Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Preclusive conditions – Court of Appeal judgment

Followers of this blog, and readers of my first book (“A Practical Guide to Permitted Changes of Use”) will be aware of my considerable interest in this topic. An appropriately worded condition in a planning permission can preclude the operation of the General Permitted Development Order. The operation of section 55(2)(f) of the 1990 Act (and Article 3(1) of the Use Classes Order) can be similarly precluded by such a condition. But difficulties have arisen where the wording of an allegedly preclusive condition does not refer expressly to the GPDO and/or to section 55(2)(f) and the UCO.

I commented on this issue at some length on 30 August 2016, when I blogged on the first instance decision in Dunnett Investments Limited v. SSCLG [2016] EWHC 534 (Admin), in which judgment was handed down on 11 March last year. I won’t repeat what I wrote there, but readers may wish to refresh their memory by looking at that blog post.

One particular aspect of the case that caused me concern was that this judgment seemed to continue an unfortunate trend in conflating the arguments relating to two separate statutory provisions (section 55(2)(f) of the 1990 Act, on the one hand and, on the other hand, Article 3(4) of the GPDO which precludes permitted development contrary to a condition in a planning permission).

Section 55(2)(f) provides that in the case of buildings or other land which are used for a purpose of any class specified in an order made by the Secretary of State under this section [i.e. the Use Classes Order], the use of the buildings or other land, or of any part of the buildings or other land, for any purpose in the same class is not to be taken for the purposes of the Act to involve development of the land. Article 3(1) of the Use Classes Order contains a similar provision. However, it should be noted that neither of these provisions grants any form of planning permission. They simply provide that any change of use from one use to another within the same use class is not development at all.

In contrast to this, Article 3(1) of the GPDO grants planning permission for the Classes of development described as permitted development in Schedule 2 to the Order. This is an important distinction. Contrary to the position under section 55(2)(f), development is involved here. These are changes of use for which planning permission is required, and it is the GPDO that grants that permission.

It is understandable that a preclusive condition need not necessarily refer expressly to section 55(2) (f) or to Article 3(1) of the UCO. This would appear to be confirmed by those judicial authorities that have dealt with this issue, such as City of London Corporation v SSE (1971) 23 P. & C. R. 169, and also Rugby Football Union v SSETR [2001] EWHC 927 and R (Royal London Mutual Insurance Society Limited) v SSCLG [2013] EWHC 3597 (Admin)). But a planning permission (such as that granted by Article 3(1) of the GPDO) should not in my view be precluded except by clear words, and I would still call in aid the observations, in particular, of Farquharson LJ and of Sir David Nicholls in this regard in Dunoon Developments v. SSE (1993) 65 P&CR 101.

However, I am sorry to say that today’s decision by the Court of Appeal in Dunnett Investments Ltd. v. SSCLG [2017] EWCA Civ 192 has gone the other way, and the first instance judgment in that case has been upheld. It is clear that the Court of Appeal, like the judge at first instance, placed considerable reliance on the decision of the Supreme Court in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd v Scottish Ministers [2015] UKSC 74, which encourages the concept of ‘implied’ conditions (contrary to the previously accepted position, per Widgery LJ, in Trustees of Walton on Thames Charities v Walton and Weybridge DC[1970] 21 PMCR 411 at 497).

The wording of the condition in Dunnett Investments was :

The use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, and for no other purpose whatsoever, without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained.

The view of the Court of Appeal was summed up in this passage from the judgment of Hickinbottom LJ:

“Looking first at the words used, I do not consider the construction of the condition either difficult or unclear. Read straightforwardly and as a whole, as Patterson J found (notably at [43]-[44]), the natural and ordinary meaning of the words used is that the condition allows planning permission for other uses but restricted to that obtained upon application from the Council as local planning authority, and excludes planning permission granted by the Secretary of State by means of the GPDO. In particular, with due respect to Mr Katkowski’s submissions to the contrary, in my view, “express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority” cannot sensibly include planning permission granted by the Secretary of State through the GPDO. It means what it says, i.e. planning permission granted by the local planning authority.”

