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CIL – Look both ways on Highways Obligations

Developers are often told that the CIL Regulations prevent ‘double dipping’ – where Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is spent on infrastructure for which financial contributions are also secured via Section 106 agreements (or, put the other way around, where S106 obligations are used for things the charging authority has said it will fund via CIL).

Not quite. In Oates v. Wealden District Council & Anor [2018] EWCA CIV 1304 the Court of Appeal confirmed that decision-makers may refuse planning permission for CIL-bearing schemes where highways impacts are sufficiently serious, even if the authority has previously said it will use CIL receipts for related highways works.

In Oates, the authority was considering an application for 390 homes on an unallocated, CIL-liable site which would have significant impacts on several junctions.

R123 Restrictions

Regulation 123 of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 does impose ‘double-dipping’ restrictions:

  • planning obligations may not be a “reason for granting” permission where they secure funding or provision or infrastructure on a published list (including in most cases through “requiring a highway agreement”) – regulation 123(2)
  • planning conditions are prohibited where they would require a highway agreement to fund or provide such infrastructure (or restrict development until a highways agreement is complete) – regulation 123(2A) also prohibits.

Be Wary

Developers should be very wary of the limitations of those controls. The authority’s R123 list in Oates identified highways works to the worst affected junctions as projects and types of infrastructure on which CIL would be spent.  The highway authority (County Council) objected to the application because critical improvement works were required to these junctions before development.  The impacts would be severe without guaranteed implementation and timing of the CIL-funded works. The  applicant resisted this on the basis that the R123 list meant that the necessary upgrades could “only be provided through the payment of a CIL contribution” and were not within the developer’s control or any proper restriction.  The County Council withdrew its objection on the strength of advice agreeing with that position. The LPA’s officer then reported this to committee.

The Claimant claimed that the misdirection on the effect of the CIL Regulations – wrongly assuming that a Grampian-type restriction on development until the upgrades were complete – rendered the consent unlawful.

No-Nonsense

The judgment is clear that the highway authority had failed to understand the “true scope of Regulation 123” – which does not “compel[…] the Local Authority to grant permission for a proposed development if, for whatever reason, that development is unacceptable in planning terms, or if it cannot be made acceptable either by a planning obligation, or by the imposition of conditions”.

The officer had directly ruled out a Grampian restriction on occupation until the mitigation works were complete, which would have been lawful.  Instead she had simply said nothing about it but had advised members the impact would be unlikely to be “severe” taking into account both build out rates and time for delivery of the infrastructure improvements funded by both CIL and other sources.  As such, that a restriction would be unjustified.

Look Both Ways

The judgment therefore underlines the need to:

  • understand the general development cost imposed by CIL
  • understand what is, genuinely, ‘necessary’ to make a scheme acceptable (bearing in mind the high bar set for the ‘severe’ impact threshold, for example, in relation to highways impact)
  • review what assumptions the planning authority and the CIL charging authority have made when assessing the viability of combined planning burdens for a particular site.

If its CIL-stage or Local Plan stage assessments have assumed – in setting a high CIL rate or justifying planning burdens – that CIL will ‘replace’ some forms of scheme-specific mitigation costs then that will often create a legitimate starting point for avoiding the double dip.

If not, it is worth looking both ways on CIL.

Comparables That Glitter Are Not All Gold

The approach to land value and the application of planning policy were brought into sharp focus by an Inspector’s decision to dismiss the developer’s appeal against refusal of permission on the grounds that the ‘maximum reasonable level’ of affordable housing had not been secured. The developer had proposed residential redevelopment of a surplus military site where it was the successful bidder. Holgate, J’s judgment – dismissing the challenge to that decision under Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – in Parkhurst Road Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities And Local Government & Anor [2018] EWHC 991 (Admin) confirms the importance of understanding how land value should reflect planning policy requirements.

The developer relied on nearby sales data to justify its land cost as at the market value for the site, limiting its affordable provision at ten percent. The Inspector accepted the authority’s approach, starting with the site’s low established use value (EUV) and applying a substantial premium (EUV Plus), to reach an overall benchmark value at which 34% provision was feasible.

