Tuesday, 9 January 2018
One of the really big and important announcements yesterday in the course of Theresa May’s masterly and authoritative re-shuffle of her cabinet was that Sayid Javid, in addition to keeping his current job, is to be known in future as the Secretary of State for HOUSING, Communities and Local Government, and his department will be similarly renamed. The whole world stands back in amazement at this revolutionary and epoch-making change.
Voters who don’t follow these matters as closely as planning anoraks (planoraks?) like me may not be aware that Housing has in fact been one of this ministry’s major responsibilities for the past 70 years. But now this closely-guarded state secret has been revealed to the whole world.
My immediate problem is that I will no longer be able to refer to the Department as “De-CLoG” (a name, incidentally, which I did not coin myself - one of my friends in the Planning Inspectorate told me that this is the name by which the Department is known within PINS). “De-HoCLoG” just doesn’t work, and even if we use an updated variant on the department’s own preferred moniker, so that it becomes HCLG, this doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.
I know; I’ve just had an idea. We should call it the Ministry (or Department, if you prefer) of Housing and Local Government. Brilliant! I wonder why nobody ever thought of such an obvious name before. In practice, now that Housing is the first element in the Department’s name, the popular press will probably refer to it simply as “the Housing Department”, and to the Secretary of State as “the Minister of Housing”. In public relations terms, this spotlight on the Department’s housing brief may not be to the government’s advantage.
There is still a junior housing minister, and Dominic Raab (MP for Esher and Walton) has today replaced Alok Sharma in this role. Raab was previously a junior minister in the Department of Justice. The PM had already set Housing as a major priority for De-CLoG, and so the name change simply underlines the fact that Javid will be held personally responsible if the Department fails to deliver, both literally and metaphorically, on the housing front.
He will have an uphill struggle, however. Thanks to the enthusiastic welcome given by Eric Pickles (‘Uncle Eric’, remember him?) to entirely unnecessary austerity cuts imposed by the Treasury under the Tory-dominated coalition government, De-CLoG took a particularly hard hit in terms of staff numbers, with the result that it is now woefully short of the staff resources it needs to beef up housing delivery, or to perform its various other functions effectively.
Early last year I expressed scepticism following publication of the government’s Housing White Paper. To use one of Theresa May’s favourite mantras – “Nothing has changed. Nothing. Has. Changed.” The White Paper re-stated the government’s aim of building a million new homes by 2020. As I pointed out last year, this would require an annual completion rate as high as, if not higher than, the building rate achieved under the dynamic leadership of Harold Macmillan as Minister of Housing and Local Government in the early 1950s, which included a substantial proportion of publicly funded social housing [yes, “council houses”]. Does the government seriously expect the private sector now to match that building rate without such a significant public sector input? We are already a quarter of the way through the period within which their ambitious housing target was to be achieved. Were there a quarter of a million housing starts or housing completions in 2017? If not, then the build rate will have to accelerate to an even higher annual figure if the government is to stand any chance of meeting its 1 million-home target by the end of 2020.
The basic problem is the same across all areas of government - housing, the NHS, social care, education, and many others. Despite empty words from the Prime Minister, austerity continues apace, and more spending cuts are in the pipeline. Our public services are crying out for extra spending and urgent capital investment. Raising the pathetically low rate of standard rate income tax (and, for the sake of fairness, also raising higher rates of tax going well above 50%) is the only way that this can be achieved. This is, of course, against the Conservative Party’s religion, and so it won’t happen under this government. Not surprisingly, the government’s efforts to appeal to younger voters and to a wider social spread of voters are unlikely to yield the electoral dividends they seem to expect. This government (like all its predecessors) will be judged by its record, not by public relations 'spin'.
© MARTIN H GOODALL
Saturday, 30 December 2017
In this relative hiatus between Christmas and the New Year, I was musing on subjects other than planning law for a change. Yes, Brexit is set to loom large in 2018.
Captain May is determined to steer the ship of state straight towards the US of A in record time and refuses to change course or to slow down as we enter the ice field. Unfortunately, quite a few of the captain’s previous navigational decisions have proved to be disastrous, which makes any further change of course unlikely. So it seems that we are set on an unalterable course, unless the Captain is relieved of command (which now seems improbable). Unlike other ships in the past, we know we are heading straight for a huge iceberg. We even know the precise time at which we are going to hit it – 11 p.m. on the evening of Friday, 29th March 2019.
