20 Changes In The Final Version Of The London Mayor’s Affordable Housing & Viability SPG

The final version of Sadiq Khan’s supplementary planning guidance on affordable housing and viability was published on 16 August 2017. I had previously blogged on the November 2016 draft. 

For internal purposes at Town we have prepared a tracked version, showing the differences. There are many, mostly tightening up the language, but also with some material additions and changes of emphasis.

This blog post focuses on 20 of what appear to me to be material changes from the position I summarised last year: 
1. 50% affordable threshold for public land

The threshold for the ‘fast track route’, where viability information is not required, nor review mechanisms as long as an agreed level of progress is made following the grant of permission, remains at 35% for schemes on private sector owned land. However a higher threshold of 50% has been introduced for land “in public ownership or public use” where grants are not available.

“2.33  It is widely recognised that land in public ownership should make a significant contribution towards the supply of new affordable housing. Land that is surplus to public sector requirements typically has a low value in its current use, allowing higher levels of affordable housing to be delivered. For these reasons the Mayor has an expectation that residential proposals on public land should deliver at least 50 per cent affordable housing to benefit from the Fast Track Route. 


2.34  Where a public landowner has an agreement in place with the Mayor to provide 50 per cent affordable homes across a portfolio of sites, individual sites which meet or exceed the 35 per cent affordable housing threshold and required tenure split may be considered under the Fast Track Route. Where such an agreement is not in place, schemes that do not provide 50 per cent affordable housing will be considered under the Viability Tested Route. 


2.35  Where 50 per cent affordable housing is delivered on public land, the tenure of additional affordable homes above the 35 per cent is flexible and should take in to account the need to maximise affordable housing provision. 


2.36  This will apply to land that is owned or in use by a public sector organisation, or a company or organisation in public ownership, or land that has been released from public ownership and on which housing development is proposed.

Is the definition in paragraph 2.36 specific enough? What are companies or organisations in public ownership? What if the land was released from public ownership long ago?

2. Specific advice in relation to section 73 applications

2.14  For schemes that were approved under the Fast Track Route, any subsequent applications to vary the consent will not be required to submit viability information, provided that the resulting development continues to meet the 35 per cent threshold and required tenure split, and does not otherwise result in a reduction in affordable housing or housing affordability. 


2.15  For schemes where the original permission did not meet the 35 per cent threshold or required tenure split, or where a proposed amendment would cause it to no longer meet these criteria, viability information will be required where an application is submitted to vary the consent and this would alter the economic circumstances of the scheme (for example resulting in a higher development value or lower costs). Such schemes will be assessed under the Viability Tested Route to determine whether additional affordable housing can be provided.

2.16  Proposed amendments that result in a reduction in affordable housing, affordability or other obligations or requirements of the original permission should be rigorously assessed under the Viability Tested Route. In such instances a full viability review should be undertaken that reconsiders the value, costs, profit requirements and land value of the scheme. The Mayor should be consulted where a scheme amendment is proposed that changes the level of affordable housing from that which was secured through the original planning permission.”


There is a risk that the inevitable minor amendments that come forward after grant of planning permission, with less than a material effect on the economic circumstances of a scheme, will lead to the need for updated viability information if paragraph 2.15 is to be applied strictly. This could lead to delays, or to scheme amendments not being pursued if the borough is not prepared to accept that they are non material amendments that can be secured under section 96A.

3. Greater emphasis on viability transparency

The draft guidance already indicated that viability information “should be available for public scrutiny and comment like all other elements of a planning application“. The new guidance ratchets this up a further level:

– “boroughs should implement procedures which promote greater transparency where not already in place”. 

– in submitting viability information, applicants “should also provide a summary of the financial viability assessment which outlines key findings, inputs, and conclusions to assist review by the LPA, Mayor, and members of the public.”

Applicants will still have the opportunity to “argue that limited elements should be confidential, but the onus is on the applicant to make this case“.

4. Habitable floorspace cross-check
Whilst the percentage of affordable housing should be measured in habitable rooms, there is this additional advice:

“Habitable rooms in affordable and market elements of the scheme should be of comparable size when averaged across the whole development. If this is not the case, then it may be more appropriate to measure the provision of affordable housing using habitable floorspace. Applicants should present affordable housing figures as a percentage of total residential provision by habitable rooms, by units, and by floorspace to enable comparison.”

5. Sensible flexibility regarding fast track approach

The draft guidance indicated that in order to follow the fast track approach, even if a scheme offered the threshold level of affordable housing, it was required to “meet all of the other relevant policy requirements and obligations”. The relevant passage now refers to meeting “other obligations and requirements to the satisfaction of the LPA and the Mayor where relevant”.  

6. Greater emphasis on exploring the opportunity for public subsidies

“All schemes are expected to determine whether grant and other forms of subsidy are available and to make the most efficient use of this to increase the level of affordable housing delivered. All applicants are expected to work with the LPA, the Mayor, and Registered Providers (RPs) to ensure affordable housing from all sources is maximised.”

The guidance is intended to be “integrated with the approach to funding set out in the Mayor’s guidance to his Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021 .

Funding is said to be available on a fixed grant-per-unit basis:

2.24  Where developer-led schemes can provide or exceed 40 per cent affordable housing (with grant) then the fixed grant per unit will be available on all affordable housing units in the scheme. 


2.25  Where developer-led schemes are delivering less than 40 per cent, grant will only be available for the additional affordable homes over and above
the baseline level of affordable housing shown as being viable on a nil-grant basis.”

“2.28  Where public subsidy is available to increase the level of affordable housing on a scheme the tenure of additional affordable homes above the 35 per cent is flexible but should take into account the need to maximise affordable housing provision through the available public subsidy.”


7. Build To Rent

The final version of the guidance retains the Mayor’s support for build to rent. Some additional elements have been spelt out in his “build to rent” definition. As well as being a development of at least 50 units, with a build to rent covenant of at least 15 years, with self-contained units, operated under unified ownership and management, the development must:

” • offer longer tenancies (three years or more) to all tenants, with break clauses that allow the tenant to end the tenancy with a month’s notice any time after the first six months; 


* offer rent certainty for the period of the tenancy, the basis of which should be made clear to the tenant before a tenancy agreement is signed, including any annual increases which should always be formula-linked; 


* include on-site management, which does not necessarily mean full-time dedicated on-site staff, but must offer systems for prompt resolution of issues and some daily on-site presence; 


* be operated by providers who have a complaints procedure in place and are a member of a recognised ombudsman scheme; and 


* not charge up-front fees of any kind to tenants or prospective tenants, other than deposits and rent-in-advance.

