (second and third floor flats) into a single residential unit conflicts with CLP Policy CH3, saved UDP Policy H17 and LP Policy 3.14B, which aim to ensure an adequate supply and choice of housing to meet identified needs. The Framework also requires Council to boost significantly the supply of housing. However, on the evidence before me, the amalgamation will not, on the balance of probability, affect the Council’s ability to meet its housing targets. Furthermore, it will contribute to meeting a current identified need for larger dwellings in the borough, whilst improving the quality of accommodation, in accordance with LP 3.14A. Furthermore, in the light of the terms of a policy now being proposed as part of the Local Plan Partial Review, the Council appears to consider that amalgamations of this kind could be acceptable. On balance, these are material considerations which indicate that I should allow the appeal on ground (a) and grant planning permission, notwithstanding the conflict with the development plan.”

Simon Ricketts, 6 August 2017
Personal views, et cetera

Planners & Pubs

“…That is the best of Britain and it is part of our distinctive and unique contribution to Europe. Distinctive and unique as Britain will remain in Europe. Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and – as George Orwell said – “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” and if we get our way – Shakespeare still read even in school. Britain will survive unamendable in all essentials.” (John Major, speech to Conservative Group for Europe, 2003)

The Government is determined that he is proved right about the warm beer at least: drinking establishments will have more protection against changes of use than almost any other use, once recent additions to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill come into effect. 

When the Bill returned to the Commons from the Lords on 28 March 2017, a Lords amendment that sought to remove permitted development rights from A4 uses (“public houses, wine bars or other drinking establishments (but not night clubs)”) was replaced by Commons amendment 22A  :

“(1)    As soon as reasonably practicable after the coming into force of this section, the Secretary of State must make a development order under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which:

 (a)    removes any planning permission which is granted by a development order for development consisting of a change in the use of any building or land in England from a use within Class A4 to a use of a kind specified in the order (subject to paragraph (c)),

(b)    removes any planning permission which is granted by a development order for a building operation consisting of the demolition of a building in England which is used, or was last used, for a purpose within Class A4 or for a purpose including use within that class, and

 (c)    grants planning permission for development consisting of a change in the use of a building in England and any land within its curtilage from a use within Class A4 to a mixed use consisting of a use within that Class and a use within Class A3.”

The Bill is likely to receive Royal Assent in late April/early May 2017 and, if the clause survives (there is a “ping pong” procedure on 26 April where the Lords decide whether to accept it), we will need to see how quickly (1) it comes into force and (2) the amended development order is made. The provisions will not affect development which is carried out pursuant to the current General Permitted Development Order before the amended development order comes into force. 

Whilst apparently supported by all parties and (of course) by CAMRA,  it is noteworthy that the provision (1) has been shoehorned into a Bill which covers unrelated matters and (2) has not been the subject of consultation – seldom a recipe for good legislation. 
This is yet another area where successive Governments have been constantly fiddling. 
Amendments to the Use Classes Order in 2005 split the old use class A3 into:
 — A3 Restaurants and cafés – For the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises – restaurants, snack bars and cafes

— A4 Drinking establishments – Public houses, wine bars or other drinking establishments (but not night clubs)

This was primarily to prevent restaurants turning into drinking places rather than to provide any protection for pubs. Amendments to the General Permitted Development Order included a permitted development right to change from A4 to A3. 
The assets of community value regime introduced by the Localism Act 2011 has been used energetically in relation to pubs in particular, with over 850 pubs registered by 2015 (and much encouragement and cheerleading by Government) but, despite being time consuming for communities and authorities alike, was largely toothless until the changes introduced by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015  pursuant to which, in relation to any drinking establishment, the permitted development rights to change use to A1 or A2, or to demolish, do not apply if it is registered as an asset of community value. Even if it not registered, there is a prior approval requirement to serve as a check as to whether any nomination for registration has been received. 
The Carlton Terrace saga was a salutory lesson for owners and developers. Prior approval for demolition wasn’t obtained and by a 6 July 2016 decision letter  an inspector upheld Westminster City Council’s enforcement notice requiring the pub to be rebuilt. Isn’t it just genuinely “community” pubs, often with heritage value, such as the Carlton, that deserve particular protection?
More recently we have also seen increasingly widespread use by local planning authorities of Article 4 Directions to remove permitted development rights in relation to pubs (most recently for example Southwark Council, which resolved on 7 March 2017 to make a direction).
So what is the justification for further changes?
Gavin Barwell in a debate in the House of Commons on 28 March 2017 explained the Government’s proposed amendments to the Bill as follows:

“I wish to turn to permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs, and to update the House on the steps we are taking in respect of the permitted development rights for the change of use from office to residential. First, I will speak to the Government amendment in respect of permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs. Let me start by assuring hon. Members that we have listened to both Houses and to the support that Members have expressed for valued community pubs. They will see that we have accepted the principle of the amendment introduced into the Bill in the other place. Our amendments in lieu therefore set out the detail of how we will take that principle forward.



The amendment commits us to update the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 to remove the permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of drinking establishments, including pubs. In tabling the amendments in lieu, I reassure hon. Members that we have continued to engage through the passage of the Bill with interested Members and bodies, such as the Campaign for Real Ale and the British Beer and Pub Association. I can confirm that we will remove the permitted development rights to change to a restaurant or cafe, financial or professional service, or a shop. We will also remove the permitted development rights to change to an office for up to two years and to a school for a single academic year.



In making these changes, the Government are keen to avoid any potential unintended consequences. As such, we are clear that the best way to support pubs is to retain the A4 “drinking establishments” use class for pubs, wine bars and other types of bars. Doing so will allow pubs to innovate and intensify their use, for example by opening a pub garden or starting to provide live music, without facing a risk that this will be a change of use that requires a full planning application. Our intention in retaining the A4 use class is to allow pubs to develop within this use class without having to seek planning permission, thus avoiding unintended consequences, and unnecessary cost and bureaucracy. “




“The changes in respect of permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs mean that in future a planning application will be required in all cases. This will also be the case for premises in mixed use, for example as a pub and a restaurant. This addresses the long-standing call that there should be local consideration and an opportunity for the community to comment on the future of their local pub. It is important that local planning authorities have relevant planning policies in place to support this decision taking. Once we have made the changes, the current provisions, which remove permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs that are listed as assets of community value, are no longer necessary and will fall away.”



 “Importantly, we have listened to the points made about the need for pubs to be able to expand their food offer in order to meet changing market need and support their continued viability—the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham is concerned about. Therefore, at the same time as getting rid of the permitted development rights that allow for demolition or change of use, we will introduce a new permitted development right to allow drinking establishments to extend their food offering so as to become a mixed A4 pub and A3 restaurant. The Government believe that this will ensure that pubs have nothing to fear when it comes to requiring planning permission or enforcement against the change of use where a pub is extending its food offer. This will give them vital additional flexibility.”
Of course the measure won’t just apply to “valued community pubs” but to all drinking establishments that fall within use class A4. Is that proportionate?