But the Entertainments Officer, Dave Davies (the “Cheeky Chappy”) is confident that he can negotiate with the iceberg, and hopes that he may even persuade it to melt before we reach it. Meanwhile, Captain May has greatly boosted the morale of the crew by deciding that the deckchairs on the promenade deck, which are currently painted in a tasteful shade of burgundy, will be repainted dark blue, starting on the evening of 29 March 2019. This encouraging change will surely take the minds of the passengers off the fact that, as midnight approaches on that day, the ship will be starting to go down by the bows.
Third Officer Johnson, who is in charge of wireless communications with other shipping (if only he could get his W/T procedure right, and avoid sending inappropriate and irritating messages to other ships) has confidently asserted his belief that Brexit will be “a titanic success”. And so as we sail on into 2018, we have Third Officer Johnson’s firm assurance to comfort us. Brexit will indeed be a TITANIC success!
Unless President Trump starts World War 3 during the course of the year, I hope we can in fact look forward to a reasonably Happy New Year in 2018. (It is 2019 that is going to be the annus horribilis.)
[I’ll be getting back to planning law in my next post.]
© MARTIN H GOODALL
Thursday, 21 December 2017
I have previously made the point in this blog that Welsh planning law has been steadily diverging from the English legislation for a number of years now, to the extent that it is difficult to keep up with current Welsh planning legislation while at the same time keeping abreast of the constantly changing legal landscape that influences town and country planning in England. It is solely for that reason that I have found it necessary to confine this blog to planning law issues in England alone. I would not wish to imply that I consider that Welsh planning law is not worthy of attention; it is just a question of available time, which in my case always seems to be in short supply (!)
I do, however, wish to draw attention to an important Consultation Paper which was recently published by the Law Commission, entitled “Planning Law in Wales”. This is an impressive document, running to 493 A4 pages. I would encourage those readers who deal with planning law in Wales to study the document’s recommendations and respond to the consultation, which ends (very fittingly) on St David’s Day, Thursday 1 March 2018. I would also urge all my other readers, even if they may not have anything to do with town and country planning in the principality, also to download the consultation document and study it, for the reasons I will explain below.
The consultation paper and summary can be downloaded by clicking on this link: https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/planning-law-in-wales/ and comments can be sent to email@example.com
So why do I think this consultation paper is so important? The major reason is that, although this paper applies only to Wales, the issues it discusses are equally applicable to planning law in England, and the authoritative analysis of these issues in this consultation paper could well be a precedent for a similar exercise in England, which could lead (I hope) to a long overdue consolidation and codification of both our primary and secondary legislation relating to or affecting town and country planning in this country.
As the consultation document points out, an extensive system of primary and secondary legislation has grown up, much altered by successive governments of differing political persuasions in response to new political pressures and priorities. This legislation is supplemented by a mass of policy guidance of various kinds, both national and local. As a result of this evolutionary process, the law that governs the planning system – contained in Acts, Regulations, Orders, Rules and directions – is now exceedingly [I would say excessively] complex. We currently have no fewer than 30 Acts of Parliament in England alone, all or part of which contain provisions relating to town and country planning, and around 150 pieces of secondary legislation that determine how the planning system operates in detail, as well as national and local policy documents.
The resulting mass of primary and secondary legislation has grown inexorably and to no particularly obvious pattern. Following the first comprehensive Town and Country Planning Act in 1947, the relevant law and Government policy could be contained, along with commentary, within a single loose-leaf volume (originally entitled the Encyclopaedia of Planning, Compulsory Purchase and Compensation). Seventy years later, the “planning” element of that work has now grown to ten volumes. [Most of us have long since given up trying to use the paper version of the Encyclopedia, and now use the online version instead. I have some fairly major reservations about the content of the Encyclopedia, but that’s another subject!]
Many of these Acts and regulations have been the subject of judicial interpretation in the courts over the last 70 years. And the whole system has been the subject of numerous pieces of guidance, produced either by central government departments and other public bodies or by relevant professionals or others. The law is difficult enough to navigate for specialist professionals, who also have available online resources. For non-specialists, let alone members of the public, the law – albeit simple enough in principle – is now almost impenetrably complex in practice.
The body of judicial authorities is now formidable, and significant judgments badly needed to be codified (i.e. taken on board in primary legislation). I have in mind, examples such as the concept of the planning unit, and the rule in Burdle; there are a good many others. As a law student, I recall studying the Sale of Goods Act 1893, which was the result of just such an exercise of codification. If it could be done in the 1890s, it can certainly be done in the 21st century!
