Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Shroud adverts on large buildings

I was pleased to see a report of a planning appeal decision earlier this month in London , in which an Inspector had allowed an appeal against the refusal of advertisement control consent for the display of a large shroud advert on the scaffolding around a building awaiting or undergoing refurbishment.

The Inspector very sensibly decided that an advertisement display of this type would be preferable to ‘drab’ sheeting round the building, and that the shroud advert would ‘enliven the street scene’. This seems to have overridden arguments by the LPA that the advert would be a prominent feature close to a conservation area (although not actually in it).

The essential point is that this display will be purely temporary, while the works on the building are being carried out, a fact which many LPAs seem entirely to overlook. Clearly, the inspector was satisfied that any alleged detriment to amenity would be outweighed by the advantage of the ugly plastic sheeting that normally covers such developments being hidden by a lively and attractive advert.

I very much hope that other inspectors will follow this lead, although it would be unnecessary for these matters to be disputed in this way if the Control of Advertisements Regulations were amended to allow temporary shroud advertising of this type where a building is covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting during building works.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Further protection for pubs (1)

Ministers stated their intention on 26 January this year to strengthen the protection of pubs identified as assets of community value, by bringing forward “at the earliest opportunity” amendments to the Second Schedule to the General Permitted Development Order so that in England the listing of a pub as an asset of community value would trigger a removal of the permitted development rights, under Part 3 for change of use, and under Part 31 for demolition, of those pubs that have been designated as ACVs.

The promised changes to the GPDO have now been made, by an amendment order laid before parliament last week. With effect from 6 April 2015, there is a restriction on the changes of use permitted by Part 3, Classes A, AA and C, in respect of a building used within Class A4 (drinking establishments), where that building has been either nominated or designated as an “asset of community value”. Furthermore, even where the developer is not aware of the building having been either nominated or designated as an asset of community value, the permitted development under Class 3 is subject to the prior condition mentioned below.

A public house (as well as other land and buildings) may be designated by the LPA as an asset of community value, on the application of the parish council or a recognised community interest group under Part 5, Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011, as supplemented by the Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012 No.2421) (which came into effect on 21 September 2012). Public houses seem to be the type of property most commonly designated under the Act, representing slightly more than one-third of designated ACVs, with a very high proportion of nominations (not far short of 90%) having led successfully to the designation of pubs as assets of community value.

The primary effect of an ACV designation is a moratorium on the disposal of the property. However, in addition, there is now a restriction on the changes of use that are permitted by Part 3, Class A (change of use to a use within Use Class A1 – shop or other retail use), Class AA (change of use to a use within Use Class A3 – for the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises, i.e. a restaurant or café) and Class C (change of use to a use within Use Class A2 – financial or professional services).

The restriction applies where the building is used for a purpose falling within Class A4 (drinking establishments) and either it has been designated as an ACV, or the LPA has notified the developer that it has been nominated as an ACV (i.e. proposed for designation as such) under section 89(2) of the Localism Act 2011.

In the case of a building which is already a designated ACV, the restriction lasts for the period of 5 years beginning with the date on which the building was entered on the list of assets of community value. The restriction no longer applies where the building has been removed from that list under regulation 2(c) of the Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012 following a successful appeal against listing, or because the local authority no longer considers the land to be land of community value, or where the building has been removed from that list under section 92(4)(a) of the Localism Act 2011 following the local authority’s decision on a review that the land concerned should not have been included in the local authority’s list of assets of community value. In those cases, the restriction applies during the period from the date on which the building was entered on the list of assets of community value to the date on which it was removed from that list.

In the case of a building that has been nominated as an ACV, but which has not yet been designated as such, the restriction lasts from the date on which the LPA notifies the developer of the nomination, to the date on which the building is entered on the list of assets of community value, or a list of land nominated by unsuccessful community nominations under section 93 of the Localism Act 2011. It follows that if the nomination results in the designation of the building as an ACV, the 5-year restriction mentioned above will then apply immediately, so that the restriction on the change of use will continue without a break, subject only to its possible termination by the removal of the building from the list of ACVs in the meantime.

In the case of a building which is not an asset of community value but which is used for a purpose falling within Class A4 (drinking establishments) it is a condition that, before beginning the development, the developer must send a written request to the LPA as to whether the building has been nominated for designation as an ACV. This request must include the address of the building, the developer’s contact address and the developer’s email address if the developer is content to receive communications electronically.