The proposal that there should be deemed permission to change from A4 to a mixed A3/A4 use has attracted some criticism. Whilst there does need to be flexibility to allow dining pub type operations, is there the risk of opening the door to uses which are actually A3, as a stepping stone to A1 or A2? The concern is overstated in my view but these use distinctions are increasingly difficult in practice. 
Indeed, for the bigger picture in relation to changing trends in drinking and eating, the House of Lords Select Committee report on the Licensing Act 2003 dated 4 April 2017 makes fascinating reading. Who knows when Parliament will have the time to set matters right but the report is a sustained attack on the 2003 licensing reforms and the abject failure of that legislation to achieve its objectives:
“During the passage of the Licensing Bill one of the much over-used expressions was that it was going to change the UK to a “café culture”, by which was meant the imagined Continental habit of modest and leisurely consumption of alcohol at any civilised hour, preferably in clement weather. The fact that this has not materialised seems to have come as no surprise to any of our witnesses, nor to us; it takes more than an Act of Parliament to change the habits of generations, and this country’s climate was never going to favour such a change. The café culture which has grown up takes a rather different form and is confined to town centres, where between 2011 and 2016 a fall of 2,000 in the number of bars, pubs and night clubs has been accompanied by an increase of 6,000 in the number of cafés, fast food outlets and restaurants.”
To what extent is the loss of drinking establishments down to our planning regime and how much is it down to consumer trends? Who is going to operate – and drink in – all of these protected pubs?
At the moment of course licensing is a separate world from planning (and from planners and planning lawyers). Woe betide the objector who raises an issue in the wrong forum. 
For those of us who may wonder from time to time whether the planning system is perhaps a little unpredictable, there are some real horror stories in the report as to the operation of local authority licensing committees. Indeed the Select Committee advocates that the present procedures be replaced by something much more aligned with our current planning system, with licensing committees merged with planning committees and appeals to planning inspectors:
“Previous committees of this House conducting scrutiny of statutes have found that the Act in question is basically satisfactory, but that its implementation is not. In the case of the Licensing Act our conclusion is that, while the implementation of the Act leaves a great deal to be desired, to a large extent this is caused by an inadequate statutory framework whose basic flaws have, if anything, been compounded by subsequent piecemeal amendments. A radical comprehensive overhaul is needed, and this is what our recommendations seek to achieve.”

“For five hundred years the licensing of persons and premises was the task of justices of the peace. Those who devised the new policy in 2000 thought, rightly, that this was not a task for the judiciary but for local administration. If they had looked to see how local authorities regulate the responsible use of land in other situations, they would have seen that the planning system, already well established and usually working efficiently, was well placed to take on this additional task. 

Instead the legislation established new licensing committees for each of 350 local authorities. The councillors sitting on these new committees, and the staff assisting them, had no experience of the complex new law they were administering. Our evidence shows that, while most members of licensing committees no doubt attempt to apply the law justly and fairly, too often standards fall short. Many councillors have insufficient training; all should undertake compulsory training. We were told of cases of clear inadequacies in fulfilling their functions, resulting in a haphazard decision-making process. 

The planning system has its detractors, but planning committees are well established, with better support from experienced staff. Our main recommendation is that there should be a trial merger of licensing committees with planning committees. To be clear, we are not recommending a merger of licensing law and planning law; we are suggesting that the councillors who sit on planning committees, using the same procedure and practice and with the same support as they already have, should deal with proceedings under the Licensing Act in the same way that they already deal with planning legislation. 

Appeals from decisions of licensing committees now go to the same magistrates who, until 2005, dealt with the applications. This not only defies logic; it leads to unsatisfactory results, as many of our witnesses have testified. Planning appeals go to inspectors who have the training for this, and for whom this is a full time job. We recommend that they should hear licensing appeals as well. ”

Trebles all round!

Simon Ricketts 13.4.17

Personal views, et cetera

Great Expectations: Pip & The Brownfield Land Registers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Ricketts 1.4.17
Personal views, et cetera

London Calling: Mayoral Interventions

Sadiq Khan is now 10 months into his role. How has he been using his Mayor of London Order 2008 powers to intervene in relation to strategic planning applications? The number one priority in his manifesto was, after all, to:
tackle the housing crisis, building thousands more homes for Londoners each year, setting an ambitious target of 50 per cent of new homes being genuinely affordable, and getting a better deal for renters.”


The consultation draft of the new London Plan is expected in August 2017, although we already have his draft affordable housing and viability SPG with its 35% affordable housing threshold approach (below which viability appraisal justification is required), covered in my 1.12.16 blog post. Ahead of the anticipated adopted version, a couple of items in the 14 March 2017 report to the London Assembly’s Planning Committee are of background interest:

– from page 9 a transcript of a discussion held on 1 February 2017 with James Murray, Jamie Ratcliff and private sector representatives in relation to the draft SPG

– from page 51 the Committee’s proposed response to the draft SPG.