As the consultation paper points out, one of the problems, even within the primary legislation, is that some provisions are in the four main 1990 Acts; others are in amendments to those Acts; others are in new provisions inserted into the Acts; yet others are in freestanding statutes outside the 1990 legislation altogether. So, for example, the duty to make planning decisions in accordance with the development plan – which is a fundamental principle of the system – is in section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, and not in the 1990 Act. Indeed, it is noteworthy that of the numerous duties laid upon planning authorities when determining planning applications, only two are in the 1990 Act itself.
I have hardly scratched the surface of the introductory chapter of this important consultation paper. I cannot attempt to summarise all 493 pages, and so I strongly commend the paper to all my readers. The consultation paper is unsigned, in the sense that its authorship is not stated on the face of the document. The team has in fact been led by Dr Charles Mynors, a well-known and highly respected member of the planning bar, who is not only a very experienced planning lawyer but is also a chartered town planner. He is also the author of several authoritative and extremely helpful planning law textbooks. This consultation paper is yet another impressive achievement.
This is probably my last blog post of the year, and so I would like take this opportunity of wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year, or as they say in Wales, Nadolig Llawern!
© MARTIN GOODALL
Tuesday, 12 December 2017
There have been several cases in the past year or two, on some of which I have commented in this blog, which have examined the extent of any duty that may be laid upon an LPA to state their reasons for granting planning permission, notwithstanding the removal of the statutory duty to do so which formerly applied.
This issue finally came before the Supreme Court in October of this year, in the case of Dover DC v CPRE Kent (on appeal from  EWCA Civ 936), and the Court’s judgment was given on 6 December (  UKSC 79 ).
The issue before the Court was succinctly summarised by Lord Carnwath in this way: When a local planning authority, against the advice of its own professional advisers, grants permission for a controversial development, what legal duty, if any, does it have to state the reasons for its decision, and in how much detail? Is such a duty to be found in statutory sources, European or domestic, or in common law? And what are the legal consequences of a breach of the duty? As he observed, those issues were presented by this appeal in a particularly striking form.
Strong views were expressed both for and against the two major housing proposals that were before the LPA for determination, and these representations were faithfully summarised in the officers’ report to the Planning Committee, which contained a comprehensive exposition of the various elements of the proposed development, the various responses (both public and private) to consultations, and the applicable national and local policies, followed by a detailed appraisal of the relevant issues. The report ended with a recommendation for the grant of conditional planning permission (part outline, part full) for the various elements of the proposal, but with a limit on the number of residential units, and subject to the completion of a 106 agreement to secure various proposed benefits, including a hotel and conference centre.
The applicants, however, fundamentally disagreed with the proposed reduction in the scale of the development, arguing that this would seriously undermine its viability. The committee’s discussion of these issues was recorded in a very full set of minutes, which noted that the Principal Planner had advised the Committee that, having considered the further views of the consultants on both sides, the officers stood by their analysis that a lower density scheme would be viable and would deliver the same monetary benefits as currently on offer. The officers therefore recommended that a lower density scheme should be approved, as it was viable, not excessive for the site and would be compliant with the Core Strategy. The discussion of the application was also summarised in the minutes, and at the end of the discussion a motion was proposed that the officers’ recommendation be approved, but subject to amendment of the number of houses to the larger number originally proposed in the application. This motion was carried. The meeting was adjourned for 25 minutes to enable the officers to re-word their recommendation with consequential amendments. A vote was then taken on the amended recommendation, which was approved. A planning permission was subsequently issued, following execution of the proposed 106 agreement. The permission itself included a long list of approved documents supporting the application, and 183 conditions. It concluded with a note (“for the avoidance of doubt”) that the Environmental Statement accompanying the application had been taken into account, but it contained no reference to any obligation to give reasons under the EIA regulations, nor any formal statement of the reasons for the grant.
An application by CPRE for judicial review of the permission on various grounds was dismissed by the High Court, but permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal was granted solely on the issue of reasons. As I reported here, in a blog post on 10 January this year, the Court of Appeal allowed that appeal and quashed the permission, although I see that I had the temerity to disagree with the Court of Appeal, for the reasons explained in that blog post. In granting permission to appeal that decision, the Supreme Court indicated that it would wish to consider generally the sources, nature and extent of a local planning authority’s duty to give reasons for the grant of planning permission.