In the previous (2015) appeal, an Inspector’s finding that the developer’s benchmark land value was broadly reasonable in light of ‘market signals’ (competing bids and comparables) resulted in a threat of legal challenge by the authority and a letter from the Government acknowledging that the Planning Practice Guidance “unambiguous policy position” is “in all cases land or site value should reflect policy requirements and planning obligations…”.

The developer ran its new appeal case on the basis that using EUV Plus was inappropriate where the EUV was negligible. The Inspector rejected its evidence on market values, on the basis of the weakness of the comparables used (being unadjusted for variations in policy compliance and EUV). He refused to accept “a market valuation which does not, in my view, adequately demonstrate proper consideration of, or give adequate effect to, the guidance in PPG or the requirements of the development plan“. In line with the authority’s case, he adopted EUV Plus as a starting point, then having regard to the market as a relevant, not determining factor.  The decision letter included a statement that the authority was promoting an EUV Plus method of valuation.

The developer challenged the decision under Section 288 on various grounds, including that the Inspector’s misunderstanding of the authority’s was partly responsible for rejecting the developer’s position that a purely market value approach was “the only reasonable means by which to establish the land value” given the low EUV. It also claimed that the Inspector’s decision was vitiated by accepting a (flawed) technical ‘fix’ for comparing land values relied on by the authority’s expert.

Holgate, J dismissed these two grounds: firstly, the Inspector had understood the authority’s approach correctly (establishing a site value and then re-expressing it as EUV plus a premium to cross-check the reasonableness of the site value indicated by comparables); secondly, the Inspector had erred on the technical fix but his “wholesale and robust rejection” of the appellant’s valuation case and interpretation of development plan policy did not rely on – “had nothing to do with”  – that point.

The judgment clearly explains the meaning of the PPG and the upholds the way the Inspector applied it. There is no wider or new principle, but it is nonetheless helpfully clear that in the current PPG regime:

(1) the PPG addresses the problem of ‘circularity’ – where residual land valuation using land price is based on downgrading policy expectations erode policy – by requiring site value to respect policy expectation, competitive return to willing owners and evidenced market value at the same time;

(2) comparable evidence is one helpful way to calibrate reasonable land value expectation, but may often require adjustment to be fit for purpose (including, for example, to deal with high existing or alternative use values and policy non-compliance).  The more adjustment needed – and the harder to do – the less the weight that may be applied (40);

(3) reasonable behaviour matters – proper due diligence and analysis of actual demand are key elements of the reasonable owner (citing Trocette Property Co Ltd v Greater London Council (1974) 28 P & CR and Inland Revenue Commissioners v Gray [1994] STC 360);

(4) policy requirements (depending on how they are expressed) may put the onus of proof on the applicant. An Inspector may reject that party’s case as lacking sufficient cogency to satisfy the policy (paragraph 54, applying Vicarage Gate Limited v First Secretary of State [2007] EWHC 768 (Admin));

(5) planning by numbers is tempting but dangerous – “the NPPG recognises that it may not be proper” to “compromise policy requirements” even where there is a viability constraint;

(6) authorities need to be careful too: using EUV Plus as a rule rather than part of an analysis “disregards levels of market value arrived at quite properly in arm’s length transactions and consistent with the correct application of planning policies and sound valuation principles” (146).  “Local policy statements” may cross the line in this way “especially where the document has not been subjected to independent statutory examination prior to adoption“. This is rife in practice, with Supplementary Guidance masquerading as development plan policy;

(7) planning appeal decisions should be taken with a pinch of salt – they are fact specific, cannot establish or change policy, consume “a disproportionate amount of time and may distract parties” from actually getting their own evidence right.

Both the appeal decision and the judgment underline the need to avoid land value expectation becoming self-referential. The decision is a reminder of the need to critically examine evidence of comparable values to weed out those which failed to comply with policy in the first place (i.e. are not truly comparable) and of the risks when bidding for land with low existing value of being too led by future scheme, rather than underlying use, value.