If the building is nominated for designation, whether before or after the date of the developer’s request, the LPA must notify the developer as soon as is reasonably practicable after it is aware of the nomination, and upon that notification development is not permitted for the specified period mentioned above. Development under Classes A, AA or C must not begin before the expiry of a period of 56 days following the date of the developer’s request as to whether the building has been nominated for designation as an ACV and must be completed within a period of 1 year of the date of that request.

I will deal with the changes to temporary uses under Part 4 and demolition under Part 31 in a later post.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

They were only playing ping-pong

There is a song in “Oh, what a lovely war!” (the popular musical satire on the First World War) entitled ‘They were only playing leapfrog’. It occurred to me that a modern equivalent would be ‘They were only playing ping-pong’ (as one Lord’s amendment after another amendment was scrapped by the Commons and sent right back). Well, it doesn’t quite scan, but you get the general drift.

After the Commons discussed the Lords’ amendments to the Deregulation Bill on 10 March, the Bill has gone back to the House of Lords, and the rejected amendments are due to be re-considered by them next week, on Monday (16th March). If the Lords follow their usual practice, the ‘offending’ amendments will then be withdrawn and the Bill will finally be passed by the House of Lords, and will then go for Royal Assent.

So the Bill could finally become the Deregulation Act 2015 next week. This leaves precious little time to lay the relevant statutory instrument to amend the Greater London (General Powers) Act 1973, but other statutory instruments are continuing to come forward, so perhaps my supposition that a certain amount of time would have to be allowed before the dissolution of parliament was incorrect. But can the government go on laying this subordinate legislation before parliament right up to the last minute?

Dissolution is due on 30th March, but there is a rumour that Tory MPs have been told to empty their desks and their lockers in time for prorogation on or about the 25th. By my calculation, this will leave barely a week in which to lay the requisite statutory instrument, if that is indeed procedurally possible. Will they make it in time? This is getting to be like one of those old films, with a final car chase (accompanied by loud and urgent music and much squealing of tyres) leading to the denouement right at the very end.

I am glad that I am not a property owner in Greater London, wanting to make my property available for short-term lets. They must be biting their nails by now.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The 56-day rule – another example

I am grateful to a correspondent for passing on to me details of another appeal decision, issued last month, which dealt with the practical operation of the 56-day rule. This appeal related to a prior approval application under Part 3, Class MB, involving the residential conversion of a detached barn to produce two dwellings. The appellant claimed that he did not receive notification of the council’s decision within the 56-day period. It was agreed by both parties that the 56-day period would have expired on 4 June 2014. The council’s decision was dated 3 June, but the decision was not authorised under the council’s scheme of delegation until 4 June. Thus the decision could not have been sent out until Day 56 at the earliest.

The applicant stated that he had received the decision by post on 9 June, and that the council’s website was also updated with details of the decision on that day. He stated that the decision was not emailed to him. The council did not comment on or contradict any of this evidence. The inspector therefore held that, if the decision was posted on 4 June it would have been received by the appellant after the 56-day period and therefore that the postal notification did not take place within the statutory period.

As in the Tower Hamlets appeal (under Part 24), which I summarised in a previous post, the inspector in this case appears to have assumed that notification of the council’s decision must not only be dispatched (whether by hand, by post or electronically) within the 56-day period, but that it must actually be received by the applicant within that period.

Maybe in light of both of the Tower Hamlets decision and now this decision we can assume that this is the rule (until or unless the High Court tells us otherwise!). On the other hand, I understand that there have been other appeal decisions on the 56-day rule (which I have not seen) that went the other way, so maybe the jury is still out on this issue.

One other point that can be quickly disposed of is the implied suggestion (which has also been raised elsewhere) that publication of the council’s decision on its website could be taken as ‘notifying the applicant’ of the council’s decision. In my view, this could not amount to notification for the purposes of paragraph N(9)(c). Notification requires a written communication addressed to the applicant (or their agent), whether by post or by email, and merely posting information on the council’s website would not suffice for this purpose.

UPDATE: I now have the appeal reference for the decision reported above, kindly supplied by Mike Rutter. It is 2224715. If you go into the Planning Portal website, search for appeals and type in this reference, a few more key clicks will bring up a PDF of the decision letter.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Barn conversions – the new rules re-interpreted

As many readers have discovered, the interpretation of the rules on prior approval of the proposed residential conversion of agricultural buildings has been much more restrictive than we had been led to expect, and it has clearly not reflected ministerial intentions.

This is largely due to the actual drafting of the provisions in Part 3, Class MB of the Second Schedule to the GPDO. These really ought to be amended, but for various reasons ministers have not found an opportunity to do so, other than a minor change in April 2014 to make it clear that the provisions of the NPPF are to be taken into account only so far as they are relevant to the specific matters to which a prior approval application relates (e.g. highways and traffic, noise, site contamination, etc.).