The basic rule is that, following the repeal of a previous requirement to do so (which applied only between 2003 and 2013), there is no general statutory duty to state the reasons for granting planning permission. The Explanatory Memorandum that accompanied the repeal of that requirement pointed out that the duty had become “burdensome and unnecessary”. In view of the fact that officer reports “typically provide far more detail on the logic and reasoning behind a particular decision than a decision notice”, the requirement to provide a summary of the reasons for granting planning permission “adds little to the transparency or the quality of the decision-taking process” Attention was also drawn to the “greater level of transparency in the decision-taking process”, resulting from increased ease of access to information, both online and through the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Nevertheless, since 2014 there has been a duty on a local authority officer making any decision (under delegated powers) involving the “grant [of] a permission or licence” to produce a written record of the decision “along with the reasons for the decision”, as well as “details of alternative options, if any, considered and rejected” ( - Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/2095), Regulation 7(2) to 7(3)). Shortly before the Court of Appeal’s judgment in CPRE Kent v Dover DC, the High Court had drawn attention to this provision in Shasha v Westminster City Council  EWHC 3283 (Admin). (See my blog post of 20 January this year.)
The development in the Dover case was EIA development, and where an EIA application is determined by an LPA, the authority must inform the public of the decision and make available for public inspection a statement, containing -
(i) the content of the decision and any conditions attached to it;
(ii) the main reasons and considerations on which the decision is based including, if relevant, information about the participation of the public;
(iii) a description, where necessary, of the main measures to avoid, reduce and, if possible, offset the major adverse effects of the development; and
(iv) information regarding the right to challenge the validity of the decision and the procedures for doing so ( - regulation 24(1)(c) of the EIA Regulations).
Lord Carnwath also drew attention (by way of background) to Article 6 of the Aarhus Convention, which applies to any activities where public participation is provided for under national procedures for environmental impact assessment, so that when the decision has been taken by the public authority, the public is promptly informed of the decision in accordance with the appropriate procedures. Each Party must make accessible to the public the text of the decision along with the reasons and considerations on which the decision is based.
Lord Carnwath then went on to review the appropriate standard that should be met where a statement of reasons is required. A “broad summary” of the relevant authorities governing reasons challenges was given by Lord Brown in South Bucks DC v Porter (No 2)  1 WLR 1953 at para 36, although this referred primarily to decisions by the Secretary of State. In particular, he examined the duty as it applies to the duty to give reasons under the EIA Regulations, as determined by the Court of Appeal in R (Richardson) v North Yorkshire CC  1 WLR 1920. Lord Carnwath, however, declined to follow the reasoning in that case. In the EIA regulations (as in the Aarhus Convention, which is now expressly referred to in the European Directive to which the EIA Regulations give effect) the provision of reasons is an intrinsic part of the procedure, essential to ensure effective public participation. Nevertheless, the grant of relief in respect of a breach of the regulations still lies in the discretion of the court. If the claimant has not in practice suffered any substantial prejudice, the court may refuse relief (per Lord Carnwath in R (Champion) v North Norfolk DC  UKSC 52 at para 54, following Walton v Scottish Ministers  UKSC 44 at paras 139 and 155).
Finally, Lord Carnwath turned to the question of whether there is any duty to give reasons at common law. Given the existence of a specific duty under the EIA regulations, and the views he had expressed on its effect, it was strictly unnecessary in the present appeal to decide what common law duty there may be on a local planning authority to give reasons for grant of a planning permission [my emphasis]. However, since it has been a matter of some controversy in planning circles, and since the court had heard full argument, Lord Carnwath felt it was right that they should consider it.
The basic rule is that public authorities are under no general common law duty to give reasons for their decisions; but it is well-established that fairness may in some circumstances require it, even where no express duty is imposed by statute (see R v Home Secretary, Ex p Doody  1 AC 531; R v Higher Education Funding Council, Ex p Institute of Dental Surgery  1 WLR 242, at 263A-D; and De Smith’s Judicial Review 7th ed, para 7-099). A principal justification for imposing such a common law duty was seen in those cases was the need to reveal any error that would entitle the court to intervene, and so make the right to challenge the decision by judicial review effective.
