It has been yet another busy old week in the wonderful world of planning. So in between dodging snowballs, ice-skating along the driveway, and complaining to our water company,* I thought I would put together another recap for you.

1. Gove's compromises have chilling effect on local plan production

It is not even two weeks since DLUHC unveiled the details of Gove's grand compromises over planning reform, and the real world effects are already starting to be felt.

Since the announcement we have already had reports that:

Have paused work or announced delays on their local plans.

Mole Valley's emerging local plan, which proposes a small amount of green belt release, is currently mid-examination, having been submitted to PINS back in February. Their current local plan, and core strategy, date from 2000 and 2009 respectively.

The Council is blaming the reason for the 'pause' directly on Gove's latest announcements. Stating that the Secretary of State's latest written ministerial statement:

"Has given us cause to consider and driven our decision to inform the inspector in charge of the local plan examination that we wish to put a pause to proceedings until we better understand what the government is saying.

"This decision has not been taken lightly and, given the very encouraging progress made during an exhaustive examination of the plan between January and October this year, pausing this progression is not what we would otherwise want to do. However, it would be unwise to carry on when we are not sure what the wider national planning policy situation is so we have committed to wait until such time that the inspector can advise us on what should be done next

Swindon has given the following reasons for delaying progress on its local plan:

"In light of the national and local changes, the council needs to review and evaluate options for new development with updated supporting evidence to deliver homes to achieve a five-year housing supply."

Whereas the Vale of White Horse has cited the need to do further work on their evidence base, whilst avoiding further public consultations during election season.

Stalling local plans have been a depressingly common feature of 2022. If the last week is anything to go by, it is a trend that is only set to continue into the new year.

2. LURB heads to the Lords

The Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill completed its initial passage through the House of Commons this week, and is now on its way to the House of Lords.

As I reported last week, most of the rebel amendments were negotiated out of the bill itself and into a ridiculous number of consultations that have been promised 'before Christmas'. A promise that I, for one, would be happy to see the Government break....

The bill does, however, contain a number of potentially important government amendments which are worth keeping an eye on.

These include:

  • A proposal for new mandatory conditions requiring developers to submit regular reports on progress with build out rates under a particular planning permission
  • Further detail on Community Land Auctions
  • New rules requiring water companies to address nutrient pollution arising from waste water treatment plants
  • A new  power allowing local planning authorities to decline to determine applications in cases of earlier non-implementation; and
  • A new power allowing the Secretary of State to amend or modify a wide range of statutes relating to planning, development and compulsory purchase in order to facilitate their consolidation; which specifically includes revoking and repealing the legislation in question

If you want a more thorough digest of the Government's latest amendments, the Planning Resource summary can be found here.

3. Supreme Court rules on scope of planning conditions

We also received an early Christmas present from the Supreme Court, in the form of their second planning judgment of the year. 

DB Symmetry Ltd and another (Respondents) v Swindon Borough Council (Appellant) is a fascinating read and one that I recommend making time for. The case itself centred on two, very simple, questions:

  1. Is it lawful for a planning authority in granting planning permission for a development to impose a planning condition that the developer will dedicate land within the development site to be a public highway and
  2. Properly interpreted, does the planning condition that the Council were claiming did so, actually have that effect?

The answer to both questions was a resounding 'no'. 

I am not going to get too far into the weeds on this one, as most of the Chambers who had Counsel involved in the case are running webinars this week,** and will certainly do a far better job of explaining the judgment that I could. I will say, however, that the decision does provide a very useful recap of the case-law on interpreting planning conditions and will  no doubt shortly become required reading.

The Supreme Court has, however, rather helpfully summarised the rationale for its decision in the penultimate paragraph of the judgment, which is quoted in full below:

"76. There is no doubt that in this case Swindon BC would have been wholly justified in terms of planning policy in requiring the owner of the site to dedicate the access roads within the site as a highway extending to the boundaries of the site to enable the public to have rights of access to and from the other proposed development sites in the NEV south of the A420. It could have done so by means of a section 106 agreement, but for reasons unknown it did not do so. Its attempt after the event to rely on condition 39 fails for two reasons. First, it would have been ultra vires to require the dedication of the access roads as a highway by means of a planning condition. Secondly, on a proper construction condition 39 did not purport to do so." 

4. Latest Planning & Housing Stats released...and make for chilling reading

Yesterday also saw the release of the latest housing and planning statistics by DLUHC, which can be accessed here and here.

The statistics appear to reveal a slowdown in planning activity across the board. A few of the headline statistics are set out below:

" In the year ending September 2022, district level planning authorities:

  • granted 347,800 decisions, down 7% on the year ending September 2021; and 
  • granted 36,300 decisions on residential developments, of which 4,400 were for major developments and 31,900 were for minor developments, down by 10% and 7% respectively on the year ending September 2021.

This is equivalent to a decrease of 7% in the overall number of residential decisions granted." 

The decline in activity does not just relate to residential permissions, as the data shows that permissions granted for:

  • commercial developments are down 6% when compared to the same period in 2021; and
  • householder applications are down 18% on the previous year.

Whilst this probably will not come as a great surprise to many of us who are engaged in the sector, it does not make for particularly encouraging reading. 

On the same day that the planning stats were released, DLUHC, also published the outcome of the English Housing Survey 2022. There is a lot to unpack in the results of that survey, but I found the following findings particularly interesting:

  • "Owner occupation remains the largest housing tenure in England, and has seen a small increase compared to 2016-17.
    • There are 15.6 million owner occupied households, representing 64% of all households in 2021-22. This proportion is unchanged from 2020-21, and has been similar over the last decade, but has seen an increase from 63% in 2016-17.
    • Since 2013-14 there have been more outright owners than mortgagors. In 2021-22, 35% of households were outright owners while a further 30% were mortgagors."
  • " 1.15   Not surprisingly, outright owners were concentrated among the older age bands, while mortgagors were typically in the middle age bands. In 2021-22, 63% of outright owner households had a HRP aged 65 or over, while 60% of households with a mortgage had a HRP aged 35-54. About two thirds (65%) of households in the private rented sector had a HRP aged under 45 years, Annex Table 1.3."
  • 1.16   This variation by age was less apparent in social rented households, where 14% of households had a HRP aged 25-34, 16% aged 35-44, 20% aged 45-54 and 19% aged 55-64. The most prevalent group in the social rented sector were households with a HRP aged 65 or over (28%)."

5. Mystery midnight visitor disfigures snowman

And finally, to finish on a non-planning related story, we woke up this morning to find the carrot that had previously been serving as our snowman's nose*! had mysteriously vanished overnight.... My eldest is convinced that one of Santa's reindeer fancied a midnight snack. My other half and I suspect it was a fox...

In any event, keep an eye on your snow sculptures folks - there are vandals about!

* which has inexplicably taken to cutting off our water supply a couple of times a month - just to keep things interesting

**I have signed up to the 39 Essex webinar at 11am this morning - but other webinars are available. I am pretty sure No 5 are doing one as well. 

*! yes, I am aware that we should probably say 'snowperson' but my eldest daughter has named him Olaf and keeps asking if she can take him breakfast....