In an attempt to counter the unduly restrictive approach that has been taken, both by LPAs and by the Planning Inspectorate, to Class MB in particular, the government amended their on-line Planning Practice Guidance last week, on 5 March, to explain their view as to how these permitted development rights are intended to operate.

The notes below summarise some of the points that have now been incorporated in the government’s online planning practice guidance.

Limits on building operations

On this topic, the new guidance does actually reinforce the approach which has hitherto been taken in these cases.

The definition of a “building” in Article 1(2) of the GPDO includes “any structure or erection” as well as any part of a building. This may be relevant in the context of the residential conversion of agricultural buildings, as it could in principle include various buildings and structures of unconventional, and perhaps in some cases rather insubstantial, construction. The well-known judicial authorities on what constitutes a building or structure could also be relevant in this context (e.g. Cardiff Rating Authority -v- Guest Keen Baldwin [1949] 1 KB 385, Skerritts of Nottingham v. SSETR (No.2) [2000] 2 P.L.R 102; [2000] JPL 1025 and R (Save Woolley Valley Action Group Ltd) v Bath and North East Somerset Council [2012] EWHC 2161 (Admin)).

However, the works permitted under Class MB(b) are restricted to what is reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwellinghouse, and any partial demolition must also be limited to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out the building operations that are permitted by this class. This imposes a practical constraint on the convertibility of some buildings. Works that amount to substantial demolition and reconstruction or replacement of the existing fabric would go beyond what is permitted.

In their amended on-line practice guidance, the government has confirmed that it is not the intention of the permitted development right under Class MB(b) to include the construction of new structural elements for the building. Therefore it is only where the existing building is structurally strong enough to take the loading which comes with the external works to provide for residential use that the building would be considered to have the permitted development right.

In any event, the development under Class MB(b) must not consist of building operations other than the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, or exterior walls, or water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services, to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwellinghouse, and partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out the building operations listed here. Furthermore, the development must not result in the external dimensions of the building extending beyond the external dimensions of the existing building at any given point.

The inclusion of roofs and walls in the list of items that can be installed or replaced as part of the building operations permitted by Class MB might be thought to allow scope for some significant rebuilding or replacement of the existing fabric, but an appeal decision in Bedfordshire, issued in February 2015, provides clear confirmation that the extent of the proposed building operations must not go beyond what is “reasonably necessary” for the building to function as a dwellinghouse, so that substantial demolition of the building and its effective replacement would be outside the scope of the development that is permitted. This is a factor which will clearly be a material consideration in the consideration and determination of the prior approval application

The strict limitation on the works that may be carried out under Class MB(b), combined with the condition that they must not extend outside the envelope of the pre-existing building, does not allow the creation of any hard surface or other engineering works (such as the laying of gravel) to provide any hard surfaces within the curtilage for the purposes of parking, or the provision of a patio, etc. Nor is there any provision (as there is in Classes M and MA) for permitted development under Part 41, Class B that would allow any such works to be carried out. Furthermore, such works cannot be carried out under Part 1 of the Second Schedule, because such development is specifically excluded by Class MB. Planning permission will therefore be required if it is desired to incorporate any such facilities in the development, and all the usual policy considerations relating to development in the countryside will apply to the determination of such an application.

A further appeal decision in Nottinghamshire also illustrates this point. The inspector in this case held that the proposed barn conversion would involve such major changes and reconstruction as to go beyond the scope of the development permitted by Class MB(b). The building had a metal frame and walls comprising a single metal skin, plus an element of blockwork, and a roof of corrugated asbestos fibreboard. What was required to enable the adaptation of the building for residential use amounted to substantial demolition and reconstruction of the building, plus various physical alterations. This was quite clearly beyond the scope of Class MB(b).

The National Planning Policy Framework

When determining a prior approval application, the LPA must also have regard to the National Planning Policy Framework (issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government in March 2012) so far as relevant to the subject matter of the prior approval, as if the application were a planning application. The words in italics were added to the GPDO with effect from 6 April 2014.

This amendment became necessary because, when determining prior approval applications under Class J, LPAs had been interpreting paragraph N, including the words “as if the application were a planning application”, as giving them a wide discretion to take into account other policy considerations in addition to the short list of criteria set out in Class J. The amendment makes it clear that the only policies in the NPPF that can be taken into account in determining an application for prior approval are those that are relevant to the strictly limited criteria set out in respect of the specified class of development. This has been confirmed and reinforced by appeal decisions, where inspectors have been robust in excluding considerations that go outside those parameters.