In the planning context, the Court of Appeal has held that an LPA generally is under no common law duty to give reasons for the grant of planning permission (R v Aylesbury Vale DC, Ex p Chaplin (1998) 76 P & CR 207, at 211-212 per Pill LJ). Although this general principle was reaffirmed recently in Oakley v South Cambridgeshire DC  EWCA Civ 71 (on which I commented in this blog on 16 February this year), the court held that a duty did arise in the particular circumstances of that case, where the development would have a “significant and lasting impact on the local community”, and involved a substantial departure from Green Belt and development plan policies, and where the committee had disagreed with its officers’ recommendations. In Oakley, the court had clearly been influenced by the fact that the committee was disagreeing with a careful and clear recommendation from a highly experienced officer on a matter of such potential significance to very many people, and this suggested that some explanation was required. The dictates of good administration and the need for transparency were particularly strong here, and they reinforced the justification for imposing the common law duty ( - para 61).
This conclusion had been reinforced by reference to the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Aarhus Convention ( - para 62) (See also Lord Carnwath’s comments on the relevance of the Convention, in Walton v Scottish Ministers  UKSC 44.). Nonetheless, Sales LJ, whilst agreeing with the result in that case, had expressed concern that the imposition of such a duty might also introduce “an unwelcome element of delay into the planning system” ( - para 76).
In Lord Carnwath’s view, Oakley was rightly decided, and consistent with the general law as established by the House of Lords in Doody. Although planning law is a creature of statute, the proper interpretation of the statute is underpinned by general principles, properly referred to as derived from the common law. In Doody, Lord Bridge also saw the statutory duty to give reasons as the analogue of the common law principle that “justice should not only be done, but also be seen to be done”. As applied to the environment, Lord Carnwath held that this also underpins the Aarhus Convention, and the relevant parts of the EA Directive. In this respect the common law, and European law and practice, march together. In the application of the principle to planning decisions, he saw no reason to distinguish between a public inquiry conducted by the Secretary of State, and the less formal, but equally public, decision-making process of a local planning authority such as in the Dover case.
Lord Carnwath held that the existence of a common law duty to disclose the reasons for a decision, supplementing the statutory rules, is not inconsistent with the removal in 2013 of the specific duty imposed by the former rules to give reasons for the grant of permission. As the explanatory memorandum to that repeal made clear, it was not intended to detract from the general principle of transparency (which was affirmed), but was a practical acknowledgement of the different ways in which that objective could normally be attained without adding unnecessarily to the administrative burden. In circumstances where the objective is not achieved by other means, Lord Carnwath considered that there should be no objection to the common law filling the gap.
Notwithstanding this, Lord Carnwath did concede that his endorsement of the Court of Appeal’s approach in Oakley may be open to the criticism that it leaves some uncertainty about what particular factors are sufficient to trigger the common law duty, and indeed as to the justification for limiting the duty at all (and he referred to the analysis by Dr Joanna Bell in Kent and Oakley: A Re-examination of the Common Law Duty to Give Reasons for Grants of Planning Permission and Beyond in (2017) 22 Judicial Review 105-113). However, the answer to the latter, Lord Carnwath suggested, must lie in the relationship of the common law and the statutory framework. [This would appear to be the most tendentious passage in this judgment.] Putting it diplomatically, he acknowledged that the court should respect what he described as “the exercise of ministerial discretion, in designating certain categories of decision for a formal statement of reasons [but not others]” [ - or, to put it more bluntly, the clear words and intention of a statutory instrument laid before parliament by the Secretary of State in 2013 removing the statutory requirement on LPAs to summarise their reasons for granting planning permission!], but asserted that the court may also take account of the fact that the present system of rules has developed piecemeal and without any apparent pretence of overall coherence. It is appropriate, he said, for the common law to fill the gaps, but to limit that intervention to circumstances where the legal policy reasons are particularly strong.
It does seem that Lord Carnwath recognised that he was perhaps going out on a legal limb in expressing this view. As to the charge of uncertainty, he said, it would be wrong to be over-prescriptive in a judgment on a single case and a single set of policies. However, it should not be difficult for councils and their officers, he felt, to identify cases which call for a formulated statement of reasons, beyond the statutory requirements. Typically, he suggested, they will be cases where, as in Oakley and the present case, permission has been granted in the face of substantial public opposition and against the advice of officers, for projects which involve major departures from the development plan, or from other policies of recognised importance (such as the “specific policies” identified in the NPPF). Such decisions call for public explanation, not just because of their immediate impact; but also because they are likely to have lasting relevance for the application of policy in future cases.
It was for these reasons that the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal and affirmed the order of the Court of Appeal.
