Failing to take account of the up to date local development plan

A recent decision by the Court of Session has quashed a planning appeal refusal determined by the Scottish Ministers for failing to take account of the up to date local development plan.   The case emphasises the importance of monitoring assumptions made as part of the planning process.

An application for planning permission in principle was made for a residential development of 600 units, including affordable housing, commercial space, a public park and a new primary school near Bridge of Allan.

When the application was submitted, Stirling’s Local Development Plan (“LDP”) did not allocate sufficient land for housing  to provide a 5 year supply.  As such, the relevant LDP housing policies would be considered out of date and Scottish Planning Policy (“SPP”) would apply. The SPP provides a presumption in favour of development which contributes to sustainable development as a significant material consideration.

However, the development was proposed on land lying within the North Stirling Green Belt and the LDP contained policies protecting the green belt from development.

The planning officer recommended the application for approval due to the benefit of the development outweighing the effect on the green belt; the SPP favouring sustainable development; the significant weight to be attached to the SPP which outweighed the policies of the LDP; and the impact of the development being mitigated by a proposed Section 75 Agreement and the imposition of planning conditions.

However, the application was refused on 23 March 2016.  The Council determined that the benefits of the development would not outweigh non-compliance with the LDP and the proposed mitigation of the impact of the development on the greenbelt, flooding and transport would not be sufficient.

An appeal was submitted and was called in by the Scottish Ministers and a Reporter was instructed to examine and report on the appeal. During the appeal process, a new LDP was being progressed which sought to provide a sufficient 5 year land supply for housing.  In his report to the Scottish Ministers, the Reporter made certain assumptions about the incoming LDP and stated that:

On the assumption that the proposed replacement development plan should identify sufficient sites, the land supply shortage may be resolved before development commences on site; … and … There is also an expectation that the proposed replacement LDP, currently under examination, will properly address the shortfall before any housing is built on this site if the appeal is allowed.

The Reporter estimated that the number of units which could realistically be provided by the proposed development within the 5 year land supply period would be 175 which was some way short of addressing the 896 unit shortfall.

The Reporter concluded that the development would only address the housing land shortfall in part; the harm to the green belt must be given considerable weight; that this would not be outweighed by the SPP presumption in favour of sustainable development; and to approve the development would be prejudicial to the emerging LDP which would set out the location of sufficient housing land for a 5 year supply.  As such, the Reporter recommended refusal of the appeal.

However, when the LDP was approved for adoption on 3 May 2018 the new LDP still did not provide a sufficient housing land  supply with a shortfall of 169 units. Despite this being brought to the attention of the Scottish Ministers in a report prepared by its officials on 17 May 2018, the Scottish Ministers issued their decision on 18 June 2018 refusing the appeal, stating that they accepted the Reporter’s recommendations and conclusions and adopted them for the purpose of their own decision. 

By doing so, the Scottish Ministers adopted a decision which was based, in part, on a material consideration regarding the emerging LDP to provide sufficient housing land supply which had later proved to be incorrect. 

The applicant appealed the Scottish Ministers’ decision to the Court of Session and Lord Carloway, delivering the opinion of the Court, determined that it was incumbent on the Scottish Ministers, as the decision maker, to take into account all relevant material considerations.  In this instance, the Scottish Ministers in adopting the Reporter’s recommendation, had (1) taken into account a material consideration which had become irrelevant; and (2) failed to take into account a material consideration that the approved emerging LDP did not provide a sufficient housing land supply.  Therefore, the decision to refuse the appeal was quashed. The Court of Session can only review the legal validity of the appeal decision and cannot substitute its own decision.  It therefore falls upon the Scottish Ministers to reconsider the appeal.  They will have to be more careful next time.

Holiday lets in Edinburgh – has the bubble burst?

Fancy a city break anyone? Who could resist a few days in an iconic European city that also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

So, where to stay – one of Edinburgh’s many hotels or perhaps a flat is more appealing? There are lots of options to consider. Interestingly, the concentration of Airbnb’s in Edinburgh is four times greater than in London, Paris or New York, but could three recent enforcement notice appeal decisions (1, 2, 3) point the way towards a clampdown on the operation of Airbnb’s and short term holiday lets in Edinburgh?