This point has been further reinforced by the amendment to the government’s on-line Planning Practice Guidance, which points out that this procedure was amended in April 2014 to make clear that the local planning authority must only consider the NPPF to the extent that it is relevant to those matters on which prior approval is sought, for example, transport, highways, noise etc.

In relation to Classes MA (conversion of an agricultural building to use as a school or nursery) and MB (residential conversion of an agricultural building), in particular, the revised ministerial practice guidance explains in some detail how an LPA should approach the question as to whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to residential use. The practice guidance makes it clear that when an LPA considers location and siting it should not be applying tests from the NPPF except to the extent these are relevant to the subject matter of the prior approval. So, for example, factors such as whether the property is for a rural worker, or whether the design is of exceptional quality or innovative, are unlikely to be relevant. (This is explained in more detail in the note on rural development policy below.)

Limits on dwelling numbers

Paragraph MB.1(c) provides that the cumulative number of separate dwellinghouses developed within an established agricultural unit must not exceed three. There has been some confusion over the precise interpretation of this provision but, in amending their on-line Planning Practice Guidance on 5 March, the government has made it clear that it was their intention that the total number of new homes (3 dwellinghouses) should not include existing residential properties within the established agricultural unit, unless they were created by the use of this permitted development right on a previous occasion, in which case they would be counted.

The Planning Inspectorate can be expected in future to apply this guidance in determining planning appeals where this point is in issue, in contrast with a previous appeal decision in which one inspector held that the 3-dwelling limit applied to all such dwellings, and was not limited only to the number created under Class MB. The effect of that appeal decision was that any dwellings already in existence on the agricultural unit would count towards this total, so that if there were already three built under previous planning permissions, then no more could be created under Class MB.

The revised ministerial guidance in the government’s on-line Planning Practice Guidance does not, however, resolve the difficulty posed by the drafting of the Order. The interpretation of legislation does not depend on what ministers think it says or would like it to say. The courts may not, therefore, agree with the advice set out in the government’s online practice guidance, if a local planning authority were to challenge this interpretation of the 3-dwelling limit in a future case.

Rural development policy

One of the criteria to be considered by the LPA when determining an application for prior approval of proposed development under Classes MA and MB(a) (both relating to conversion of an agricultural building), but not under Class M, is whether the location or siting of the building makes it impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to use as a school or nursery (under Class MA) or to a residential use (under Class MB(a)). This has proved to be a major stumbling block for applicants in obtaining approval of these proposed conversions of agricultural buildings. Ministers did not intend to allow LPAs such broad scope for rejecting proposals for the conversion of agricultural buildings, but the drafting of Classes MA and MB has up to now been interpreted as giving an LPA a considerable measure of freedom to refuse the application on policy grounds. At least half of all such applications for residential conversion under Class MB up to the early part of 2015 are thought to have been refused (and there was anecdotal evidence that there had been an even higher rate of refusal in some areas). Furthermore, by early 2015, 9 out of 10 of the appeals against such refusals had been dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate (a significantly higher proportion than in other types of planning appeal).

This has prompted the government to amend their on-line Planning Practice Guidance to address in particular the issue as to whether the ‘sustainability’ of the proposed development is intended to be a material consideration in determining an application for prior approval of the proposed change to residential use. The revised ministerial guidance makes it clear that the permitted development right does not apply a test in relation to sustainability of location. This is deliberate, as the right recognises that many agricultural buildings will not be in village settlements and may not be able to rely on public transport for their daily needs. Instead, the local planning authority can consider whether the location and siting of the building would make it impractical or undesirable to change use to a house.

The revised practice guidance then goes on to explain what is meant by “impractical or undesirable” for the change to residential use. Impractical or undesirable are not defined in the Order, and the LPA should apply a reasonable ordinary dictionary meaning in making any judgment. “Impractical” reflects that the location and siting would “not be sensible or realistic”, and “undesirable” reflects that it would be “harmful or objectionable”.

When considering whether it is appropriate for the change of use to take place in a particular location, an LPA should start from the premise that the permitted development right grants planning permission, subject to the prior approval requirements. That an agricultural building is in a location where the LPA would not normally grant planning permission for a new dwelling is not a sufficient reason for refusing prior approval.

There may, however, be circumstances where the impact cannot be mitigated. Therefore, when looking at location, LPAs may, for example, consider that because an agricultural building on the top of a hill with no road access, power source or other services, its conversion is impractical. Additionally, the location of the building whose use would change may be undesirable if it is adjacent to other uses such as intensive poultry farming buildings, silage storage or buildings with dangerous machines or chemicals.