In his view, the interpretation he favoured did not require the reading in, or reading out, of any words. On the other hand, the construction pressed by Mr Katkowski would take away all substance from the condition, leaving it entirely empty; the first part (“This use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987…”) merely reiterating the scope of the grant, no more than emphasised by the second part (“…and for no other purpose whatsoever…”), whilst the third part or tail (“… without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained”) would be empty because it would include all means of granting planning permission whether by the planning authority or the Secretary of State. The condition would thus have no discernible purpose. It is a tenet of construction, falling within the umbrella of “sensible” interpretation as championed in Trump International, that it must have been the intention that a condition has some content and purpose. In context, this condition could not sensibly have been merely emphatic, which is all it would be if Mr Katkowski’s submission were correct.

Hickinbottom LJ added that the context in which the condition must be construed included the planning history of the Site – which, importantly, showed that the Council was anxious to maintain close control over the planning use to which the Site was put – and, more importantly still, the reason for the condition as set out in its own paragraph 2. That confirmed that it was imposed to enable the Council to maintain control over the use of the Site, by considering the merits of any proposal, in the light of its “particular character and location”. In other words, as Patterson J put it at first instance, “the sensitivity of the area to potentially unsympathetic uses was protected”. That was inconsistent with reliance by an applicant upon rights under either the GPDO or the UCO. Again, his lordship did not see any force in the submission that this clear reason is undermined by the reason expressed in the 1982 permission for the use then permitted, namely “to enable the [Council] to exercise proper control over the development and because the site is in an area where new industrial development would not normally be permitted”. The 1982 use was highly restricted, and the reason explained why a very narrow industrial use was being permitted. In his view, it did not undermine the clear words of the reason given for the more relaxed, but nevertheless considerably restricted, use permitted in 1995.

For all those reasons, Hickinbottom LJ was quite satisfied that the condition did properly exclude the operation of the GPDO; and that Patterson J was correct to reject the appellant’s argument to the contrary. Patten LJ agreed, and the appeal was accordingly dismissed.


Monday, 13 March 2017

“Planning involves no law”, says QC

Country Life magazine is not exactly a bundle of laughs, but it did make me laugh out loud last week, when I read an interview in the magazine with Christopher Boyle QC of Landmark Chambers.

In the course of this he is reported to have said on the subject of town planning: “There’s almost no law in it. Most of the public law principles were established in about 1965 and haven’t changed since.” My wife spotted this article, and handing it to me with a broad grin said, “So you’ve been wasting your time for the past 35 years on all those cases you’ve fought, and doing all that writing about planning law!”

Actually, I think I know what Christopher Boyle meant, because he added, “It’s about evidence, facts arguments, and particularly expert opinion.” If one thinks purely in terms of section 78 appeals against the refusal of planning permission, I wouldn’t disagree with this second remark. In the past, I did a fair number of housing appeals, and major retail appeals (superstores), and quite frankly I found it rather boring, precisely because it involved so little law. This is why I moved away from that sort of work into what I would broadly describe as “troubleshooting” – enforcement, compliance, lawful uses, and the legal interpretation of the voluminous body of legislation, both primary and subordinate, that makes up the corpus of our planning law.

Those of us who enjoy a good legal argument (and I certainly include my colleagues in Keystone Law’s planning law team among this number) find the law involved in town and country planning absolutely fascinating, not least because it is ever-changing. Quite apart from endless tinkering with the legislation by successive governments, there is a constant flow of judgments from the superior courts on all sorts of planning law topics, often involving issues of interpretation (of which the East Herts case on which I reported last week is a typical example).

