Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Financial incentives to be offered for injunctions


Enforcement action against breaches of planning control has always been the Cinderella of the planning service in most planning authorities, and the squeeze on council budgets has only served to further weaken local councils’ exercise of their enforcement powers. It can be a very expensive exercise, especially if the enforcement action is simply ignored by a recalcitrant developer, so that the council has to resort to applying for an injunction.

Now, however, albeit rather late in the day, De-CloG has announced a new fund to give LPAs some financial help in dealing with proceedings for injunctions in planning cases. Of course, if local authority funding had not been cut in the first place, this extra financial support might not have become necessary, but no doubt it will be welcomed by any hard-pressed authority having to go for an injunction against a persistent breach of planning control, or at least it may be until they read the small print.

The fund provided by De-CloG is £1 million, of which £200K will be available between now and 31 March this year, and the remaining £800K will be available until 31 March 2016. However, this funding is not as generous as it sounds. The maximum grant for any one case is limited to not more than half the council’s estimated costs, but is limited to a maximum payment of £10K.

So the maximum amount of grant that an LPA can apply for is £10,000 (or 50% of their estimated legal costs, whichever is the lesser) towards the cost of securing a Court Injunction in the High Court or County Court. The authority is required to provide a costs estimate setting out details of anticipated legal costs likely to be incurred in preparing and issuing legal proceedings and attending court, but this estimate is not to include non-legal specialist officer time. The LPA must take responsibility for any legal costs incurred in excess of £10K or in excess of any lesser sum that may be granted.

The fund is solely for use by LPAs in England, towards the cost of securing a Court injunction (High or County Court), under Section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, against actual or apprehended breaches of planning control to be restrained. Funding is only available where other enforcement options have been, or would be, ineffective, or where there have been persistent breaches of planning control over a long period.

Funding will not be available for court proceedings which have already been started, or where an appellant lodges an appeal under section 174 against an enforcement notice that the LPA has issued. The criteria refer to an appeal made “within 28 days of receiving the notice”, but as the notice will usually come into effect within a fairly short time after the minimum 28-day period, it seems a little odd that an LPA could be deprived of funding for injunction proceedings where an enforcement notice is timed to come into effect (say) 35 days after service, and the developer appeals after 28 days but within the 35-day period.

LPAs will have to jump through hoops to get the funding they are seeking. Before a grant is made, they will have to demonstrate why the action is in the general interest, explain the degree and flagrancy of the breach of planning control, set out the enforcement history for the site (e.g. what other measures have failed over a long period of time), explain any urgency needed to remedy the breach, set out the planning history of the site, provide details of previous planning decisions in relation to the site, set out consideration of the Public Sector Equality Duty (section 149 of the Equality Act 2010) and Human Rights Act 1998, and demonstrate that an injunction is a proportionate remedy in the circumstances of the individual case, in addition to stating the amount of funding requested, including a breakdown of estimated legal spend on legal costs in 2014-15 and 2015-16. And all of this must be written in no more than 1,000 words, writing on one side of the paper only in the Head of Planning’s best joined-up handwriting. Deductions from funding will be made for untidy handwriting, poor grammar and spelling errors. (OK – I made the last bit up, apart from the thousand-word limit, but you get the general drift.)

And that’s not all. To qualify for consideration, the authority is required to confirm that it has adopted the enforcement best practice recommended in paragraph 207 of the National Planning Policy Framework and published its plan to manage enforcement of breaches proactively. The authority’s enforcement plan must have been published at least three months prior to applying for grant and the authority is required to confirm adherence to the recommendations of the National Planning Policy Framework with regard to the way in which the authority monitors the implementation of planning permissions, investigates alleged breaches of planning control; and takes enforcement action whenever it is expedient to do so.

Finally, to support the application for funding, the authority will be required to provide an active web link for their published local enforcement plan together with written confirmation that they are adhering to the objectives of the plan in a positive, pro-active and proportionate way and have been doing so for at least the previous three months.

Contractors engaged by De-CLoG (Ivy Legal) will assess applications for funding against the eligibility criteria in January, April, July and October, and applications for grant must be received no later than the last working day of the relevant application month.

You might think that someone in De-CLoG is trying to make it difficult, if not practically impossible, for local authorities actually to get their hands on this money! I wonder what level of take-up there is going to be when the amount of work involved in applying for funding, and the sum that is likely to be doled out, are taken into account. Getting funding might prove to be more difficult than getting the injunction itself, and many LPAs may conclude that it’s not worth the hassle.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Further planning changes put off until after the General Election


In the interval between Christmas and the New Year, De-CLoG sneaked out its “Ninth Statement of New Regulation: January to June 2015”, which (if what it says on the tin is to be believed) lists all the subordinate legislation that De-CLoG ministers intend to bring into force between 1 January and 30 June 2015. The word “all” is not actually used in the document, but it is reasonable to assume that if the government had a firm intention to introduce any other measures before the General Election they would have been included in this document.

The statement is therefore unintentionally revealing in having omitted a number of significant planning changes which were loudly trumpeted by ministers last year, and which would certainly have been included in the list of forthcoming measures if the government still intended to bring them forward before the General Election.

Among the previously proposed changes about which the document is deafeningly silent are further amendments to the GPDO to enable more changes of use in addition to those previously introduced within the past two years. These were expected to include the change of use of light industrial units (B1(c)), warehouses and storage units (B8) and some sui generis uses (launderettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs) to residential use (C3), and changes of some sui generis uses to restaurants (C3) and leisure uses (D2).

There is no mention, either, of the government’s intention to make permanent those permitted development rights which currently expire in May 2016. We had been promised that the existing time limit for completing office to residential conversions would be extended from 30 May 2016 to 30 May 2019. It doesn’t look as this is going to happen this side of the General Election. The same applies to the right to build larger domestic extensions (under Part 1), currently expiring in May 2016.