There is more detailed guidance about the clawback arrangement if units in the scheme cease to be available as BTR:

“4.14  In line with the Mayor’s approach to affordable housing on Build to Rent schemes, and to ensure that there is no financial incentive to break a covenant, planning permission should only be granted where the scheme is subject to a clawback agreement. The appropriate clawback amount will be the difference between the total value of the market rent units based on the viability assessment at application stage, and those units valued on a ‘for sale’ basis at the point of sale. The LPA should be notified of the sale price of units that are sold and this should inform the market value of remaining units to determine the clawback. The clawback amount must demonstrate a sufficient difference in the value of units between rented and for sale tenures, consistent with the ‘distinct economics’ of build to rent, for the scheme to qualify for the Build to Rent pathway.

4.15  The clawback amount will be payable to the LPA for the provision of affordable housing in the event that market rented units are sold within
the covenant period, which would break the covenant. For larger phased schemes the LPA should consider whether the clawback amount should be disaggregated to the relevant block in which units are sold. The clawback amount should not reduce over time to ensure that the covenant remains effective for the full period. 


4.16  In the event that a share of rented units are sold, and the remaining units are retained within the rental market, an LPA may determine that the clawback 
is calculated based on the units sold. The other units will remain under covenant and the clawback will apply at the point of sale if disposed of within the covenant period. 


4.17  The clawback does not relate to any affordable units provided as part of the scheme. Affordable units are not subject to a minimum covenant period and must always be secured in perpetuity. Additionally, overall ownership of the building(s) in which the units are located may change during the covenanted period without triggering ‘clawback’ if the units remain in single ownership and management as Build to Rent.

Encouragingly, the guidance indicates that, as the sector develops, “the Mayor will keep under review whether it may be possible to set out a Fast Track Route specifically for developments following a Build to Rent pathway through the planning system.”


8. The “early review”

This is the review that the draft guidance stated was to be carried out when an agreed level of progress on implementing the scheme has not been achieved within two years of the permission being granted. The early review is also in the final version of the guidance, although with a little more flexibility: “within two years of the permission being granted or as agreed with the LPA”. 

Plans in the section 106 agreement “should identify which homes would switch to affordable accommodation in the event of an improvement in viability at this early stage”. 

All review mechanisms should generally set a cap on the amount of additional provision to be sought, which should be 50% affordable housing. Suggested formulae are set out in the guidance. 

9. Mid-term review

For applications that do not meet the 35%/50% threshold, as well as the early stage review there is the late stage review at the point at which 75% of units are sold or let (the review generating payments in lieu rather than an additional requirement for affordable housing in the scheme, and with the surplus split 60/40 between the borough and the developer). However, the final version of the guidance introduces the possibility of mid-term reviews for some schemes:

“For longer-term phased schemes it may also be appropriate to secure mid-term reviews prior to implementation of later phases and an updated Early Stage Review in the event that a scheme stalls for a period of 12 or more months following an Early Stage Review.”

10. Targets for registered providers

2.30  Generally the Mayor expects RP-led schemes to seek to deliver as much affordable housing as possible within the context of the requirements of London Plan policy 3.12. RPs with agreements with the Mayor have to deliver at least 50 per cent affordable housing across their programmes, and in the case of strategic partners 60 per cent. 


2.31  The approach to grant funding for approved provider-led schemes is set out in Mayor’s Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-21. 


2.32  RP-led schemes are likely to benefit from programme grant as set out in 2.30. Individual schemes which are led by RPs with an agreed programme with the Mayor can follow the Fast Track Route if they can commit to delivering a minimum of 35 per cent without grant. This should be set out in the Section 106 agreement along with the proportion of affordable housing which can be delivered with grant.”


11. Density opportunities

“2.37  Where a scheme meets the 35 per cent affordable housing threshold it may also be appropriate to explore the potential to increase densities on a case- by-case basis to enable the delivery of additional affordable homes where this meets exemplary design standards. It is for LPAs, and the Mayor where relevant, to consider the weight to be given to the benefit of additional affordable housing above the threshold, where this arises through increased densities or scale.”

12. Incentivising largely or entirely affordable housing schemes


2.42  To incentivise schemes that are largely or entirely affordable, those that propose 75 per cent affordable housing or more as defined by the NPPF may be considered under the Fast Track Route whatever their tenure mix, as long as the tenure and other relevant standards are supported by the LPA.”

13. Affordable housing requirements for co-living and student accommodation

As did the draft, the final version of the guidance sets out that”new types of non-self contained accommodation [the final version adds: “such as purpose-built shared accommodation“] can play a role in meeting housing need where they are of high quality and well designed.” These should not be classed as affordable provision (and nor should hostels). The final version of the guidance states:

“2.51…Affordable housing contributions on these schemes will be assessed through the Viability Tested Route, and should be provided as separate or off-site self- contained provision, or cash in lieu payments. 


2.52  Student accommodation developments will also be assessed under the Viability Tested Route. Affordable student accommodation should be provided onsite in line with the Mayor’s Housing SPG.”


14. More detailed guidance on off-site affordable housing and cash-in lieu contributions

The guidance stresses that “[v]iability alone is insufficient justification for off-site affordable housing provision or a cash in lieu payment” and goes on to set out in more detail than previously how off-site provision and cash-in-lieu payments are to be calculated:

2.61  Off-site affordable housing requirements will be calculated by reference to the total housing provision on the main development site and any linked sites providing off-site affordable housing. For the purposes of the initial assessment and viability reviews the policy target would equate to 50 per cent affordable housing provided across the main site and any linked sites providing affordable housing when considered as a whole. 


2.62  The starting point for determining in-lieu contributions should be the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing that could be provided on-site as assessed through the Viability Tested Route. The value of the in- lieu contribution should be based on the difference in Gross Development Value arising when the affordable units are changed to market units within the appraisal. This is to ensure that where the on-site component of
market housing is increased as a result of the affordable contribution being provided as a cash in-lieu payment, this does not result in a higher assumed profit level for the market homes within the assessment which would have the effect of reducing the affordable housing contribution. 


2.63  The maximum value of any in-lieu contribution, for the purposes of the
initial assessment and viability reviews (the policy cap), will be based on
the equivalent of 50 per cent affordable housing provision. As with off-site affordable housing provision (see above), the target will be a percentage of the on-site market housing taken together with additional affordable housing provided off-site. 


2.64  Where an LPA has established a locally based approach for determining in-lieu contributions, such as a tariff based approach, this may be applied where this would result in a higher level of affordable housing provision (or higher policy cap).”

15. More detailed advice on estate regeneration schemes

Existing affordable housing that would be lost in an estate regeneration scheme should be replaced on a like-for-like basis. The guidance clarifies that this means “that, for example, homes at social rent levels should be replaced with homes at the same or similar rent levels, or that specialist types of affordable housing should be replaced with the same type of housing. The Fast Track Route does not apply in these circumstances, and all estate regeneration schemes should follow the Viability Tested Route to deliver the re-provision of the existing affordable floorspace on a like-for-like basis and maximise additional affordable housing.”


