For me, this year's Annual Midlands Development Management Conference in Leicester was as good as ever with 150 people in attendance. Not that I could be considered biased tho’ as Landmark Planning was running it!
The substantive topics of Biodiversity Off Setting (Nick Sanderson – Ramm Sanderson), Viability (Matt Spilsbury - Turleys) and Air Quality (Daniel Clampin - WYG) were, as usual, bookended by the framework topic of Planning Legislation, National Policy and the year's key legal cases (Christian Hawley & Hugh Richards – Brum No. 5).
While Nick’s talk went through the greater requirements in terms of Appropriate Assessment, as a consequence of “People over Wind”, the main focus was Biodiversity Off setting. The DEFRA Metric Calculation Tool 2.0, introduced in July, looks quite complicated. Its implementation, already in local Counties such as Warwickshire, but likely to be introduced everywhere, given the current Environment Bill with a 10% increase in habitat value requirement, will have major implications. Hopefully, they should have the desired objectives in terms of biodiversity enhancement, but the implications for development including costs and reduced numbers on site could be significant. Daniel’s talk had some of the same resonances in relation to Air Quality. Again the Environment Bill trials meeting the World Health guideline levels of fine particulate levels, but for the present the "Land Use Planning and Development Control: Planning for Air Quality” document published by IAQM & EPUK in 2017 is considered the bible.
At least with viability Matthew Spilsbury was able to talk about the Standardised iMethodology in Viability Assessment, as described in the updated planning Practice Guidance of this September. It is still clear that there will be still be considerable debate about the Benchmark Land Value and the level of Developer’s profit to justify the risk and costs involved. Particularly with the latter, it is not clear how this fits with the major house builders development models.
Legislation changes took a back seat this year, but Christian Hawley had plenty of national policy and practice guidance to get his teeth into. For me the most interesting was the interpretation aspect. While Tesco v Dundee has historically fixed the role of the Courts in arbitrating on interpretation they are not prepared to get involved in the NPPG, other than on grounds of Wednesbury unreasonableness or irrationality. And, increasingly, Government policy is being promulgated by this method with no consultation or scrutiny and almost silently issued. This could end in tears at some point.
Hugh Richards finished the day with his usual tour de force on planning cases determined in the last year. The EWCA judgement of only two days before, establishing that on S73 applications the operative part of the application, that is the description cannot be changed, was discussed in some detail. Hugh had taken the trouble to fully outline Justice Holgate's summation of the principles behind the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development in this year’s Monkhill V SoS case. This was circulated to all delegates in the packs.
And I hope its not just me but I always enjoy the role play session the most. This year we chose a shopfront and signage application, small scale, but Christian and Hugh were still able to put two totally different viewpoints forward that split the audience 52 – 48 (shades of Brexit!) in favour of dismissal. The real result was approval. Better than last year's when only 3 out of 125 got the ’right’ answer!
What is apparent from all the presentations is the continuing greater complexity in all of the specialist aspects of the development management process, as well as the legal and policy context. The generalist Development Manager or Planning Consultant has to do his / her best to grasp the principles, but will never fully understand the complexity of each discipline. Then when trying to mediate between different expertises, when there are divergences, there is a requirement for the wisdom of Solomon. It emphasises that to be good and to be more than a box ticker requires seriously high level expertise and experience. Good luck everyone!