Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan Rejected at Referendum

The Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan, prepared by Middlewich Parish Council, became just the third neighbourhood plan in the country to be rejected at the referendum stage yesterday (14 March 2019) following a recount.

1,085 residents voted against the plan whilst 1,063 voted in favour – a majority of just 22 votes. 3 ballot papers were rejected as being unmarked or wholly void for uncertainty. The turnout was 18.91% from an electorate of 11,376.

The first neighbourhood plan to be rejected at referendum was Swanwick Neighbourhood Plan in Derbyshire in October 2016. The second, last September, was Thornton Estate in Hull.

Planning Inquiries Set to Stay

Yesterday the government published the report of Bridget Rosewell OBE following her review into the planning appeal system.

At a time when backbench bills have promoted the idea of heavily restricting or removing the right of appeal from planning decisions, the report states that “there is much to commend in the current process” and identifies the perceived advantages of the public inquiry as follows:

The responses to the Call for Evidence confirm what we consistently heard at the stakeholder meetings that the ability to present evidence, and have it rigorously tested through cross-examination are very important for all the groups involved in the process. Other factors which were also highly valued were the ability for some matters to be examined in more detail than might be possible through either a hearing or written representation process and the opportunities available for the views of communities to be heard“.

It is therefore not unsurprising that the system is recommended to remain albeit with a series of reforms that are largely a common-sense introduction of good practice. That being said, the author frankly acknowledges the need for a culture change in the conduct of PINS as well as the provision of significant resources if the reforms are to work.

The statistics set out in the report all too clearly demonstrate the need for reform and additional resources:

  • An average of 315 inquiry appeals were decided each year in the last five years.
  • Around 81% of these were decided by a planning inspector (with the remaining decisions taken by the Secretary of State).
  • In 2017/18, average timescales for inquiries determined by an inspector were as follows:
    • Receipt to start letter – 7 weeks
    • Start letter to start of inquiry – 29 weeks
    • Start of inquiry to decision – 11 weeks
    • Receipt to decision – 47 weeks
  • Over the past four years, the number of appeals has reduced by 30% and the approval rate for appeal decisions has declined from 62% to 47% over the same period.

The report makes a total of 22 recommendations, ranging from committing the Planning Inspectorate to introducing a new online portal for the submission of inquiry appeals to setting out a strategy for recruiting additional inspectors so inquiries can be scheduled sooner, reducing the length of time they take to conclude.

According to the DCLG, the Planning Inspectorate will now prepare an implementation plan which will set out precisely how it will deliver these recommendations. Let’s hope that we do not wait too long!

Resident successfully challenges removal of Local Green Spaces status for playing fields

A local resident has won a High Court challenge over the removal of Local Green Spaces (LGS) status for playing fields from the London Borough of Richmond’s Local Plan.

The Teddington Society and Friends of Udney Park had applied for the status for Udney Park Playing Fields, a 12.5 acre site and following consultation, the Council adopted LGS status for the fields as part of the Richmond Local Plan.

During the public examination of the Local Plan the Council defended the LGS status while Quantum, a developer looking to obtain planning permission for 107 apartments, sought to have it removed.

In his report on the examination the planning inspector recommended a main modification removing LGS status from Udney Park. Richmond considered itself bound by the report and so gave effect to the main modification when it subsequently adopted the Local Plan.

The claimant argued that the main modifications did not make it clear that they included de-designation of the site, and therefore those in favour of retaining the designation were not given a proper or real opportunity to make representations on the point at this stage of the examination.

As a result, the claimant said, they were substantially prejudiced. Had they been made aware that this was a matter to be addressed in the consultation, they could and would have submitted further evidence and arguments on the point. They said it was conceivable in this event that the outcome would have been different, ie designation would have been retained.

Neither the Council nor the Secretary of State sought to defend the claim, but Quantum sought to resist the ground of challenge arguing that the de-designation of the site as LGS was not and could not have been the subject-matter of main modifications; accordingly, the Council, in undertaking the related consultation, was not obliged to refer to it. There was therefore no procedural error in the main modifications consultation process which was the only challenge made against the council, it added.

Mr Justice Waksman upheld the claim, saying that the claimant and Friends of Udney Park had suffered sufficient substantial prejudice as a result of the procedural defects. He quashed the relevant part of the Local Plan.

Richmond Council will now hold a six-week consultation on the inspector’s decision that had removed Udney Park’s LGS status from the Local Plan.

Peyto Law Acting for Epping Forest District Council as Local Plan Examination Hearings Get Underway

The Local Plan examination hearings for Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) got underway this morning (12 February 2019) at the Council Offices in Epping.

Louise Humphreys has been instructed by EFDC to provide legal advice and assistance to the Council during the examination process, working alongside Mark Beard of 6 Pump Court.

The first part of the hearings will focus on legal compliance; the plan’s context, vision & objectives and sustainable development; place-shaping & general masterplan approach; and the quantitative requirements for development.