When an LPA considers location and siting it should not therefore be applying tests from the NPPF except to the extent these are relevant to the subject matter of the prior approval. So, for example, factors such as whether the property is for a rural worker, or whether the design is of exceptional quality or innovative, are unlikely to be relevant.

Adopted policies in the Development Plan are also capable of being a material consideration when determining a prior approval application, but it is clear from the revised ministerial practice guidance that adopted policies on development in the open countryside, development in the Green Belt (where applicable) and sustainable development, especially taking account of the availability or non-availability of easily accessible local services and any generation of car-borne movements that might arise from this will not usually be relevant and are unlikely to be valid reasons for refusal of a prior approval application.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Catching up

Continuing work on “The Book” (actually a writing project involving several different titles), combined with a recent holiday, has resulted in a more than usually lengthy delay since my last post here.

There is quite a backlog of topics on which I could write, but still being very short of time, I will just make a few passing comments on some topical issues.

The government, and their various opponents, are now in full election mode, with only three weeks left before parliament is dissolved, when the so-called ‘short’ campaign (a full five weeks of it) commences. There is clearly going to be quite a bit of unfinished business left over, the ultimate fate of which is going to depend on the outcome of the election.

Rather surprisingly, Eric Pickles’ current PPS threw doubt the other day on the government’s intention to go ahead with their previously enthusiastic proposal to make permanent those permitted development rights that are currently due to expire on 30 May 2016. These comprise the authorisation of larger domestic extensions and the residential conversion of offices that fall within Use Class B1(a). So even if we get a Conservative, or Conservative-led, government after 7 May, it seems there is now some doubt as to whether these temporary permitted development rights will be extended to 30 May 2019, as the government had proposed, and then perhaps be made permanent.

Despite ministerial harrumphing (and Uncle Eric is very good at doing that, if nothing else), relaxation of the restriction on short-term lets in Greater London still remains in doubt. The Bill on which this depends (which is expected to become the Deregulation Act 2015), having proceeded at a snail’s pace through the House of Lords, had its Third Reading there on 4 March and now awaits what our parliamentarians delight in calling “Ping-pong” (consideration of Lords’ amendments by the Commons, return of any rejected amendments to the Lords for further consideration, and so on – hence the name), which is due on 10 March.

Royal Assent should follow quite quickly after that, possibly even the very next day (11 March) but the new Act will not actually amend the 1973 Act, which prohibits short-term lets in Greater London; it will simply give the Secretary of State power to make a statutory instrument amending or modifying that prohibition. Up to yesterday, I had been under the impression that there is no longer enough time left in which to lay such subordinate legislation before parliament in this session, but I see that the Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) General (Amendment) Regulations 2015 were made yesterday, laid before Parliament today (just 25 days before parliament is dissolved), and will come into force on 6 April, i.e. in one calendar month from now.

If the Deregulation Act receives Royal Assent next week, on the day after a very quick consideration of Lords amendments, we already know that the relevant section will come in to force immediately on the passing of the Act; so could Uncle Eric make the requisite Order on 12 March, lay it before parliament on 13 March and bring it into force on 13 April? That would allow no more than 18 days for theoretical consideration of this statutory instrument before the dissolution of parliament. I don’t have access to a copy of Erskine May, so I don’t know whether this is procedurally permissible or not. Perhaps the Opposition could put a spanner in the works by proposing a negative resolution in that event.

However, if I was right in my previous assumption that by the time the Deregulation Bill receives Royal Assent it will then be too late to lay fresh subordinate legislation before parliament, or if it can be de-railed by the tabling of a negative resolution, then it will be entirely dependent on the view on this issue that is adopted by the ministers who are in office after 7 May as to whether this ever comes forward. Ministers have not in any event said that they will wholly revoke the restriction on short-term lets in Greater London, and so any amending order that may be made could be quite limited in its effect, and be hedged around with various ifs and buts.


Friday, February 13, 2015

The 56-day rule - a practical example

When I wrote my piece on the 56-day rule the other day, I queried the position where notification of the council’s determination of the prior approval application went out very close to the deadline, and so was not received by the applicant within the 56-day period. I am grateful to a correspondent for drawing my attention in this connection to an appeal decision in Tower Hamlets, issued on 24 June 2013 (APP/E5900/C/12/2182746).

This was an application for prior approval in respect of a telephone kiosk under Part 24. The inspector stated at the beginning of his decision letter that the authority had 56 days in which to give notice whether prior approval was required, and for the applicant to receive such notice. It appears to have been assumed without question in this case that a written notification sent within the 56 days but not received by the applicant within that time would not comply with the 56-day rule, so that the right to carry out the development then became automatic, notwithstanding the LPA’s decision and the purported notice of their refusal of the prior approval application.