There is also this new passage

“2.67  Where a borough is redeveloping an estate as part of a wider programme then it may be possible to re-provide a different mix of affordable housing
on the estate, taking account of the wishes of people who want to return to the estate, if the affordable housing is re-provided like-for-like or increased across the programme as a whole. This must also take account of the affordable housing requirements on the linked sites (i.e. it must be in addition to what the linked site would have delivered on its own). Further information on Estate Regeneration can be found in the Mayor’s Good Practice Guide.

16. Scheme delivery


There are these new passages:

3.10  Applicants should demonstrate that their proposal is deliverable and that their approach to viability is realistic. As such appraisals would normally be expected to indicate that the scheme does not generate a deficit, and that the target profit and benchmark land value can be achieved with the level of planning obligations provided. If an appraisal shows a deficit position the applicant should demonstrate how the scheme is deliverable. 


3.11  Where an applicant is seeking to rely on assumptions of growth in values these should be provided. For shorter-term non-phased schemes which are based on current day values and costs, growth assumptions should be included as a scenario test. 


3.12  For phased or longer-term schemes, it may be appropriate to include growth assumptions within the appraisal to ensure that this is realistic and that affordable housing is maximised. These should be informed by recognised market sources for the relevant area. Where this is the case viability review mechanisms will be required as set out in this guidance given the uncertainty in determining viability at the application stage. Higher profit targets should not be assumed which offset the benefits of this approach.”

17. Greater examination of costs information

Appraisals should set out the gross to net floorspace ratio of the proposed development. 

There are these additional passages as well:

3.23… Applicants should submit elemental cost plans that are consistent with the level of detail provided in the drawings in support of planning applications (i.e. RIBA Plan of Works Stage C). Wherever possible such assessments should be benchmarked against other similar projects. Where an appraisal is based on current day values, costs should not include build cost inflation. 

3.24  LPAs are strongly encouraged to use cost consultants to rigorously assess scheme proposals and verify whether costs are appropriate taking into account pricing, quantities, specification, and assumed development values. Consideration should also be given to scheme design and whether development costs could be reduced as part of a cost/ value assessment.”

“3.26  Professional and marketing fees should be justified taking account of the complexity of the development and development values. Costs applied on a percentage basis should be realistic when considering the monetary value of the assumed cost.”
17. Additional passages in relation to developer profit

“3.32 In line with PPG a rigid approach to assumed profit levels should be avoided and applicants cannot rely on typically quoted levels. 


3.33  Factors that may be relevant when assessing scheme-specific target profit levels include the scheme’s development programme, and whether it is speculative or provides pre-sold/ pre-let accommodation. Market forecasts and stock market trends may also provide an indication of perceived market-wide risk”. 

18. Greater flexibility as to the use of internal rate of return

The draft guidance set out an expectation that the IRR measure of return would not be used for schemes providing fewer than 1,000 units. This is gone, although where IRR is used, profit must also now be considered as a factor of gross development costs or gross development value.

19. Defining EUV and any premium 

The guidance clarifies that where “a proposed EUV is based on a refurbishment scenario, or a redevelopment of the current use, this is an alternative development scenario and the guidance relating to Alternative Use Value (AUV) will apply.”


There is this additional passage in relation to the quantification of any premium:

“The level of premium can be informed by benchmark land values that have been accepted for planning purposes on other comparable sites where determined on a basis that is consistent with this guidance.”
20. Advice on the use of market value

In the limited circumstances where a non EUV+ approach is acceptable, there is more detailed guidance on the use of transactional evidence to establish market value:

3.49  In the very limited circumstances where this approach may be justified,
an applicant must demonstrate that the site value fully reflects policy requirements, planning obligations, and CIL charges, and takes account of site-specific circumstances. Market land transactions used must be fully evidenced and justified as being genuinely comparable and consistent with the methodology applied in the viability assessment. These should also be used to determine whether the residual value of the scheme and cost and value inputs are realistic. The applicant should also consider the: 


- EUV; 

– the Residual Land Value assuming a policy compliant affordable housing offer; 

– the Residual Land Value based on an assumption of no affordable housing; and

– the Residual Land Value based on evidence from recent comparable market transactions. 


3.50  Land is valued on a current day basis; changes in circumstances since a site has been purchased are a factor of development risk. Land transactions may also be based on unrealistic assumptions regarding development density, changes of use, or planning obligations. Where site value does not take full account of the Development Plan or CIL charges, where market land transactions are not fully evidenced and genuinely comparable, or where transactions are based on a different methodology and have not been appropriately adjusted, reliance on market transactions will not be supported. 


3.51  If an applicant seeks to use an ‘alternative use value’ (AUV) approach it must fully reflect policy requirements. Generally the Mayor will only accept the use of AUV where there is an existing implementable permission for that use. Where there is no existing implementable permission, the approach should only be used if the alternative use would fully comply with development 
plan polices, and if it can be demonstrated that the alternative use could be implemented on the site in question and there is market demand for that use. 


3.52  In order to demonstrate the value of a policy compliant alternative that does not benefit from an implementable permission but does have a realistic prospect of achieving planning permission, the applicant should provide a detailed alternative proposal, incorporating current day costs and values. The applicant should also explain why the alternative use has not been pursued.”


In short, there’s a lot for us all to get our heads around. If I have missed anything, no doubt you will let me know…

Simon Ricketts, 20 August 2017

Personal views, et cetera

[Thank you, Rebecca Craig at Town Legal for rising to my initial “spot the difference” challenge].

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

Crossrail 2, Where Are You?

We’ve got some work to do now. 
George Osborne’s March 2016 budget indicated that the then Government would be “investing in the infrastructure that will deliver economic growth for the next generation” by a number of measures, including “securing London’s future infrastructure by giving the green light for Crossrail 2 to proceed. The government will provide £80 million to develop the project with the aim of bringing forward a Hybrid Bill this Parliament”. 


There have been rumours that the Treasury or Department for Transport subsequently have not yet been convinced of the business case but, whatever the reason (the twin challenges of Brexit and the need to devote resources to Northern Ireland to prop up a new born minority government? Politics = events, dear boy, events), the project’s absence from the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto and subsequently from the Queen’s Speech on 21 June has been hugely disappointing. 
Perhaps given Mr Osborne’s new job it is no surprise that on the day of the Commons debate on the Queen’s Speech, 29 June, the London Evening Standard set out its concern in a strongly written editorial, but the points are surely well made. 
Delay to the project would have a series of harmful consequences:
– Postponement of the commuting benefits and congestion relief that it will bring. Given the need to provide additional capacity at Euston ready for the opening of HS2 in 2033, it is time critical (see City am’s 28 June 2017 piece).
– Loss of the opportunities that it will open up for additional housing and employment development around stations on the route, including opportunities for Transport for London to explore the possibilities for land value capture mechanisms. The Crossrail 2 Growth Commission confirmed in its 2016 report that the project could unlock 200,000 additional homes and 200,000 additional jobs. Without Crossrail 2, how will further housing come forward at the scale that is needed? In this uncertain period, are key sites going to lie fallow or developed at less than the scale that could be achieved with better rail connectivity?