The judgment also underlines the critical importance of properly testing the effect of policies at examination in public if they are to be legitimately treated as the irreducible starting point. Practitioners should take heed on both fronts and hope that the Government does not sweep away too much of the current Guidance, on which there is now judicial clarity.

(This article was originally published in Estates Gazette on 14 May 2018)

ECJ Ruling on Habitats Regulations Assessments is Straight Bananas

ECJ’s preliminary ruling in the People Over Wind/ Sweetman case means that ‘mitigation measures’ should not longer be taken into account when screening for ‘any significant effects’ on SAC/ SPA for plans and projects (for the purpose of deciding whether Appropriate Assessment is needed to establish if the effects would be likely to have an adverse effect on the integrity of the designated asset).

On the face of it, it means, for applications where significant effects on SAC/SPA are likely (i.e. applying the Waddenzee precautionary approach, the risk cannot be definitively ruled out) that Appropriate Assessment will be required so that mitigation measures are evaluated in more detail.

An End To Sense?

The People Over Wind ruling is that “it is not appropriate, at the screening stage, to take account of the measures intended to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of the plan or project on that site” (emphasis added).

This cuts across the domestic approach adopted in the Hart District Council case in 2008, which has provided a sensible basis for addressing effects on Natura 2k sites.  Having regard to mitigation measures in screening out Appropriate Assessment for planning applications and plans has been commonplace common sense, treating the Habitats Directive as a “aid to effective environmental decision making, not a legal obstacle course” (Sullivan, J as he was in Hart).

The reasoning in the ruling (paragraphs 35 and 36) does not withstand much scrutiny and is really Law Over Sense.  To make things worse, it is unclear about what “mitigating measures” are for these purposes. It simply refers to them as measures “intended to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of the envisaged project on the site concerned“.

Planning Inspectorate View

In-built mitigation by design is surely not within its ambit? The Planning Inspectorate’s Note 05/2018 takes a more hardline view: “Competent authorities cannot take account of any integrated or additional avoidance or reduction measures when considering at the HRA screening stage whether the plan or project is likely to have an adverse effect on a European Site.  The screening stage must be undertaken on a precautionary basis without regard to any proposed integrated or additional avoidance or reduction measures“.

This is gold plating – the ECJ ruling does not provide any express basis for the underlined element. The benefit of the environmental assessment process, noted in Hart, is to get thinking about reducing effects at the outset of scheme design.  Trying to split out anything that is ‘integrated’ into the scheme design, for example, is horribly artificial and a terrible waste of time.

The effects of this are being felt as LPAs suspend development management decisions and Local Plans are suspended.

Let’s Be Sensible

Outcomes: Where the finding based on mitigation would previously have been a negative screening (because of no likelihood of any significant effect at all, with that mitigation), the lesser threshold of no adverse effect on the integrity of the SPA at the full AA stage should be satisfied.  The additional process will probably yield more information about mitigation measures but no change of outcome (subject to the point noted below).

Government will need to provide leadership to ensure we do not simply end up with a deluge of AA reports concluding that there is no significant effect with mitigation. That would be a truly pointless exercise.

Steps: It would be sensible for PINS and Government to be clear, ASAP, that:

  • Things authorised by the development consent should be regarded as integral components of the scheme and so not mitigation for its effects for the purposes of the ECJ ruling.
  • Where AA is now unavoidable, a standardised toolkit will be available to allow very short AA reports to be prepared that allow, for example, the analysis of the effect of off-site SANG contributions to be fully standardised (using the AA analysis conducted when justifying the SANG contributions in the first place).  This is crucial to avoid the ruling becoming another source of time-soak, cost and distraction in the already bloated world of planning assessments.
  • The current block (in NPPF119) on applying the NPPF14 ’tilted balance’ is going to be revisited in the soon-to-be-revised NPPF to avoid an unintended outcome.  If AA concludes that there is no likely significant effect with mitigation (as distinct from concluding that there will be a significant effect short of adversely effecting the integrity of the SPA), the presumption in favour should apply.

