02 Sep 2015

A house in the country?


Securing planning approval for your new self-build home can feel like an arduous task, especially when your site is in the picturesque English countryside. Getting to grips with Paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework could be the key that unlocks your development, as Richard Hawkes of Hawkes Architecture explains.


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The self-build sector is set to double over the next few years. The National Custom & Self Build Association estimates that by the end of 2018 councils will have enabled up to 10,000 self or custom build opportunities to come forward, doubling the scale of the current self-build sector.

Despite this, securing planning permission for a new property in a countryside setting remains, necessarily, challenging, especially in locations that fall within Green Belt or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For many, however, these are the very environments in which they would like to put their roots down and build the home of their dreams.

Regardless of whether you already own land or are considering a plot purchase, building a home within a restricted area doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. It can be a realistic aspiration – but it’s not for the faint hearted.

This opportunity comes courtesy of National Planning Policy Framework Paragraph 55, which advises local planning authorities that they should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances. And it’s these ‘special circumstances’ that have lead most of our clients to contact us here at Hawkes Architecture. More specifically, it's the provision set out within bullet point 4 of Paragraph 55, which states that planning consent may be granted if the proposals are of exceptional quality or innovative nature of the design.

The policy goes on to say that: “Such a design should: be truly outstanding or innovative, helping to raise the standards of design more generally in rural areas; reflect the highest standards in architecture; significantly enhance its immediate setting and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.”

While the policy calls for something truly outstanding or innovative and to reflect the highest standards in architecture, experience shows that there is so much more to it than mere aesthetics and architectural extravagance.

Does your plot suit Paragraph 55?

Certainly, when carrying out an initial assessment of a site’s suitability to be the setting of a dwelling under Paragraph 55, what the design might be is almost irrelevant. The question that has to be asked – and answered – is: does your site have the right ‘ingredients’ for a proposal under Paragraph 55?

It is essential that your team fully understands the character and heritage of the local area and uses the immediate setting to inspire the design. They must consider the nuances of integrating landscape, architecture and technology, and how they can be set harmoniously within the site.

My experience shows that instilling a strong sense of place and integrating technologies, which are specific to the site and the design that evolves from it, are all critical to a successful Paragraph 55 application.

A word of warning though – it’s not an easy process and you need to get candid advice from the outset. An early assessment of the site and the local and national planning policy landscape is essential.

Theoretically, Paragraph 55 has the potential to apply to any land, regardless of its level of protection. That doesn’t, however, mean that all sites will gain approval through this route – just that they theoretically could. Each site brings with it a myriad of contextual and policy nuances which will influence the likelihood of a site being considered suitable.

Expert insight

Having established a wealth of experience dealing with Paragraph 55 applications –and its predecessor, PPS 7 Paragraph 11 – over the past eight years and having been successful on all 10 occasions thus far, I have submitted proposals under the auspice of this policy. I believe that Hawkes Architecture is uniquely positioned to advise on the suitability of a site to delivering a proposal which can meet the challenges cited within bullet point 4.

Our site appraisal process typically takes between six and eight weeks; the results give you advice on whether we consider a submission under Paragraph 55 is possible, and if so why. We also provide a detailed breakdown of the associated costs in pulling such an application together and produce a detailed programme to show how long things are likely to take. We believe these ‘tools’ to be the most important factors a potential client needs before deciding whether or not to proceed with such an application.

If you’ve found a plot within a countryside location, or if planning has previously been refused, a Paragraph 55 appraisal is a good foundation to work from.

Although we have a 100% success rate for submissions under paragraph 55, there is no magic formula and one scheme cannot be used to help justify another. Each site and set of circumstances is unique from any other, but we have found that with each scheme there has been some form of ‘angle’ on which to base a proposal.

Further information....

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