Daylight/ Sunlight Error Fatal To Permission

In Watt, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Hackney & Anor [2016] EWHC 1978 (Admin), the High Court quashed the grant of permission for a mixed use development likely to adversely affect sunlight reaching adjacent open land used by the neighbouring school for children’s play. The application had been considered on the basis the redevelopment of the vacant site would have enhanced the character and appearance of the conservation area.

Latent defects

The authority relied on a daylighting report addressing the extent of reduction in daylight to the play land at different times of year. A claim for judicial review was made on several grounds and independent assessment – carried out after the claim – identified flaws in the original report, exaggerating the existing levels of daylight and so understating (by a third) the effect of the new scheme on the play land.

The judge admitted the new report as part of a ground of claim alleging an error of fact. The defendant authority offered its own evidence in response, but – crucially – did not object to its admission.

Errors of fact can be fatal

The judgment confirms that the error of fact justified quashing the permission in the circumstances: there was a factual error which created a misleading picture; the fact was ‘established’, in the sense of being uncontentious; neither the appellant (nor his advisers) were responsible; and finally, the error played a material part in the reasoning (on the basis that it was impossible to say that had not done so, applying Simplex GE (Holdings) Ltd v Secretary of State for the Environment (1989) 57 P&CR 306).

Get your facts right

The daylight reaching the play area was above the relevant policy threshold with the correct analysis (just less far above than the original assessment had, wrongly, suggested). Despite the fact that the error may not have been decisive in the overall decision, though, the judge was prepared to quash the permission.  The judgment therefore confirms the risk that faulty technical work creates for planning decisions, even where the error itself is not decisive.

The need for focus on conditions (and not descriptions) in Section 73 applications

The consequences of failing to restrict use by imposing a condition were highlighted in a recent appeal decision concerning a DIY retail unit in South West London.

Both the original planning permission for the retail unit and a subsequent section 73 permission (granted in 2010) included a condition to restrict the sale of non-food goods.  However, the final section 73 permission granted in 2014 contained no such condition.

In 2015, the appellant sought a lawful development certificate permitting use of the premises for purposes within Use Class A1 without restriction on the goods that could be sold. Notwithstanding the lack of a condition restricting use, the Council refused.  Consequently, the applicant appealed citing the decision in I’m your Man v Secretary of State [1999] 77 P. & C.R. 251, which held that where a limitation is to be imposed on a permission granted pursuant to an application, it must be done by condition.

The Council contended that the original conditions were incorporated by reference to the previous permissions or should be implied, referring to the Reid case which held that it is permissible to impose conditions by reference to an earlier planning permission.

However, the Inspector rejected the Council’s arguments, finding that the principles from Reid could not reasonably be extended to the creation and incorporation of an entirely new condition which does not appear on the 2014 permission other than in the description, in accordance with the decision in Dunnett Investments.  The Inspector held that no condition restricting the nature of the retail use to specific uses falling within Use Class A1 had therefore been imposed on the final planning permission.  Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the lawful development certificate issued.

So what can we take away from the case?

  1. The importance of conditions controlling use.

The decision in Reid confirmed that, in the case of planning permissions granted under section 73, conditions can be imposed in various ways:

  1. impose fresh conditions mirroring the original conditions save for the variation; or
  2. impose only the varied condition and incorporate the unaffected conditions by cross-reference to the original permission.

However, whichever method is used, any differing conditions must be incorporated in full in the new permission. For certainty, LPAs must adopt a ‘belts and braces’ approach and set out all the conditions to which the new planning permission will be subject, restating any unchanged conditions in full rather than relying on cross-referencing.

  1. The myth that the description of development can be varied by way of a section 73 application persists.

Confusion often arises as a result of overly complex and unclear descriptions of development, which applicants and local authorities seek to amend to accord more closely with the section 73 proposals. However, there is no formal ability under section 73 to amend the description of development.  It is therefore better to avoid references to the use classes, floor areas and number of units in the description of development (where possible), as it invariably acts to constrain the ability to lawfully use section 73 amendments to amend schemes post approval.

