Paragraph 79: How to Build a New House in the Countryside.
Building a house in the countryside has long been considered a dream. Due to prolonged periods of lockdown over the past year, this dream has been heightened for those wanting to escape urban areas and move to a more rural setting that can offer space and tranquillity. However, when setting out to build a new home in the countryside it is worth considering that ‘Paragraph 79’ of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) sets out criteria that has to be met when constructing a new home in an isolated setting.
Paragraph 79 was previously called Paragraph 55 and before that, PPS7 and PPG7. While the name and wording has evolved over the years, its purpose remains the same; to protect the character of any given rural area from poor quality new-build houses. Rodic Davidson Architects have extensive experience in the design and construction of one-off houses in the countryside; including those within Green Belts, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and those that must adhere to the criteria set out in Paragraph 79.
Paragraph 79 itself actively seeks to resist the development of isolated homes in the countryside but does go on to set out exemptions. Key among these is criterion e) which states the following exemption:
‘The design is of exceptional quality in that it:
– 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.’
Below, we interrogate this excerpt further in order to establish – based on our knowledge and previous experience – what will give a proposal the best chance of success at planning.
Part 1 – A design should be:
‘. . . truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture, and would help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas;’
It is first worth noting that the proposal can be either outstanding OR innovative and does not necessarily need to be both. However, it is obviously preferable to aim to address both aspects for the best chance of success.
- A successful application should have a clear narrative. This may be contextual (taking inspiration from an existing building on site or the site’s agricultural heritage) or touch on the personal aspects of the scheme such as a family history relating to the site.
- In most instances, our research has found that applications are viewed more favourably if they are for an end-user client rather than those that are commercially driven. The idea of the dwelling being used by a family that has links to the area can be seen as positive.
2. Design Strategy
- In terms of a proposal’s prominence on site, there does not appear to be a preference from local authorities. Approved schemes are a mix of those that purposefully stand out and ignore their context and those that subtly blend in with their surroundings. It could be argued that a building cannot effectively raise architectural standards in rural areas if it cannot easily be seen. However, this does not seem to deter local authorities who have approved a number of proposals that aim to be largely invisible from surrounding vantage points.
- A common theme among Paragraph 70 houses is the idea of partially submerging them in the landscape. This can benefit the proposal in terms of sustainability but also by reducing it’s visibility and allows it to connect to the landscape, for example with use of green roofs. That said, this approach is predominantly used on a sloping site which lends itself more easily to a cut in the landscape.
- Another approach is to draw inspiration from the positive qualities of nearby structures such as farmhouses and outbuildings. Refusal notices for Paragraph 79 houses often cite that the proposals were ‘out of scale with the local character’ and contribute ‘irregular forms’ to the area. Therefore, weight should be given to echoing the forms, scale and qualities of local structures. That is not to say the new house should be pastiche and twee. Instead, these characteristics can be consolidated in a contemporary manner that gives both a subtle nod to the past whilst also delivering a house suitable for modern living.
- Gone are the days when specifying ‘Passivhaus’ standards would have been viewed as innovative enough to pass Paragraph 79 criteria. That said, the implementation of advanced sustainable measures is still seen as an essential part of gaining an approval. This can include triple glazing, high levels of insulation, managing solar gain/solar shading, green roofs, air tightness, heat recovery ventilation, boreholes, wind harnessing technology and more. However, it is worth noting that the cost of implementing these can vary greatly (build cost, running cost, licenses etc) and so we would always encourage further briefing on this subject between client, architect, cost and M&E consultants prior to submission.
- There are other ‘low-tech’ measures that can be incorporated within the design process to enhance sustainability such as the orientation on site and the inclusion of passive ventilation and thermal mass. Likewise, a ‘fabric-first’ approach can be adopted by using locally sourced materials and those with low embodied energy coupled with good longevity. The use of local trades and crafts should also be promoted where possible.
Part 2 – A design:
‘. . . would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.’
- The majority of Paragraph 79 refusals resolve around the issue of a proposal not enhancing its immediate setting. The proposals that are looked at favourably often look to re-use or replace an existing man made intervention (the ruins of an outbuilding for example) or repair the damage done by previous human intervention (the regeneration of an unsightly yard for example).
- With regards to setting on site, a proposal that is set back from the road and largely secluded is generally viewed in a positive light due to the reduced impact on the local area. Another aim should be to limit the visibility of any ‘domestic paraphernalia and associated activities’ from nearby roads or footpaths.
- A coordinated and complimentary landscape design should be included with any Pre-Application Enquiry or Planning Application. Furthermore, a Landscape Character Assessment assessing the scheme’s presence on site (or lack of) should also be considered.
- Existing trees and foliage should be retained where possible. Further planting of native species is welcomed as it will enhance the setting and encourage biodiversity. A management plan can also be included at planning stage to demonstrate how the landscape will be maintained and allowed to evolve over time.
3. Ecology & Biodiversity
- The improvement of ecology and biodiversity are key arguments for enhancement. This is especially the case on sites that were once agricultural land; stripped of natural growth and effected by pesticides.
- Care should be taken to ensure new planting is native to the area and maximises ecological growth and biodiversity; such as wildflower meadows and borders. Linking areas of planting (and therefore habitats) is also encouraged.
- An Ecology Survey should be commissioned prior to planning in order to highlight the benefits of the proposal in comparison with the existing scenario. Depending on the outcome of the survey, other measures can be introduced such as the inclusion of bat boxes/tiles, bee bricks and the like.
In addition to the above, the benefits of collaboration and dialogue with the local planning authority, Parish Council and community in general cannot be stressed enough. Meetings and consultations should be factored into the design process; the feedback from which should inform the direction of the design.
Please contact Rodic Davidson Architects should you have a specific site in mind. We welcome the opportunity to help turn your rural dream into a reality.