– The unnecessary cost of delay, estimated by Crossrail 2 managing director Michele Dix at £2bn a year.

– Extended blight that will be caused along its current route, safeguarded in 2015 and shown on this interactive map.

– The uncertainty that has now been created for the impending replacement London Plan, the first draft of which we will see in November. The implications of Crossrail 2 are so significant that might the Mayor have to publish “with and without Crossrail 2” draft policies? How can the likely effects of the plan be properly assessed with such a question mark over Crossrail 2? 

The Mayor commenced consultation on 26 June 2017 in relation to his Mayor of London Community Infrastructure Levy 2 Preliminary Draft Charging Schedule (MCIL2 PDCS). MCIL1, which was adopted on 1 April 2012, was directed towards funding Crossrail 1. MCIL2 is directed towards funding Crossrail 2 and the Mayor intends for it to be adopted in April 2019. 

The proposed per sq m rates are £80 for band 1, £60 for band 2 and £25 for band 3, save that in central London and the Isle of Dogs, the rates for office, retail and hotel uses will be £185 for offices, £165 for retail and £140 for hotel uses.
 
Central London. 


Isle of Dogs

The Mayor’s supporting information says this about the current funding position for Crossrail:
Since the 2016 Budget, Transport for London, the Greater London Authority and the Government have been working to develop a funding package for the project as part of the development of a strategic outline business case. The London contribution to the costs of Crossrail consists of four funding sources: 

    * Crossrail 2 net operating surplus – i.e. the net impact of Crossrail 2 on TfL’s rail revenues 


    * over station development – proceeds from development of land and property initially required for construction (development related with Crossrail 2 will pay Mayoral CIL 2 on the same basis other developments) 


    * a Business Rate Supplement (BRS) (once the current BRS repays Crossrail 1 related debt) 


    * a Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy (MCIL2).”


MCIL2 is intended to meet approximately 15% of the project’s costs. What if Crossrail 2 does not go ahead? The document states:

“Negotiations on the Crossrail 2 scheme are still underway and there is no agreed funding package at present. However, MCIL2 does need to be brought forward now to avoid a charging gap at the end of Crossrail 1 construction and to allow for early funding of the Crossrail 2 scheme. Should no funding deal be achievable, the Mayor will be able to apply the MCIL2 proceeds to fund other strategic transport projects for which there is a significant funding gap.
Crossrail 2 is also a key strand of the Mayor’s draft transport strategy published on 21 June 2017: “It
 will enable London’s highly productive economy to continue to grow by helping 270,000 more people get into the centre in the morning peak. It will thereby support 200,000 new jobs, as well as unlocking 200,000 additional new homes – more than 30 per cent of them outside London”

So what is happening behind the scenes? Will Crossrail 2 emerge in a leaner form? A City am story on 26 June asserts (denied by Crossrail 2) that a revised business case provided to the Government in March had dropped the proposed station at Kings Road Chelsea (the subject of a vociferous celebrity-backed campaign) and that possible stations at Turnpike Lane and Balham have been replaced by Wood Green and Tooting Broadway options respectively. The continued speculation without any real information, isn’t helping anybody.

What political weight, if any, does the National Infrastructure Commission still have? George Osborne (him again) established the NIC in October 2015 to “determine Britain’s infrastructure priorities and hold governments to account for their delivery” and appointed Lord Andrew Adonis as its chairman. NIC’s support of Crossrail 2 was hugely influential in the lead up to that March 2016 announcement. It set out on 26 June 2017 its top 12 infrastructure priorities, with Crossrail 2 featuring strongly: “The Government should by the end of 2017 publish a plan, agreed with the Mayor of London, for the funding and phased construction of Crossrail 2, and for securing the necessary parliamentary consent, taking account of the recommendations in the NIC’s Transport for a World City report.”
If this stasis goes on much longer I may even start to get nostalgic about all of those photos of George Osborne in high vis and hard hat…
Simon Ricketts, 1 July 2017

Personal views, et cetera


Viability & Affordable Housing: Update

This is a supplement to my 28 May 2017 Affordable Housing Tax blog post, since when:
Politics, people
The avoidable tragedy on 14 June of Grenfell and its aftermath – with its residents needing to be rehoused and concerns as to the fire safety of many other council housing blocks – has surely focused attention on the challenge of providing adequate housing.
Except that by cruel irony this has come precisely when the Government is of course having to face other challenges as a result of the 8 June election. Despite the Conservatives’ manifesto promises in relation to “social housing” (later confirmed to be in fact not social housing) and changes to compulsory purchase processes, the background notes to the Queen’s Speech on 21 June simply said this on housing:

HOUSING


“Proposals will be brought forward to […] help ensure more homes are built.” 

We have not built enough homes in this country for generations. In order to fix the dysfunctional housing market, we need to build more of the right homes, in the right places, and ensure the housing market works for all parts of our community. 


This will help to tackle the increasing lack of affordability by bringing more properties onto the market. It will slow the rise in housing costs relative to the rise in wages, and help ordinary working people gain better access to this most basic of necessities. It will help more ordinary working families buy an affordable home and will bring the cost of renting down. 


In February we published a Housing White Paper, which proposes end-to-end action across the whole housing system, with measures to: 

    * release more land for homes where people want to live; 


    * build the homes we need faster; 


    * get more people building homes; 


    * support people who need help now.

We will deliver the reforms proposed in the White Paper to increase transparency around the control of land, to “free up more land for new homes in the right places, speed up build-out by encouraging modern methods of construction and diversify who builds homes in the country” (p.70). 
We will consult and look to take action to promote transparency and fairness for leaseholders. We will look at the sale of leasehold houses and onerous ground rents, working with property developers, the Competition and Markets
 Authority and others as outlined in the Housing White Paper. 


Key facts 


Getting more homes built 

    * In 2016, the median house price in England was nearly eight times the median earnings – an all time record high. 


    * Home ownership among 25-34 year-olds in England has fallen from 56% in 2005/06 to 38% in 2015/16, whereas the percentage of 25-34 year-olds living in the private rented sector increased from 24% to 46% over the same time period. 


    * 189,650 net additional homes were delivered in 2015/16 in England, up 11% on 2014/15 and the highest level since 2007/08. We need to sustain that momentum to meet the affordability challenge. All credible sources agree we need between 225,000 and 275,000 new homes per year to tackle this problem. “

Are we moving into a period when local rather than national government will have to make the running, regardless of political complexion? Plus ça change, perhaps. Nickie Aiken, leader of Conservative-run Westminster City Council, gave a no-holds-barred speech to the London Real Estate Forum on 13 June 2017:
“There’s no time for on-going pleasant and cosy chats that might improve things for the better at some undefined point in the future.”

“My view is that too many times we have not always pushed back enough in requiring affordable homes onsite, have buckled on viability or surrendered to the idea that brutal market economics simply denies housing opportunities for most people and that is just a harsh fact of life.”