Steering clear of amendments to the description of development can help to maintain the focus on varying the relevant conditions, reducing the potential for LPAs to fall foul of this issue. As is clear from the present case, LPAs cannot rely on undefined conditions being imposed or implied into new permissions granted under section 73.

As a final note, we are willing to bet that I’m Your Man will be overturned at some point by the Courts or will be ousted by legislation. A failure to constrain by condition something that was clearly described as limited in the description of development should not, as a matter of fairness, lead to a windfall for the owner and a cost to the community.

Assets of Community Value: chickens and eggs

Some recent cases have considered Assets of Community Value (ACVs) where the owner is both appealing a refusal of planning permission, and is also appealing the decision to list the property as an asset of community value.  These cases helpfully demonstrate how the interrelated appeals are considered from both a planning application and listing challenge perspective.

The Alexandra Public House in Haringey closed in 2012, and was listed as an ACV in 2015. The owner bought the pub in a semi-derelict state, and made a planning application to change the building into two dwellings, as well as appealing the listing of the pub as an ACV.

The local authority refused planning permission, but the Secretary of State granted permission on appeal.  The Inspector noted “the primary purpose of ACV listing is to afford the community an opportunity to purchase the property, not to prevent otherwise acceptable development“, and while some weight was afforded to ACV listing, the Inspector found it not to be determinative.  Weight was given to the additional dwelling which would be provided, the improvement in the quality of the existing flat above the pub, the reduction in noise and anti-social behaviour for the neighbours due to the change of use, and the provision of a viable use for a run down the building.

In considering the listing appeal after planning permission had been granted, the Judge referred to the decision in the Tumbledown Dick appeal, which stated that the grant of planning permission for an alternative use should not be ignored in the context of a listing appeal.

The Tumbledown Dick case considered a historic pub, which McDonald’s agreed to purchase before the Localism Act came into force.  Shortly before the First Tier Tribunal considered the listing appeal, McDonald’s obtained planning permission for a change of use to restaurant/takeaway.  The Judge considered that the grant of planning permission, along with the sale of the freehold, substantial expenditure being required to bring the building back into use and that it had been vacant for five years made a future community use unrealistic.

The Judge noted that where permission is refused, it might make it more likely that the building would be sold at a price which could support a community use, or allow the continuation of the current community use. In this case, as planning permission for residential use had been obtained, it was much less likely that the Alexandra would be sold at a price low enough to allow a pub use.  On this basis, the Judge allowed the appeal to remove the property from the list of ACVs.

The Ship in South Norwood closed as a pub in 2014, and was listed as an ACV in 2016. The Ship was converted to residential.  The Local Authority issued an enforcement notice for the conversion of the public house into seven flats and office space, along with physical works, which the owner appealed.

In considering the enforcement appeal, the Inspector noted that the ACV listing was being challenged on the basis the decision was made outside the specified time limit, and that if the ACV status was not confirmed, the building could be used as shops, financial and professional services or restaurants or cafes under permitted development rights. While a material consideration, ACV listing did not outweigh the benefits of providing additional housing and a viable use for the building, and the appeal was allowed and permission granted for the change of use.  The Ship remains on Croydon’s list of ACVs.

These cases are helpful in showing the Secretary of State’s approach to ACV status. While it is a material consideration, in neither case did it result in planning permission being refused for a change of use which will effectively end the community use.  This is a clear departure from the view expressed by the Upper Tribunal in Banner Homes, that any permission for a change of use was likely to be refused while the asset was ACV listed, as we discussed in a previous blog.  While owners of ACVs may be reassured that planning permission has been granted as part of an assessment of fairly ordinary planning considerations, nominating groups may be dismayed that ACV status did not afford these community assets greater protection against a change of use.

Amalgamation of units still at risk

As we have noted previously, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“TCPA”) is clear that the conversion of a single unit into several units requires planning permission. Although the legislation is silent on amalgamation, it may too be a material change of use requiring planning permission (see our 13 May 2014 blog).

