Many local authorities have planning policies that look favourably on proposals to develop sites which ‘adjoin’ existing settlements, but what exactly does that mean? The High Court gave authoritative guidance on that important issue in opening the way for construction of a new house on the outskirts of a rural hamlet.
An objector mounted a judicial review challenge after the council granted planning consent for construction of a house and garage on the site of a former commercial building. The site lay on the other side of a road from the hamlet’s main built-up area. The case hinged on a local planning policy that made provision for employment and housing growth to be accommodated by development of previously built-on sites which were ‘within or immediately adjoining’ existing settlements.
The objector argued that the council had misinterpreted the policy in reliance on a misleading planning officer’s report. He asserted that the word ‘adjoining’ has a clear and specific meaning of ‘lying next to’, ‘coterminous with’ or ‘contiguous with’. The addition of the word ‘immediately’ was said to mean that the site and the settlement had to physically touch – with no physical or man-made features between them – in order to bring the site within the ambit of the policy.
Dismissing his complaints, however, the Court ruled that the definition he sought to put on the phrase ‘immediately adjoining’ was too narrow and literal. It had to be given a sensible meaning, which embraced the concepts of ‘next to’ and ‘very near’. In reaching the view that the site fell within that definition, the planning officer had reasonably exercised his planning judgment.