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Update: When does a condition restricting use remove PD rights?

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Last month we blogged on the High Court’s judgment in Dunnett, which refused to quash the Secretary of State decision not to grant a Certificate of Lawfulness in respect of the use of office to residential Permitted Development rights where a condition on the office consent was effective in excluding GPDO rights. The condition stated that “The use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, and for no other purpose whatsoever, without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained.”

The Court of Appeal has now upheld the High Court’s judgment.

The result? Uncertainty prevails.

Trump reigns

The Court of Appeal noted that there is no bar to (cautiously) implying terms into planning conditions: doing so is an objective, fact-dependent exercise in which the Court asks ‘what a reasonable reader would understand the words to mean when reading the condition in the context of the other conditions and of the consent as a whole’ (applying Trump International ([2015] UKSC 74).

Deconstructing the condition

Against that backdrop, the Court of Appeal held:

  1. The words ‘and for no other purpose whatsoever’ were, in this case, enough not only to control the B use of the property, but also to exclude future reliance on PD rights. The wording that followed – ‘without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained’ (the “Tail”) – just made the exclusion ‘the more abundantly clear’.
  2. The Tail cannot sensibly include a planning permission granted through the GPDO. The appellant argued that it was necessary to read into the Tail ‘or the Secretary of State’ because of the unavoidable possibility of the Secretary of State granting planning permission on appeal against a refusal by the LPA. Once that is read in, the Appellant submitted, it must include Secretary of State decisions through the GPDO as well as Secretary of State decisions on appeal as there is no basis for including one but not the other. The Court rejected this: it is not necessary to imply ‘or the Secretary of State’ at all because appeal rights do not depend on conditions; they are conferred automatically by statute.
  3. Further, if the Court were to accept the appellant’s argument, the Tail would include all means of granting permission and would therefore have no limiting effect at all. The LPA could not have intended to include useless wording.
  4. The reason for the condition and the site’s planning history reinforced the findings above by reflecting the council’s intention to maintain close control over the site.

Comment – it depends

Unhelpfully, given Trump, implied meaning will always depend on context. That said, as a result of this judgment:

  • It will be very hard to show that stating that uses are ‘limited to’ a particular use will, alone, be enough to exclude PD rights.
  • Words such as ‘for no other purpose whatsoever’ will likely do the job, but ‘for no other purpose’ alone may hang in the balance.

The difficulty will be for wording that is more emphatic than ‘limited to’ but less emphatic than ‘for no other purposes whatsoever’.

It is not a great outcome for investors, who will have to puzzle over the endless and often pointless variations and contortions in condition wording pumped out by decision makers to understand what price planning freedom. A set of standard conditions embedded in the Planning Practice Guidance which make clear how PD rights should be dealt with and provide a level playing field would be welcome.

With thanks to Ralph Kellas for preparing the blog.