In the recent Cheyne Gardens appeal an Inspector dismissed an appeal against Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (“RBKC”)’s decision not to grant a certificate of lawfulness for works to amalgamate two flats into a single dwelling. Planning permission had been refused and the applicant argued that a Certificate should be granted on the grounds that there was no material change of use requiring planning permission.  The analysis centred on two questions:

1          Is the change of use ‘development’?  ap

The appellant argued that the proposals should not be treated as development on the basis of Section 55(2)(f) TCPA and Article 3(1) of The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987. Both provide that where a building is used for a purpose of any class specified in the schedule to that Order, the use of that building for any other purpose within the same class shall not be taken to involve development of land. In Richmond upon Thames v SSETR & Richmond upon Thames Churches Housing Trust [2000] this was confirmed as engaged where the combined units were already in a single occupation.

The Inspector refused to apply Section 55(2)(f) and Article 3(1) on the basis that the two flats in this case were in use as two separate dwellinghouses, each occupied by a single household or person. The revised position would be one unit occupied by a single household or person.  Whilst the new arrangement, by virtue of the amalgamation, would be used for one of the uses within Class C3, it would not be the self-same building in the before and after scenarios.  The amalgamation was therefore development capable of amounting to a material change of use.

2          Is the change of use material in planning terms?

Richmond established that the extent to which a particular use fulfils a legitimate or recognised planning purpose (in terms of a purpose relating to the character of the land) is relevant in deciding whether a change from that use is a material change of use.   In particular, the loss of a particular type of residential accommodation where that loss was resisted by specific policies.

RBKC put forward evidence that de-conversions and amalgamations were anticipated to result in the loss of 400 homes over a five year period. Set against that, London Plan Policy 3.3 imposes a minimum 10 year housing building target of 7,330 dwellings for RBKC, with an annual monitoring target of 733 homes.  The Inspector considered that the loss of one unit should be considered against the annual target.  Despite accepting that this would be an “almost infinitesimal change” (and the loss of the single unit was under the 5 unit threshold set in the RBKC policy) he nonetheless decided that it would “as a matter of fact and degree have a significant impact in planning terms” concluding that circumstances had “changed significantly” since the adoption of that policy.

So what?

The focus of recent amalgamation appeals has been on the materiality of the change, rather than the question of whether there has been a change of use. The decision reflects the approach applied by the High Court in June, quashing CLEUD and Section 78 appeals on the basis that the Inspector should have taken account of generalised housing need arguments despite the lack of a specific policy threshold.

Although there is real scope to achieve permission on the basis that the loss of supply is clearly de minimis, the Cheyne Gardens decision confirms that decision makers will continue to treat general housing supply policies as a basis for regarding small amalgamations as material even though more specific policies on such changes do not necessarily warrant it.  The difficulties of doing so in the absence of such policies are illustrated by the 77 Drayton Gardens decision, in which the Inspector refused to grant a CLEUD (on the basis that a material change had occurred by virtue of amalgamation of two units, treating the existence of restrictive policies as weighing on the ‘threshold’ question of whether a change of use had occurred). He nonetheless quashed the related enforcement notice and granted permission on the basis that evidence of housing need (including for larger units) and actual supply outweighed the conflict with the development plan.

Short term rentals – a potential planning issue?

The recent decision in Iveta Nemcova v Fairflied Rents Limited [2016] UKUT 303 underlined the importance of reviewing lease terms (in particular, the user covenant) prior to letting residential property on a short term basis, as set out in our alert.  It therefore seems timely to reflect upon the potential planning issues raised by short term rentals, particularly given the rising popularity of websites such as Airbnb and onefinestay.

airWhat’s the use?

From a planning perspective, permanent use of residential property for temporary sleeping accommodation constitutes a material change of use for which planning permission is required.

Short-term lettings in Greater London are also subject to a further planning restriction in the form of Section 25 Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973. This makes the use of residential premises as temporary sleeping accommodation for less than 90 consecutive nights a material change of use requiring planning permission.  The purpose behind the provision is to protect London’s permanent housing supply.

The Government introduced an exception to this restriction in the Deregulation Act 2015.  As a result, short term lettings in the capital are no longer deemed a material change of use if:

  1. the cumulative number of nights use as temporary accommodation does not exceed 90 nights in any one go (or any calendar year); and
  2. the person providing the accommodation is liable to pay council tax.