Both parties agreed that the time within which the applicant should have received such notice expired on 26 December 2011. The authority sent out an undated letter on 23 December refusing prior approval. That letter was received by the appellant in the post on 29 December 2011, outside the 56-day period. However, a copy of this letter was also sent out by two emails at 4.32 p.m. on 23 December, one of which went to the email address given on the applicant’s headed notepaper, and was received by them on that day.

There can be no doubt that transmission of the letter by email to the applicant’s stated email address was an effective communication of the written notice of the LPA’s determination of the prior approval application, notwithstanding that the applicant had not confirmed on the application that they would agree to receive communications by email. Section 329(1)(cc) of the 1990 Act permits the service of a notice using electronic communications where an address for service has been given (as it had been by virtue of its being shown on the applicant’s headed notepaper).

The question, however, still arose as to whether the receipt of the email at or shortly after 4.32 p.m. on 23 December was actually in time. At first sight it seems obvious that it must have been. But there’s a catch!

The applicant relied on Section 336(4A) of the 1990 Act, which provides that where an electronic communication is used for the purpose of serving or giving a notice or other document on or to any person for the purposes of this Act, and the communication is received by that person outside that person’s business hours, it is to be taken to have been received on the next working day, and in this subsection, “working day” means a day which is not a Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holiday or other public holiday.

The inspector quite rightly drew attention to the words “that person’s business hours”. This does not mean ‘normal’ business hours, but the business hours which that person chooses to keep. Whilst it may be usual for offices to remain open until 5.00 or 5.30 p.m., some businesses do close down earlier on Friday afternoons and this was, of course, the last working day before the Christmas holiday, so it is not surprising that the applicant’s office closed down for Christmas before 4.30 on that day. In any event, if a person keeps business hours that are different from the norm, it is their own business hours which apply for this purpose.

In this case, therefore, the email of 23 December had been received outside the applicant’s working hours, and so (in accordance with section 336(4A)) it had to be taken to have been received on the next working day, which was Wednesday 28 December in this case, because Christmas Day fell on a Sunday and so there was an extra Bank Holiday on Tuesday 27 December. So the notification of the council’s refusal of prior approval was received outside the 56-day period after all, and on that basis the Inspector held the applicant had been entitled (as they did) to go ahead with the erection of the telephone kiosk.

I am not aware of this appeal decision having been challenged, but I note that whilst paragraph A.2(6)(a) of Part 24 refers to “the receipt by the applicant from the local planning authority of a written notice of their prior determination that such prior approval is not required”, sub-paragraph (b) uses the words “the giving of that approval to the applicant, in writing”, and sub-paragraph (c) uses the words “notifying the applicant, in writing, that such approval is given or refused”. Sub-paragraph (d) also uses the words “notifying the applicant, in writing, of their determination as to whether such approval is required”. So the only sub-paragraph that refers to the receipt of written notice by the applicant is (a), relating to a notification (at any time, but in practice within the 56-day period, because one of the other sub-paragraphs would otherwise apply) that prior approval is not required.

I am not totally confident that the inspector’s easy assumption that notification of the refusal of prior approval of the Part 24 application had to be received by the applicant within the 56-day period is necessarily correct. It seems that, so far as notice under sub-paragraphs (b), (c) or (d) is concerned, simply dispatching the notice to the applicant within the 56-day period might in fact meet the time limit, even if that written notification is not received within the 56-day period. If that is correct, then section 336(4A) will not have any application, because it is only relevant in those cases where it is the date of receipt of the notice that counts.

In paragraph N of Part 3, sub-paragraph (a) refers to “the receipt by the applicant from the local planning authority of a written notice of their determination that such prior approval is not required” and sub-paragraph (b) refers to “the receipt by the applicant from the local planning authority of a written notice giving their prior approval”. So far so good; but sub-paragraph (c) refers to “the expiry of 56 days following the date on which the application was received by the local planning authority without the authority notifying the applicant as to whether prior approval is given or refused”.