The appeals related to three separate properties in the same block located in the heart of the tourist centre and lying in close proximity to Princes Street Gardens and the Castle. All three properties were one bedroom flats, with sofa beds in the living room, thereby allowing occupation by up to 4 adults. In summary, the enforcement notices stated that the flats were being used for short term commercial visitor accommodation, without having obtained planning permission and, accordingly, required the alleged use to cease within two months.

The key here was whether there had been a material change of use from residential flats which had resulted in harm to the amenity of adjoining occupiers. Reference was made in the various submissions to City of Edinburgh Council’s Local Development Plan policy Hou 7 (inappropriate uses in residential areas) and the Council’s non-statutory Guidance for Business. The Guidance provides advice on whether the use of a residential property for short term commercial visitor accommodation requires planning permission and refers to the need for an assessment of (i) the character of the new use and the wider area; (ii) the size of the property; (iii) the pattern of activity associated with the use, including the number of occupants, the period of use, issues of noise, disturbance and parking demand; and (iv) the nature and character of any services provided.

In all three cases, the Scottish Government Reporter refused the appeals having concluded that there had been a material change of use, taking account of the number of arrivals and departures, the likelihood of increased noisy activity late in the evening, increased activity due to cleaning the properties, luggage drop-off in between checking in and out and the increased use of the communal drying area by guests for socialising – all of which would be greater than if the properties were in use by a single household.

Meanwhile, the Green MSP, Andy Wightman, has successfully tabled an amendment to the Planning (Scotland) Bill which would require property owners to obtain planning consent in order to change a main residence into a short-term let property such as an Airbnb. This would only apply to a main residence, rather than second homes and is still to be considered by all MSPs at Stage 3 of the Bill next year.

City of Edinburgh Council believes a licensing regime would be the best way to control short term lets and has asked the Scottish Government to consider introducing this.

So, plenty to consider going forward for owners of holiday lets – maybe book that city break sooner rather than later?

Compulsory Sales Orders: An aid to regeneration in Scotland?

A new Compulsory Sales Order (CSO) power could tackle the blight of abandoned buildings and parcels of vacant and derelict land in town centres and communities across Scotland, according to a report published by the Scottish Land Commission (SLC).

The proposed new power would provide planning authorities with a mechanism to bring sites and buildings that have been unoccupied and/or derelict for an undue period of time, and where this is having a detrimental impact on the surrounding community, back into productive use.

Communities and local authorities already have a number of policy instruments – including compulsory purchase orders – which can be used to help regeneration. However, these policies require a clear plan in place as to how the land or building in question would be used. In many cases, local authorities and communities do not have a specific end use in mind for problematic sites but simply wish to see them used for some productive purpose. Resource constraints may also deter local authorities from pursuing a compulsory purchase action.

Although recent right to buy legislation would provide a potential route for bringing sites back into productive use, restoring some sites would be complex and technically challenging and, often, there is no desire on the part of the local community to take on such a project (see our Real Estate’s team’s recent article).

Whilst the SLC’s suggestion is that CSOs could be part of a toolkit to bring unused land back into productive use, the report states that a CSO would be used as a power of last resort and that councils and land owners should work together to try and find solutions first. As a CSO would involve the state directly interfering with an individual’s property rights by forcing a sale of the relevant property, the public interest in doing so must clearly outweigh the cost to the individual. Examples of the types of sites that might be tackled using the new power include sites such as empty homes, abandoned shopping centres, derelict hotels, gap sites and abandoned or derelict commercial buildings.

The SLC suggests that the real strength of CSOs lies in the role they could play in facilitating constructive dialogue between local authorities and owners of problematic sites. Certainly, in some situations, the serving of a preliminary investigation notice in relation to a site could incentivise an owner to take action.

The Scottish Government has committed to bring forward CSOs during the course of the next parliament and the SLC report is intended to provide the Scottish Government with a robust framework to do so. Clearly, any mechanism which could facilitate the redevelopment of vacant or derelict brownfield sites is to be welcomed, but it remains to be seen how Scotland’s already under-resourced planning authorities would be able to deal with the new opportunities should the SLC proposals be introduced.

Need for up to date local development plans

We consider a recent appeal decision for 601 houses at Overtown which confirms that unless Local Authorities keep local development plans up to date and demonstrate effective housing supply they will lose planning appeals, even on green belt land.

Read the full article