Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Going to appeal

On Wednesday 1 March last year, I reported on the High Court decision in Winters v. SSCLG [2017] EWHC 357 (Admin), on the premature commencement of development that required a prior approval application under the relevant part of Schedule 2 to the GPDO. However, this case went on to the Court of Appeal on 5 December. I have not yet caught up with the CA judgment, but will report on it as soon as I have had a chance to read it. I felt that the first instance judgment was entirely in line with the current understanding of the law relating to ‘jumping the gun’ on permitted development, but at least one judge has clearly been persuaded that there is an arguable point to be made in favour of a contrary view. My money would nevertheless have been on the High Court judgment being upheld, but we shall see whether I was right or wrong about this.

On Wednesday 1 November, I drew attention to the judgment in Lambeth LBC v SSCLG [2017] EWHC 2412 (Admin), in which the issue of implied conditions arose again. This is another judgment which seemed to me to demonstrate an entirely correct application of the law on this topic as it is currently understood (taking on board the observations of Lord Carnwath JSC in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited v Scottish Ministers [2015] UKSC 74). The Lambeth case also went up to the Court of Appeal on 1 December, and when I get hold of the judgment it will be interesting to see what they have made of it.

Finally, on Friday 8 December, I mentioned the High Court judgment in Braintree DC v SSCLG [2017] EWHC 2743, as to the meaning of "isolated" in paragraph 55 of the NPPF. However, I understand that this too is going on to the Court of Appeal, and so I will postpone comment on that case until we see what the Court of Appeal has to say on this issue.

UPDATE (3 March 2018): I am informed that the appeal to the Court of Appeal in the case of Winters has now been withdrawn, and so the High Court judgment in this case stands unchallenged.


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Whither De-CLoG?

One of the really big and important announcements yesterday in the course of Theresa May’s masterly and authoritative re-shuffle of her cabinet was that Sayid Javid, in addition to keeping his current job, is to be known in future as the Secretary of State for HOUSING, Communities and Local Government, and his department will be similarly renamed. The whole world stands back in amazement at this revolutionary and epoch-making change.

Voters who don’t follow these matters as closely as planning anoraks (planoraks?) like me may not be aware that Housing has in fact been one of this ministry’s major responsibilities for the past 70 years. But now this closely-guarded state secret has been revealed to the whole world.

My immediate problem is that I will no longer be able to refer to the Department as “De-CLoG” (a name, incidentally, which I did not coin myself - one of my friends in the Planning Inspectorate told me that this is the name by which the Department is known within PINS). “De-HoCLoG” just doesn’t work, and even if we use an updated variant on the department’s own preferred moniker, so that it becomes HCLG, this doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.

I know; I’ve just had an idea. We should call it the Ministry (or Department, if you prefer) of Housing and Local Government. Brilliant! I wonder why nobody ever thought of such an obvious name before. In practice, now that Housing is the first element in the Department’s name, the popular press will probably refer to it simply as “the Housing Department”, and to the Secretary of State as “the Minister of Housing”. In public relations terms, this spotlight on the Department’s housing brief may not be to the government’s advantage.

There is still a junior housing minister, and Dominic Raab (MP for Esher and Walton) has today replaced Alok Sharma in this role. Raab was previously a junior minister in the Department of Justice. The PM had already set Housing as a major priority for De-CLoG, and so the name change simply underlines the fact that Javid will be held personally responsible if the Department fails to deliver, both literally and metaphorically, on the housing front.

He will have an uphill struggle, however. Thanks to the enthusiastic welcome given by Eric Pickles (‘Uncle Eric’, remember him?) to entirely unnecessary austerity cuts imposed by the Treasury under the Tory-dominated coalition government, De-CLoG took a particularly hard hit in terms of staff numbers, with the result that it is now woefully short of the staff resources it needs to beef up housing delivery, or to perform its various other functions effectively.

Early last year I expressed scepticism following publication of the government’s Housing White Paper. To use one of Theresa May’s favourite mantras – “Nothing has changed. Nothing. Has. Changed.” The White Paper re-stated the government’s aim of building a million new homes by 2020. As I pointed out last year, this would require an annual completion rate as high as, if not higher than, the building rate achieved under the dynamic leadership of Harold Macmillan as Minister of Housing and Local Government in the early 1950s, which included a substantial proportion of publicly funded social housing [yes, “council houses”]. Does the government seriously expect the private sector now to match that building rate without such a significant public sector input? We are already a quarter of the way through the period within which their ambitious housing target was to be achieved. Were there a quarter of a million housing starts or housing completions in 2017? If not, then the build rate will have to accelerate to an even higher annual figure if the government is to stand any chance of meeting its 1 million-home target by the end of 2020.

The basic problem is the same across all areas of government - housing, the NHS, social care, education, and many others. Despite empty words from the Prime Minister, austerity continues apace, and more spending cuts are in the pipeline. Our public services are crying out for extra spending and urgent capital investment. Raising the pathetically low rate of standard rate income tax (and, for the sake of fairness, also raising higher rates of tax going well above 50%) is the only way that this can be achieved. This is, of course, against the Conservative Party’s religion, and so it won’t happen under this government. Not surprisingly, the government’s efforts to appeal to younger voters and to a wider social spread of voters are unlikely to yield the electoral dividends they seem to expect. This government (like all its predecessors) will be judged by its record, not by public relations 'spin'.