Such use may, nonetheless, be classed as a material change of use under Building Regulations. Consequently, upgrade works may still be required to comply with relevant standards.

The new rules also grant the Secretary of State power to create further exceptions by way of regulations, albeit subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.

Motivating factors

The Government’s rationale for relaxing the rules was set out in ‘Promoting the sharing economy in London – Policy on short-term use of residential property in London’, which came out of a wider review of property conditions in the private rented sector.  In short, the changes were intended to give Londoners the opportunity to earn extra income renting out their property and expand the pool of competitively priced accommodation in the capital, while removing uncertainty caused by inconsistent enforcement of section 25 across London Boroughs.

Safeguards

The new 90 day cap was imposed to prevent permanent temporary sleeping accommodation use. As a further safeguard, local authorities can direct that the new rules do not apply to: (i) a particular residential premise (for example, where there has already been enforcement action against a statutory nuisance); or (ii) a particular area.  However, local authorities can only use this power with the consent of the Secretary of State where it is “necessary to protect the amenity of the locality”.  Time will tell whether these safeguards prove to be effective.

Policy conflicts?

The reforms are consistent with the Government’s broader objectives of relaxing planning laws and reducing the burden of unnecessary change of use applications. However, they would appear to be at odds with the Government’s drive to increase the supply of homes.  It is therefore doubtful that the Secretary of State will make further exceptions to section 25 in the near future.

Improving the use of Planning Conditions?

Too many unnecessary and overly restrictive conditions are still routinely attached to planning permissions, driving up costs and impeding development. It is against this backdrop that the Government proposed further reforms in the recently published Neighbourhood Planning Bill aimed at streamlining the use of planning conditions.

Long game

This is not a new objective. Since the Killian Pretty Review in 2008 successive Governments have been on a drive to minimise the use of unnecessary conditions. For instance, in April 2015 the Government introduced the concept of ‘deemed discharge‘, whereby an applicant can treat certain conditions as discharged if the LPA fails to reach a decision in the requisite time frame. Although the intention was admirable, it is debatable whether this reform has been effective given that the power is rarely relied upon in practice.  As we have pointed out before, part of the answer has to be improving the quality of some applications in the first place and giving a less risky route to appeal onerous conditions.

Current proposals

textThe DCLG consultation ‘Improving the Use of Planning Condition’ (the ‘Consultation’), which was launched in conjunction with the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, seeks views on the Government’s proposals to improve the use of planning conditions and closes on 2 November 2016.

There are 2 key elements to the Government’s proposals:

  1. Restriction on the use of pre-commencement conditions without prior approval by the applicant; and
  2. Prohibition of specific types of conditions.

1) Restriction on the use of pre-commencement conditions

LPAs would not be permitted to use pre-commencement conditions without prior approval by the applicant. By giving applicants an earlier opportunity to challenge unnecessary pre-commencement conditions, it is hoped that a consensus can be reached between the parties at the outset and the likelihood of appeals reduced.  Of course, there is a risk that front loading the process will lead to delays in planning applications being determined.  There are several practical implications:

  • Where an applicant refuses to accept a proposed pre-commencement condition the LPA will have a number of options at its disposal: (i) revising the condition so that it is agreeable to the applicant; (ii) allowing compliance with the condition post commencement; (iii) removing the condition in its entirety; or (iv) refusing planning permission.
  • The threat of refusal may do two things. Firstly, force applicants to consider whether they have really included adequate detail in the application itself. The answer will often be ‘no’. Secondly, accept unsatisfactory conditions in order to secure the permission (particularly where the grant of permission is a pre-requisite for the release of funds), and then use Section 73 to seek to remove the offending condition while avoiding an appeal scrutinising the merits of the entire application afresh.
  • The restrictions will not apply to outline permissions. The Consultation does not explain why.  However, the impact of delays caused by pre-commencement conditions is arguably lessened in the case of outline permissions given that development cannot commence until reserved matters have been approved in any event.

2) Prohibition of specific types of conditions

At present, LPAs have a broad power to impose “such conditions as they think fit” providing they meet the tests prescribed in the NPPF, its supporting guidance and case law.

