Development Opportunities in and Around Cornish Settlements

1st June 2021

The current Cornwall Local Plan, which was adopted in November 2016, introduced the concept of ‘infilling and rounding off’ within the towns, villages and hamlets of Cornwall. This policy signalled the Council’s general distancing from the traditional approach to settlement boundaries.

Traditionally, the use of settlement boundaries has been rigid and development is only considered acceptable if it is located on the “right” side of an arbitrary line drawn around a settlement. Cornwall’s more flexible approach remains a positive and refreshing move and is undoubtedly one that other neighbouring local authorities could learn from. The approach encourages good, sensible sites to come forward for development whilst also supporting organic and proportionate housing growth across the county, for settlements of all sizes – big, small and dispersed.

However, whilst the removal of settlement boundaries has created opportunities for development, it has also created some uncertainty. Since the concept was introduced, developers, landowners and planners alike have been interpreting the following definitions under the auspices of Policy 3 of the Cornwall Local Plan:

Housing and employment growth can be allowed through:

  • rounding off of settlements and development of previously developed land within or immediately adjoining that settlement of a scale appropriate to its size and role; and
  • infill schemes that fill a small gap in an otherwise continuous built frontage and do not physically extend the settlement into the open countryside. Proposals should consider the significance or importance that large gaps can make to the setting of settlements and ensure that this would not be diminished.

In an effort to provide further clarity, the Council have produced a Chief Planning Officer’s Advice Note on Infill/Rounding Off. Whilst the note is useful for interpreting the policy, whether or not a site comprises “infilling” or “rounding off” ultimately remains a planning judgement to be argued and agreed with the decision maker.

A recent High Court decision (Corbett v The Cornwall Council (April 2021)) also provides further guidance to aid developers. The decision looks at what “immediately adjoining” means in the context of Policy 3. Interestingly, this case suggests that a site could “immediately adjoin” a settlement, even if the application site and settlement are separated by a road, contrary to the Advice Note. The courts concluded that it is reasonable to interpret “immediately adjoining” as “very near to” and not necessarily that the application site should physically touch the settlement. Furthermore, the judge also confirmed that an element of judgment was required to determine whether a “physical divider necessarily rendered the site not “immediately adjoining”.

Following receipt of this decision, we will continue to monitor the interpretation of this policy with interest. However, it is clear the Council’s approach, reinforced by the recent court judgement, means that there is considerable opportunity for new development to come forward in locations that are close to existing settlements.

Our planning consultants in the Cornwall office have considerable experience of progressing planning applications in such circumstances and we would be happy to share our views and experiences on the opportunities which may be available.

Daniel Rogers, Senior Associate

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