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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.

Transport and Works Act Order upheld in heritage case

high courtIn Whitby v Secretary for Transport & Ors [2016] EWCA Civ 444 the Court of Appeal has given its reasons for dismissing challenges to the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA) Order and related planning permission and listed building consents for the Ordsall Chord rail scheme.  The judgment confirms that the decision-makers are entitled to undertake a wide ranging balancing consideration when considering harm to designated heritage assets.

All in Order

The Secretary of State for Transport made the Network Rail (Ordsall Chord) Order under the TWA and directed that planning permission for the work to be deemed to be granted under section 90(2A) TCPA 1990. The Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government granted ten application for listed building consent (for demolition, partial demolition and alteration of affected listed buildings).  The Inspector and the two Secretaries of State were presented with an alternative alignment to that proposed in the Order.  The scheme was recognised as delivering significant public benefits (at a cost of substantial harm to listed buildings, their settings and the character and appearance of nearby conservation areas).  An alternative option would have avoided this harm, but damaged the regeneration potential of a key development area.

Heritage duties in play

In deciding whether to grant listed building consent and planning permission the Secretaries of State were required to have “special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses” under sections 16(2) and 66(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990.  Effects on conservation areas fell to be considered in the same way (under section 72(1)).  Preservation means doing no harm, with “considerable importance and weight” to be given to avoiding such harm (Barnwell Manor Wind Energy Ltd v East Northamptonshire District Council [2014] EWCA Civ 137). The NPPF recommends that permission should be refused for any schemes that would lead to “substantial harm” to a designated heritage asset, unless there are substantial public benefits of doing so that outweigh the harm (or an absence of alternative uses and viability constraints combined with a beneficial end use of the site as part of the consent).

Working through the NPPF policies on heritage assets will generally allow an inference that the statutory duties have been properly taken into account (Jones v Mordue [2016] 1P&CR12).  The practice guidance in force at the time of the Inquiry suggested that there should be no other reasonable means of delivering the same public benefits (including through the useful alternative sites) where substantial harm is justified.

Alternative approaches

The Court held that the Inspector had clearly given considerable importance and weight to the desirability of preservation. Both the Inspector and the Secretary of State were also held to have taken the relevant NPPF policies into account.  Considering the case for the proposals and the harm they involved against the reasonable means of delivering similar public benefits (including through appropriate alternative sites with wider adverse effects) was entirely appropriate.   The ultimate test is whether having rigorously tested the harm it is considered necessary for the purposes of the wholly exceptional policy requirement.  The reasons why the alternative option was not appropriate had to be considered but this did not mean that the burden of proof had been switched to the objector.

The case confirms that whether alternatives that would cause lesser harm to heritage assets would themselves have significant difficulties or cause their own harm (whether to heritage assets or other planning interests) is a perfectly acceptable consideration in addressing the question of appropriate alternatives and the necessity for the harm to the assets. The weight given to the other harm relative to the heritage asset harm is a matter for the decision maker as long as he or she gives considerable weight to the statutory purpose.

‘Especial speed’ in judicial review

The Court of Appeal’s recent judgment in R(Gerber) v (1) Wiltshire Council and (2) Terraform Power Inc and Norrington Solar Farm Ltd is a blunt reminder on the importance of promptly filing judicial review applications.

Background

skThe claim concerned the grant of permission for a 22 hectare solar farm installation in Broughton Gifford. It was filed almost a year outside the relevant period.  The Council had complied with the statutory publicity requirements.  The High Court judge nonetheless granted an extension of time for bringing the claim.  The claimant owned the Grade II* Gifford Hall near the site. The developer advertised and held two public exhibitions before submitting the application.  The Council then publicised the application by posting newspaper, online and site notices (including at the end of the lane leading to Gifford Hall).

The claimant remained unaware of the application and so did not object. He only realised the site was being developed once works began and wrote to the Council to object to the impact on the setting of his property.  His complaint was rejected and he waited five months to file a claim for judicial review (by which time the developers had spent about £10.5 million installing the solar farm).

High Court decision

Despite the exceptional delay in bringing the claim, the High Court granted an extension of time and quashed the grant of planning permission. Dove J held that:

  • assurances given in the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) had created a legitimate expectation that Mr Gerber would be personally notified of the planning application, which the Council breached.  The fact that he needed time to assimilate all the issues and the supposedly incomplete advice received from his first legal advisors was treated as a reasonable explanation for the delay in bringing the claim; and
  • he was required to quash the permission, given failures to consult English Heritage (as was), to properly deal with heritage impacts and to properly screen the application for EIA purposes.

Appeal decision 

The first instance decision led to concern that a planning permission was not “safe” even when the challenge window had passed. The Court of Appeal unanimously rejected this approach and the judgment makes clear that once planning permission is granted a developer is entitled to rely upon it.  There was no reasonable explanation for either the lengthy delay between the grant of permission and the claimant’s objection to the Council or his delay in bringing legal proceedings.

Gerber is nonetheless a blunt reminder that:

  • Compliance with statutory notice procedures is essential, but the Courts will rarely impose more onerous requirements based on legitimate expectation.  Care is needed to ensure that commitments in Statements of Community Involvement have been honoured though.
  • Prompt legal action to challenge the grant of planning permission is required in all cases, unless very special reasons can be shown.  Objectors who have been involved in the planning process throughout should act with “especial speed”.
  • Extending time for bringing a legal challenge should not be allowed simply because an objector did not realise what has happening, where statutory notice requirements are met.
  • Failure to deal properly with EIA and heritage issues can be fatal, where claims are brought in time. Even where there are acknowledged breaches of EIA and heritage duties, though, the effects of exercising the discretion to quash must be weighed up.
  • Quashing of a permission is a discretionary remedy.  The Court of Appeal did not need to decide whether the permission should have been quashed, but made clear that it would not have done so given: the significant delay in bringing the claim without good reason; the prejudice to the solar farm operator (including £1.5m to dismantle the development, plus the £10.5m invested in construction); the lack of real damage to the claimant’s own interests; and the need for good administration.  In a difficult political climate, investors may also take some comfort from the importance given to renewable energy development and investor certainty.
  • The longer the delay after the grant of planning permission the greater the risk and extent of hardship and prejudice to developers if the consent is subsequently set aside. Being able to substantiate the financial costs of development is essential to be able to rely on this prejudice.