The Government’s proposals are intended to provide greater clarity about conditions that do not meet these policy tests and should therefore be prohibited. The Consultation sets out examples of conditions that are categorised as unacceptable by existing planning practice guidance and seeks consultees’ views on whether such conditions should be expressly prohibited through legislation.

Given the relevant tests for using conditions are already enshrined in the NPPF and the example conditions set out in the Consultation are effectively prohibited (albeit through guidance rather than statute), the purpose served by this aspect of the reforms is questionable. A more productive use of this legislation would be to use the conditions as a benchmark for reasonableness, and allow binding decisions on them, via the mooted Dispute Resolution Service under the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

Conclusions

The reforms are unlikely to herald a new era in which conditions are used conservatively and pre-commencement conditions are consistently agreed upfront without the intention of resorting to Section 73. Bolder reform, providing a quicker right of appeal or up front, binding dispute resolution on this specific point, would be a much better outcome.

Ready, steady… build!

On April Fool’s Day, we suggested – with a perfectly straight face – that the conditions may be in place for a return to the glory days of local authority house building.

Less than four months on, we find ourselves with:

  • a new Prime Minister;
  • a new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government;
  • a new Minister for Housing and Planning,
  • a new London Mayor; and
  • a newly created Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

If a week is a long time in politics, a few months is a lifetime.

man building a brick wallAgainst a background of political instability, one thing has remained – the pressing need for more houses. It is an imperative which no amount of Ministerial reshuffles can dilute. Indeed, our new Prime Minister recognised the importance of addressing the “housing deficit” as part of her recent – and ultimately successful – leadership campaign.

Building sufficient homes to meet a growing need is a challenge that rests not only with the private sector. Local Authorities can – and must – play their part. In some cases, they may choose to go it alone, in others by working together with private sector partners.

With that in mind, we recently held a client seminar with Local Partnerships looking at barriers to local authority housing delivery and how these can be overcome in practice.

The central themes included:

Structures and approaches

From wholly-owned Local Development Companies to Local Asset Backed Vehicles, a multitude of options exist for Local Authorities answering the call to build. A wide menu of legal powers are available, with the chef’s speciality being the general power of competence in s.1 Localism Act 2011.

Naturally, given the nature of Local Authorities as creatures of statute, there are some inherent limitations on the use of those powers. Matters of vires, additional regulatory requirements and governance must all be addressed.

Nevertheless, successful innovation and housing delivery is certainly possible. Indeed it is happening in practice, with some notable examples.

Traps for the unwary

In what is a uniquely high risk environment for local authorities, legal challenges can come from several angles. The use of statutory powers, procurement processes and state aid issues all require careful consideration. The extent to which potential challenges can be anticipated – and mitigated – will be critical to avoiding costly legal roadblocks which could derail best laid plans.

Maximising the chances of success

Not all delivery vehicles will succeed. Clear objectives are essential from inception, allied to the capacity and commitment to deliver outputs over a sustained period of time. That commitment, in particular, must be secured at both officer and member level. Scale is also important – examples to date have seen relatively modest numbers delivered.

High Court allows relaxed view of needs on appeal

high courtThe High Court has adopted a flexible approach to dealing with ‘objectively assessed needs’ (OAN) on a planning appeal in Dartford Borough Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Anor [2016] EWHC 649 (Admin). In considering an appeal against refusal of permission for housing, the Inspector had to decide whether the authority could demonstrate a 5 year supply of deliverable housing sites against OAN.  If not, NPPF policy recommends that restrictive local housing policies are supplanted by the presumption in favour of permission.

The Core Strategy included a ‘maximum’ housing delivery figure (based on environmental constraints) and a lower figure (at which active management of under-delivery would be needed). At the lower figure, the authority could show a 5 year supply. Neither the appellant nor the authority appear to have submitted OAN evidence, despite the ability to do so (West Berkshire District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Anor [2016] EWHC 267 (Admin)).

The Inspector found that the scheme merited approval regardless of the OAN position. He also explained that the authority was not likely to meet full OAN judged against the maximum housing figure and so applied the NPPF presumption. The authority challenged the decision under Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, on the basis that his reasons were inadequate (including why the upper figure was the correct measure of OAN). The High Court dismissed the challenge, on the basis that the upper/lower level figures provided a ‘context for assessing housing need’ and that nothing in the NPPF should prevent decision makers from being able to use a range of figures to assess whether there would still “be advantage in the grant of permission“.