Given that the Mayor’s intervention powers under the 2008 Order (to direct refusal of an application or call it in for his own determination) are the most direct levers that he can pull in relation to specific development proposals, it is perhaps surprising that so far we have not seen them used as much as under the last days of the Johnson regime.
This is how it stands as at 18 March 2017:
Flamingo Park, Bromley
Khan’s first intervention was in fact to direct refusal on 15 June 2016 of the Flamingo Park scheme in Bromley of a Green Belt scheme for a new stadium for Cray Wanderers FC along with 28 flats. (One for pub quizzes: Cray Wanderers claim to be the oldest football club in London – and second oldest in the world!). 
The London Borough of Bromley was minded to grant planning permission, but the Mayor considered that the ‘very special circumstances’ test for inappropriate development in the Green Belt had not been met. He added:
“Whilst writing I would take this opportunity to express my concern as to the lack of affordable housing and the effect the excess parking provision will have on the highway network in the vicinity of the site.”
Unusually, the Secretary of State promptly intervened and called in the application before the refusal was issued. The Mayor was preparing to defend the refusal direction but the applicant Cray Wanderers announced yesterday (17 March 2017) that it has withdrawn the application following legal advice and discussions with the Mayor and Bromley Council. It will resubmit a new application “in the next four to six weeks”. 
It will be interesting to see the extent to which the new scheme sees any increased housing component and the approach taken to affordable housing. 

Plough Lane, Merton

Khan’s next intervention also related to a proposed football stadium – this time Galliard Homes proposal for a new 20,000 seat football stadium for AFC Wimbledon and 602 residential units, on the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium site, next to the site, now redeveloped for housing, of the old Wimbledon FC stadium in Plough Lane (Wimbledon FC now having of course having emigrated to Milton Keynes as MK Dons). (I hope you’re following this – I rather wish I had included Wimbledon and Cray Wanderers in my 7.1.17 blog post Level Playing Fields: Football Stadia & Planning).
The proposals included 9.6% affordable housing (all intermediate, shared ownership) with a review mechanism. The application was called in by previous Mayor Boris Johnson on 26 March 2016 (against GLA officers’ advice), but in an unusual twist, Mayor Sadiq Khan released it back to Merton on 19 August 2016 for Merton to approve. I had previously doubted (and possibly still do) whether it is lawful for a Mayor to release back an application which has previously been called in – there is certainly no express power to do so – but the Mayor’s reports set out the legal justification that he relies on. 
Bishopsgate Goodsyard, Hackney

There is one further Johnson hangover, the application for the mixed use redevelopment of Bishopsgate Goodsyard (including 1,356 residential units) which was called in by him on 23 September 2016 at the request of the applicant. Despite having been called in presumably with the intention of approving it, or at least reaching a determination more speedily than if it had been left with the London Borough of Hackney as local planning authority, the application then hit the buffers when a GLA officers’ report was published on 8 April 2016, recommending that he refuse it at the representation hearing arranged for 18 April 2016. The applicant decided to defer the hearing to address the issues and there it rests. The next twist is anyone’s guess. Will Khan even have to reach any decision or will we see withdrawal and resubmission?

We now come to two much more recent decisions, both on 10 March 2017. The Mayor’s draft SPG was obviously referred to in both cases and affordable housing review mechanisms imposed in both cases, with a cap of 50% – which is the borough-wide requirement applicable in both cases (albeit Haringey’s emerging local plan appears to be proposing a lower 40% borough wide target). 
Hale Wharf, Haringey
Haringey members had resolved, against officers’ recommendations, to refuse planning permission for this 505 residential unit scheme, within the Upper Lee Valley Opportunity Area and the Tottenham Housing Zone, on no fewer than eleven grounds. The Mayor called it in on 4 January 2017 and approved it on 10 March 2017 as recommended in his officers’ stage 3 report.
The position secured on affordable housing was as follows:
a minimum of 177 units (35% of overall units) to be affordable, with 20% affordable rent and 80% shared ownership by habitable room. 