Another measure that it seems will not be coming forward is the right to make alterations to shops, so as to allow retailers to alter their premises, plus additional PD rights covering (among other things) further extensions to houses and business premises, over and above existing permitted extensions.

Turning to the Use Classes Order, there is no mention of the proposed merger of Use Classes A1 and A2 in a single new ‘town centre’ use class. This was expected to be accompanied by a further amendment of the GPDO to allow change of use to the widened retail (A1) class from betting shops and pay day loan shops (A2), restaurants and cafés (A3), drinking establishments (A4), and hot food takeaways (A5). Similarly there is no mention of the intended restriction of the scope of the current A2 use class, so that betting offices and pay-day loan shops (both currently falling within this Use Class) would become sui generis uses.

Another measure of which no mention is made is the suggested increase in floorspace in a building in retail use (including the introduction of mezzanine floors), currently limited to 200 sq m, that can be made without its coming within the definition of development under section 55 (and therefore requiring planning permission). [I thought the original provision in the 2004 Act had been brought into force with effect from 10 May 2006, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on the SI which confirmed this limit, and have begun to wonder whether this provision in the 2004 Act is actually in force. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.]

There is one measure (relating to a proposed reduction in qualifying time for the Right to Buy scheme) which has been pencilled in for April 2015, but is flagged up as being “dependent on the Deregulation Bill”. The same would apply to the previously announced intention to relax section 25(3) of the Greater London (General Powers) Act 1973, so as to allow some types of short-term lettings in Greater London that are currently prohibited by that sub-section of the 1973 Act. But in this case, there is no mention of the proposed measure in the De-CLoG statement. Is this another measure that has bitten the dust?

Perhaps it was the realisation that these various measures could not now be brought forward before the General Election that led to George Osborne refraining from re-announcing them yet again in his Autumn Statement.

In Cloud-cuckoo-land, where Tory members of our coalition government seem to live, it is confidently expected that the government will be able to introduce these various measures after the General Election, and in the meantime they will no doubt feature as commitments in the Tory Party election manifesto. In the real world, where the rest of us live, the survival of the present government after May seems a little less than probable. An incoming government of a different political composition may not wish to continue with these proposals, and so this may be the end of the road for the present government’s planning ‘reform’ agenda.

UPDATE: I am grateful to Sally Davis of G L Hearn and to Ray Tutty of Savills, both of whom kindly emailed me with a note of the provision that I had been unable to find, which specifies the limit for internal enlargements of retail floorspace. This was Article 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Amendment) (England) Order 2006, which inserted Article 2A in the original DMPO stating that the amount specified under section 55(2A) of the Act is 200 square metres. Any change in this floorspace limit would therefore be by means of a further amendment of the DMPO. It would still be possible for this change to be made in the time available, but its omission from the statement of forthcoming subordinate legislation suggests that the government may not see it as a priority.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Running out of time


One of the problems with having a fixed-term parliament is that the final stages of the parliamentary term risk degenerating into a fag-end of miscellaneous business, while ministers increasingly focus their attentions on the forthcoming election campaign. Commentators have already noted that the current parliamentary session contains a significantly reduced number of Bills compared with an average session but, despite this, time is rapidly running out in which to clear up remaining legislative proposals that the government would like to bring into force before the election. There certainly isn’t time now to introduce any new Bills, and so it is just a question of taking pending Bills through their remaining stages, and laying statutory instruments in parliament to deal with the various subordinate legislation that the government has announced its intention of making.

In the meantime, ministers seem to be resorting to the rather pointless exercise of putting down resolutions to record their future intent in the event that they were to be re-elected, in a vain attempt to commit a future government to a certain course of action, or simply to try to ‘wrong foot’ the opposition on particular issues.

The House of Commons rises for the Christmas recess today and will return on Monday 5 January. The Lords rose yesterday and will return on 6 January. There will then be a ‘half-term’ recess for both houses from 12 to 23 February, and Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 30 March 2015. This may be preceded by prorogation, marking the formal end of the parliamentary session, although the House of Commons may decide that it will not prorogue prior to dissolution. In any event there is now precious little parliamentary time left in which to complete unfinished business – barely 5 weeks in January/February, and then another 5 weeks to the end of March – 10 weeks in all for Bills to complete their remaining stages and obtain Royal Assent.

One piece of legislation that is of interest to planners (and to property owners in Greater London) is the Deregulation Bill. It contains a clause (currently Clause 33) which will come into immediate effect upon Royal Assent, and will give the Secretary of State power to make a statutory instrument relaxing, to some (as yet unspecified) extent, section 25(3) of the Greater London (General Powers) Act 1973, so as to allow some types of short-term lettings in Greater London that are currently prohibited by that sub-section of the 1973 Act. If the government wants to give effect to this change before the General Election, they will need to be drafting the necessary statutory instrument now, so that it can be laid before parliament without delay after the relevant section of what will then be the Deregulation Act 2015 comes into force.

In order to give sufficient time for parliamentary scrutiny of the SI (admittedly theoretical rather than actual, as an SI of this sort is never actually debated), it should be laid before both houses no later than mid-February, bearing in mind the impending dissolution at the end of March. But the Bill is still going through its committee stage in the Lords, and it must be a moot point as to whether it can complete its remaining stages in time to gain Royal Assent before the half-term break which starts on 12 February.

This is not the only problem now facing the government as the sands of time run out. The same timetabling considerations would apply to other subordinate legislation that the government has announced its intention to introduce. The Chancellor of the Exchequer uncharacteristically resisted the temptation to re-announce these proposals in his Autumn Statement earlier this month, but there is no reason to believe that the government has abandoned their intention to make further planning changes by fresh amendments to the General Permitted Development and to the Use Classes Order. On the other hand, the proposal to consolidate the GPDO, the UCO and also the Development Management Procedure Order may have to await the attention of the next government.