The judgment purposively and pragmatically allows for range-based approach to assessing OAN where there is no real demographic evidence available on appeal, and emphasises the undesirability of appeal Inspectors being diverted into a statistical “sojourn in a garden of delights” on OAN.  Care is needed, though:

  • It does not address the situation where reliance on OAN is required to ‘switch off’ restrictive housing policies and engage the NPPF presumption.
  • It also recognises that “a more thorough analysis would have been required” in those circumstances, consistent with the finding in West Berkshire that the Inspector had to “identify an annual housing requirement in the district. If he failed to do so he would not have been able to identify whether the council was able to demonstrate whether it had a five year supply of housing land.”
  • The maximum figure the Inspector used for the upper limit of the OAN ‘range’ in Dartford appears to have been derived from a historic Regional Spatial Strategy policy set by reference to policy-based environmental constraints.  It is hard to reconcile this with the need to avoid OAN assessments being artificially limited by such ‘policy on’ considerations (St Albans City and District Council v (1) Hunston Properties Limited and (2) Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2013] EWCA Civ 1610).

Affordable snakes and ladders on small sites

The judgment in the battle of wills over the Government’s small sites affordable housing and Vacant Building Credit policies has concluded, for now, with the Government victorious in the Court of Appeal. This blog considers the practical impact of the Vacant Building Credit.  What are the wider implications of the judgment for affordable housing decisions and policies?

Policy on the hoof

cartoonThe process by which the policies were introduced was surprising, but not unlawful.  However, two elements of the judgment may prove controversial:

  • firstly, the acceptance of a retrospective Equalities Impact Assessment where complying with the Public Sector Equalities Duty when taking the decision where the assessment was ‘adequate and in good faith’ and original decision “would not have led to a different conclusion“;
  • secondly, that Ministers are not required to have regard to material considerations when making national planning policy given that it relies on the exercise of crown prerogative powers. This will seem obscure to those living outside the legal bubble.

Common sense still allowed

Policy is just policy. The judgment confirms that:

  • government, whether central or local, may state policy ‘rules’ absolutely, but
  • decision takers must consider them without treating them as absolute – their discretion to weigh things in the balance and do something different cannot be fettered by policy.

For applications, that means:

  • complying with the duties to consider all relevant issues and determine in accordance with the development plan unless there are reasons not to (Section 70(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and Section 38(6) of the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004);
  • local authorities are entitled to weigh the Government’s policy against their own plan policies, the demographic evidence on which they are based and any economic evidence on the viability of specific ‘small sites’.  There will inevitably be an upsurge in appeals as they do so, since applicants will generally expect the Government to follow its own policy on appeal;
  • where there are perfectly sound reasons for a Localist decision, there should be little scope for adverse costs awards.  The difference in weight to the national policy is simply a matter of planning judgment – which the Court of Appeal decision emphasises must be carried out diligently.

Making plans

Local Plan policies could still be promoted on the basis of evidence base and local circumstances which justify the LPA’s proposed thresholds. That will run the gauntlet at Examination in Public given the wider powers to intervene in the Plan-making process now available under the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

The reasoning given for the small sites policy in Government’s evidence (extracted at paragraph 53 of the judgment) provides clear scope for authorities to use evidence to show that their affordable housing policy thresholds are in line with the intended policy objective as long as requirements are:

  • viable, and
  • that contributions will be required at a time when they could not sensibly stall schemes (i.e. pre-occupation).

If local policies are supported by evidence that shows they would deliver Government’s stated intended outcome then they should survive Examination.

Planning permitted development rights – further relaxation

apprv6th April 2016 saw the arrival of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) England (Amendment) Order 2016.

This signals the latest chapter in the story of greater deregulation of the planning system.

It is also a product of its time, cementing the clear link between the Permitted Development regime and housing delivery.

Read the full article.

This article was first published in Property Law Journal (June 2016) and is also available at www.lawjournals.co.uk.