Actually, the interview in Country Life (written by Clive Aslet) is an entertaining read. I see that Christopher Boyle and I do in fact have two interests in common. His favourite building is the Radcliffe Camera (I agree), and we clearly share a love of P G Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle novels. I suspect, however, that our political views might be rather different.

But enough of this airy persiflage; I must get back to the riveting contents of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended), which will form a central part of my next book, currently in draft and due to be published later this year. I’m afraid it won’t be as much fun to read as one of Wodehouse’s period farces. But it’s what I do.


Friday, 10 March 2017

Barn conversions under Class Q - Sustainability of location

On Friday, 13 May 2016, I published a post on this topic in which I drew attention to the fact that, notwithstanding the clearly stated ministerial policy on this issue in the online Planning Practice Guidance, as revised in March 2015, there were still some LPAs seeking to resist permitted development under Class Q on the basis of ‘sustainability of location’. The appeal decision that prompted me to pen that piece was at Sawbridgeworth (E. Herts DC), decided on 12 May 2016 [3140675]. The LPA had attempted to argue that the online PPG, as guidance, contravenes the NPPF (particularly paragraph 55) and that the unsustainable location could not be mitigated. The appeal was nevertheless allowed, and I speculated that East Herts were deliberately looking for a fight in a case that they might possibly take on to the High Court. (This rather upset the legal people at East Herts, and I got a tetchy email from them about it.)

The Sawbridgeworth appeal decision was pretty-well judge-proof on this issue, because as a matter of fact and degree the Inspector had found that the location was not unsustainable in any event. Whether the LPA were deliberately spoiling for a fight on this issue or not, they did later find another appeal decision (at Broxbourne Common ) which they decided to take to the High Court. This challenge was heard on 1 February, and judgment was given by Dove J yesterday, 9 March - East Herts DC v. SSCLG [2017] EWHC 465 (Admin). I wrote in my review of forthcoming cases on New Year’s Eve that my money would be on the Secretary of State to win this one, and so it proved.

The dispute, as before, centred around the words of paragraph Q2(1)(e) - “whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to a use falling within class C3 (dwelling houses)”, and the gloss put on these words by the Secretary of State in the revision of the online PPG published in March 2015. This stated that “The permitted development right does not apply a test in relation to location as it is recognised the many agricultural buildings are not likely to be in villages and are unlikely to rely on public transport for their daily needs.” It suggested that the LPA should therefore judge whether the location and siting of the building would make it impractical or undesirable to change use to a house, and explained that impractical or undesirable are not defined in the regulations but the LPA should apply a “reasonable ordinary dictionary meaning”. Impractical would mean “not be sensible or realistic” and undesirable would mean “harmful or objectionable”, and it emphasised that if the building is in a location “where the local planning authority would not normally grant planning permission for a new dwelling” this is “not a sufficient reason for refusing prior approval”. The developer had argued that if the meaning of these words is to be an ordinary dictionary definition found in the English dictionary this would not refer to planning definitions, so that the use of the word “Harmful” would not automatically mean harmful to the green belt.

The Council, on the other hand, relied on the NPPF (and in particular paragraph 55). The planning officers considered that the location of the building was in an unsustainable location and no significant enhancement would be achieved by the conversion. They had reviewed the changes made to the PPG, in terms of what is meant by impractical or undesirable for the change to residential use, but remained of the view that the site was undesirable, in that it would be harmful and objectionable to allow a change of the use of the building to residential in a fundamentally unsustainable location. The Council therefore refused the prior approval application on the grounds that: “the proposal would create an isolated dwelling in the countryside away from key services and infrastructure such as public transport, schools and shops. The location of the building is undesirable for use falling within Class C3(dwelling houses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order and it would result in an unsustainable form of development contrary to the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework.”