We have been promised a further amendment to Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO to permit the change of use of light industrial units (B1(c)), warehouses and storage units (B8) and some sui generis uses (launderettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs) to residential use (C3), and changes of certain sui generis uses to restaurants (C3) and leisure uses (D2), plus the change of use to a widened retail (A1) class from betting shops and pay day loan shops (A2), restaurants and cafés (A3), drinking establishments (A4), and hot food takeaways (A5).

On the other hand, the intention to make permanent those permitted development rights which currently expire in May 2016 could be postponed for the time being. If the present government were to find themselves still in power after May 7 (which does seem a little improbable) there would be plenty of time before 30 May 2016 for them to make these further changes.

The right to make alterations to commercial premises so as to facilitate commercial filming, the installation of larger solar panels on commercial buildings, minor alterations within waste management facilities and for sewerage undertakers, and further extensions (in addition to those already allowed) to houses and business premises may or may not feature in the expected subordinate legislation in the New Year, and the same may apply to the proposed changes to Classes A1 and A2 of the Use Classes Order, which may involve the merger of these two use classes in a single new ‘town centre’ use class, so as to create a much more flexible range of uses in our High Streets, while at the same time restricting the scope of what is currently Class A2, so that betting offices and pay-day loan shops (both currently falling within this Use Class) will become sui generis uses.

I confess that I am a little hazy when it comes to the finer details of the negative resolution procedure, but I believe that a 40-day period has to be allowed for this purpose in most cases, even though such statutory instruments come into effect more or less automatically, without ever having been discussed or debated. If that is right, then Uncle Eric would need to lay these further statutory instruments before parliament between 6 January and 12 February in order to be sure that they can take effect before the General Election.

So we shall just have to watch and wait, to see whether the expected subordinate legislation does come forward in the coming weeks. If not, then it will depend on the policies of the ministers who are in office after the General Election as to whether these and the other planning changes that the present government has proposed will ever be brought forward.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

Monday, 1 December 2014

Barn conversions again (Part 6)


[The first five parts of this saga were posted here in March 2013.]

In the last of my 5-part series reviewing the development of the law on barn conversions, which was posted on 13 March 2013, I reported on the High Court decision in Williams v. SSCLG. I expressed some misgivings about this judgment and, although I did not spell it out in that article, I had very much expected that the LPA and/or the Secretary of State would take the case on to the Court of Appeal. At that point, being very busy with other matters, I took my eye off the ball and failed to spot that the Court of Appeal did in fact overturn this judgment on 26 July 2013, only four months after my article on the High Court decision was published.

I am very grateful to my colleague David Evans for drawing my attention to the Court of Appeal’s judgment - [2013] EWCA Civ 958. The leading judgment, with which the other judges agreed without comment, was given by Beatson LJ.

The Secretary of State and the Council both argued before the Court of Appeal that the Deputy Judge at first instance had failed to respect the Inspector’s statutory role as the primary decision-maker on questions of fact and degree, that he wrongly became embroiled in questions of planning policy, and that he adopted an approach to the construction of an enforcement notice which risked undermining the certainty that is required in such notices.

The respondent (Mr Williams, the original appellant in the planning appeal which was under challenge) argued that the Inspector’s decision erred in law, because requiring demolition of the building exceeded what was necessary to remedy the breach of planning control (pursuant to his Ground (f) appeal) and that the Inspector failed to give adequate reasons for his decision. It was submitted on his behalf that the most that could be required by the Council and the Inspector was the alteration of the existing building to make it conform to the planning permission granted.

A point which did not emerge from the judgment in the court below was that it was accepted on all sides that the planning permission for the ‘barn conversion’ had not in fact been implemented. It was common ground between the parties that the development that had been carried out went outside the scope of the planning permission. Non-payment of the appeal fee led to the Ground (a) appeal (that planning permission ought to be granted) lapsing, although the appeal was consolidated with a contemporaneous section 78 appeal against the LPA’s refusal of retrospective planning permission. In the section 174 appeal there was, however, as noted above, a Ground (f) appeal (that the requirements of the enforcement notice exceeded what was necessary to remedy the breach, or to remedy any injury to amenity).

Perhaps most importantly, the Inspector found as a matter of fact and degree that the previous building had been substantially demolished and a new one erected in its place, whereas the planning permission had authorised only the adaptation and alteration of the existing building, and not the erection of a new structure. As a matter of fact and degree, the inspector therefore found that the development could not reasonably be called a conversion of the original building. It followed that all of the building operations were unauthorised. In light of that, Mr Williams’ appeals under Grounds (b) and (c) had unsurprisingly been dismissed.

So far as the Ground (f) appeal was concerned, Beatson LJ drew attention to the Inspector’s material findings in the section 78 appeal, which was dismissed but was not challenged in these proceedings. These included a finding that the subject building with its livery business had little or no relationship with the predominantly agricultural use of the surrounding farm, and the Inspector was not satisfied that the location for a full livery business was necessarily dependent upon the use of the land at this farm.

In particular, the Inspector found that the increase in bulk and mass of the new building had reduced the openness of the Green Belt and, although the footprint of the building was similar to what was approved in 2006, the new building’s siting had had a significant impact on the openness of the Green Belt because of its materially larger scale. The decision letter referred to the visibility of the development from the surrounding area, and found that the building did not assimilate into the countryside because of its bulky appearance, due to the roof’s effect on the skyline, and that the building had a jarring effect because of its blocky form and appeared over-dominant because of its bulk. Furthermore, the mansard roof and skylights were found to be atypical of the form and shape of nearby buildings, and intrusively large.

