Hawkes Architecture are the only architectural practice in the UK to almost exclusively specialise in the design of Para 55 houses of exceptional quality and innovative nature of design. We have an enviable track record and have obtained consent on each and every occasion proposals have been submitted under this unique policy. Often these have been in highly sensitive areas of open countryside including Green Belt, AONB and even within a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The term 'Para 55' formerly 'PPS 7' refers to the aspirational national planning policy, first established in 1997, which sets out various special circumstances which can enable the erection of new isolated dwellings in the open countryside.
The requirements of Paragraph 55 set a very high bar for architects, and rightly so. It demands a design approach of the highest quality. As a result, our studio has developed a sensitive and creative approach to design.
Our projects undergo a thorough examination at each stage of their development; from Inception to Planning, through Technical Design and Construction. We also monitor our buildings so we understand how people use them.
To date every one of our PPS 7 & paragraph 55 consents has either been built, is being built or is about to be built. We make sure that what we design is of a suitable size and complexity to make it genuinely viable for its given location and client requirements.
Inspirational sustainable design is an inevitable consequence of our rigorous approach to each and every stage of a design’s development.
What is 'Para 55'?
The term 'Para 55' or formerly 'PPS 7' house refers to the aspirational national planning policy provision, first established in 1997, which sets out various special circumstances which can enable the erection of new isolated dwellings in the open countryside.
'Paragraph 55' houses refers to the special provision set out in bullet 4 of paragraph 55 of the NPPF.
The policy is a response to the reality that, despite the drive to improve the design quality of new housing generally, new housing continues to be very ordinary and with very poor environmental considerations.
How can Hawkes Architecture help?
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. Paragraph 55 could offer the opportunity to make your development possible.
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 example.
What the design might be is almost irrelevant when carrying out an initial assessment of a site’s suitability for a dwelling under Paragraph 55.
The first question that has to be asked (and answered) is: Does the site have the right ‘ingredients’?
Theoretically, paragraph 55 appears to suggest that it could apply to any land in the countryside, regardless of its level of protection. This is definitely not the case!
Each site brings with it myriad contextual and policy nuances which will influence the likelihood of a site being considered suitable.
Working often with Hughes Planning who themselves are a specialist planning consultant in Para 55 houses, we have together established a wealth of experience dealing with paragraph 55 and PPS 7 applications. We are uniquely positioned to advise on the suitability of a site to delivering a proposal which can meet the challenges set within Para 55 (4).
If you’ve found a plot within a countryside location, or if planning has previously been refused, a paragraph 55 site appraisal is a good foundation to work from.
Background to NPPF Paragraph 55 (4)
Prior to 1997 The Planning Act of 1947 had instilled a ‘no new houses in the countryside’ philosophy in planning.
In 1997 the then Environment Secretary, John Gummer, revised Planning Policy Guidance 7: Countryside to include the following. PPG 7 Paragraph 3.21 was the first iteration of what we now know as 'Para 55'.
Paragraph 3.21 stated that new house building in the open countryside should be strictly controlled. It went on to say;
'The fact that a single house on a particular site would be unobtrusive is not by itself a good argument; it could be repeated too often.'
'Isolated new houses in the countryside require special justification'
'An isolated new house . . . may . . . be justified if it is clearly of the highest quality, is truly outstanding in terms of its architecture and landscape design, and would significantly enhance its immediate setting and wider surroundings. Proposals for such development would need to demonstrate that proper account had been taken of the defining characteristics of the local area'
'the opportunity to add to the tradition of the Country House'
It was this policy which coined the term, 'The Country House clause' which also became known as 'Gummer’s Law'.
Significantly, this established an aspirational objective rather than the usual policies of constraint.
The roots of paragraph 55 are clearly visible from the origin of this great policy.
The Labour government subsequently lobbied to remove this clause due to it seeming to unduly favour the wealthy elite. Instead the wording of the policy was altered in 2004 in the issuing of Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas.
Where PPG 7 was planning ‘guidance’, PPS 7 became planning ‘policy'.
At paragraph 10 of PPS7, the guidance stated that isolated new houses in the countryside would require special justification for planning permission to be granted, whilst at paragraph 11, the guidance went onto say: -
Very occasionally, the exceptional quality and innovative nature of the design of a proposed, isolated new house may provide this special justification for granting planning permission. Such a design should be truly outstanding and ground-breaking, for example, in its use of materials, methods of construction or its contribution to protecting and enhancing the environment, so helping to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas. The value of such a building will be found in its reflection of the highest standards in contemporary architecture, the significant enhancement of its immediate setting and its sensitivity to the defining characteristics of the local area.
In March 2012 the Government issued new national planning guidance in the form of The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
At paragraph 55 the advice to local planning authorities is that they should;
'avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances'.
Bullet point 4 of paragraph 55 describes the special circumstances which can allow the erection of isolated dwellings in the countryside.
The 'special circumstances' included at bullet point 4 include;
'the exceptional quality or innovative nature of the design of the dwelling.'
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'.
Whilst there is no doubt that proposals do continue to have to demonstrate that a dwelling proposed under paragraph 55 (4) is of exceptional quality, and rightly so, the removal from the policy of some of the more difficult terms in PPS 7 / 11 was a response by Government to encourage and support those proposals that genuinely seek to raise the bar of quality in the design and execution of new dwellings in the countryside.
2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of this great policy yet many architects and planners continue to struggle to grasp the intricacies and nuance within the tests set within paragraph 55. Through an unparalleled level of experience, passion and commitment to this important facet of national policy, Hawkes Architecture continue to set the bar by which other paragraph 55 proposals are measured. Contact Richard and his team if you would like to discuss a potential site.
Useful links, background & resources
The National Planning Policy Framework 2012
Rob Hughes - Hughes Planning LLP Chartered Town Planning Consultancy
5 things you need to know about paragraph 55 by Jason P Orme
Building a new home in the countryside: Paragraph 55 guide by Jason P Orme
Home built under paragraph 55 by Jason P Orme
Paragraph 55 applications: Successes and Failures by Jason P Orme
Planning Policy Guidance 7: Countryside (PPG 7) 1997
Meeting the challenge of PPG7: May 2004
Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas 2004
Private Investment in the Countryside: An assessment of the role of new houses & estates. By Peter Prag & Roger Gibbard April 2003
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