“If you are a developer who wants to invest in and be invested in the future of our city for the long haul you are very welcome.

However, if you are just a speculator who wants to make a fast buck by building properties that only oligarchs and absent overseas investors can afford, you are in the wrong borough.
It’s good for a politician to make statements such as this but it’s not so popular (although equally true) to say that viability is still a challenge on many schemes. Many sites do attract a high market value regardless of any developer’s proposal (even when circular arguments are avoided) and why would the owner relinquish the site at a loss? Sales prices and costs budgets cannot be guaranteed. Development values are maximised by targeting the most profitable segments of the market and in the approach taken to density, yes to maximise return, but also to make the affordable housing numbers work on top of CIL and other non-negotiable requirements. Criticise from the side lines but would you speculate or lend your own money on any different or more altruistic basis, given the commercial and political uncertainties to which any significant longterm project will be exposed to? For a decision maker to make the right judgment call that maximises both the amount of housing that will actually be delivered and, within that, the amount and range of affordable housing (rather than ending up with nothing more than homes on paper, an unimplemented permission), is never going to be easy. What would make it easier would be:
– closer prescription as to the appropriate methodology to be followed – and for that methodology to follow economic reality as closely as possible so that, on the one hand, developers cannot avoid their proper obligations but, on the other, equally importantly, so that they still have every incentive to develop.  

– alongside that greater prescription, real penalties for those who game the system and bring it into disrepute. 

– due recognition for genuine altruism – how can we encourage good behaviour?

It is crucial to crack this because what the public perhaps doesn’t appreciate is the degree to which affordable housing subsidies are being left to be provided by the private sector – see for example the government’s latest statistics (April 2009 to March 2017) as to HCA/GLA funded affordable housing starts/completions by tenure type.
High Court
The current realities of viability negotiations have been exposed to the light in Minerva (Wandsworth) Limited v Greenland Ram (London) Limited (Rose J, 23 June 2017), a contractual dispute over an overage payment that Minerva, seller of the Ram Brewery site, successfully claimed from its purchaser, Chinese developer Greenland for securing a section 73 permission enabling a tower within the redevelopment scheme to be two storeys higher than initially approved. The factual account by Mrs Justice Rose is relentless in its detail.  
Appeal decisions
One theme of the Minerva case was the way in which the different parties’ viability consultants arrived at vastly differing figures, given the uncertainties as to the approach to be taken to, for instance the hypothetical land cost (benchmark land value) to be taken into account. Whilst the Mayor has set out his preferred approach in his draft affordable housing and viability SPG, the debate has continued and there have been two decision letters this month where inspectors have had to arbitrate between differing approaches taken by appellant and LPA. 
I referred in my 18 June 2017 blog post to a decision letter dated 12 June 2017 concerning a site at the junction of Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Church Street in which Inspector David Nicolson considered that the site value of £33m within the appellant’s viability appraisal (and indeed agreed by RBKC) 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“. The inspector gave little weight to an alternative use value approach and was sceptical as to any figure that might be arrived at using an EUV approach. In his view, in the absence of any planning permission, there was “little sound evidence to show that the site is more of an asset than a liability”. 

The 19 June 2017 decision letter issued a week later in relation to the proposed redevelopment of the former Territorial Army Centre, Parkhurst Road, Islington was highly unusual as the central issue for the inspector, Michael Boniface, to determine was “whether the development would provide the maximum reasonable level of affordable housing in accordance with the development plan”. The proposal, by Parkhurst Road Limited, was for 96 homes and related works. The appellant had purchased the site for £13.25m in May 2013 from the Ministry of Defence. 
At the inquiry the appellant offered to provide 10% affordable housing (up from an initial position that 0% was justified given the viability position). Islington Council’s final position at the inquiry was that it would accept 34% (down from an initial requirement of 50%). The main issue between the parties was as to the appropriate land cost to be allowed for. The benchmark land value argued for by the appellant was £13.26m, a figure established at a previous inquiry, and sought to support the figure by reference to various comparables. The council argued for the EUV+ (existing use value plus premium) approach advocated for by the Mayor in his draft SPG and put forward a figure of £6.75m, which approach and figure was favoured by the inspector. The inspector was also not satisfied with the review mechanism that was proposed. 
Of note for other schemes in Islington, the inspector did not support the council’s proposed obligation, pursuant to its “Wasted Housing Supply” SPD, that would have required that none of the dwellings be left unoccupied or unused for a period of three months or more. The inspector did not consider on the evidence that the obligation was justified or that it could be properly and fairly enforced.
What next?
Obviously all eyes are on Alok Sharma, new housing and planning minister, for some hint of the approach that he will take. 
In the meantime, in London, the adoption of the Mayor’s affordable housing and viability SPG in July will provide more certainty, together with first sight of his draft Replacement London Plan later in the year. 
But ahead of that, an announcement is due on 26 June as to the Mayor’s proposed changes to his CIL charging schedule (to come into effect in 2019). Just remember that almost every penny of any extra charges levied on housing schemes will simply feed through into viability assessments and will reduce any surplus available for affordable housing. 
Time finally for a quick plug: LD Events’ annual Viability & Planning conference is taking place on 28 September 2017. 
Simon Ricketts 24.6.17
Personal views, et cetera

(Town Legal acted for the appellant in relation to the Parkhurst Road inquiry)

Affordable Housing Tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. reducing housing delivery by rendering some projects unviable. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture

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

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

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

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

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

2.45 [ ]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

The key features of the development rights auction model are: 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Personal views, et cetera

Slow Train Coming: Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges In The South East

The planning system doesn’t just fail to provide homes. There are clear lessons to be learned from the unstructured and inadequate approach that successive governments have applied to securing appropriate strategic rail freight interchange developments (SRFIs, in the jargon) to serve London and the south east. That approach has now wasted decades without a spade in the ground, despite millions of pounds having been spent, countless inquiries and High Court proceedings and no doubt a lifetime of worry for those potentially affected. The difficulties with SRFIs also illustrate that the problems aren’t over even when planning consent is obtained – issues of commercial viability and land control are as fundamental. 
This blog post summarises where the three leading contenders have reached: Goodman’s Colnbrook Slough scheme, Helioslough’s former Radlett Aerodrome scheme and Roxhill’s Howbury Park scheme, all in the green belt. It is a long story but that’s why I have tried to tell it.

What is an SRFI?

An SFRI is defined in the Government’s National Networks national policy statement January 2015 as a “large multi-purpose rail freight interchange and distribution centre linked into both the rail and trunk road system. It has rail-served warehousing and container handling facilities and may also include manufacturing and processing activities”.

What is the consenting process?

If the proposal falls within the criteria in section 26 of the Planning Act 2008 (eg a site area of at least 60 hectares, to be connected to national rail network and capable of handling (a) consignments of goods from more than one consignor and to more than one consignee, and (b) at least four goods trains a day), it falls under the NSIP procedure.