The Inspector considered whether modifications to the roof form and external appearance of the building could overcome the objections, but was unpersuaded by Mr Williams’ arguments. Crucially, when dealing with Mr Williams' Ground (f) appeal under section 174, the Inspector cross-referred to his findings on the section 78 appeal. In dealing with the argument that the steps required exceeded what was necessary to remedy any breach of planning control, the Inspector stated that the purpose of the enforcement notice was to remedy the breach of planning control and that this required full compliance with the terms of the enforcement notice. He stated that, in light of his findings on the section 78 appeal, he did not accept that modifications to the building’s external appearance and fabric would be acceptable. This cross-reference to the decision on the section 78 appeal was perfectly adequate to explain the Inspector’s reasons for refusing the appeal under section 174(2)(f)

In light of the foregoing, it is unsurprising that the Court of Appeal allowed the Secretary of State’s (and the LPA’s) appeal on the principal ground that they had pleaded, namely that the Deputy Judge had gone behind the Inspector’s findings of fact, which the courts are not permitted to do. The Deputy Judge was also held to have erred in going behind the Inspectors’ planning judgement in determining that modifications to the building’s external appearance and fabric would not be acceptable as a means of remedying the breach of planning control. It lies beyond the powers of the court to ‘second guess’ the Inspector’s planning judgment in this way. Only if a decision-maker reaches a decision which no reasonable decision-maker properly informed of the facts could properly have reached (in other words, only if the decision-maker’s judgment on the merits can be truly categorised as ‘perverse’) can the court then intervene on legal grounds.

Where this judgment is of some importance, in relation to the questions that were considered in my previous series of articles on this topic, is with regard to the way in which a planning permission for a barn conversion is to be construed. Beatson LJ criticised the Deputy Judge’s interpretation of the planning permission based on the absence of express directions or restrictions in the planning permission, rather than the fact that permission was given for “alterations” and “conversion”. The Deputy Judge had stated that, because no condition limited or directed the building method to be used, the sequence of work, or the parts of the existing structure or proportion to be retained in the light of the approved plans, the implementation of the planning permission involved both the substantial demolition of the old barn and the provision of what would be tantamount to a new building in its place. It is an argument that I have put forward myself in the past, but Beatson LJ made it clear that this approach is inconsistent with the principle, set out, for example, in Slough Estates Ltd v Slough BC [1971] AC 958 at 962. The apparent meaning of the terms “alteration” and “conversion” was not to be modified by reference to what was not in the planning permission. [I would comment that this is very much in line with the Inspector’s reasoning in the Bridgend appeal decision, referred to in an earlier episode in this series of articles.] To do that would detract from the certainty that is needed in such documents because they are relied on by third parties.

It was argued on behalf of Mr Williams that the Inspector’s finding of fact that the original barn was “substantially demolished” did not amount to a finding that the building was entirely demolished or that the demolition was either in fact or in law a separate operation to the construction of the new building. Counsel for Mr Williams maintained that, because the works resulting in the substantial demolition were so integral to the construction of the new building, the breach of planning control included both elements. Accordingly, ordering the demolition of the building went beyond what was necessary to remedy the breach of planning control and, in so ordering, the Inspector erred in law.

These submissions were rejected. It was not an error for the enforcement notice to allege that the relevant breach of planning control was the erection of a new building, because that was the effect of what had happened (and, as noted above, the planning permission could not be construed as authorising such a development). Beatson LJ also rejected the submission that the Inspector’s use of the phrase “substantially demolished” meant he did not find it was entirely demolished. Read fairly, the Inspector’s decision was that the barn had been demolished. The evidence before the Inspector was that, in proportional terms, 99% of the building was new. Determining whether changes to a building constitute a “conversion” or a “new building” is a classic fact-sensitive matter involving evaluation. The Inspector’s finding that the barn had been demolished and could not be restored was unchallengeable in a section 289 appeal.

This Court of Appeal decision would appear to put an end to arguments based on the approach taken by the inspectors in the South Hams and Woodspring appeals (see earlier articles in this series), and so it seems that the Cheshire Cat (whose views on this topic were originally canvassed in “More development in Wonderland” posted on 15 July 2011) has finally got his come-uppance. It is clearly going to be more difficult in future to argue that a planning permission for a barn conversion that does not require in terms that the pre-existing structure should be retained can therefore be construed as a permission that authorises in effect the creation of a new building. It has to be accepted that “alterations” and/or “conversion” does mean only alterations and conversion, and not substantial demolition and rebuilding.

UPDATE: On further reflection, I do not believe that the Court of Appeal’s decision in Williams altogether disposes of the proposition that was accepted by the High Court in Basildon. I have dealt with at least one case which was on all fours with Basildon, in the sense that the barn conversion that was authorised would have resulted in a building in which only the basic steel frame of the pre-existing barn structure would have been retained, and this frame would be entirely hidden from view (both externally and internally) when the development was completed. In the event, due to storm damage during the conversion works, it did not prove possible to retain the original steel frame and so it was removed and replaced with an entirely new frame. The development was then completed substantially in compliance with the approved drawings. After some argument, the LPA did eventually grant an LDC confirming the lawfulness of the development as executed. I stress, however, that the facts in this case were almost identical to the facts in Basildon, whereas the Williams case clearly differed on its facts and would not have fitted the Basildon scenario, even if that judgment had been cited on Mr Williams’ behalf.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

Saturday, 22 November 2014

‘White van man’ with the flags could be prosecuted


Strood’s ‘white van man’, who achieved overnight fame as a result of a tweet by Labour’s (now ex-) Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, might possibly be liable to prosecution under section 224(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This sub-section provides that if any person displays an advertisement in contravention of the Control of Advertisements Regulations, he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of such amount as shall be prescribed, not exceeding Level 4 on the standard scale and, in the case of a continuing offence (i.e. if the advertisement goes on being displayed), one-tenth of Level 4 on the standard scale for each day during which the offence continues after conviction.