Mind the Gap – Letwin Review should take care to avoid policy overload

The Letwin Review is considering why there is a significant gap between the number of planning permissions being granted and the number of homes built.

Initial findings are due to be published with the Chancellor’s Spring Statement 2018 in March (with the final report in the Autumn Budget).  There are a few things to think about before engaging in another orgy of Plan-Shaming and policy overload.

Apples and Pears

There is a need to be careful about how sites are looked at in the first phase of the Review:

  • Treating outline consents as if they are, or should be, immediately implementable is wrong. Outline consents can require significant work to reach detailed approval, let alone readiness for mobilisation and delivery.
  • Care is needed too, on what is treated as ‘delivery’.  Site mobilisation (for example enabling infrastructure) takes time and pre-dates construction of homes.

Defining what delivery and success look like is therefore important to avoid categorising sites that are being invested in – but have not yet yielded homes – as dormant. This will be significant in the context of the emerging Housing Delivery Test, which should be a fundamental part of the Local Plan system.

90% of percentages are wrong…

Various figures are bandied around on how many consents are ‘unimplemented’. Even adopting the higher level figure of 423,000 unimplemented homes with consent:

  • that is a tiny proportion of total supply – roughly 12-14 months of planning approvals
  • it illustrates the need for a deeper stock of permissions to achieve the heroic build out rates the Government is now committed to.

A Local Plan system which made more (and more detailed) site allocations, with clarity about infrastructure requirements, would make a big contribution to closing the gap between in principle approval for development and the detail needed for delivery. Likewise, a Local Plan system that sniffed and snuffed out unrealistic assumptions on delivery rates when trajectories are being examined would help ensure the right number of consents are granted in the first place to create the stock needed.

Diversification

Businesses will generally develop at the rate they are best able to achieve and which reflects the overarching price/demand relationship.  Rather than blaming the private sector for the speed it can – prudently –  build at, it would be more productive to look at how to achieve an increase in direct delivery (or directed delivery) by public bodies which have historically made up at least 100,000 of the gap to the Government’s 300,000 homes per year commitment.

In some cases that will involve more assertive use of land assembly and policy tools in a way that creates greater certainty about land values up front so that builders can build and sell more quickly.

Planning blame-fest?

Evidence from the sector on the non-Planning constraints to delivery is important.  Is there a skills gap, what will Brexit do to it and if Government is sponsoring Brexit how will it sponsor the solution?

From the frontline, a few of the  Planning matters that do slow things down are:

  • Length of time taken to deal with highways works agreements. The absence of a standard template agreement is a real blight on the development process.
    Constant reinvention of the wheel and imposition of poorly drafted and unreasonable requirements does have a real impact on the site mobilisation process. Government could sponsor a standard form and issue guidance recommending its use.
  • The bloat and general time-soak associated with unnecessary use of planning obligations. Our ‘speeding tickets’ blog flagged ways to speed things up without scarce Parliamentary time being needed.

Time to fix CIL

The November 2017 Budget announcement on developer contributions, promised in the Housing White Paper, decided not to ditch the Community Infrastructure Levy but to tweak it instead.

Last January we suggested 6 reforms to make CIL more transparent and ensure it complements, rather than confuses, the development process. Here are the top 5 for 2018.

Reform #1 – deal with the small stuff, quickly

The recent amendment Regulations are welcome.  The Government should look to implement another set of amendment regulations by the summer, to deal with identified problems on indexation and give effect to the simplification on pooling restrictions promised in the Budget. It should reconsider the current proposal to use house price indices to inflate CIL.  Although transparent, there is no relationship between the change in values and the cost of delivering infrastructure.

There are better alternatives and consideration should be given to capping indexation rises where they exceed modelling assumptions at the CIL setting stage, giving a discount to the rate equivalent to any excess. That would encourage regular charging schedule reviews and ensure the charge remains within bounds of the original viability work.