The only SRFIs so far consented as NSIPs have been Prologis’ Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (3 July 2014) and Roxhill’s East Midlands Gateway Rail Freight Interchange  (12 January 2016) (the latter against the examining authority’s recommendations). Goodman’s East Midlands Intermodal Park, Roxhill’s Northampton Gateway Rail Freight Interchange, Ashfield Land’s Rail Central Strategic Rail Freight Interchange  (also Northampton) and Four Ashes’ West Midlands Interchange are all at pre-application stage. 

An NSIP can of course include associated development. There can be uncertainties as to the extent of warehousing that is justified and the degree to which commitments are to be given as to its rail-connectedness. For applications made from 6 April 2017, up to around 500 homes may also be included (see section 160 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the Government’s March 2017 guidance). 

If the proposal doesn’t meet the NSIP criteria, it will need to proceed by way of a traditional planning application. The NSIP process has its pros and cons. It is interesting to note that the three schemes we will be looking at in this blog post have been proceeding by way of a planning application, with the site areas of the Colnbrook and Howbury Park schemes being 58.7 hectares and 57.4 hectares respectively (given an NSIP threshold of 60 hectares that looks like a deliberate “serve and avoid” to me…) and with the Radlett application process having predated the switching on of the 2008 Act. 

The need case

The National Networks NPS sets out the need for SRFIs in paras 2.42 to 2.58:

“2.53 The Government’s vision for transport is for a low carbon sustainable transport system that is an engine for economic growth, but is also safer and improves the quality of life in our communities. The Government therefore believes it is important to facilitate the development of the intermodal rail freight industry. The transfer of freight from road to rail has an important part to play in a low carbon economy and in helping to address climate change.

2.54 To facilitate this modal transfer, a network of SRFIs is needed across the regions, to serve regional, sub-regional and cross-regional markets. In all cases it is essential that these have good connectivity with both the road and rail networks, in particular the strategic rail freight network (see maps at Annex C). The enhanced connectivity provided by a network of SRFIs should, in turn, provide improved trading links with our European neighbours and improved international connectivity and enhanced port growth.

“2.56 The Government has concluded that there is a compelling need for an expanded network of SRFIs. It is important that SRFIs are located near the business markets they will serve – major urban centres, or groups of centres – and are linked to key supply chain routes. Given the locational requirements and the need for effective connections for both rail and road, the number of locations suitable for SRFIs will be limited, which will restrict the scope for developers to identify viable alternative sites. 


2.57  Existing operational SRFIs and other intermodal RFIs are situated predominantly in the Midlands and the North. Conversely, in London and the South East, away from the deep-sea ports, most intermodal RFI and rail-connected warehousing is on a small scale and/or poorly located in relation to the main urban areas. 


2.58  This means that SRFI capacity needs to be provided at a wide range of locations, to provide the flexibility needed to match the changing demands of the market, possibly with traffic moving from existing RFI to new larger facilities. There is a particular challenge in expanding rail freight interchanges serving London and the South East.


Annex C strategic rail freight network map

These facilities are important for our economy, and for reducing vehicle emissions (not that there is any reference to this, or indeed any other supra-local planning interventions, in the Government’s draft air quality plan published on 5 May 2017). Unfortunately, the strategy in the NPS is very general. Whilst there are the references to London and the South East in the passages above, this is even less specific than the former Strategic Rail Authority’s Strategic Rail Freight Interchange policy  March 2004, much argued over at inquiries, which asserted that “required capacity would be met by three or four new Strategic RFI” in London and the South East and that the “qualitative criteria to deliver the capacity mean that suitable sites are likely to be located where the key rail and road radials intersect with 
the M25.”

Currently it is down to the private sector to identify sites which may meet the NPS criteria, with a wary eye on what other sites may be in the frame – a game not for the faint-hearted, meaning a very limited pool of potential promoters.

Since the NPS, we have had DfT’s Rail Freight Strategy  13 September 2016:

Para 53 “This Rail Freight Strategy will not set out proposals for new enhancements to the network nor specify in detail the freight paths that will be needed in future. These issues are being considered by DfT on a longer timescale as part of the long-term planning process for the rail network, which will consider priorities for the railway beyond the current control period (from 2019). To inform the industry’s advice to DfT as part of this process, Network Rail is currently consulting on a more detailed Freight Network Study. This considers the requirements of the rail network over the next 30 years and is intended to support the series of Route Studies that have been published or are under development by Network Rail.”

Will we see an amended National Networks NPS in the foreseeable future so as to give greater direction? I doubt it.  

So now let’s look at the most likely candidates to serve London and the South East

Colnbrook 

Those with long memories may recall Argent’s LIFE (London International Freight Exchange) scheme proposed on land to the north of the A4 at Colnbrook, near Slough. The then Secretary of State dismissed an appeal against refusal of planning permission on 20 August 2002, stating:

“The central issue remains […] where to strike the balance between Green Belt and sustainable transport interests. The proposal would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt and would harm the openness of the Green Belt, at the same time there are positive aspects including some sustainable transport benefits”. 


“The Secretary of State continues to support the principle of encouraging more rail freight, but shares the Inspector’s judgement that the balance of benefits and disbenefits is against the LIFE scheme as currently proposed and that the general presumptions against inappropriate development in the Green Belt should apply”.

Goodman are now promoting a smaller SRFI on part of the site. Their scheme is now imaginatively called SIFE (Slough International Freight Exchange) and was the subject of a planning application in September 2010. It was refused by Slough Borough Council and an inquiry was due to take place into Goodman’s appeal in October 2012. However, the inquiry was then put in the sidings whilst the then Secretary of State decided whether to re-open an inquiry into the Radlett SRFI scheme, which he considered might have significant implications for SIFE. As it happened, due to delays in that inquiry process (of which more later), the SIFE inquiry was not rescheduled until The Radlett decision letter was issued in July 2014. 

After a ten day inquiry in September 2015, the Secretary of State on 12 July 2016 dismissed Goodman’s appeal against refusal by Slough Borough Council of planning permission for SIFE. The Secretary of State addresses the extent to which there is a need for all three facilities (SIFE Colnbrook; Radlett, and Howbury Park):

24. The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s reasoning about need at IR12.88 – 12.103 and accepts the Inspector’s conclusion that the current policy need for a regional network has not been overcome by the SRFI at Radlett and SIFE is able to be regarded as a complementary facility as part of a wider network (IR12.104). 

25. With regard to the Inspector’s analysis of other developments and sites at IR 12.105 – 12.106, the Secretary of State agrees that the NPS makes clear that perpetuating the status quo, which means relying on existing operational rail freight interchanges, is not a viable option. 

26. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is a reasonable probability that Radlett will be operational in 2018 and there is the prospect of Howbury Park being progressed to implementation. In addition, rail connected warehousing is under development in Barking. On the downside, the geographical spread is uneven. There is a noticeable gap in provision on the west side of London, with Radlett being complementary to rather than an alternative to SIFE. SIFE would contribute to the development of a network of SRFI in London and the South East and a wider national network in accordance with the policy objective of the NPS (IR12.107).”