In the appeal that followed, the LPA contended that there was conflict between the PPG’s guidance and the terms of the Order. It was contended that the guidance could not alter the proper interpretation of the 2015 Order. The Council had sought legal advice as to whether its interpretation of this matter was correct as a matter of law. The advice received stated that as a matter of law, the GPDO requires the Council, when considering whether or not to grant prior approval for the conversion of an agricultural barn to a dwelling, to take into account all policies of the NPPF that would ordinarily be relevant to the question of the practicality or desirability of allowing such development in whatever location is proposed. They therefore argued that paragraphs. 108 and 109 of the PPG (which suggested that an LPA must exclude such policies of the NPPF from consideration) were wrong. For that reason the Council had taken account of the NPPF in determining this prior approval application, as required by the Order.

In allowing the appeal, against this decision, the Inspector pointed out that the Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) provided the most up-to-date guidance on the interpretation of Class Q and she had attached substantial weight to paragraphs 108 and 109 of this document. In the appeal, the Council had contended that the proposal would create an isolated dwelling in the countryside, and that the location of the building was unsustainable. On this basis, the Council stated that the building is undesirable for a use falling within Class C3. However, in the Inspector’s view, the PPG makes it clear that it does not apply a test in relation to the sustainability of the location. As such, she could not agree with the approach adopted by the Council in terms of the sustainability issues raised in relation to paragraphs 49 and 55 of the NPPF. The Council claimed that there was a conflict between the PPG and the requirements of the Order. However, in the Inspector’s view there is no conflict between the general presumption in favour of sustainable development set out within the NPPF and the very clear guidance identified at paragraphs 108 and 109 of the PPG in relation to this part of the GPDO. In light of all the evidence, it could not therefore be argued that it would be impractical or undesirable to convert the building to residential use.

Whilst the PPG spoke in terms of “sustainability” of location it was agreed between the parties at the hearing before the Court that in truth what is being addressed in paragraph 108 is “accessibility” of location, both in terms of the generation of travel demand and distances to work, services and facilities and also in terms of the ability to obtain access to destinations by choice of modes of travel and in particular slow modes. This concept is of course a key ingredient in the much broader multi-faceted concept of sustainable development.

Counsel for the Secretary of State drew the judge’s attention to the Explanatory Memorandum to the GPDO at the point when the class was introduced. He submitted, based on the Explanatory Memorandum, that the purpose of introducing this class of permitted development was to promote the provision of new homes. Thus he submitted that the interpretation of the term “undesirable”, and the application of the NPPF, had to be undertaken bearing in mind that the purpose of introducing this class of permitted development was to enable the change of use of agricultural buildings to dwellings in circumstances where permission might not be granted pursuant to a conventional application. On this point, having considered the provisions of the Explanatory Memorandum, his lordship was satisfied that the purposes of the creation of this new permitted development right was clearly to “deliver more homes” and to increase housing supply. The outcome which the legislation has in mind is clear and is intended to lead to the development of residential uses in locations which would not ordinarily be contemplated by the undiluted application of, for instance, policies in the NPPF relating to location.

Turning to the meaning of the term “undesirable” in this context, the judge was satisfied that it is a word that calls for an exercise of planning judgment. He had reached that conclusion since it is an adjective with a potentially broad meaning and purview, used within the context of an approval process in planning legislation. The planning judgment to be made arises in the context of the qualified entitlement that Class Q creates. Given that conclusion, an error of law could only arise if that planning judgment were affected by one of the traditional public law grounds of challenge.

The assessment of location, as distinct perhaps from other aspects of the desirability of location such as the impact of odour or dust from adjacent developments, has to be examined through the prism of the purpose of the legislation. To apply to the Class Q prior approval process, in making this planning judgment, the policies of the NPPF with the same rigour in respect of accessibility of residential development as would be applied to an application for planning permission for residential use would have the potential to frustrate the purpose of the introduction of the class, namely to increase the supply of housing through the conversion of agricultural buildings which by definition will very frequently be in the open countryside. Thus whilst accessibility is not an irrelevant consideration when considering paragraph Q2(1)(e), the bar in relation to the test of unacceptable inaccessibility will necessarily be set significantly higher than it would in the context of an application for planning permission.

