This newsletter is published by the Law Society's Planning and Environmental Law Committee and sent to solicitors with SRA records indicating interests in planning and/or environmental law. For more about the Committee's activities, and to tell us how we can improve our newsletter, please contact us.
A roundup of notable recent policy developments, appointments, practice guidance and other changes.
Queen's Speech promises few changes
The monarch made reference to some environmental and planning measures in her address to parliament. Briefing notes accompanying the speech suggested that planned agricultural and fisheries bills would include environmental elements. Current EU-derived environmental legislation should be transposed by the Great Repeal Bill.
On planning, the speech committed the government to progressing the reforms proposed in February’s housing white paper. The Society has already responded to an earlier consultation on the paper.
Ministerial teams complete
The consequences of the recent election will take some time to materialise, but the government has named its full planning and environmental ministerial teams.
Sajid Javid remains Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Michael Gove is an intriguing choice as his Defra counterpart, replacing Andrea Leadsom (who has become Leader of the House). Gove's junior ministers remain unchanged: Thérèse Coffey, George Eustace and Lord Gardner.
Javid's juniors no longer include Gavin Barwell, who lost his Croydon seat and has been appointed Theresa May's Chief of Staff. Alok Sharma has taken over as Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning. The department also has two Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State: Marcus Berry and Jake Berry, a former solicitor.
Claire Perry has been appointed climate change minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Paris accord is Trumped
As promised, US president, Donald Trump, joined Syria and Nicaragua by taking his country out of the Paris climate accord. Secretary of State Gove - one of the first UK politicians to meet the new president - criticised the move.
Only one-tenth of England's floodplains are capable of managing flood waters as nature intended, according to a new study. Two-thirds of floodplains have been compromised by agricultural practices, such as the removal of hedgerows, while housebuilding and other urbanising development is responsible for just one-tenth of the damage.
Cornwall communities copy'n'pasty St Ives holiday home restrictions
New neighbourhood plans for the Rame peninsula and St Miniver have followed the example of the St Ives plan by seeking to restrict new housing development to homes for permanent occupation. St Ives' plan saw off a High Court challenge on this point in November.
Wild birds under pressure
Numbers of UK farmland and sea birds continue to decline, according to recent data. Farmland bird populations have halved since 1970, although the rate of decrease has lessened in the past three decades. Conversely, the fall in sea bird numbers has been steeper in recent years (although not in England).
Welsh Government revises historic protections
A number of changes related to the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 have come into force. These include a new Technical Advice Note following a consultation to which the Society responded.
Council fined for publishing sensitive data
Basildon Borough Council has been fined £150,000 for publishing sensitive personal data included in a planning application. The council failed to redact sensitive details included in a supporting statement, later arguing unsuccessfully that it was not permitted to withhold the details.
British beaches could be better
Just over 96 per cent of beaches were judged safe for bathing in 2016, although only two-thirds were rated ‘excellent’, compared with an EU average of 86 per cent. However, 20 sites were found to be of poor quality, with only Ireland posting poorer percentages.
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The Committee is pleased to welcome Sadia Hussain, senior planning lawyer at the London Borough of Southwark, into its membership. We are grateful to all those who expressed an interest in joining the Committee.
The Committee and the Society's housing and property committees drafted a joint letter to Alok Sharma, congratulating him on his ministerial appointment and offering our assistance on a number of areas of key concern. We also wrote to Michael Gove, offering assistance with the Brexit process. If you are able to help us help Michael with the legal aspects of Brexit please let us know. Around a dozen of you have already volunteered for our Brexit reference group - more are welcome.
In May, we responded to the Welsh Government's consultation on a draft circular for the planning of gypsy, traveller and showpeople sites.
The Department for Transport recently published - with our assistance - guidance on the adoption of roads in England so that they become maintainable at public expense.
The 'early bird' price for attendance at this year's Joint Planning Law Conference in Oxford is available only until the end of June.
Book your place
The following have recently come into force:
The Planning and Environmental Law Committee regularly responds to official consultations on points of law and technical matters. We may not respond to all the open consultations listed below but if you have input you'd like to share please contact us.
In each newsletter we highlight a small number of notable judgments across a range of topical legal points. This month, a procedural error in the Magistrates Court undoes a long-running planning-related case, and the Secretary of State sees off one parish council challenge while losing another - both over traffic impact disputes.
Headcorn Parish Council, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government & Anor  EWHC 970 (Admin)
A parish council has lost its challenge to a Kent council's approval of 220 homes on a site near Maidstone. The Secretary of State had decided that the proposal did not require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) under the terms of the 2011 EIA regulations. Headcorn Parish Council challenged this decision on the basis that the Secretary of State had failed to take into account traffic concerns expressed by the county council. However, Justice Lang maintained that the county's concerns did not relate to the site in question and need not be considered.
Westminster City Council v Owadally & Anor  EWHC 1092 (Admin)
An unusual case which began as action against a number of breaches of planning enforcement in 2014. The respondents were summoned to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court in May 2014. They did so and guilty pleas were indicated by their barrister. Crown Court confiscation proceedings followed. In 2016, the respondents indicated that they wished to vacate their guilty pleas. Lord Justice Goss in the High Court found that 'not taking the indication of pleas from the respondents personally, meant that the magistrates' court was acting without jurisdiction'. This meant that subsequent actions were also quashed and the matter has been returned to the Magistrates Court.
Moulton Parish Council & Anor v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWHC 1047 (Admin)
Justice Gilbart in the Planning Court has quashed the Secretary of State's decision to refuse permission for a 400-dwelling development at Newmarket. The decision had been contrary to an inspector's recommendation over a year previously. One of the grounds on which the Secretary of State failed was on the application of paragraph 14 of the NPPF, which should have applied due to the lack of an identified five year housing land supply in the area. The other ground where the challenge succeeded was on the assessment of highway impacts. These had not been identified as a concern in a previous, larger application: Justice Gilbart described the Secretary of State's later position as 'a complete and unexplained volte face'.