WRITTEN STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT (FEBRUARY 2014):
Nick Boles MP (Planning Minister) has made the following written statement to Parliament about Part 3 Class J of the GPDO (i.e. office-to-residential conversions):
- February 2014: Written statement by Nick Boles MP to Parliament (link).
The main points of the above written statement can be summarised as follows:
- A recent survey has found that there were more than 2,250 applications for change of use from office to residential in the first 6 months since the legislation was introduced. Some of these developments are, in themselves, each set to deliver more than 100 homes.
- Exemptions were granted for 33 areas within 17 local authorities. A challenge against this exemption process was dismissed by the High Court, and has not been appealed.
- 8 local authorities have made Article 4 directions removing permitted development rights under Part 3 Class J. Some of these directions apply to the entire local authority area, whilst others are targeted at specific sites. It is considered that 2 of these local authorities "have applied their directions disproportionately", and DCLG will write to these local authorities to request that they consider reducing the extent of their directions. Ministers are minded to cancel Article 4 directions "which seek to re-impose unjustified or blanket regulation".
- Some local authorities "do not appear to have applied the correctly intended tests to determine applications for prior approval and have sought to levy developer contributions where they are not appropriate (on matters unrelated to the prior approval process)". DCLG will update its planning practice guidance "to provide greater clarity on these points".
- Quote from the "Conclusion" section: "a small minority of town halls are trying to undermine these reforms, not least, since they are unable to hit such builders with state levies or since they may have an irrational objection to more private housing. Yet, these conversions coming forward will help offer competitively priced properties, accessible to hard-working people".
TRANSCRIPT OF THE HIGH COURT JUDGMENT (DECEMBER 2013):
The following transcript is now available for the High Court judgment (handed down on 20/12/2013) for the application by several London Boroughs for a judicial review of the exemption process for Part 3 Class J of the GPDO:
- London Borough of Islington, and London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWHC 4009 (Admin) (20 December 2013).
[Note: The transcript for the above High Court judgment is available as a free-to-view transcript on the Bailii.org website (link)].
The main points of the above High Court judgment can be summarised as follows:
- Paragraph 15: The judge noted that some of the claims made within the written statement by Eric Pickles MP to Parliament dated 24/01/2013 (link) are contradicted by the fact that "as the claimants have stated, the amendment to the GPDO is not limited to underused or empty office premises and the absence of any inclusion of affordable housing will not necessarily benefit local people". He also subsequently described (in paragraph 30) the lack of any requirement for affordable housing as "worrying". However, he stated that he could not consider this issue, because the application for a judicial review related to the exemption process, rather than to the legislation itself.
- Paragraph 22: With reference to the letters sent by DCLG to Councils on 10/05/2013 notifying them of the outcome of the exemption process, the judge described the information within these letters as "useless", and stated that it "cannot be justified" that the reasons for the scores within these letters was not given until July 2013. However, he stated that he could not consider this issue, because it had not been pursued as a ground of challenge.
- Paragraph 24: The judge concluded that the time period given for Councils to submit their applications for exemptions was not inadequate, and was certainly not unlawful. He noted that "No other complaints have been made and other LPAs were able to put forward all that they needed to put forward in the time allowed".
- Paragraph 27: The judge expressed concern at the decision by DCLG to separately mark the strength of the case for exemption and the robustness of the evidence in support.
- Paragraph 28: The judge rejected the assertion that Councils, in preparing their applications for exemptions, could not have been expected to be aware of the relevance of planning policies or the loss of business rates.
- Paragraphs 29-30: The judge noted that "it would have been sensible for [the Secretary of State] to have worked out in advance how applications were to be assessed and to have given that information to the LPAs", but stated that "failure to do what is best is not to be equated to unfairness justifying a decision that what was done was unlawful", The judge concluded that "I am not persuaded that there was unfairness in either of the ways argued by the claimants".
- Note: The Planning Jungle website does not normally summarise court judgments. This is because a number of other websites already provide such a service, whereas the Planning Jungle website primarily summarises appeal decisions (particularly "LDC Appeals" relating to Part 1 of the GPDO). For such appeal decisions, where an Inspector refers to a court judgment within their decision notice, then this will normally be shown within the summary on the Planning Jungle website (because each summary normally includes quotes from the decision notice).