What is Paragraph 79?

Since its inclusion in the National Planning Policy Framework, Paragraph 79 (previously paragraph 55 / PPS7 / PPG7) actively dissuades local authorities from approving any development on unbuilt land in a rural setting. Importantly though, there are a number of exceptions within the policy detail.

The most interesting exception for clients dreaming of a self-build country house is the last. It asks for a design of exceptional quality with a house that is:

  • “truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture, and would help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas”

Further to this, the house would also have to:

  • “significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.”

(source: National Planning Policy Framework)

What type of country house does Paragraph 79 allow?

All cases are different

The call for exceptional design (and the diversity of the approved examples) means that there is no single ‘recipe for success’. Rather, it comes down to embracing the individuality of the project and being mindful that, since nothing can be assumed, it is a long process and a lot of work. Clients are advised that compromise and flexibility with regards to design decisions may be required.

Multi-disciplinary design

The design does require a holistic approach. Sustainability, for instance, can not be seen as an afterthought or even a way to secure your success; it is an integral requirement. A careful consideration of the site with a landscape designer is also key. Successful case statements frequently cite the landscape design and its positive impact on the site.

What should you be prepared for?

Paragraph 79 is often portrayed as the clause that planners wish you didn’t know about. It has been critiqued for being elitist in requiring large up-front expenditure, with a lower chance of success than other types of application.

In the last few years, there have been just 113 applications. 66 of these have been approved; 59 at committee level, 7 on appeal. This gives a success rate of 58 %, while the overall residential planning success rate is 87.5 % (data from a study by Studio Bark, featured in The Architects Journal).

That being said, the payoff for a successful Para-79 scheme is arguably proportionately higher; the clause itself ensures a one-off building of the highest standard and it does allow permission for projects that would otherwise never be possible to build.

How do I obtain consent using Paragraph 79?

Understanding the site’s potential

Firstly, not every site has the potential to succeed, irrespective of the house’s design. Paragraph 79 states that a building has to be exceptional or innovative, whilst always improving its immediate surroundings.

Paradoxically, while some sites have been deemed too extraordinary to build on, others have been discarded because they are not beautiful enough. Therefore, buying a site and blindly assuming you’ll be able to build your dream home on it is not an advisable approach.

Persuasion through early dialogue

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for rural new build Country House approvals seems to stem from local authorities being afraid to set a dangerous precedent. As Paragraph 79 is a rather unusual form of planning, many local authorities also struggle with a lack of experience, leading to a hesitancy to approve schemes.

Opening up dialogue early on in the project is therefore very important. Prior to submitting for consents, a scheme should be thoroughly discussed and developed. Once the design has been approved or refused, there can be no design changes during the appeal process.

How should we approach the project given the ambiguity of Para 79?

We would suggest that planning committees are more likely to support projects with the following specific criteria:

  • The site has a backstory or personal narrative
  • Technologies and ecological strategies are proposed that are unique to the site
  • Non-virgin sites, i.e. somewhere where there used to be a house
  • And, a subjective but crucial point: achieving a sense that the house ‘belongs’ and that the site ‘needs a building’

Para 79: a design led process

While the architect naturally has a significant part to play in any project, the requirements of a para-79 project are exceptional. It is an exciting prospect, compelling architects to push the boundaries in terms of dedication and design. The proposal has to be a response borne from a particular context, and it has to be unique.

Crucial to Para-79 is an architect’s ability to design individual projects of definable character. An architect with a focus on environmental design, experience in Passivhaus strategies and commitment to landscape architecture will also increase your chances.

From appointment, the architect will need to have a larger degree of executive power than in other projects. As a Para-79 client, you can assume the brief will be deliberately ambiguous and shorter than normal. Beyond room requirements, an overall idea of size and budget, the design aspirations may take precedence over other preferences for the application to be successful.

Conclusion

Paragraph 79 presents an exciting yet challenging opportunity for both client and architect. Whilst clients may not be able to shoehorn a previously conceived ‘dream’ design to fit the Para 79 criteria; the considered design approach required may result in a truly original, exemplary home. Key points to remember are as follows:

  • This is not an easy venture, but the process has significant rewards if successful
  • A dedicated team of professionals are required to navigate the waters of the NPPF
  • A close dialogue with the local community and planning authority will increase a project’s chances
  • There should be a strong connection to the site and local context, with a convincing narrative
  • Extensive surveying and specialist research is required
  • The second criteria, of the building significantly enhancing its context, must be carefully considered
  • Every project is unique, all planning authorities are different and there is no single ticket to success

Please see our portfolio if you’d like to find out more about our residential projects, or contact us on 020 3637 4236.