Details of affordability will be secured. Review mechanisms as follows will secure the delivery of more affordable housing (up to 50% of the scheme or the level of grant funding) should it be viable: 
- 

Review mechanism (1): In the event that the development has not been substantially implemented within 2 years of the date of the decision, an updated viability assessment shall be submitted in order to establish if additional affordable housing can be provided and any such additional affordable housing shall be provided on site; 
- 

Review mechanism (2): A viability assessment shall be submitted prior to substantial completion of Phase 1 in order to establish if additional affordable housing can be provided and any such additional housing shall be provided on site; 
- 

Review mechanism (3): A viability assessment shall be submitted prior to substantial completion of Phase 3, to establish whether there is any surplus from the completed scheme which can be contributed towards off-site provision of affordable housing. 
- 

Review mechanism (4): Further review if development stalls for a period of more than 24 months.
It’s worth noting that there was already significant GLA funding being given for infrastructure for the scheme before the application was called in but the Mayor’s involvement appears to have secured £7.75m worth of affordable housing funding to a registered provider, so the review mechanism will be aimed at recovery and recycling of that grant funding.
Palmerston Road, Harrow

Harrow members resolved, again against their officers’ recommendations, to refuse an application by Origin Housing for a mixed use development within the Harrow and Wealdstone Opportunity Area and the Heart of Harrow Housing Zone to provide 187 residential units, within 5 buildings of between 1 and 17 storeys. Again, on 10 March 2017 the Mayor accepted the recommendations in his officers’ stage 3 report.
The affordable housing position secured is as follows: 
– a minimum of 74 homes (40% of overall units) on the site to be provided as affordable homes, with 30% affordable rent and 70% shared ownership (40% was proposed in the original application but the tenure mix is different);

– a viability review mechanism will secure the delivery of more affordable housing (up to a level of 50% of the scheme) should it be viable. 

 The affordable housing is with grant based on the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Programme 2016-21, with an early review mechanism if enabling works are not substantially commenced within two years. 

Conclusions

Of course the Mayor has to be selective as to how to use his powers. After all, the legal limits are clear from R (Spitalfields Historic Trust) v Mayor of London (Gilbart J, 10 May 2016), where Mayor Johnson’s use of the Mayoral call in power was tested and just about survived. However, so far, perhaps true to the man – and maybe no bad thing – we have seen a more cautious approach from Sadiq Khan:

– one direction of refusal where, who knows, a compromise may be on the cards

– one previously called in application returned to the borough to determine

– two applications called in and approved, but both schemes offering more than 35% affordable housing, with a review mechanism potentially to get to 50% – both schemes in opportunity areas and London housing zones where officers’ recommendations to approve had been overturned.

Administrations usually become more interventionist over time. I headed this piece London Calling, but with Mayor Khan we certainly haven’t yet seen The Clash. 
Simon Ricketts 18.3.17
Personal views, et cetera

 

 

 

Completion Notices: More Pointy, Still Pointless?

Completion notices have always been a blunt tool, little used by local planning authorities. The Housing White Paper proposes sharpening them, but to what end?
If we blow the dust off a bit we can remind ourselves that the current completion notice procedure in sections 94 and 95 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is as follows:
– Development must have been begun within the time limit on the planning permission and that time limit must have now expired. 

– If the LPA considers that the development “will not be completed within a reasonable period” they can serve a completion notice stating that the planning permission will cease to have effect after a period specified in the notice which must be at least 12 months. 

– Any notice is only effective if confirmed by the Secretary of State, who may extend the 12 months’ period. Any person served with a completion notice who objects within a time limit set out on the notice (must be at least 28 days) has a right to a hearing before the Secretary of State before he reaches his decision.

– If the notice takes effect, the planning permission becomes invalid at the end of the specified period, but this does not affect any development carried out under the permission before the end of the period. 

The procedure is very seldom used, for various reasons:
– It doesn’t do what it says on the tin. It does not secure completion of the development. If development has stalled, the developer is already having pretty fundamental problems. The threat of a completion notice is not going to lead to a developer finding significant amount of money to overcome those problems – indeed it could jeopardise a solution being found if funders are spooked.  