His lordship did not consider that this approach to the exercise of the planning judgment of what may be “undesirable” about the location of the agricultural building in the context of Class Q is in any way undermined by the reference within paragraph W(10)(b) to the requirement for the local planning authority to have regard to the NPPF when considering a prior approval application “as if the application were a planning application”. That application of the NPPF must be undertaken in the context of a proper understanding of the test being considered, namely in this case undesirability of location. It is in the context of an understanding of paragraph Q2(e) that the NPPF must be applied. The NPPF cannot be applied so as to frustrate the purpose of identifying the class of permitted development in the first place.

He therefore concluded that the PPG, in paragraphs 108 and 109, reflects this approach. These paragraphs helpfully explain that there is no specific requirement within paragraph Q2(1) in relation to accessibility of location, and also that the fact that an agricultural building is in a location where planning permission would not normally be granted for accessibility reasons will not amount to a sufficient reason for refusing prior approval. Both of those observations are apposite and reflect the approach to requiring a far stronger objection on accessibility grounds than would be required to resist a planning application, for the reasons which have already been set out above.

The judge specifically rejected the LPA’s argument that, by virtue of paragraph 55, the location of the agricultural building to be converted was in a location which was unacceptable for accessibility reasons, and that the application of paragraph 55 to the location leads to the conclusion that the proposal should be refused. In essence this argument was the equivalent of an argument that the prior approval should be refused because the agricultural building was in a location where the LPA would not normally grant planning permission for a new dwelling on accessibility grounds. That was a contention which was contrary to the guidance in paragraphs 108 and 109 which, for the reasons he had already given, his lordship accepted is consistent with sensible parameters for the exercise of the planning judgment required. It followed that the Inspector was entitled, as she did in her decision letter, to conclude that the Council’s objections based on paragraph 55 of the NPPF could not be maintained. Having rejected that contention, the Inspector was entitled to form the view that it could not be argued that “it would be impractical or undesirable to convert the building to residential use”.

It followed that the Inspector was entitled to form the conclusions which she did. Her rejection of the LPA’s argument that paragraph 55 of the NPPF should be applied with full rigour to this prior approval in forming her planning judgment on whether the change of use of this agricultural building was in an “undesirable” location, was clearly open to her and reflected the particular context in which her judgment had to be reached.

In the appeal, an application for the costs of the appeal was made on behalf of the developer, on the basis that the LPA had ignored the “precise and specific” PPG guidance and continued to take decisions contrary to earlier appeals where their views had been rejected. The Inspector had made an award of costs for this reason. On this basis, her decision on the costs application was also unassailable. Having reached the justifiable conclusions which she did, and having disagreed with the approach of the Council for entirely proper reasons, she was entitled to form the view in reliance upon earlier appeal decisions of a like nature that the Council’s refusal in the present case was one which was unreasonable and that costs should be awarded.

The Council’s challenge to both the appeal decision and the costs decision was accordingly dismissed.

Bearing in mind that a number of similar planning appeals had already been allowed where LPAs had sought to resist permitted development under Class Q on grounds similar to those canvassed by East Herts in this case, applying the very clear ministerial guidance in paragraphs 108 and 109 of the PPG, it is hardly surprising that the Council lost this appeal, with costs, and that their challenge to that decision in the High Court then failed. East Herts have, however, done us all a favour by putting an end to any lingering doubts that LPAs may have had on this issue.


Monday, 6 March 2017

Reasons for granting planning permission yet again (and finally?)

I have reported on several cases in the past few weeks in which the need for a local planning authority to state its reasons for granting planning permission has been reviewed by the courts. On Tuesday, 17 January, I reported on the case of R (CPRE Kent) v Dover DC [2016] EWCA Civ 936, in which judgment was given on 14 September 2016. The Supreme Court has now given permission to the LPA and the developer to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision.