Which brings us back to the point where we started, with the query I first raised in my post on 9 February. I argued in that piece that sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph N should be interpreted, in the light of sub-paragraphs (a) and (b), as referring to the receipt of that notification by the applicant. But I am still not confident that the courts would agree with this interpretation if the point were ever to be argued before them. Telecoms companies seem to have taken an aggressive stance on this in relation to Part 24 and, in the absence of an adjudication by the High Court, they seem to have persuaded LPAs, and at least one inspector on appeal, that notification of the council’s determination of the prior approval application must be received within the 56-day period. Maybe we should proceed on this working assumption and hope that no LPA ever feels brave enough to litigate the point!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Short-term use of residential property in London

I have blogged on this topic several times in the past year, but I was wondering why the journos on the Evening Standard were getting excited on this subject in an article in today’s edition of the paper. The Deregulation Bill, which will enable the Secretary of State to relax the rules on short-term lettings in Greater London is still in the House of Lords, and the third day of the Report Stage is not due until Wednesday of this week, so Royal Assent is unlikely to be achieved until after both houses come back from their half term break after 23 February. By my calculation, that isn’t going to leave time for subordinate legislation to be laid before parliament so as to come into effect before the General Election (although I am open to correction on this, if any of you know better).

So what exactly prompted today’s article in the ES? I think it must have been De-CLoG’s publication today of a document entitled “ Promoting the sharing economy in London - Policy on short-term use of residential property in London”, which is yet another expression of the government’s wishful thinking, without actually telling us when we can expect the promised change to come about (if indeed it ever does, given the uncertainty over the likely result of the General Election).

The position today is, and will remain for the time being, that short-term lets (of less than 90 days) in Greater London are a material change of use (to a sui generis use) which requires planning permission. The ES seems to think that the change in the law is immediate, but it is not even imminent. That could conceivably change, but I am still not betting on its happening this side of the General Election; and what will happen after that is beyond the wit of man to foretell.


Prior approval applications – the 56-day rule

I have been busy in the past few weeks working on my first book, of which more anon, but as a result there has been no time to write this blog. One of the topics which I have been considering is the widened scope for changes of use under Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO – especially the conversion of office buildings (under Class J) and of agricultural buildings (under Class MB). This has been the subject of several posts in this blog in the past couple of years, and so I won’t repeat that material here.

As readers will be aware, these changes of use cannot be made until an application has been made to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required in respect of certain aspects of the development (as specified in the relevant Class in Part 3). The LPA has 56 days in which to determine the application, and this has been the source of some difficulty, due to uncertainty as to precisely when the 56-day period begins and precisely what the LPA has to do (and when) in order to prevent the development going ahead without their prior approval after the end of the 56-day period.

So far as the start of the 56-day period is concerned, the wording of paragraph N(9) in Part 3 is perfectly clear. The development cannot be begun before “the expiry of 56 days following the date on which the application was received by the local planning authority”. Thus Day 1 of the 56-day period is the day immediately following the date on which the application is received by the LPA (no matter what day of the week that was). The incidence of weekends and public holidays has no effect on the 56-day period.

Some LPAs seem to be under the impression that time does not begin to run until they have ‘validated’ or registered the application, but this is not so. Provided the application complies with the requirements of paragraph N and is accompanied by the correct fee, the 56-day period will begin to run on the day after it is delivered to the LPA. If payment of the fee follows after the application itself, then the application may be considered to be complete upon subsequent receipt of the fee, and the 56-day period will then commence on the day after that date. (See Infocus Public Networks Ltd v. SSCLG [2010] EWHC 3309 (Admin).)

Two points may arise with regard to the LPA’s compliance with the 56-day rule. One relates to the validity of their determination of the prior approval application (or whether it has in fact been determined); the other relates to the communication of that determination to the applicant.

The addition of paragraph N(2A) to Part 3 in 2014 has largely removed the ambiguity that was inherent in the original drafting of paragraph N where a prior approval application is rejected by an LPA because, in their opinion, the proposed development does not comply with one or more of the conditions, limitations or restrictions in the relevant class of Part 3, or the developer has provided insufficient information to enable the authority to establish whether the proposed development complies with them. It is reasonably clear from the wording of paragraph N(2A) that a rejection of a prior approval application in accordance with that paragraph does amount to a determination of the prior approval application, even if the LPA is objectively wrong as to the non-compliance of the development with the qualifying criteria under the relevant class of Part 3. The correctness or otherwise of the LPA’s opinion can only be tested by way of an appeal against this decision under section 78 of the 1990 Act.

However, the adequacy of the information provided relates only to the issue as to whether it is reasonably sufficient to enable the authority to establish that the proposed development complies with the relevant conditions, limitations or restrictions, so as to qualify as permitted development under the class in question. If the LPA purports to reject the application in relation to the adequacy of the information for other purposes, going outside the question of compliance with the qualifying criteria, this may perhaps call in question the validity of the decision. If the LPA’s opinion on this point strays outside these stated parameters, it might possibly be argued that the authority has not actually determined the application, which could raise the possibility that the 56-day period might continue running. In such cases, however, a notice or other written communication informing the applicant of the LPA’s rejection of the prior approval application, whatever the stated reasons, would probably be regarded as a valid determination of the application, leaving an appeal under section 78 as the only course that would then be open to the applicant (unless they then choose to make a planning application instead). Thus it is unlikely that a wrongful or mistaken rejection of a prior approval application would result in the 56-day period continuing to run in these circumstances.