No doubt some readers already have in mind two possible objections to this proposition. First, is the display of a flag an ‘advertisement’ for these purposes? Secondly, is the display of flags not either exempted or granted deemed consent by the Control of Advertisements Regulations? Let’s look at each of those points in turn.

Without going into chapter and verse, it is well-settled law that if a flag or other display is likely to draw attention to the premises where the flag is displayed (even domestic premises), this counts as an ‘advertisement’. The Control of Advertisements Regulations themselves recognise this by exempting certain flags from control, and by giving deemed consent for the display of various other flags. But here’s the snag; the regulations are quite prescriptive as to what is actually permitted, and if the display does not comply with the conditions prescribed by the regulations, then it is unlawful. Even after Uncle Eric’s much-trumpeted (but in fact very limited) ‘liberalisation’ of the rules in 2012, there are still some quite strict rules as to what, and how, flags may be displayed.

Class H of Schedule 1 (adverts that are exempt from control altogether) allows the display of any country’s national flag, civil ensign or civil air ensign, but neither the flag nor the flagstaff may display any subject matter additional to the design of the flag, other than a black mourning ribbon. Now I know that the permanent addition of a black mourning ribbon to England’s national football flag might well be justified, but if you look at the lowest of the three flags displayed on the house in Strood, it had the England FA’s shield on it. So it doesn’t qualify as the country’s national flag, and it does display subject matter additional to the design of the cross of St George. So this one would not appear to be exempt under Sch 1, Class H.

In any event, it would appear to be implicit in the Control of Advertisements Regulations that a flag is expected to be flown from a flagpole, not draped across the wall of a building like a banner. This is not explicitly stated in Schedule 1, but the deemed consent granted for certain other flags by Schedule 3 (see below) certainly does refer specifically to flags flown from variously located flagpoles. It would also appear to be implicit in Schedule 1 (again, by analogy with Schedule 3) that the exemption granted by Class H applies only to a single flag, not to two or more.

In addition, Standard Condition 3 in the Second Schedule provides that any advertisement displayed shall be maintained in a condition that does not impair the visual amenity of the site. This is, of course, a matter of judgment, and I make no comment on the effect that festooning the house with flags in this case may have had on the visual amenity of the site in this case.

Turning now to Class 7 in Schedule 3 (adverts which have deemed consent), this class (together with several sub-classes) permits an advertisement in the form of a flag, but in each case attached to a single flagstaff, mounted at various angles. Bearing in mind that national flags are covered by Sch 1, Class H, none of the types of flag authorised by Sch 3, Class 7 includes any national flags (although it does include a flag bearing the device of any sports club, so flying the English FA flag from a flagpole would be OK). In any event, this deemed consent certainly doesn’t extend to flags draped over the wall of a house. Furthermore, on sites comprising less than 10 houses, only one flag is permitted.

As readers will have gathered from previous posts in this blog on the subject of flags, I think the whole business of regulating the display of flags under the Control of Advertisements Regulations is a complete nonsense, but if an eager and ambitious enforcement officer in the local planning authority for the Strood area wants to make a name for themselves, then the opportunity to do so is presented by a possible prosecution under section 224(3) of the 1990 Act in this case. The evidence is there in the form of Ms Thornberry’s photograph, and it would merely be necessary to call her to prove the photo. (If she proved to be a reluctant witness, her attendance could be compelled by a witness summons.) This case would be bound to attract huge attention from the media, and so this would be a real feather in the cap for the enforcement officer, and a valuable addition to their CV.

Taking my tongue out of my cheek for a moment - if the display of flags (particularly the flag of St George) were to be thought to be provocative or racist in some areas (and I am not for one moment suggesting that this applies to the example in Strood), then prosecution under section 224(3) of the 1990 Act might be an effective way of nipping it in the bud.

One final thought, particularly bearing in mind the approaching festive season – what about Christmas lights? These, and particularly the more extravagant displays, could also be the target for prosecutions under section 224(3), if they were thought to be objectionable in terms of their effect on the amenity of the area. (November 5th is behind us now, but this is the point at which I should perhaps observe the warning on the fireworks to “Light blue touch paper, and retire to a safe distance”!)

© MARTIN H GOODALL

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Further planning changes to go ahead


When does Autumn end, and Winter begin? I would have thought that it must be rather more than three weeks before the Winter Solstice, but the Treasury seems to think that Autumn continues at least until the 3rd December. That is the date (round about the same time as last year) on which the Chancellor will deliver his Autumn Statement.

I have pointed out in previous years that ‘Gorgeous George’ loves to upstage DeCLoG’s Uncle Eric, and it appears that this year will be no exception. De-CLoG Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain, told a conference yesterday that we can expect further planning changes to be announced in this Autumn Statement, just as they have been in almost every Budget and every Autumn Statement in recent years.

The likely content of the announcements is no mystery, as the government published a consultation paper on their further proposals for planning ‘reform’ (“Technical Consultation on Planning”) at the end of July. The consultation period ended several weeks ago, and no doubt the government (having duly ignored any responses that it received to this consultation exercise) is now preparing the necessary statutory instruments by which effect will be given to these proposals. Whether these can be laid before parliament before the Christmas recess depends on how efficient De-CLoG lawyers have been in getting on with the drafting. In any event, it would appear that they will not come into effect until some time in the New Year. It seems to have become the practice to bring new subordinate legislation into force on 6th April or 1st October, but with the General Election due on the 7th May, the government may wish to put the amendment orders to the Use Classes Order and to the General Permitted Development Order into effect rather sooner than early April.