The appeal should be heard in the Supreme Court towards the end of the year, and it is to be hoped that a definitive ruling will then be given as to whether or not an LPA is under any legal obligation to state its reasons for granting planning permission and, if so, in what circumstances and to what extent.

Watch this space around the end of the year.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Jumping the gun on permitted development

In my book (A Practical Guide to Permitted Changes of Use), I warned both in paragraphs 13.0 and 14.10 of the consequences of commencing development before the happening of one or other of three events – (a) notification that the LPA’s prior approval will not be required, (b) notification that prior approval is granted, or (c) the expiry of 56 days following the date on which the application was received by the LPA. I cited as an example an appeal decision [3136527] in February 2016, and I made the point that this was only one of a number of such appeal decisions where the developer had “jumped the gun”.

A judgment of the High Court in Winters v. SSCLG [2017] EWHC 357 (Admin), which was issued on 24 February, has provided further confirmation of this point. This case involved the erection of a larger domestic extension under Part 1, Class A of the Second Schedule to the GPDO, but exactly the same principle applies to developments requiring prior approval under Part 3 (Classes C, J, M, N, O, P, PA, Q, S, T and, in some cases, R).

In Part 1, Condition A.4(2) stipulates that “Before beginning the development” the developer must make a prior approval application, including all the information prescribed by this condition. In the same way, each of the Classes in Part 3 mentioned above is “subject to the condition that before beginning the development, the developer must apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required” as to the matters specified in respect of that Class of permitted development.

Furthermore, in Part 1, Condition A.4(10) clearly states that –

“The development must not begin before the occurrence of one of the following—
(a) the receipt by the developer from the local planning authority of a written notice that their prior approval is not required;
(b) the receipt by the developer from the local planning authority of a written notice giving their prior approval; or
(c) the expiry of 42 days following the date on which the information referred to in subparagraph (2) was received by the local planning authority without the local planning authority notifying the developer as to whether prior approval is given or refused.”

In Part 3, paragraph W.(11) similarly provides that :

“The development must not begin before the occurrence of one of the following—
(a) the receipt by the applicant from the local planning authority of a written notice of their determination that such prior approval is not required;
(b) the receipt by the applicant from the local planning authority of a written notice giving their prior approval; or
(c) the expiry of 56 days following the date on which the application under sub-paragraph (2) was received by the local planning authority without the authority notifying the applicant as to whether prior approval is given or refused.”

It is therefore clear that the judgment in Winters is equally applicable to developments under Part 3. The provisions in Part 3, including paragraph W.(11), are unequivocal. Before beginning the development the developer must make a prior approval application and, furthermore, the development must not begin before the occurrence of one of the three events mentioned above.

In Winters, the LPA did not give notice of their determination within the 42-day period that applies under Part 1, and it was contended on behalf of the claimant that this entitled her to continue with and to complete the development. However, as the learned Deputy Judge observed, whilst it is true that once the 42-day period [56 days in the case of Part 3] has expired without receipt by the developer of written notice that prior approval is not required or has been granted, the developer’s proposed development can be carried out in accordance with the details provided in the application, the planning permission granted by the GPDO does not authorise the carrying out of any development any part of which was begun before an application for prior approval was made to the LPA. Accordingly, in the Winters appeal, the Inspector was not obliged to allow the Claimant’s appeal if works to provide the extension had begun before she submitted her application to the Council.

It was contended on behalf of the claimant in that case that the Inspector had erred in law in finding that development had in fact commenced, but the court found nothing amiss in the Inspector’s treatment of the evidence or in respect of his observations on his site visit, and so the challenge to the Inspector’s conclusion that works on constructing the extension had begun before the claimant applied to the Council therefore failed and, for the reasons given in the judgment, the claimant’s challenge to the Inspector’s appeal decision was dismissed.