[I must confess that I have distinct misgivings about this judgment. Lord Carnwath is a judge for whom I have always had the very greatest respect, and he has delivered many important and authoritative judgments over the years, but I feel that in this judgment the Supreme Court has gone too far in purporting to develop the law in this way. One can see the logic of the argument that led to the court’s conclusion in this case (and also the Court of Appeal’s similar conclusion in Oakley), but our planning system is and always has been solely the creature of statute. It is for parliament (and for ministers acting under statutory powers granted to them by parliament) to make and amend planning legislation to govern the planning process and its procedures. Intervention by the courts, unless it is firmly based on the interpretation and application of the statutory code, serves only to introduce uncertainty into an already complex system of development management.
I have not followed the previous course of the Dover litigation in any detail, having concentrated solely on the legal issue that brought the case first to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court. However, I have gained the impression that the planning permission in this case could (and should) have been quashed simply on the basis of the failure of the LPA to comply with the EIA Regulations, and in particular the statutory requirement to give reasons for their decision. It seems to me that it was entirely unnecessary to import any alleged common law duty to give reasons into a case in which there was a clear failure on the part of the LPA to comply with a simple statutory duty.
I expressed the hope at the beginning of the year that we would get a judgment from the Supreme Court that would finally put this issue of stated reasons to bed. I suppose my unspoken assumption was that the decision of the Court of Appeal would be reversed, for the reasons that I have explained. However, this would have left an arguably undesirable planning permission in place, and I strongly suspect that this was a factor which was at the back of several judicial minds in this case. If so, then it rather confirms the old saying that hard cases make bad law.]
© MARTIN H GOODALL
Friday, 8 December 2017
I’m sorry if you’ve had one of the winter colds that are going around, but what this heading refers to is recent developments in planning law. They seem to be coming thick and fast.
The most significant of these is the important Supreme Court judgment on the statement of reasons for granting planning permission, which we had been expecting. Readers may recall that I had reported on several previous judgments on this topic, and that I flagged up in a brief blog post on Monday, 6 March that this issue was due to be considered by the Supreme Court towards the end of the year. That judgment, in Dover DC v CPRE Kent  UKSC 79 was delivered on 6 December, and I hope to be able to discuss it here shortly.
In the meantime, there have been other judgments in recent months that I have not yet had time to write up. These include –
R (Holborn Studios Ltd) v Hackney LBC EWHC 2823, regarding the need for further consultation where a planning application is amended;
Braintree DC v SSCLG  EWHC 2743, as to the meaning of "isolated" in paragraph 55 of the NPPF.
Last, but by no means least, a significant consultation paper has been published on Welsh planning law reform. I usually avoid discussing Welsh planning law, because of its increasing divergence from planning law and practice in England, but this consultation paper contains some interesting proposals that may well be a pointer to the way in which the English planning legislation could be consolidated and updated. I hope to be able to take a closer look at the consultation paper here shortly.
Meanwhile, if you still can’t get rid of that cold, try taking max-strength Lem-Sip.
© MARTIN H GOODALL
Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Readers are no doubt aware of the High Court judgments in Richmond-upon-Thames LBC v SSETR  J.P.L. 84 and R (Kensington and Chelsea RBC) v SSCLG  EWHC 1785 (Admin), on which I have commented both in this blog and in my recently published book, The Essential Guide to the Use of Land and Buildings under the Planning Acts, but these rulings continue to cause difficulties in practice.
Notwithstanding the binding nature of these two judicial authorities, which have since been followed by inspectors in a number of planning appeals, I have serious reservations regarding these two judgments. A property owner should be able (with professional advice, if necessary) to know whether a particular adaptation or change to a property is or is not development within the definition in section 55, without having to carry out research to establish whether there is an underlying housing shortage in the area in question which might make the loss of housing units through amalgamation a material planning consideration that may affect the lawfulness of this amalgamation (even where there is no relevant Development Plan policy that addresses this issue).
In light of these two judgments, owners and developers are now faced with a situation in which the amalgamation of two or more dwellings in some LPA areas is not a material change of use for the purposes of section 55, because there is no underlying housing shortage in the area in question which might make the loss of housing units through amalgamation a material planning consideration, whereas in others (notably in various London boroughs), the very same change could be a material change of use, if the Richmond and Kensington & Chelsea cases are followed.
