Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Preclusive conditions – Court of Appeal judgment

Followers of this blog, and readers of my first book (“A Practical Guide to Permitted Changes of Use”) will be aware of my considerable interest in this topic. An appropriately worded condition in a planning permission can preclude the operation of the General Permitted Development Order. The operation of section 55(2)(f) of the 1990 Act (and Article 3(1) of the Use Classes Order) can be similarly precluded by such a condition. But difficulties have arisen where the wording of an allegedly preclusive condition does not refer expressly to the GPDO and/or to section 55(2)(f) and the UCO.

I commented on this issue at some length on 30 August 2016, when I blogged on the first instance decision in Dunnett Investments Limited v. SSCLG [2016] EWHC 534 (Admin), in which judgment was handed down on 11 March last year. I won’t repeat what I wrote there, but readers may wish to refresh their memory by looking at that blog post.

One particular aspect of the case that caused me concern was that this judgment seemed to continue an unfortunate trend in conflating the arguments relating to two separate statutory provisions (section 55(2)(f) of the 1990 Act, on the one hand and, on the other hand, Article 3(4) of the GPDO which precludes permitted development contrary to a condition in a planning permission).

Section 55(2)(f) provides that in the case of buildings or other land which are used for a purpose of any class specified in an order made by the Secretary of State under this section [i.e. the Use Classes Order], the use of the buildings or other land, or of any part of the buildings or other land, for any purpose in the same class is not to be taken for the purposes of the Act to involve development of the land. Article 3(1) of the Use Classes Order contains a similar provision. However, it should be noted that neither of these provisions grants any form of planning permission. They simply provide that any change of use from one use to another within the same use class is not development at all.

In contrast to this, Article 3(1) of the GPDO grants planning permission for the Classes of development described as permitted development in Schedule 2 to the Order. This is an important distinction. Contrary to the position under section 55(2)(f), development is involved here. These are changes of use for which planning permission is required, and it is the GPDO that grants that permission.

It is understandable that a preclusive condition need not necessarily refer expressly to section 55(2) (f) or to Article 3(1) of the UCO. This would appear to be confirmed by those judicial authorities that have dealt with this issue, such as City of London Corporation v SSE (1971) 23 P. & C. R. 169, and also Rugby Football Union v SSETR [2001] EWHC 927 and R (Royal London Mutual Insurance Society Limited) v SSCLG [2013] EWHC 3597 (Admin)). But a planning permission (such as that granted by Article 3(1) of the GPDO) should not in my view be precluded except by clear words, and I would still call in aid the observations, in particular, of Farquharson LJ and of Sir David Nicholls in this regard in Dunoon Developments v. SSE (1993) 65 P&CR 101.

However, I am sorry to say that today’s decision by the Court of Appeal in Dunnett Investments Ltd. v. SSCLG [2017] EWCA Civ 192 has gone the other way, and the first instance judgment in that case has been upheld. It is clear that the Court of Appeal, like the judge at first instance, placed considerable reliance on the decision of the Supreme Court in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd v Scottish Ministers [2015] UKSC 74, which encourages the concept of ‘implied’ conditions (contrary to the previously accepted position, per Widgery LJ, in Trustees of Walton on Thames Charities v Walton and Weybridge DC[1970] 21 PMCR 411 at 497).

The wording of the condition in Dunnett Investments was :

The use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, and for no other purpose whatsoever, without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained.

The view of the Court of Appeal was summed up in this passage from the judgment of Hickinbottom LJ:

“Looking first at the words used, I do not consider the construction of the condition either difficult or unclear. Read straightforwardly and as a whole, as Patterson J found (notably at [43]-[44]), the natural and ordinary meaning of the words used is that the condition allows planning permission for other uses but restricted to that obtained upon application from the Council as local planning authority, and excludes planning permission granted by the Secretary of State by means of the GPDO. In particular, with due respect to Mr Katkowski’s submissions to the contrary, in my view, “express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority” cannot sensibly include planning permission granted by the Secretary of State through the GPDO. It means what it says, i.e. planning permission granted by the local planning authority.”

In his view, the interpretation he favoured did not require the reading in, or reading out, of any words. On the other hand, the construction pressed by Mr Katkowski would take away all substance from the condition, leaving it entirely empty; the first part (“This use of this building shall be for purposes falling within Class B1 (Business) as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987…”) merely reiterating the scope of the grant, no more than emphasised by the second part (“…and for no other purpose whatsoever…”), whilst the third part or tail (“… without express planning consent from the Local Planning Authority first being obtained”) would be empty because it would include all means of granting planning permission whether by the planning authority or the Secretary of State. The condition would thus have no discernible purpose. It is a tenet of construction, falling within the umbrella of “sensible” interpretation as championed in Trump International, that it must have been the intention that a condition has some content and purpose. In context, this condition could not sensibly have been merely emphatic, which is all it would be if Mr Katkowski’s submission were correct.

Hickinbottom LJ added that the context in which the condition must be construed included the planning history of the Site – which, importantly, showed that the Council was anxious to maintain close control over the planning use to which the Site was put – and, more importantly still, the reason for the condition as set out in its own paragraph 2. That confirmed that it was imposed to enable the Council to maintain control over the use of the Site, by considering the merits of any proposal, in the light of its “particular character and location”. In other words, as Patterson J put it at first instance, “the sensitivity of the area to potentially unsympathetic uses was protected”. That was inconsistent with reliance by an applicant upon rights under either the GPDO or the UCO. Again, his lordship did not see any force in the submission that this clear reason is undermined by the reason expressed in the 1982 permission for the use then permitted, namely “to enable the [Council] to exercise proper control over the development and because the site is in an area where new industrial development would not normally be permitted”. The 1982 use was highly restricted, and the reason explained why a very narrow industrial use was being permitted. In his view, it did not undermine the clear words of the reason given for the more relaxed, but nevertheless considerably restricted, use permitted in 1995.

For all those reasons, Hickinbottom LJ was quite satisfied that the condition did properly exclude the operation of the GPDO; and that Patterson J was correct to reject the appellant’s argument to the contrary. Patten LJ agreed, and the appeal was accordingly dismissed.


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