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Court of Appeal hands down ruling on housing development "immediately adjoining" settlements

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a resident’s claim that Cornwall Council unlawfully applied its planning policy in a dispute over the building of a home in a hamlet named Trevarrian.

In Corbett v Cornwall Council [2022] EWCA Civ 1069 Sir Keith Lindblom, sitting with Lord Justice Moylan and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, said the term ‘immediately adjoining’ in the policy could have a variety of meanings and Cornwall’s interpretation had been reasonable.

Resident William Corbett argued planning permission for a house on land connected by a drive to a road which runs past existing buildings was unlawful as the home would not ‘immediately adjoin’ anything.

Mr Corbett had already sought judicial review but this had been dismissed by Mrs Justice Jefford.

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He argued the council misinterpreted and misapplied part of the Cornwall local plan that refers to the concept of development ‘immediately adjoining’ and that the council took into account the irrelevant consideration of the functional relationship between the proposed development and the settlement.

A planning officer's report supported the application and said the new home would be on previously developed land immediately adjacent to a settlement.

Jefford J had referred to dictionary definitions of the words ‘adjoin', ‘adjoining’ and ‘adjacent’, which, she said, were wide enough to include 'next to' or ‘very near’.

The addition of the word ‘immediately' did not change this, Jefford J had said, as its presence did "no more than reinforce the word ‘adjoining' and indicate the element of judgment in whether a site is or is not adjoining”.

Mr Corbett’s counsel told Sir Keith the words "immediately adjoining" could only mean ‘contiguous' or ‘coterminous’.

Sir Keith said: “I cannot accept that argument. I see no legal error in the council's conclusion that the concept of ‘development of previously developed land within or immediately adjoining [a] settlement of a scale appropriate to its size and role’ could and did embrace the proposed development.

"This is not a legal concept. It is a concept of planning policy. It requires the exercise of planning judgment on the particular facts of the site and proposal in hand.”

He said the term "immediately adjoining" did not require an elaborate explanation and should not be given “an unduly prescriptive meaning”.

The judge explained: “There is a degree of flexibility in them. They do not necessarily mean ‘contiguous’ or ‘coterminous’ or ‘next to’ or ‘very near’.

“They allow the decision-maker to judge, on the facts, whether the site and proposed development can be regarded as sufficiently close to the settlement in question to be ‘immediately adjoining' it – which is what the council did here.”

Sir Keith then turned to whether Cornwall took into account an immaterial consideration that the proposal "would extend the residential setting and function of Trevarrian rather than introducing a new home of a more detached nature”.

He said: “In my view the submission is mistaken. Though the main focus of this part of [the] policy is on the physical and visual relationship between the site and development and the settlement, it does not follow that the functional relationship between them can have no bearing upon the necessary exercise of planning judgment.”

Mark Smulian

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