Reform #2 – Free up strategic sites

The Budget committed to allowing a partial review of charging schedules. Among other things, that will allow charging authorities to look again at genuinely strategic sites and fix some of the problems that CIL-setting has created where errors were made or assumptions were not held to account in the examination process. The reform will allow zones to be set for these sites, with rates that reflect an agreed viability position including factoring in affordable housing delivery.

This can and should be implemented by the summer.

Reform #3– Free up strategic sites, again

For all the benefits of CIL recognised by both the CIL Review and the Budget, it is horribly complex for large, phased development.  The Review will need to grapple with how much flexibility can be created for genuinely ‘Strategic Sites’. CIL agreements should be allowed for these sites, which preserve the overall value of the infrastructure contribution (so that CIL is still a tool of value capture rather than mitigation management) but escape the complexity of the Regulations in terms of triggers, offsets and reliefs.  That will require careful thought on procurement issues, in terms of the point at which liability arises, and a more sensible approach to works in kind than the Regulations currently allow.

This can and should be implemented this year.

Reform #4 – Exemptions, distractions and diversions

There should be a proper debate about the sense in the reliefs, exemptions and offsets that plague CIL. If we want the system to be simpler, simplify it by removing these. As long as the charging regime ensures the charges adjust to reflect that, it will be neutral in many cases but far less complex.

Reform #5 – Spend It

One of the main gripes on CIL is the lack of certainty about its use (and the delay this is said to cause). In truth, many S106 contributions are subject to long clawback periods. In truth, too, CIL is only a drop in the ocean for infrastructure funding – it is unreal to expect it to be spent before match funding has been assembled or for it to deliver big bang projects on its own.

That said, two things need to be fixed:

  • CIL is meant to support the Local Plan. That is not always clear and the Government needs to consider tilting the balance from discretionary use of CIL, where it can be drained away from investment in new infrastructure to support Local Plans, to a slightly more prescriptive framework for some of the really big ticket items used to justify CIL setting in the first place.
  • Allowing CIL to be spent on maintenance of existing infrastructure is a mistake and undermines the benefit and legitimacy of the value capture it was designed to achieve. The changes made by the Localism Act 2011 to allow this were regressive and going back to the 2010 position – that CIL should fund new or upgraded infrastructure – would help concentrate spending and minds.

CIL fix is good news, more please …

After an absence, the tradition of new year Community Infrastructure Levy Amendment Regulations is back in the form of the draft Community Infrastructure Levy (Amendment) Regulations 2018, published on 14 December 2017.

The amendments are another sticking plaster ahead of a full overhaul of the CIL Regulations, this time to deal with difficulties that some authorities had got into on the application of indexation to CIL charges for S73 permissions.

Section 73 so simple

If a S73 permission is granted where no CIL charging schedule was in place at the time of the original permission, the CIL Regulations are intended to only charge the ‘top up’ change in CIL. That is entirely clear from Ministerial statements in the run up to the implementation of the Community Infrastructure Levy (Amendment) Regulations 2012 which introduced the regulation 128A regime (and various other changes) for such transitional cases.

A quirk of the drafting meant that – taken in an inappropriately literal way – the difference between indexation values for the original and the S73 consents would result a charge based on the application of the indexation change across the whole of the consented floorspace. So, for example, a S73 permission that in floorspace terms should have either zero, negative or minimal change in CIL chargeable value was being treated as having a charge relating solely to indexation change.

The Valuation Office rejected that approach on an appeal against the resulting chargeable amount in March 2017, which remains subject to stayed judicial review claim by the collecting authority.

No change

The amendment regulations now address this point by clarifying that the same indexation base value should be used for working out the chargeable value of each consent.

Although they will only come into effect later this winter, the Explanatory Memorandum states that they are clarificatory.

What lies beneath

That is important, because the ‘fix’ is partial and does not address all the mischief in the Regulations for S73 applications. By making it clear that the changes are ‘clarificatory’ we now know the Government agrees with the common sense interpretation of the Regulations the Valuation Office Agency has taken on appeal.