– Instead, use of the procedure is likely to lead to an uncompleted development – it should perhaps be called an uncompletion notice. Furthermore, the courts have resisted to date any notion that if, by the end of the specified completion deadline, only part of a building has been built, the part built is in any way no longer unauthorised (Cardiff County Council v National Assembly for Wales, Davis J, 22 June 2006 – in that case, an unsightly part-built garage, which the Council sought unsuccessfully to enforce against after the deadline in the completion notice). 

– The test as to whether the development “will be completed within a reasonable period” is too vague, particularly in relation to major projects. What is it to be judged against?

– The need for approval by the Secretary of State adds to the potential for delay and uncertainty. 

So what is the Government now proposing? As part of its collection of “Holding Developers And Local Authorities To Account” measures, the white paper contains the following:
“2.42 We want to ensure local planning authorities have more effective tools to deal with circumstances where planning permission has been granted but no substantive progress has been made. We propose to simplify and speed up the completion notice process, whereby if development on a site has stopped and there is no prospect of completion, the local authorities can withdraw planning permission for the remainder of the site. This would make it easier for local authorities to serve a completion notice, helping to stimulate building or clear unused permissions from their planned supply of land. “

Views are sought by 2 May on two proposals:

“A.107 The Government proposes to amend legislation to remove the requirement for the Secretary of State to confirm a completion notice before it can take effect. Local authorities know their circumstances best, and removing central government involvement will help shorten the process, and give authorities greater control and certainty. The opportunity for a hearing will be retained where there are objections. 

A.108 We also intend to amend legislation, subject to consultation, to allow a local authority to serve a completion notice on a site before the commencement deadline has elapsed, but only where works have begun. This change could dissuade developers from making a token start on site purely to keep the permission alive. However, it is important that this would not impact on the willingness of lenders to invest.”

These proposals are hardly radical. The Government published a report on completion notices back in July 2001, that it had commissioned from Cardiff University and Buchanan Partnership, no longer on the web as far as I know, which back then made these recommendations (to which it appears the Government never responded):
* Greater thought should be given to tailoring the time period in the standard condition relating to the commencement of development to fit the situation. In particular, the period could be reduced to two years for minor development.
* The Government’s advice, then in Circular 11/95, against including a condition requiring that the whole of an approved development be completed should be reviewed.

* No justification for referral to the Secretary of State, and this should be replaced by a right of appeal.

* Better publicity for the system could lead to its greater use.

The first recommendation in the white paper echoes the 2001 report and is hardly controversial. There should be no reason to require confirmation by the Secretary of State if objections to the notice haven’t been received. 
The second recommendation is more worrying, when looked at in conjunction with the separate proposals in the white paper, that:
– the applicant should “provide information about their estimated ‘start date’ (month/year when a substantive start would take place) and ‘build out rate’ (the number of homes built per financial year) for all proposals for or including housing development
– developers should “provide local authorities with basic information (in terms of actual and projected build out) on progress in delivering the permitted number of homes, after planning permission has been granted”

– large housebuilders should be required to publish “aggregate information on build out rates”

Owners and developers are normally vigilant to keep planning permissions alive by carrying out a material operation prior to the implementation deadline on the permission, reflecting the frequent reality that detailed architectural and engineering work post-permission, as well as the funding structure to underpin a development, often including necessary pre-lets in the case of commercial floorspace, take longer than the deadline for implementation (in relation to which the default period is now proposed to be reduced to two years). Missing the deadline means going down a very long snake to submit a fresh application for planning permission. 
The white paper proposal envisages that an LPA could serve a completion notice at any time after the developer has carried out a material operation, even before the implementation deadline has expired. What would there be to prevent an LPA serving completion notices as a matter of routine where development appears to be slower than was previously indicated, or than housebuilder averages? The white paper itself questions whether this would “impact on the willingness of lenders to invest”. The answer is that it surely would as there would be no certainty for a lender that if the borrower developer defaults on its loan the lender will have time to step in and secure the completion of the development under the same permission – or work through another solution with the borrower. The underpinning certainty of the permission is lost. Two years to implement a permission is no period at all and if relatively minor works within that period may not suffice to keep the permission alive, banks will undoubtedly want to consider the risk profile vis a vis particular authorities very carefully. 
Why not look at more constructive opportunities with the information to be provided about actual or projected build out rates? For example:
– Remember the section 106BC procedure? Revised section 106 arrangements alleviating affordable housing requirements ceased to apply to those parts of the development that had not been completed within three years. That sort of structure could be considered by LPAs in section 106 agreements where justified.

