Hawkes Architecture are the only architectural practice in the UK to almost exclusively specialise in the design of Para 79 houses of exceptional quality and innovative nature of design.
We have an enviable track record and have an unparalleled level of success obtaining consent for proposals submitted under this unique UK planning policy. Often these projects have been in highly sensitive areas of the open countryside, including Green Belt, AONBs, Heritage Coast and even within a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
What Is 'Para 79'?
The term 'Para 79', formerly 'Para 55’ and prior to this 'PPS 7' refers to the aspirational national planning policy, first established in 1997, which sets out various circumstances which can enable the erection of new isolated dwellings in the open countryside.
The 'Paragraph 79' 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 consideration.
The requirements of Paragraph 79 set a 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 and our projects undergo a thorough examination at each stage of their development; from inception to planning, through technical design and construction.
Inspirational sustainable design is an inevitable consequence of our rigorous approach to each and every stage of a design’s development.
Background To NPPF Paragraph 79 (E)
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 79'.
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 79 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.
• 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 79(e) 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.
In July 2018 the policy evolved once again, this time moving to paragraph 79 which set out various "circumstances" which can be applied to allow the development of an isolated dwelling in the countryside;
79. ‘Planning policies and decisions should avoid the development of isolated homes in the countryside unless one or more of the following circumstances apply:’
It's worth noting that the para 79 provisions are no longer regarded as "special circumstances" but merely "circumstances". The provision at item 'e' remains largely unchanged from the paragraph 55 version, albeit wrapped up into two bullet points rather than four. The circumstance at para 79(e) now states that development of an isolated dwelling in countryside can be supported where;
e) ‘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.’
The 'tests' set within the policy remain the same as in previous iterations and apart from the "or" which stands between "truly outstanding" OR "innovate", the other tests are all "and"s, meaning that all tests must be satisfied.
The most recent iteration of the NPPF was issued in February 2019. The provision, and it's wording at paragraph 79(e) remaining unchanged.
What is changing in recent months is the interpretation and assessment of the term "isolated" since a Court of Appeal judgement in March 2018 which is being labelled "The Braintree Case".
In the Court of Appeal ruling, the term ‘isolated’ was said to imply its ordinary meaning in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and need no over-interpretation. Braintree District Council had appealed against the High Court’s rejection of its appeal against a planning inspector allowing planning permission for two homes in the village of Blackmore End.
Giving judgment in Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors  EWCA Civ 610, Lindblom J said paragraph 55 of the NPPF stated that local planning authorities “should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances”. The paragraph’s advice was to avoid “new isolated homes in the countryside”, which Lindblom J said: “Simply differentiates between the development of housing within a settlement - or village - and new dwellings that would be ‘isolated’ in the sense of being separate or remote from a settlement”.
He explained: “Whether a proposed new dwelling is, or is not, ‘isolated’ in this sense will be a matter of fact and planning judgment for the decision-maker in the particular circumstances of the case in hand. “In my opinion the language of paragraph 55 is entirely unambiguous, and there is therefore no need to resort to other statements of policy, either in the NPPF itself or elsewhere, that might shed light on its meaning.”
The judge concluded: “The inspector did not misinterpret or misapply the policy in paragraph 55 of the NPPF. His understanding of the policy was accurate, and his application of it impeccable.”
Whilst the Braintree case has provided some clarity on the interpretation of the term "isolated" it has in some ways created more complex problems.
A recent landmark appeal decision in March 2019 considered an exemplary proposal submitted under paragraph 79(e) as not being "isolated" and instead the Inspector, S J Papworth, looked to NPPF paragraph 131 where, ". . there are a lesser number of explicit criteria . ." and that, ". . the bar may be considered lower . ." as a result.
NPPf paragraph 131 states;
"In determining applications, great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings."
This shift in interpretation is giving us another potential filter to consider when initially assessing a site for its capacity to deliver a new dwelling where policy might generally seek to resist such development.
2019 marks the 22nd 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 79. 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 79 proposals are measured. Contact Richard and his team if you would like to discuss a potential site.
Hawkes Architecture don't just do 'NPPF Para 79 projects! We enjoy variety and have experience across many Architectural sectors, having designed a 200 home Holiday Leisure Complex, Schools, Churches and even a bespoke Suspended Circular Terrace in the Green Belt!
Many of our house commissions do not require Paragraph 79 to get consent. We're often working within established settlement boundaries, Replacement Dwellings, Conservation Areas (with or adjacent to Listed Buildings), Ancient Woodlands, AONBs, National Parks, Green Belt & even Scheduled Ancient Monuments. We're used to working with complex planning dynamics. Pushing the boundaries of possibility is what we do every day!
How Can Hawkes Architecture Help?
Securing planning approval for your new home can feel like an arduous task, especially when your site is in the picturesque English countryside. Paragraph 79 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.
Working with a select few planning consultants who are experienced in this particular facet of planning we have established a wealth of experience dealing with difficult planning applications. We are uniquely positioned to advise clients on the suitability of a site to deliver a proposal which can meet the challenges set.