George Osborne will no doubt announce these further planning changes with a flourish, like a conjurer producing a rabbit out of a top hat, in the hope (probably justified, so far as most journalists are concerned) that everyone will have forgotten that all these proposals had already been announced four months ago. As I have said before, politicians love announcing things twice, even three times in some cases, simply in order to grab a passing headline.

The changes to the GPDO will enable further changes of use in addition to those previously introduced within the past two years. These are expected to include the change of use of light industrial units (B1(c)), warehouses and storage units (B8) and some sui generis uses (launderettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs) to residential use (C3), and changes of some sui generis uses to restaurants (C3) and leisure uses (D2).

It is probable that the government will also go ahead with its intention to make permanent those permitted development rights which currently expire in May 2016. In the case of office-to-residential conversions, the existing time limit for completing those conversions will be extended from 30 May 2016 to 30 May 2019. But a revised PD right for change of use from office to residential use is intended to be introduced with effect from May 2016, although whether this will actually survive the General Election may be dependent on who is actually in power after next May. If the government does go ahead with this, it will replace the existing PD right, and the government has said that the exemptions which apply to the current PD right will not be extended to apply to the new PD right. So expect some very unhappy local planning authorities if the government does persist with this proposal.

However, as a sop to the critics, the amended Class J will be subject in future (i.e. after May 2016) to a consideration of the potential impact of the significant loss of the most strategically important office accommodation (although this criterion will be tightly defined), in addition to the impact on highways and transport, flooding and contamination risk.

The right to build larger domestic extensions (under Part 1), currently expiring in May 2016, is also likely to be made permanent. A single storey rear extension or conservatory that extends beyond the rear wall by between four metres and eight metres for a detached house, and by between three metres and six metres for any other type of house, will be PD, subject to neighbour consultation for these larger householder extensions, which will continue to require prior approval by the LPA.

The right to make alterations to commercial premises has not so far been extended to shops, and so the GPDO will be extended to allow retailers to alter their premises. PD rights are also expected to facilitate commercial filming, the installation of larger solar panels on commercial buildings, minor alterations within waste management facilities and for sewerage undertakers, and further extensions (in addition to those already allowed) to houses and business premises.

Whether the government has got enough time to go ahead with a complete consolidation of the GPDO remains to be seen, but we have certainly not been led to expect any more thorough re-drafting, so as to remove the numerous anomalies and ambiguities that it contains.

Turning to the Use Classes Order, contrary to the general trend, but unsurprisingly, it is expected that the scope of Class A2 will be restricted, so that betting offices and pay-day loan shops (both currently falling within this Use Class) will become sui generis uses.

In fact it is quite likely that Use Classes A1 and A2 will be merged in a single new ‘town centre’ use class, so as to create a much more flexible range of uses in our High Streets. This is expected to be accompanied by a further amendment of the GPDO to allow change of use to the widened retail (A1) class from betting shops and pay day loan shops (A2), restaurants and cafés (A3), drinking establishments (A4), and hot food takeaways (A5). The existing PD right to allow the change of use from A1 and A2 to a flexible use for a period of two years will remain, as will the right to allow for up to two flats above, and the change of use to residential (C3). On the other hand, the Government is expected to remove the existing PD rights applying to the existing A2 use class, so as to allow LPAs to control these developments.

With effect from 10 May 2006, any internal increase in floorspace of 200 square metres or more (including the introduction of mezzanine floors) in a building in retail use has been included within the definition of development under section 55, and requires planning permission. This floorspace limit will be increased, so as to allow retailers to build a mezzanine floor (although I don’t recall that a maximum threshold figure for this has been mentioned yet).

Some changes are also expected to the Development Management Procedure Order, including a requirement for a written justification from the LPA as to why it is necessary for a particular matter to be dealt with by a pre-commencement condition. This requirement will be in addition to the general justification that local planning authorities are already required to provide for using conditions. I have already expressed my scepticism as to the effectiveness of such a requirement in dissuading LPAs from imposing unnecessary pre-commencement conditions, but time will tell. (As regards the government’s proposals with regard to the discharge of conditions, this is dependent on the passage of the Deregulation Bill – currently at committee stage in the House of Lords.)

Some further tinkering with the DMPO can be expected, including the involvement of statutory consultees in the planning process (e.g. a requirement to notify railway infrastructure managers of planning applications for development near railways).

It is possible that there might also be a consolidation of the DMPO, as well as devising some means by which the time taken in the various stages of the planning process could be separately measured, rather than the present measurement of the total time from making an application to its determination.

Finally, we have been promised an adjustment of EIA thresholds, whereby the requirement for an EIA will affect fewer development schemes in future.

Not all of these proposals are guaranteed to come forward, but the Autumn Statement can be expected to cover most of the items listed above, to be followed with the necessary subordinate legislation, as outlined above.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Interpreting the National Planning Policy Framework


There has been quite a lot of interest in the case of Redhill Aerodrome v. SSCLG since judgment was given in the High Court in July ([2014] EWHC 2476 (Admin)). That judgment has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal in a decision delivered on 9 October, with reasons handed down on 24 October - [2014] EWCA Civ 1386.

Most commentators have concentrated on the court’s interpretation of Green Belt policy, as set out in the NPPF compared with the former PPG2, but the implications of the Court of Appeal’s judgment would appear to go rather wider than this and may be applicable to the interpretation of the NPPF generally, as compared with the way in which ministerial policy on a number of topics was explained in the various policy guidance that was cancelled when the NPPF was published.

The dispute between the parties centred on these two paragraphs :

“87. As with previous Green Belt policy, inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.