The Government should be commended for having listened and acted wisely. They should now make a habit of that on CIL – our next blog will include our New Year’s wish list for simplifying CIL.

In the meantime real care is still needed when dealing with S73 applications, indexation and abatement applications.

CIL – false starts can be punishing

Community Infrastructure Levy liability is determined by the point at which development is notified or deemed to have commenced. The point at which that actually occurs is not crystal clear and a recent Planning Inspectorate decision suggests that care is needed by collecting authorities and developers.  At the moment there is a risk that a planning permission that has not been implemented for planning purposes (and which could, indeed, lapse for a failure to start in time) has been implemented for CIL purposes creating a CIL liability.

CIL Triggers

CIL liability is not triggered by a material start: it is triggered by the date given in a commencement notice (unless the notice is withdrawn in advance) or, in the absence of advance notice, the deeming of a commencement date by the collecting authority.

A material start without serving a commencement notice means that CIL liability is accelerated (losing instalment and other deferral benefits) and inflated (losing some reliefs).

What constitutes a material start for CIL purposes can therefore be a million dollar question.

False Starts

The CIL Regulations require the chargeable development to have been commenced:

  • that means (under reg.7(2)) the date “any material operation begins to be carried out
  • material operation has the same meaning as under Section 56(4) TCPA 1990. Care is needed, because the Courts have confirmed that the list in Section 56(4) is not exclusive – other operations could therefore trigger CIL where material
  • reg.7 does not refer to Section 56(2), which is clear that for the purposes of meeting time limit conditions, material operations have to be “comprised in the development”. Nonetheless, the Regulations are clear elsewhere that it is the chargeable development that must be commenced.

For time-limit purposes, the law is clear that operations done without discharging genuine pre-commencement conditions are not referable to the relevant planning permission (FG Whitley & Sons v SoS Wales(1992) 64 P & CR 296: “if the operations […] contravene the conditions, that cannot be properly described as commencing the development authorised by the permission“). The operations are unlawful and at risk of enforcement, unless recognised exceptions apply.

Logic suggests that the same legal authority – and outcome – should apply to early starts for CIL purposes. CIL should not be triggered but there may be enforcement consequences and CIL consequences associated with any use of retrospective permission under Section 73A TCPA 1990.

Inspectorate disagree

CIL practice and logic have been bad bedfellows. In a recent CIL appeal decision, the Planning Inspectorate was asked to determine the correct deemed commencement date where development began without complying with a pre-commencement (noise protection) condition.  The appellant claimed that the development was not referable to the planning permission and so not chargeable. The authority contended – probably rightly – that the condition was not a genuine pre-commencement condition for Whitley purposes. The Inspector took a more purposive approach, finding that:

  • The CIL regime is not concerned with whether or not a development is lawful, it is only concerned with whether it has commenced.
  • The date of commencement of development is a separate matter from the date upon which development could be said to be authorised.

It is not the first decision to adopt this approach (also applied on appeal in 2014). Then again, two wrongs do not make a right.

Common Sense?

Care is needed by developers and reliance on the Whitley principle is risky, not least because at one level the relevant law is about the extent to which enforcement would be perverse.  The other side of the coin is that some of the findings noted above are arguably perverse: the CIL regime is (explicitly) concerned with the question of whether the chargeable development has been commenced. If the Courts would not recognise commencement for planning purposes in reliance on the chargeable permission – and would instead uphold enforcement – it follows that the ‘date for commencement of development’ is not a separate matter from the point at which that commencement could properly be said to be lawful.

The two appeal decisions do not, in that sense, recognise that:

  • the Regulations require a different approach: although reg.7(2) does not require the commencement to be referable to the chargeable permission, every other part of the Regulations that relies on reg.7(2) does so clearly.
  • this avoids otherwise perverse outcomes: for example:
    (1) service of CIL stop notice (for development taking place under the chargeable permission) where an enforcement notice could be served against development being treated as unauthorised by that permission;
    (2) CIL payment being required despite the Courts determining that the permission itself has not been implemented and so has lapsed.