The second part of the hearings, which will commence on 25 February 2019, will focus on the spatial strategy and distribution of development before a short break until mid March.

The hearings are being webcast and you can follow them here. Alternatively you can find out more about the examination process at the examination website.

Communities Secretary issues directions over Local Plan failure to two Councils

The Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire, has issued directions to two local authorities, Wirral and Thanet Councils, on preparations for their Local Plans.

In both cases the minister said the requirements of s.27(1) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 had been met for intervention in view of the councils’ failure to get a Local Plan in place.

The two local authorities are now required (within ten weeks of the letter for Wirral and four weeks for Thanet) to designate a lead councillor and lead official to be responsible for progressing preparation of the Local Plan.

In addition, Wirral has also been directed to publish an action plan, which must be verified by independent planning experts, and report monthly to the Ministry on progress whilst Thanet has also been directed, within eight weeks of the date of the letter, to amend its Local Development Scheme (dated July 2018) to provide for the completion of a review of their Local Plan within six months of its adoption.

Stevenage Borough Council in judicial review challenge over delays to Local Plan

Stevenage Borough Council has launched a judicial review challenge over the temporary holding direction of its Local Plan.

The Stevenage Borough Local Plan was submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on 21 July 2016 and received a positive inspector’s report in October 2017 recommending its adoption.

The council said that following the imposition of the holding direction, it had provided detailed information to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) with all questions responded to by the start of last year.

Peyto Law Secures £21k Fine and £17k Confiscation Order Following Successful Prosecution

Louise Humphreys has continued to act for Chiltern District Council (CDC) in the criminal proceedings relating to the failure by Lombard Hotels Ltd and Asrar Ahmed to comply with an enforcement notice. Details of the prosecution and the facts can be found here

Asrar Ahmed was sentenced today (18 January 2019) at Aylesbury Crown Court by the Honourable Recorder for Aylesbury and ordered to pay a fine of £21,170 (including victim surcharge). In addition a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) was made in the sum of £17,000. Mr Ahmed was also ordered to pay CDC’s costs in bringing the proceedings in the sum of £23,293.04.

No separate penalty was given against Lombard Hotels Limited of whom Mr Ahmed was the sole Director and Company Secretary.

It is understood that the breach of planning control has now been resolved and that the site operatives are operating in accordance with their planning permission.

Brent Council secures £322k confiscation orders against husband and wife landlords

Brent Council has secured confiscation orders totalling £322,282 against a husband and wife landlord team who converted two terrace houses into 18 flats without planning permission under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

The confiscation orders were made at Harrow Crown Court against Mohammad Ishaq and Shamim Akhtar both of Clifford Way, Neasden.

The pair had previously pleaded guilty to the planning offences at Willesden Magistrates Court in May 2018

On top of a confiscation order of £161,141 each, the defendants were also each fined £10,000 for their failure to comply with planning enforcement notices on properties they own in Willesden and Harlesden. They were ordered to pay the council’s costs.

Ishaq and Akhtar had previously lost appeals against Brent’s enforcement notices, which ordered them to undo the works. Despite written warnings, they ignored the problem and failed to comply with the notices for several years. It is understood that works have now mostly been completed to revert the properties to their lawful use as single houses.

Parish fails in High Court challenge to permissions for 229 homes

East Bergholt Parish Council has failed in a High Court challenge to decisions by Babergh District Council to grant planning permissions for 229 new homes in the Suffolk village.

Sir Ross Cranston, sitting as a High Court judge, said the three applications involved were not in accordance with the local development plan but were granted because Babergh could not demonstrate a five year housing land supply. They were therefore allowed under the provision of the National Planning Policy Framework that permits applications for developments deemed sustainable in this situation.

The case turned on the Parish Council’s claims that Babergh had not lawfully exercised its discretion when assessing deliverability in the context of a five year land supply. The Parish Council contended that the officer’s report did not direct councillors as to whether the scheme’s opponents had a point to make, and that an error in the calculation of the land supply was not corrected.

In East Bergholt Parish Council v Babergh District Council [2018] EWHC 3400 (Admin) Sir Ross decided: “I cannot accept that the officer’s reports for the three sites were misleading, certainly not significantly misleading, in not directing councillors as to what is said was the error in the council’s 2017 [five year supply]. On their face there was nothing in my view untoward in the officer’s reports.”

He also ruled that Lindblom LJ’s judgment in St Modwen Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government did not mean Babergh was wrong to take into account developer pressure and that the developers might mount legal challenges against the council.

It is not unlawful for a local planning authority to want to have confidence that it will be able to robustly defend the judgments it forms on the deliverability of housing sites,” Sir Ross said. “For that reason the concern about challenges from developers was lawfully taken into account as a factor in decision-making.”

He also dismissed a claim that Babergh had acted unfairly in giving four days’ notice rather than five of papers for the meeting concerned.