88. When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and
any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.” [emphasis added by the Court]

The question which arose for determination by the court was whether this formulation of Green Belt policy, which differs in its wording from the corresponding ministerial advice formerly set out in PPG2, represents a deliberate change of approach on the part of the government, or whether it is no more than a slightly different way of expressing the same policy without thereby intending any change of policy.

The dispute here focused on the meaning and interpretation of the phrase “any other harm”. The meaning of these words in paragraph 3.2 of PPG2 was considered by Frances Patterson QC (sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge – she has more recently been appointed to the bench) in R (River Club) v SSCLG [2009] EWHC 2674 (Admin), [2010] JPL 584. The claimant in that case had submitted that the “other harm” referred to in the third sentence of paragraph 3.2 meant harm to the purposes or objectives of the Green Belt, so that as a matter of law “any other harm” was confined to Green Belt harm. This submission was rejected. There was a requirement to consider the development as a whole to evaluate the harm that flowed from its being inappropriate (by definition) in the Green Belt, together with any other harm that the development may cause, in order to enable a clear identification of harm against which the benefits of the development can be weighed and on that basis to conclude whether very special circumstances exist (as required by ministerial policy) so as to warrant the grant of planning permission.

The Deputy Judge noted that there were no qualifying words within paragraph 3.2 of PPG2 in relation to the phrase “and any other harm”. Inappropriate development, by definition, causes harm to the purposes of the green belt and may cause harm to the objectives of the green belt also. “Any other harm”, she held, must therefore refer to some other harm than that which is caused through the development being inappropriate. It could refer to harm in the Green Belt context, therefore, but need not necessarily do so. Accordingly, she held that “any other harm” in paragraph 3.2 was to be given its plain and ordinary meaning – it referred to harm which is identified and which is additional to harm caused through the development being inappropriate. Consequently, she rejected the argument that the phrase was constrained so as to apply to harm to the Green Belt only.

The Redhill Aerodrome case came before the same judge (now Patterson J). She accepted the claimant’s submission that the policy matrix is now different, in that all of planning policy is contained within the NPPF which is to be read and interpreted as a whole. For each of the individual considerations a threshold is set which, when it is reached or exceeded, warrants refusal. It is for the decision maker to determine whether the individual impact attains the threshold that warrants refusal as set out in the NPPF. That is a matter of planning judgement and will clearly vary on a case by case basis.

Here, she continued, the individual non-Green Belt harms did not reach the individual threshold for refusal as defined by the NPPF. Was it right then to take them into account either individually or as part of the cumulative Green Belt harm assessments? On an individual basis, given the clear guidance given in the NPPF, her ladyship had no difficulty in concluding that, in this case, it was not right to take the identified non-Green Belt harms into account. The revised policy framework, she found, is considerably more directive to decision makers than the previous advice in the PPGs and PPSs. There has, in that regard, she said, been a considerable policy shift. Where an individual material consideration is harmful but the degree of harm has not reached the level prescribed in the NPPF as to warrant refusal, in her judgment it would be wrong to include that consideration as “any other harm”.

The learned judge went on to consider whether individual considerations can be considered together as part of a cumulative consideration of harm even though individually the evaluation of harm is set at a lower level than prescribed for refusal in the NPPF. In her judgement, she said, it would not be right to do so. That is because the Framework is precisely as it says - a framework for clear decision making. It is a re-writing of planning policy to enable that objective to be delivered. It has no words that permit of a residual cumulative approach in the Green Belt when each of the harms identified against a proposal is at a lesser level than would be required for refusal on an individual basis. Without such wording, to permit a combination of cumulative adverse impacts at a lesser level than prescribed for individual impacts to go into the evaluation of harm of a Green Belt proposal seemed to her to be the antithesis of the current policy. It would re-introduce a possibility of cumulative harm which the NPPF does not provide for. It is clear, she felt, that the NPPF does contemplate findings of residual cumulative harm in certain circumstances, as is evident in paragraph 32, where it deals with the residual cumulative impact of transport considerations. However, such phraseology does not appear in the Green Belt part of the NPPF.

Pausing there, I have to say that I have considerable sympathy for Patterson J’s view on this point. I have pointed out on several occasions in this blog that the language used in the NPPF seems in various places to differ sufficiently from the wording of the former policy advice which it has replaced that it could justifiably be concluded that (whether or not it was actually intended to do so) it has brought about identifiable changes of ministerial policy. Several cases that have come before the courts since the NPPF was published seem to support this view, such as Europa Oil and Gas Limited v. SSCLG [2013] EWHC 2643 (Admin) and Fordent Holdings Ltd v SSCLG [2013] EWHC 2844 (Admin) (reported here on Friday, 1 November 2013 - Inappropriate development in the Green Belt), and also R (Embleton PC) v. Northumberland CC [2013] EWHC 3631 (Admin), to which I drew attention on Tuesday, 21 October 2014. (See Agricultural dwellings - the operational need test ).

Notwithstanding the apparent changes of policy which have (perhaps inadvertently) been effected by the NPPF, Sullivan LJ, in giving the leading judgment in the Court of Appeal, pointed out that excluding non-Green Belt harm from “any other harm” in the second sentence of paragraph 88 of the NPPF would make it less difficult for applicants and appellants to obtain planning permission for inappropriate development in the Green Belt, because the task of establishing “very special circumstances”, while never easy, would be made less difficult. All of the considerations in favour of granting permission would now be weighed against only some, rather than all, of the planning harm that would be caused by an inappropriate development.

