Amanda, do you offer a full planning service?
Yes. We cover everything from development plan policy, applications, Section 106 Agreements, appeals and judicial challenges. There are all sorts of things in between. Many sites need to deal with additional matters such as Listed Building Consent, Tree Preservation Orders, public footpath or highway diversions, Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Regulation Assessment. We deal with all of these.
What is your background?
I started life as a planner with a local authority, before switching to law. I have worked as a planning lawyer now for over 25 years. Before joining Shulmans I was head of planning in the Leeds office of a major national firm. I chair the Planning Reform Group of the regional Chamber of Commerce and am an Editorial Broad Member of the Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal.
Shulmans has a strong reputation in the house building industry. How does your work dovetail with others?
It is well established that the country needs more new homes. There is a great deal of activity at present therefore in securing future opportunities. Colleagues in our residential development team are doing a lot of options, promotion agreements and conditional contracts. My team works alongside them and arranges planning work. We work closely alongside planning consultants in making representations on development plans and then get really involved in the detail of any Section 106 Agreements or similar. Despite the need, many residents still don’t want new housing in their area. We therefore work with residential developers to minimise the risk of a Judicial Review by ensuring all the complex legal planning requirements of new schemes are met. If the Local Planning Authority refuse permission then we can quickly assess the chances of success of appeal, help put together the team of witnesses and lodge and progress the appeal.
How does the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) affect the work that you do?
At the moment we have to cover both angles. Relatively few local authorities have yet adopted CIL, but we need to assume that they might do so in the life of a proposed development. As the regulations have changed from time to time, we have had to track and adapt to the changes. I have presented at a number of seminars on CIL and expect to be doing so for some time yet!
Does it really need a specialist planning lawyer to deal with a Section 106 Agreement?
It is always desirable – but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? In fairness, a straightforward agreement (just dealing with the payment of lump sum contributions perhaps) may not need a specialist planning lawyer, provided that the developer is sure that the obligations are in line with policy. As with any walk of life, planning lawyers become more expert and experienced over the years. There are times when we have been able to save large amounts of money or solve problems for clients that have got them on site much more quickly, because we have been able to put that experience to good use. We also work so regularly with many local authorities that we can deal quickly with issues that arise.
What about the framing of conditions?
One point that is often overlooked is the interaction between the conditions in a grant of planning permission and the terms of any Section 106 Agreement. They really need to fit together in a consistent and coherent manner. Often a lot of time can be spent in dealing with the Section 106 Agreement, for an entirely contrary set of planning conditions then to be issued, leaving everyone confused! Part of our role is to look at the proposed conditions and ensure that they work with the planning agreement.
Do you handle many appeals or judicial challenges?
Over the years, I have done lots of each. The rules have changed lately, reducing the time within which a judicial challenge/review can be made. It will be interesting to see if that simply focuses the mind or leads to fewer challenges.
Appeals will also be necessary, but as I have said much can be done in the early stages of the process to minimise the risk of an appeal or judicial review. On big schemes in particular we will often help the developer and the planning consultants to ensure that the process is followed, to make the decision as challenge-proof as possible.