England: Sometimes it seems that almost everyone who owns a bit of the English countryside would like to put a house in it. Unfortunately if everyone was able to do that then you might not be looking at countryside any longer but an extensive suburb overrun by ride-on mowers. For this reason one of the fundamental tenets of the UK planning system is that new housing in the “open countryside”, that is everywhere outside of defined settlements, will be strictly controlled. By strictly controlled we mean refused, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Paragraph 79 of the revised National Planning Policy Framework sets out five such exceptional circumstances. First the agricultural (or other essential rural) worker clause, still the most common reason for sticking new homes in the countryside. But forget it unless you have a genuine desire to start a new agricultural enterprise or have a real business need to live onsite in the countryside. The second is the heritage clause applicable where the proposal would effectively save a listed building from otherwise dereliction. The third circumstance, the re-use and enhancement clause, seems to give some support towards barn (or other) conversions “where the development would re-use redundant or disused buildings and lead to an enhancement to the immediate setting”. The fourth circumstance (introduced in this new version NPPF), the subdivision of an existing dwelling clause – pretty much does what it says on the tin. Finally at the fifth bullet there is the “Country House” clause where the exceptional architectural quality of the proposal is sufficient justification in itself.
This latter clause is slightly amended from the previous version of the NPPF paragraph 55 which was itself the child of PPS7 paragraph 11 and the grandchild of the original PPG7 paragraph 3.21 introduced by John Gummer in 1997 to ensure that “each generation would have the opportunity to add to the tradition of the Country House which has done so much to enhance the English countryside.” The NPPF paragraph 79 has nothing to say on each generations of aspiring architects but does require that any design justified under this policy:
– is truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in
architecture, and would help to raise standards of design more generally in
rural areas; and
– would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the
defining characteristics of the local area.
The subtle or in the first bullet means that designs could potentially still qualify by being outstanding without being innovative and innovative without being outstanding.
Often the second bullet is trickier – to significantly enhance the immediate setting. Take the image below a typical site a rough grassland paddock sloping down to a river. It’s not the most picturesque landscape but it’s not unattractive. Can we really significantly enhance this environment whilst building a house on it?
This is no easy route to a new dwelling in the countryside. Estimates differ as to how many houses have been approved under the “Country House” clause in the 20 years-odd since 1997. Probably no more than 100, perhaps fewer than 50. And we understand that a high proportion of those approved never even get built. Managing the risk for clients is near impossible due to the high level of financial commitment to professional fees with no certainty of the outcome. The client needs to be prepared to sink tens of thousands of pounds into the project happy to wave it goodbye if nothing comes of the proposal. Until approval is given, your fantastic country house design is actually a teetering house of cards ready to come crashing down at the whim of a single Planning Inspector.
Still interested in taking your chances against paragraph 79? Before you open up your cheque book read the related articles at Homebuilding and Renovating. Still interested? By all means give us a call…