Most significantly, he added that if it had been the Government’s intention to make such a significant change to Green Belt policy in the NPPF, one would have expected that there would have been a clear statement to that effect. There has been no such statement. In his lordship’s judgment, all of the indications are to the contrary. He cited three examples:

(1) While there have been some detailed changes to Green Belt policy in the NPPF, protecting the Green Belt remains one of the Core planning principles, the fundamental aim of Green Belt Policy to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land open, the essential characteristics of Green Belts, and the five purposes that they serve, all remain unchanged. By contrast with paragraph 86 of the NPPF, which does change the policy approach to the inclusion of villages within the Green Belt, paragraph 87 emphasises the continuation of previous Green Belt policy (in PPG2) in respect of inappropriate development: “As with previous Green Belt policy.”

(2) The Impact Assessment in respect of the NPPF published by DCLG in July 2012 said that “The government strongly supports the Green Belt and does not intend to change the central policy that inappropriate development in the Green Belt should not be allowed.” Under the sub-heading “Policy Changes”, the Impact Assessment said that “Core Green Belt protection will remain in place.” It then identified four proposed “minor changes to the detail of current policy” which would resolve technical issues, but not harm the key purpose of the Green Belt, “as in all cases the test to preserve the openness and purposes of including land in the Green Belt will be maintained.” On the face of it, paragraphs 87 and 88 of the NPPF would appear to constitute the “central policy” which the Government did not intend to change.

(3) That there was no intention to change this aspect of Green Belt policy is confirmed by the Inspector’s statement in the Redhill Aerodrome appeal decision that the River Club approach to “any other harm” in the balancing exercise is reflected in decisions by the Secretary of State since the publication of the NPPF. The court was not referred to any decision in which a different approach has been taken to “any other harm” since the publication of the NPPF.

On the other hand, Sullivan LJ accepted that the NPPF means what it says, and not what the Secretary of State would like it to mean. Nonetheless, he said, if the NPPF has effected this change in Green Belt policy it is clear that it has done so unintentionally. The claimant (the respondent in the Court of Appeal) did not submit that there was any material difference between paragraphs 3.1 and 3.2 of PPG2 and paragraphs 87 and 88 of the NPPF. The text of the policy has been reorganised, but all of its essential characteristics remain the same. It had been submitted that the change in policy was to be inferred, not from the wording of paragraphs 87 and 88, but from the other policies in the NPPF which “wrapped around” Green Belt policy, and which were, it was submitted, very different in some respects from previous policies in the earlier policy documents which were replaced by the NPPF. At the heart of the claimant’s case was “Context, context, context.”

It is true, his lordship accepted, that the “policy matrix” has changed in that the NPPF has, in the words of the Ministerial foreword, replaced “over a thousand pages with around fifty, written simply and clearly.” Views may differ as to whether simplicity and clarity have always been achieved, but the policies are certainly shorter. There have been changes to some of the non-Green Belt policies, and there have also been changes to detailed aspects of Green Belt policy, not all of which were identified in the Impact Assessment (Europa Oil and Gas being one example).

However, Sullivan LJ did not accept the premise which underlay the claimant’s case, as Patterson J had done, that the other policies “wrapping around” the Green Belt policy in paragraphs 87 and 88 of the Framework are “very different” from previous national policy, or that, as Patterson J put it, there has been “a considerable policy shift”.

Although this case was primarily focused the interpretation of “any other harm” in the Green Belt context, the Court of Appeal did accept that there are certain respects in which some other details of ministerial policy have been changed by the NPPF. Nevertheless, Sullivan LJ suggested that if it had been the Government’s intention to make any significant changes to policy in the NPPF, one would have expected that there would have been a clear statement to that effect. He accepted, on the other hand, that the NPPF means what it says, and not what the Secretary of State would like it to mean. This judgment therefore seems to accept the possibility that some minor changes to ministerial policy may have been effected by the NPPF unintentionally.

This judgment therefore still leaves an element of uncertainty over the correct interpretation of certain paragraphs of the NPPF, but it would seem that if a particular paragraph of the NPPF appears on the face of it to effect a significant change of policy, this in itself should indicate that no such change of policy was in fact intended, without a clear statement on the part of ministers of their intention to make such a policy change. In cases of this sort, the wording of the NPPF should be taken to be no more than a restatement of previous policy, albeit in slightly different language. The only problem with this approach to the interpretation of the NPPF is that it requires a knowledge of, and reference to, the relevant PPGs or PPSs which the NPPF was intended to replace in order to construe the changed language of the NPPF correctly, which would seem to undermine the intention of publishing the NPPF in the first place.

One other implication of the Court of Appeal decision in Redhill Aerodrome is that one or two decisions that have proceeded on the basis of changes of policy that have apparently been brought about by the NPPF may be open to question. In particular, it seems to me that R (Embleton PC) v. Northumberland CC (which I discussed recently – see above) may have been wrongly decided. The judge was persuaded in that case that the test of operational need for a proposed agricultural dwelling under paragraph 55 of NPPF is different from, and much less prescriptive than, the test under Annex A of PPS7. Applying Sullivan LJ’s approach to this issue, there would appear to be no indication that what would amount to a fairly significant shift in ministerial policy on a matter of substance was intended here, and so (contrary to the court’s decision in Embleton PC), the conclusion must be that an objective test substantially similar to the test laid down by Annex A of PPS7 must still be applied, notwithstanding the apparently less demanding requirement expressed by paragraph 55 of the NPPF.

I always said that it was folly for ministers to jettison the well established and clearly understood policy advice set out in PPGs and PPSs, and that the attempt to boil down statements of ministerial planning policy to a single document that was intended to comprise no more than 50 pages would lead to difficulty and uncertainty, and resulting litigation. So it has proved, and cases of which Embleton PC and Redhill Aerodrome are only a sample will continue to trouble the courts for some time to come, until or unless a future Secretary of State recognises that a more complete statement of ministerial planning policy, substantially in the form of the cancelled PPGs and PPSs, is the only way of resolving the problem.

© MARTIN H GOODALL