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