Failed Paragraph 55 Applications

Friday Grove Farm, North Mimms, Hatfield

This 2006 (PPS7) application for a new contemporary style home in the Green Belt was rejected by the local authority on the basis of…. The scheme was for an interesting design that would be largely earth-sheltered – one of the areas for debate being, as the building form would be significantly projecting from the existing ground level (with minimal digging in), how much it could be deemed to interfere with the landscape despite being covered in grass.

The rejection was appealed by the owner, and while the inspector accepted that the design was of exceptional quality and innovative, he also found that the development did not enhance its immediate setting (The height and engineered appearance of the earth mounding along with… other works would not, in my estimation, be a significant enhancement of an already attractive and appropriate rural area).

Another part of the ruling is interesting. The inspector rejects claims that the design will raise standards generally in rural areas because, he points out, the innovative elements of the scheme (which involve large-scale rainwater harvesting and moving around lots of earth to provide the insulative mounding) do not counteract the fact that this is at the “expense of a substantial area of another finite and valuable resource – open countryside.” He concludes “the proposal does not reach the standard required to provide the special justification for an isolated new house in the countryside in line with advice in PPS7.” The appeal was dismissed, some four years after the initial application.

Hyde Farm, Baulking, Oxfordshire

This 2011 application for a large country house in a village setting in Oxfordshire was rejected by the local authority and taken to appeal. It used the house’s proposed compliance with Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes as justification for being innovative and was critiqued as ‘not exceptional’ by the local Architect’s Panel.

The inspector carefully considered the merits of the scheme. Whilst accepting that the proposals would result in an attractive and high quality development, “In essence, however, its basic form would be that of a U-shaped building of average two-storey height with a pitched roof (in part reflecting local feedback on earlier designs). Notwithstanding the varied materials and articulation of the elevations, I am not convinced that this relatively simple form, on such a very large scale, would go beyond the high quality expected of all development to a level that would be exceptional, truly outstanding or innovative.”

In referring to the use of Code Level 6 compliance as a justification for being ‘innovative,’: “given that an ever-increasing number of dwellings are being built with similar aims, it is questionable whether achieving a zero carbon development is sufficient, in itself, to meet the test of being innovative.” The appeal was dismissed.

Kiln Orchard, Newton Abbot, Devon

This 2010 application was for an eco dwelling in open countryside. The timing of the appeal is interesting in that in the period between the appeal being submitted and heard, PPS7 was replaced with Paragraph 55, against which criteria the appeal was heard. The inspectorate accepted that the design and features (biomass, PV etc) proposed in the hemcrete-built house would help it achieve its carbon negative aspirations, however “the building would use materials and employ technologies that are now well established, and often used in combination. A number of houses have been built to Code Level 6 standard and by 2016 this will be required for all new dwellings.”

Further, “Surplus energy would be generated, some environmentally friendly technologies employed and a dwelling constructed that would provide generous views of the countryside. A design of exceptional quality would be much more than this. Buildings constructed elsewhere to Code Level 6, have set a carbon neutral benchmark for new dwellings. It is a valid starting point. But there is nothing in the design of the appeal scheme that reveals ways of taking the technologies employed beyond already well trodden paths, or how a wish to do so would result in a building of beauty that would enhance its setting and be a joy to inhabit. I cannot conclude therefore that the design of the proposed building is either innovative in nature or of exceptional quality.”

The inspector goes on to say that the proposed biodiversity programme, whilst a welcome benefit, “would not be sufficient to outweigh harm to the rural character and appearance of the countryside arising from the introduction of a dwelling and a domestic garden into what is now essentially an agricultural landscape.” The appeal was refused.

Successful Paragraph 55 Applications

Mapperly Plains, Nottingham

One of the circumstances that is far from clear is how a site’s proximity to existing settlements affects the way any approval might be considered ‘isolated’. You wouldn’t expect to see new ‘country homes’ at the end of a row of existing houses, adjoining farmland or not. However, that’s not the case, says Planning Consultant Rob Hughes. “A PPS7 application on a house in the Nottinghamshire Green Belt [this is the Mapperley Plains house, designed by Marsh Grokowski] was rejected not because of the design, which the planning officer agreed met all the criteria outlined in PPS7, but because the house was directly adjoining houses in the Greater Nottingham conurbation (literally across the road from the edge of the settlement) and therefore could not be deemed to be isolated. This argument was overturned on appeal, meaning ‘isolation’, or perceived lack thereof, was in itself not a viable consideration for PPS7 houses.

“In the same appeal decision for Mapperley Plains, the appeal inspector conceded that the new house would sacrifice part of the Green Belt, but that the exceptional design outweighed these concerns. The inspector explained that ‘The proposal would be readily visible and accessible and as such, it would act as an exemplar of regional and national, and possibly international, significance. In my view, these factors represent significant benefits.’

“In my experience, opportunities to secure a design of this architectural and landscape quality, and potentially far-reaching importance in environmental terms, from a patron who is clearly committed to it, are very few and far between.”

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