However he goes on to reach the following conclusions as to whether there are very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development in the green belt:

“13. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s comments at IR12.8, and like the Inspector, concludes that the appeal proposal would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt and that it is harmful as such. As the proposal amounts to inappropriate development he considers that, in the absence of very special circumstances, it would conflict with national policies and with the CS. Like the Inspector, the Secretary of State considers that the NPS does not change the policy test for SRFI applications in the Green Belt or the substantial weight to be attached to the harm to the Green Belt (IR12.8). For the reasons given by the Inspector at IR12.9 – 12.11, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion (IR12.12) that the proposed development would result in a severe loss of openness

14. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the introduction of major development on the site, even if enclosed within well-defined boundaries, would not assist in checking sprawl and hence would conflict with a purpose of the Green Belt (IR12.13). For the reasons given by the Inspector at IR12.14, the Secretary of State agrees that the proposal would not be compatible with the purpose of preventing neighbouring towns merging into one another. The Secretary of State accepts the Inspector’s conclusion that the proposed development would encroach into the countryside. He agrees too that this conflict is not overcome by the proposed creation of new habitats and other aspects of mitigation in existing countryside areas (12.15). The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s overall conclusion that these conflicts should be afforded substantial weight (IR12.18). The Inspector acknowledges that the proposed SRFI development’s location in the Green Belt may well be an optimum solution in relation to existing patterns of distribution activity, but like the Inspector, the Secretary of State concludes that this does not reduce the actual harm that would occur (IR12.19)”

His overall conclusions:

40. The Secretary of State accepts that the most important benefit of the proposal is the potential contribution to building up a network of SRFIs in the London and South East region, reducing the unmet need and delivering national policy objectives. In addition, there is the prospect of SIFE being complementary to Radlett and other smaller SRFI developments and improving the geographical spread of these facilities round Greater London. In this context, the Secretary of State accepts that the contribution it would make to meeting unmet need is considerable. 

41. He accepts too that SIFE would comply with the transport and location requirements for SRFIs to an overall very good standard. He acknowledges that sites suitable for SRFIs are scarce and the difficulty in finding sites in the London and South East region. On account of this factor, and the standard of compliance achieved, he affords meeting the site selection criteria significant weight. No less harmful alternative site has been identified in the West London market area, a factor which he affords considerable weight. Attracting less but nevertheless moderate weight are the economic benefits, the reduction in carbon emissions and improvements. 

42. In common with the Inspector in her conclusion, the Secretary of State has been persuaded by the irreparable harm that would be caused to this very sensitive part of the Green Belt in the Colnbrook area, leading to the high level of weight he attaches to this consideration. Overall, the Secretary of State concludes that the benefits of the scheme do not clearly overcome the harm. Consequently very special circumstances do not exist to justify the development. Furthermore, he finds that planning conditions would not be able to overcome the fundamental harms caused to the Green Belt, Strategic Gap and Colne Valley Park and the open environment enjoyed by the local community. In addition, he has concluded that the proposal does not have the support of the NPS because very special circumstances have not been demonstrated.”

Goodman challenged the decision on the basis that it was wrong for the Secretary of State, in adjudicating the “very special circumstances” test, to give no weight to Goodman’s argument that it was inevitable that a Green Belt location is essential for meeting the need for an SRFI in this location. However the decision has been upheld: Goodman Logistics Developments (UK) Ltd v Secretary of State  (Holgate J, 27 April 2017). Holgate J stated:

“It should be noted that Goodman did not advance the extreme argument that the need for another SRFI to serve London and the South East was such that it was inevitable that a a Green Belt site would have to be released for that purpose. There is no policy support for any such proposition. The NPS does not suggest that the need for a network of SFRIs, or for any particular SFRI, is a need to be met come what may, irrespective of the degree of harm which may be caused, or indeed the degree of need for an SRFI in a particular region. Instead, Goodman relied upon an “inevitability” which was qualified. The claimant argued that it is inevitable that another SRFI to serve the London and South East region will be located on a Green Belt site and harm to the Green Belt will occur, if the need for such a SRFI is to be met. The merits of the “inevitability” argument put forward by Goodman were therefore dependent upon the decision-maker’s assessment as to what importance or weight should be attributed to that need and whether that need should indeed be met after taking into account all the harm that would result.

He goes on:

“The degree of harm that would result from the appeal proposal is only inevitable (in one sense) if the decision-maker concludes that the need for the SRFI and any other benefits flowing from the proposal are of such weight that the balance comes down in favour of granting planning permission. It is not in fact inevitable that the balance will be struck in that way

But if the “need” for SRFIs is not allowed to amount to “very special circumstances” for the purposes of green belt policy, and if there is room for a balancing of the seriousness of that need as against the degree of harm that would be caused, does this lead to unnecessary uncertainty right until the conclusion of the decision making process? Couldn’t the suitability in principle of development in the green belt have been resolved at an earlier stage, preferably via the national policy statement? Similarly, the uncertainties as to the inter-relationship between the three schemes. Why was a decision on Radlett (positive or negative) allowed to become a prerequisite to determining SIFE?

So what next for the site? As it happens, the proposed new runway at Heathrow Airport in combination with associated mitigation proposals and associated development would in fact take up most of the site in any event. Is this planning process now at least partly about establishing “no scheme world” value? 

Radlett

Helioslough’s proposal for an SFRI on the former Radlett Aerodome site has a similarly lengthy – and even more convoluted – history. Two appeals had been dismissed for rail freight distribution proposals on the site, which again is in the green belt. The second appeal decision, dated 7 July 2010, turned on a conclusion by the Secretary of State that the Colnbrook site could be a less sensitive site than the Radlett site for an SRFI and that therefore “very special circumstances” for the development of the Radlett site had not been made out. 

Helioslough successfully challenged that decision. On 1 July 2011 HH Judge Milwyn Jarman QC ordered that the Secretary of State‟s decision be quashed, holding that the Secretary of State had misconstrued the Strategic Gap policy in Slough’s. Core Strategy and consequently had failed to treat that as an additional policy restraint over and above the Green Belt designation. So the appeal fell to be redetermined by the Secretary of State.

Prior to redetermining it, the Secretary of State consulted with the parties as to whether to conjoin a re-opened inquiry with the inquiry that was to be held into the SIFE Colnbrook appeal. On 14 December 2012 he notified the parties that we was not going to re-open the inquiry but determine it on the basis of the evidence already before him. On 20 December 2012 he issued a letter  indicating that he was minded to allow the appeal, subject to completion of a section 106 agreement. 

St Albans City and District Council sought to challenge by way of judicial review the Secretary of State’s decision to not to re-open the inquiry. However that challenge was refused permission  by Patterson J on 14 June 2013 (and a subsequent renewal application before Collins J failed). 