In the application of Planning law, common sense tends to rise to the top, eventually. There is no reason why the CIL regime should be interpreted in any less sensible way but until there is clarity through further reform or guidance on this point, care is needed.

Common Sense Needed to Flush Out SPD Abuse

The High Court has confirmed the need to tread a common sense path through the mire of the Local Plan regulations, in quashing a supplementary planning document (SPD) that strayed into Development Plan Document (DPD) territory in William Davis Ltd & Ors v Charnwood Borough Council [2017] EWHC 3006 (Admin) (23 November 2017).

Light Touch

SPDs escape the examination process needed for DPDs.  They are often seen as simply elaborating on existing policies.  The Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 are more nuanced: SPDs are allowed to contain policy, but it must be justified and must not conflict with the adopted development plan (Reg 8(3)).  SPD policy cannot supersede development plan policy and is merely a material consideration.

Substance Over Style

Local Development Documents (LDDs) that have the characteristics listed in regulation 5 must (under reg 6) be prepared as Local Plans (i.e. DPDs).  SPDs are defined negatively (reg 2) as anything that is not a Local Plan. In practice, this means a document containing statements regarding “any environmental, social, design and economic objectives which are relevant to the attainment of the development and use of land encouraged by a [Local Plan]”.

The regime is messy and open to abuse where SPDs stray into Local Plan territory. SPDs cannot contain policy identifying development and use of land which the authority wishes to encourage, making site allocations or site allocation policies or setting development management to guide application decisions.

No Mercy

In Charnwood, Gilbart J quashed policies in a housing SPD.  The core strategy contained strategic policies with high level targets for housing types to meet demographic needs, with a “subject to viability” affordable housing target and a requirement that types, tenures and sizes of homes would be appropriate having regard to identified housing needs and character of the area. The SPD prescribed different percentages for all house sizes, and a 60-70% affordable housing requirement for some unit types.

The statements were quashed: they contained policies; and they clearly related to forms of development to be encouraged and imposed development management policies against which applications could be refused (or conditions to control unit mix imposed) (under reg 5). Although there was some legitimate SPD ‘guidance’ that did not save the offending policies (citing R (Skipton Properties Ltd) v Craven District Council [2017] EWHC 534 (Admin)).  They could only be adopted as a Local Plan (DPD), following examination.

Take Heed

The judgment emphasises several points that authorities and affected parties should pay attention to:

  • where an ‘SPD’ is promoted as a “stop gap” in the absence of  saved policies, by definition it cannot be supplementary (and is itself a primary policy assuming DPD status as in the Skipton case);
  • a housing mix policy which could lead to refusal on the grounds that the proposed mix is unacceptable (or an outline application condition imposing a particular mix) is a statement regarding the development of land and development management policy;
  • uncertainty arising from the “very poor” drafting of the Regulations should be dealt with in light of the “realities of development control” and the fundamental importance of robust and independent examination of the development plan;
  • viability impacts were material and had adopting the policies without consideration of those impacts was unlawful;
  • SPD should not be used for making an alteration to plan policy to address new evidence.

So what?

Authorities will need to be far more careful about the statements they include in what purport to be SPDs on issues such as housing mix and affordability but also density, height and other matters.  There is still a tendency to sneak swathes of untested, unjustified and ineffective policy in through the back door via dodgy SPDs.

The judgment comes when the Mayor of London’s Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) document is under legal attack for having strayed into the realms of policy, despite being clearly stated not to constitute policy and arguably not to extending beyond the policies in the London Plan itself.

It remains to be seen whether that challenge will be recast as a challenge to specific decisions which – wrongly – treat the SPG’s contents as a policy or a fixed position (which often feels like it is the case).

Free-Standing Sustainable Development Assessment a Mistake

In Reigate and Banstead BC v SoS CLG [2017] EWHC 1562 (Admin), Lang, J quashed permission granted on appeal for development on greenfield land intended for release in the development plan only if needed to boost housing land supply (HLS).

