29 Jun 2023

Going Rural: The Pros and Cons of Building in the Countryside

Building a rural retreat in the countryside sounds idyllic, and there are certainly many pros to a country lifestyle. Still, it is not without its problems, especially if the land chosen has not been developed in the past. Here, Melanie Clear, Founder and Director of Clear Architects, looks at some of the areas to consider before planning a building project in the countryside.


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Drainage is a major consideration in any building project, but none more so than in rural areas where access to mains sewers and drainage points may not be possible.

If geological conditions are not suitable, then a soakaway is often an adequate solution to deal with surface rainwater runoff that doesn’t naturally drain away. An infiltration test should be carried out as early as possible to identify if it is feasible.

A soakaway is a cost-effective solution. A buried drain manages surface water which is assimilated into a pit in the ground rather than discharging to a watercourse or sewer. Bear in mind, however, the size of the hole will be relative to the size of the building/s.

There are a few rules in place when considering soakaways; they should be placed 5m from a building’s structure and should be on land lower or sloping away from a building, so ideally situated at the end of a garden. However, they can also be located under a porous driveway, such as resin bound, although there are cost implications to consider due to additional weight requirements from vehicle movement.

For land that has low permeability, an attenuation tank will be required to store excess surface water before directing it to another place rather than into the ground like a soakaway. This provides a long-term solution to reduce the threat of flooding. The tank will have a flow control chamber or device that slowly releases the water at a pre-agreed rate with the lead local flood authority into a watercourse or mains drainage system.

Foul drainage is more straightforward through traditional methods such as septic tanks or off-the-shelf products, for instance, a Klargester sewage treatment plant, with treated effluent discharged with permission into a soakaway, watercourse or mains drainage system.


If the plan is to build on an undeveloped parcel of land, then getting utilities to the site and building/s may be a problem, especially if it is isolated from a public road where existing infrastructure is likely to exist and can be more easily tapped into.

In an ideal world, three-phase electricity should be installed to futureproof the site and help power an all-electric house. However, this may be cost prohibitive if the existing infrastructure needs upgrading, as the utility provider will likely pass the cost on to you. Alternatively, you could speak with neighbouring properties to share the costs.

If single-phase electricity is the only option available, there are solutions to help mitigate against the higher demand an all-electric house will exert on the grid to prevent possible outages. Green technologies, such as a PV solar array with storage batteries which store surplus solar power, result in less reliance on the grid. Storage batteries can also be charged overnight, using off-peak tariffs for use throughout the day, so users with or without solar can benefit from lower bills.

Environmental impact

Under the Environment Act 2021, almost all new developments in England from November 2023 must deliver at least a 10% biodiversity net gain. This essentially means that while developing land, any construction work must contribute to the recovery of nature, ensuring the habitat for wildlife is in a better state than it was before development.

Loss of habitat caused by commercial

farming and increased construction has led to the UK losing almost 50% of its biodiversity since the 1970s. For this reason, rural planning applications must now include a Biodiversity Impact Assessment whereby the existing biodiversity values of a site are measured against the likely biodiversity values following development to ensure a bio net gain of at least 10% can be achieved via the mandatory Defra biodiversity metrics.

Site-wide biodiversity enhancements can be done in several ways, including the inclusion of wildflower green roofs, garden ponds, planting of native trees, shrubs and hedgerows, installing tree-mounted or integrated bird and bat boxes and the provision of hedgehog domes and hibernaculum.

Design and planning

Obtaining planning within the country can be tricky, especially if the area falls within the green belt or a conservation area; however, with the right approach, some great properties can be achieved. The key is to work with experienced chartered architects who understand the planning complexities of today; it’s a lot more than just drawings.

Before you begin, have a feasibility study undertaken of your site to see what/if development can be achieved and how. There is no one size fits all.

Providing well-considered designs and high-quality application documents can showcase how a proposal will enhance rather than detract from the landscape it sits within. We holistically design, starting with the site itself, threading strong sustainability credentials throughout the build and the wider landscape. Our model brings proven planning success within the green belt and rural locations. It is worthwhile getting the right architects on board to achieve an outstanding design and, ultimately, create that idyllic forever home in the country.

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