The practical difficulties that could arise in these circumstances were illustrated by two further cases, Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea v SSCLG and Noell  EWHC 1703 (Admin) and Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea v SSCLG and Larham  EWHC 1704 (Admin). Both were concerned with appeals against the refusal of planning permission (rather than LDC appeals) relating to proposals for the amalgamation of four and two flats respectively to form a single large dwelling in each case. The Inspector determined that the loss of residential units was acceptable, based on his calculation of housing requirements in the borough, and so he allowed both appeals. The LPA challenged those appeal decisions on the basis that the Inspector was mistaken in his calculation of the housing land supply, and both appeal decisions were quashed on this ground. Whilst these appeals turned on planning considerations of a type that is common in section 78 appeals, it is clear that similar disputes could easily arise in LDC appeals, in light of the earlier judgments in Richmond and in the 2016 Kensington and Chelsea case. These latest judgments demonstrate the uncertainty faced by property owners and developers in face of the variable planning judgements that might influence a decision as to whether the amalgamation of particular dwellings is or is not lawful by reference to section 55(2)(f).
What is needed is certainty in the law. Section 55(3)(a) makes it absolutely clear that the use as two or more dwellinghouses of any building previously used as a single dwellinghouse involves a material change of use of the building and of each part of it which is so used. It would be an easy matter for a similar sub-clause to be added to section 55(3) declaring with equal clarity that the use as a single dwellinghouse of any building [which by definition includes a part of a building] previously used as two or more dwellinghouses involves a material change of use of the building and of each part of it which is so used.
As I have explained before, but it bears repeating, my objection to the current position in light of the Richmond and Kensington judgments is solely to the legal uncertainty that has arisen as a result of these two High Court decisions. So far as I am concerned, there could be no objection in principle to the proposition that the use as a single dwellinghouse of any building previously used as two or more separate dwellings should be treated as a material change in the use of the building; but any such change in the law should take the form of an amendment to the 1990 Act, rather than depending on the less than certain intervention of the courts. Parliament passed the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, including section 55 in its current form, and if it is felt that the loss of residential units through amalgamation is a problem (particularly in some London boroughs), then it is Parliament who should amend the Act to resolve this issue.
© MARTIN H GOODALL
Friday, 24 November 2017
Some readers of this blog may still have the fond illusion that I am a one-man band, ploughing my lonely furrow somewhere out there in the sticks, but that would be a long way from the truth. I am very proud that I have now been a member of KEYSTONE LAW’s planning law team for more than 8 years, and I look forward to being associated with this very successful and dynamic firm for a good few years to come. I have explained on several occasions that this blog is not (and was never intended to be) a marketing tool, but I can’t resist blowing a toot on my trumpet occasionally for the best law firm in which I have ever worked, in what is now a very long career.
Some of you may not be aware how large and successful a firm KEYSTONE LAW is. Our six-strong planning law team is part of the firm’s property law group, which contains over 70 lawyers. Overall, the firm now has more than 250 lawyers (mainly solicitors, but also some barristers, including two in our planning law team) practising throughout England & Wales (with office hubs in London, Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle), as well as Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Guernsey. The firm’s associated Australian practice, Keypoint Law, has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
After winning numerous industry awards, KEYSTONE LAW has entered The Lawyer Top 100 law firms this year, with reported annual revenue of more than £25 million. The firm became an ‘ABS’ in 2013, enabling private equity firm Root Capital to invest over £3 million in the firm in 2014, following which the practice has subsequently achieved annual revenue growth of more than 20%.
Now the firm is set to become a listed company, with an initial public offering which should raise around £15 million on a projected placing price of 160p. This puts the total capital value of KEYSTONE LAW at around £50 million. The shares will commence trading on Monday, 27 November. KEYSTONE LAW has a very strong central management team, who will remain very firmly in the saddle. James Knight, founder and Managing Director of the firm will become Chief Executive of the listed plc.
I see that some nay-sayers commenting in the Law Society’s Gazette have muttered darkly about law firms burdening themselves with debt, but city commentators point out that the financial restructuring enabled by this flotation is expected to result in the listed company being debt-free following completion of this re-capitalisation.
Unlike some large law firms one hears about, KEYSTONE LAW is a very happy ship, not least because the firm’s lawyers reap a very fair reward as a proportion of the costs they generate. There is a real ‘family’ feeling within the firm, and a refreshing absence of office politics. And the superb admin back-up from which we all benefit allows Keystone lawyers to get on with what we really enjoy, and do best - practising the law.
© MARTIN H GOODALL