As it happened, the “minded to grant subject to section 106 agreement” indication was unsatisfactory for the promoter too, which had problems completing a section 106 agreement due to land ownership difficulties (part of the site being owned by Hertfordshire County Council) which had led it to press for obligations to be secured by way of negative Grampian-style condition. Helioslough challenged the Secretary of State’s continued delay in issuing a final decision but permission to proceed with judicial review was rejected by John Howell QC sitting as a deputy judge  on 1 July 2013. 

A section 106 agreement was finally submitted and the Secretary of State granted planning permission in his decision letter  dated 14 July 2014. His conclusions were as follows:

“In conclusion, the Secretary of State has found that the appeal proposal would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt and that, in addition, it would cause further harm through loss of openness and significant encroachment into the countryside. In addition the scheme would contribute to urban sprawl and it would cause some harm to the setting of St Albans. The Secretary of State has attributed substantial weight to the harm that would be caused to the Green Belt. In addition he has found that harms would also arise from the scheme’s adverse effects on landscape and on ecology and that the scheme conflicts with LP policies 104 and 106 in those respects. 

53. The Secretary of State considers that the factors weighing in favour of the appeal include the need for SRFIs to serve London and the South East, to which he has attributed very considerable weight, and the lack of more appropriate alternative locations for an SRFI in the north west sector which would cause less harm to the Green Belt. He has also taken account of the local benefits of the proposals for a country park, improvements to footpaths and bridleways and the Park Street and Frogmore bypass. The Secretary of State considers that these considerations, taken together, clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and the other harms he has identified including the harm in relation to landscape and ecology and amount to very special circumstances. Despite the Secretary of State’s conclusion that the scheme gives rise to conflict with LP policies 104 and 106, in the light of his finding that very special circumstances exist in this case he is satisfied that, overall the scheme is in overall accordance with the development plan”. 

Inevitably, the council challenged the decision. They asserted that the Secretary of State had applied too strict a test in considering whether he could depart from conclusions he had reached in his initial decision and that the Secretary of State failed to take into account a recent decision that he had made on a nearby site. The challenge failed: St Albans City and District Council v Secretary of State  (Holgate J, 13 March 2015).

So shouldn’t this be a scheme that is now proceeding, after all of that work? Reserved matters have been applied for, leading to local heat if a report of a recent planning committee is anything to go by. But the rub is that Hertfordshire County Council as land owner hasn’t made a decision as to whether to make its land available to enable the development to proceed. 
Howbury Park
The third scheme is one in Crayford, again on green belt land, that was initially promoted by Prologis and secured planning permission on appeal in December 2007. However, due to the global financial crisis it did not proceed and the permission is now time expired.

Roxhill has now replaced Prologis as developer and has submitted fresh applications for planning permission to London Borough of Bexley and to Dartford Borough Council (the proposed access road is in Dartford’s administrative area). 

Bexley members resolved to approve the scheme on 16 February 2017 but Dartford members resolved to reject it on 20 April 2017 following their officers’ recommendation. So presumably we may see yet another appeal. 

The Bexley part of the scheme is of course within the remit of the Mayor of London, but not the Dartford part, so there is little that he can do by way of intervention. In any event, it will be seen from his 6 June 2016 Stage 1 report  that he is not particularly providing  a clear strategic lead on the issue:

“11. … The majority of the SRFI developments to date have been in the Midlands and the North, and the aspiration is to have a network of three SRFI around the M25, including this site at Howbury Park, South East London, Radlett, North London(approved by the Secretary of State) and Colnbrook, West London (decision awaited from the Secretary of State) to build a national network.”

“28 Although London Plan policy 6.15a Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges is supportive of the type of facility proposed due to identified strategic need, policy 6.15b caveats this support and sets out criteria which must be delivered within the facility. 

A)  The provision of strategic rail freight interchanges should be supported. Including enabling the potential of the Channel Tunnel Rail link to be exploited for freight serving London and the wider region. 


B)  The facilities must: (a) deliver model shift from road to rail; (b) minimise any adverse impact on the wider transport network; (c) be well related to rail and road corridors capable of accommodating the anticipated level of freight movements; and (d) be well related to the proposed market. 


29 Supporting text paragraph 6.50 acknowledges that these types of large facilities can often only be located in the Green Belt. The Howbury Park site is referenced as a site potentially fulfilling these criteria, reflecting the previous planning permission. Paragraph 6.50 also states: 

‘The Mayor will need to see robust evidence of savings and overall reduction in traffic movements are sufficient to justify Green Belt loss in accordance with policy 7.16, and localised increases in traffic movements.’ “


”38 The need for a SRFI is accepted, and is borne out through the NPS, the London Plan and the Inspector’s decision on the 2007 case. The applicant has made a compelling ‘very special circumstances’ case but GLA officers would advise further clarification should be sought on the biodiversity benefits of the proposal and the environmental benefits, notably whether the emission savings and overall reduction in traffic movements are sufficient to justify the loss of Green Belt in line with London Plan policy 6.15 and supporting paragraph 6.50. It should be noted that TfL has raised concerns in respect of the potential impact on the passenger rail network and has suggested conditions to limit the hours of operation of rail movements in and out of the SRFI. GLA Officers would want to know the full details of the potential impacts on the wider transport network (in line with London Plan policy 6.15B (b) and whether such conditions would hinder the operation and whether this would reduce the potential emission savings and traffic movements. GLA officers would also seek details of the proposed biodiversity management plan and compensatory measures. GLA officers would also expect a similar obligations package as that previously agreed to encourage the take up of rail use. 

39 For the above reasons, at this stage, it is considered premature for GLA officers to make a concrete judgement as to whether the applicant’s very special circumstances case outweighs the identified harm to the Green Belt, and any other harm.”

Concluding thoughts

Even if your work never brings you into contact with the rail or logistic sectors, these convoluted stories must surely give rise to serious concerns. Successive governments have said that these types of facilities are needed in the public interest, for the sake of our national economy and to reduce polluting road freight miles. And yet they wash their hands of any responsibility for lack of delivery. 

The consequences of not providing clear strategic guidance is that years are spent on expensive, contentious planning processes. Often by the time that a process has concluded the world has moved on and the process has to start all over again. 
These are massively expensive schemes to promote. What can we do to make that investment worthwhile? If a site is unacceptable, can’t we indicate that at the outset and not many years later?

To what extent should land ownership issues be resolved at the outset of a major project?

Should the NSIP threshold be reduced? These schemes end up being determined at a national level anyway. Why not funnel them through a process that is more fit for purpose? 

Why don’t we bite the bullet and arrive at more spatially specific policies in the National Networks NPS rather than leave it for promoters to read between the lines as to what the Government’s approach may end up being to particular proposals – particularly given the inevitably sensitive locations involved, often in the green belt? (Or is that taboo issue the answer to my question?). 

Simon Ricketts 6.5.17

Personal views, et cetera