The other point to be borne in mind is that the critical event for the purposes of the 56-day rule is the authority’s “notifying the applicant as to whether prior approval is given or refused”. This does not necessarily seem to require a formal decision notice; a bald statement either that prior approval is given or that it is refused might suffice to meet this requirement. Nor does there seem to be any statutory obligation on the LPA to state their reasons for refusing prior approval, although it would no doubt be good practice to do so, and this does indeed appear to be the standard practice of most authorities.

Bearing in mind that subparagraphs (a) and (b) in paragraph N refer to a written notice of the LPA’s determination that their prior approval is not required, or giving their prior approval, it is clear that the notification of their determination must be in that form (although this does not preclude its being sent in electronic form, such as an email). Furthermore, as subparagraphs (a) and (b) refer to the receipt by the applicant of the notice, it would appear that the notification as to whether prior approval is given or refused must be received by the applicant within the 56-day period. It is clear that merely to make a decision within the 56-day period will not suffice (in contrast to the differently worded provision in Part 6 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO, relating to various operational development on agricultural land), but it also seems, by analogy with subparagraphs (a) and (b), that it may not suffice to post a notice of that decision within that time if it does not actually reach the applicant before the expiry of the 56-day period. Failure on the part of the LPA to observe both of these requirements may result in the applicant automatically being entitled to proceed with the development in accordance with paragraph N(9)(c).

The applicant may be able to provide evidence of the actual date of receipt of the notification, but where this remains uncertain the usual presumption as to the service of documents would no doubt apply.

Despite diligent research, I have been unable to find any relevant appeal decision or judgment precisely dealing with the situation where notice of a determination is posted within the 56-day period (under either Part 3 or Part 24), but is not received by the applicant until after the expiry of this period. (There have, of course, been a number of decisions confirming that the authority is out of time if, having determined the application within the 56-day period, it fails to dispatch the notification of its decision within that period.) However, there was a case in North Somerset in 2009 (apparently not the subject of any appeal or other proceedings), where notification of the refusal of prior approval of a mobile phone mast was sent to the applicant by Second Class post on Day 52 or Day 53, but was not received by them until Day 57. The applicant relied on this as allowing them to proceed with the development. The resulting dispute appears to have been settled by negotiation, although the company continued to insist that they had been correct to treat the late receipt of the notification of the council’s decision as being out of time.

I would be interested to hear from any reader who is aware of any appeal decisions on this precise point (i.e. posting of notification of a determination, either under Part 3 or under Part 24, within the 56 days, but its receipt by the applicant after the expiry of the 56-day period). [But please note – instances where this has occurred but has not been the subject of an appeal decision (or judgment) really won’t be of any practical help.]

The general approach to the 56-day rule is illustrated by the decision of the Court of Appeal in Murrell v. SSCLG [2010] EWCA Civ 1367, on which I commented in this blog at the time. (It was a case which actually involved the 28-day period for the determination of a prior notification of agricultural development under Part 6). This established that the GPDO does not make the running of time dependent on a decision by the local planning authority to accept an application as valid. Whether there was a valid application or not is an objective question of law. The application for determination as to whether prior approval is required does not need to be in any particular form and does not need to be accompanied by anything more than what is prescribed by the GPDO (in the case of a Part 6 application, a written description of the proposed development and of the materials to be used and a plan indicating the site, together with the required fee). It is not mandatory to use a standard form or to provide any information beyond that specified in the GPDO.

The appellant’s application in Murrell complied with the requirements of the GPDO and was a valid application, contrary to the LPA’s assertion. The GPDO does not require an application to be accompanied by proposed elevations or a block plan. It does not require a location plan, although in Murrell a location plan was in fact provided with the application. Nor does it require multiple copies of any documents. Since use of a standard application form is not mandatory, the council was mistaken in stating that these were the only forms they could accept and in requesting the appellants to complete and return, in quadruplicate, a new standard form. Accordingly, the council's assertion that the application was invalid was wrong in law.

The Court of Appeal agreed that the council was entitled to ask for further information. It was not, however, entitled to refuse to treat the application as a valid application until that further information was received. The clock carried on ticking from the date of receipt of the application until the expiry of (in that case) the 28-day period.


Tuesday, January 13, 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.


Thursday, January 8, 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.