– Any viability review mechanism could be expressed as only operable if specified amounts of development had not been achieved by defined milestones.

– Encourage LPAs to tie any funding they control, eg use of CIL monies for the benefit of the scheme, to timely build out progress.

So much can be achieved by planning obligations and conditions, instead of spending time working out how to hack at the problem with what is hardly the sharpest tool in the box.


Simon Ricketts 25.2.17

Personal views, et cetera

The Unfortunate Case Of The Council’s Sports Hub

It’s easy for a planning lawyer to summarise R (Boot) v Elmbridge Borough Council  (Supperstone J, 16 January 2017). The High Court confirmed what we already know from paragraph 89 of the NPPF – that “the provision of appropriate facilities for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation and for cemeteries, as long as it preserves the openness of the Green Belt and does not conflict with the purposes of including land within it” is not inappropriate development, but that conversely, if harm is caused to the openness of the Green Belt, even limited harm, the development is inappropriate and permission should be refused save in very special circumstances.
The court duly quashed a planning permission granted on 26 January 2016 for the “Elmbridge Sports Hub” – a proposed athletics stadium, ‘league’ football pitch and training pitches (grass and artificial) for Walton Casuals FC, Walton and Hersham FC and Walton Athletics club to replace their current facilities, on a former landfill site in Waterside Drive, Walton-on-Thames.

However, scratch beneath the surface of any case and there are usually some interesting factors. 

This is not a developer-led proposal. It’s being promoted by Elmbridge Borough Council, on land that it owns. The development is proposed to be funded by the sale by the Council, for the development of 52 homes, of Walton and Hersham FC’s present ground at Stompond Lane. 
Most developers would not take the risk of starting construction work ahead of their permission being free from legal challenge. However, Elmbridge embarked on construction on 21 March 2016, despite the scheme already at that stage having become significantly controversial. Indeed the claimant’s solicitors, renowned claimant firm Richard Buxton & Co, were already on board for objectors and had previously scored an early blow by securing an EIA screening direction from the Secretary of State in July 2015, when the application had already initially gone to committee, requiring environmental impact assessment to be carried out. The Secretary of State ruled:
“Whilst this is a finely balanced case, the proposal does raise concerns to suggest the potential for significant environmental impacts through surface disturbance of the former landfill site, uncertainty about the extent of the contamination of the site and the potential for gas migration to both the River Thames and nearby residential properties.”
Why did development start when the permission was still at risk, presumably when proceedings had already been served, or at least a pre-action protocol letter? I don’t know any of the details but I do note that the local elections took place a little afterwards in May 2016. Was this at all relevant?
Rolling ahead to 2017, by the time that the permission was quashed, the construction project was significantly advanced. With the developer a local planning authority, responsible for planning enforcement, this is surely hardly a comfortable position.  

Image from Get Surrey website

Elmbridge had tried unsuccessfully to delay the court hearing, fixed for 6 December 2016, to allow a second planning application to be determined, for a revised version of the scheme, a request that was rejected by Ouseley J in November.  
The second application eventually went to committee on 17 January 2017, the day after the first permission was quashed and on the basis of a detailed officers’ report, resolved to approve it (perhaps no surprise there). Having delayed the scheme first on an EIA point and secondly on the council’s flawed approach to green belt policy, no doubt objectors will be looking for their next line of attack. 
So a straight-forward ruling by Supperstone J but the situation on the ground is plainly a mess. How does a local planning authority get itself into this sort of position? To what extent is this about financial or political imperatives and, against the backdrop of a construction project in mid flow (one dreads to think of the financial consequences under its construction contract if the authority now pauses or abandons the project), how easy was it for members to determine the second application with open minds but on the contrary how difficult it may be for objectors to prove to a court that minds were already made up?
Simon Ricketts 21 January 2017
Personal views, et cetera