The recently-adopted Local Plan provided for almost a 5 year HLS, constrained so as to be unable to meet full objectively assessed need (OAN). Despite its “urban area first” strategy, the Inspector worked on the basis that sustainable development should be approved in the absence of harm.  He found that there was not basis for dismissing it because the proposal would reduce the HLS shortfall against OAN over the plan period and would not significantly prejudice the spatial strategy given its scale (45 homes).

The authority challenged the decision on the basis that the Inspector had inverted the statutory requirement to determine the appeal in accordance with the development plan, subject to material considerations otherwise (s38(6) PCPA 2004).

The judgment identifies ten key propositions for NPPF14 cases, including:

  • The need to distinguish between local and national policies which describe what qualifies as sustainable development (e.g. NPPF 6, 7, 18 to 219) and policies that determine when a presumption in favour of such development arises.
  • That the NPPF 14 exhaustively defines when a presumption in favour of sustainable development can arise. There is no general presumption outside NPPF 14 (applying Trustees of the Barker Mill Estates v SoS CLG [2016] EWHC 3028 (Admin) and Cheshire East BC v SoS CLG [2016] EWHC 571 (Admin)). The Inspector could – in theory – have reached the same outcome by applying the s38(6) starting point but giving in efforts to close the OAN gap greater weight.  However, the judgment implies that in the absence of something significant – such as evidence that local housing stress had worsened substantially since the Local Plan was adopted – the decision would be have been doomed to the same fate.
  • One proposition seems out of kilter with the rest – that the NPPF14 presumption “does not extend to a proposal which conflicts with the development plan“. Although not relevant in Reigate, NPPF14 is explicit that the presumption does extend to such proposals where (1) the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out‑of‑date and (2) any adverse impacts of granting consent would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits considered against NPPF policies in the round (and no specific restrictive NPPF policies apply – which should now include ‘related’ development plan policies following Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes Ltd & Onr [2017] 1 WLR 1865).

DCO Decision Confirms Heritage Approach

In R (on the application of John Mars Jones on his own behalf and on behalf of the Pylon The Pressure Group) v The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [2017] EWHC 1111 (Admin), the High Court dismissed the judicial review of a Development Consent Order made under the Planning Act 2008 by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  The Order authorised an overhead electricity line to wind farms following developer requests to connect to the network. The Claimant, whose Grade II* listed Tudor farm lay within 125 metres of the route, challenged the decision to make the Order on several grounds, including the treatment of heritage effects.

The Secretary of State was required to regard to two relevant policy statements under section 5 of the 2008 Act – Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1) (“EN-1”) and the National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5) (“EN-5”).  The policy statements together required careful consideration of the feasibility of alternatives to overhead lines and the protection of heritage assets. He was required to determined the Order application in accordance with them unless, among other things, satisfied that the adverse impact of the proposals would outweigh the benefits.  He was also required to have regard to the desirability of preserving listed buildings or their setting (under regulation 3 of the Infrastructure Planning (Decisions) Regulations 2010).

The Order was approved, on the basis that in the absence of substantial harm, there was no need for the disproportionate costs of undergrounding the cable section.

Dismissing the challenge, Lewis, J held on the main grounds that:

  • The  approach to heritage effects had been correct – identifying the scale of harm and then weighing the scheme benefits against, among other things, the heritage harm.
  • The regulation 3 duty had been complied with looking at the report and decision as a whole. There was no duty to consider alternatives not forming part of the Order scheme and the option of refusal had been properly considered.
  • Permanent extinguishment of private rights – despite the temporary nature of the Order -was not a principal controversial issue and did not require specific reasons to be given on it.
  • The fact that the weighing exercise was in a different part of the  part of the report to the assessment of heritage harm did not matter. It is worth noting that the limited (30 year) duration of the Order was accepted as minimising the impact on the setting of the listed buildings (being for period which would be insubstantial relative to the life of the buildings) and offering a sensitive approach to heritage effects.