Securing planning permission to build a new, secluded home in the idyllic countryside is intentionally set to be a challenging process. However, it is essential to understand that this complexity does not imply that developing your dream home is impossible.
Far from it, rules exist to permit this type of development. The governing charter is Paragraph 80(e) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). A policy intended to balance the desire to allow these types of development while, at the same time, protecting the natural beauty and ecological value of the green belt and countryside.
What is Paragraph 80
In the context of property regulations in the UK, Paragraph 80, or its abbreviated form ‘Para 80’, refers to a stipulation that grants permission to build new isolated homes in rural areas, marking an exception to the standard policies that typically restrict new dwelling developments in the countryside. The NPPF, as such, permits the construction of new homes in rural settings, but with a significant caveat: they must exhibit an exceptional quality of design –Grand Designs exemplary.
While under ordinary circumstances, “exceptional” is a broad designation susceptible to a myriad of interpretations, in terms of Paragraph 80, it stands for tangible yet complex requirements. This is in response to the prevailing reality that, despite ongoing efforts to enhance the overall design quality of new housing, the majority of new developments tend to lack distinctiveness and often fall short in terms of environmental considerations. In essence, it is a strategic measure to elevate the standards of architectural excellence and ecological mindfulness within the scope of countryside construction.
Background of Paragraph 80
The 25-year journey of what we commonly refer to as ‘Paragraph 80’ is a fascinating one, deeply intertwined with the evolution of property regulations in the UK. This brief history goes back to 1997, during the sunset days of the John Major government when the origins of Paragraph 80 were first sown.
The birth of Paragraph 80 (1997): In 1997, John Gummer, who served as the Environment Secretary, introduced a revised version of “Planning Policy Guidance 7: Countryside.” Under this new guidance, permission to construct a new isolated dwelling hinged on two key factors:
- The property had to be “essential to enable farm or forestry workers to live at or near their place of work.”
- Alternatively, it had to possess “the highest quality, be truly outstanding in terms of its architecture and landscape design, and significantly enhance its immediate setting and wider surroundings.”
The direction marked a significant shift, emphasising that a property’s unobtrusiveness was no longer a compelling argument. Proposals for such development needed to demonstrate a meticulous consideration of the local area’s defining characteristics, including local or regional building traditions and materials.
“Gummer’s Law” intended to ensure each generation would have the opportunity to contribute to the rich tradition of the English countryside.
The 2004 revision: In 2004, during the tenure of the New Labour government, the Gummer guidelines underwent a substantial revision with the publication of “Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas (PPS7).” Paragraph 11 of PPS7 introduced a crucial shift:
- It stated that “[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 had to be “truly outstanding and ground-breaking,” showcasing innovation in materials, construction methods, and environmental preservation, raising the design standards in rural areas.
- The value of such a structure lay in the embodiment of the highest standards in contemporary architecture, its substantial improvement of the immediate environment, and its consideration of the distinctive features of the local area.
Notably, PPS7 held legal weight, making it mandatory for local authorities to adhere to these standards when granting planning permission.
The National Planning Policy Framework (2012): Fast forward, 2012 was a pivotal time in the landscape of UK planning policy. The newly introduced National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) replaced over twenty Planning Policy Statements (PPS) and Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGN). With this transition, the era of regional planning strategies and housing targets effectively came to an end, though some housing targets persisted.
In the NPPF, the essence of Gummer’s Law found its modern form in what became known as Paragraph 55. Permission for new isolated homes should be refused except for the following:
- When the development involved the reuse of redundant or disused buildings, leading to an enhancement of the immediate surroundings.
- When the dwelling’s design was of “exceptional quality” or displayed an “innovative nature,” with a commitment to raising design standards in rural areas. This design should significantly enhance the immediate setting and remain sensitive to the local area’s defining characteristics.
Meeting these criteria proved challenging; according to a report in the Architects Journal, data from that period indicated that only 58% of Paragraph 55 proposals received approval from local planning authorities.
A new NPPF in 2018: In 2018, with the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework, Paragraph 55 became Paragraph 79. This transition brought subtle changes to the guidelines:
- The phrase “truly outstanding or innovative” from the 2012 version remained, sparking debate on whether a design had to be one or the other to navigate the planning process successfully.
- As reported by Building Design, during that period, architects argued in favour of substituting “or” with “and” in the criteria, while others accused their counterparts of trying to manipulate the system by incorporating “tech gizmos” to fulfil the innovation requirement. Additionally, a number of architects lent their support to the Beauty Commission’s report, which advocated for the removal of the term “innovative.”
Research cited in the same Building Design article showed that roughly the same proportion of applications were being refused under Paragraph 79 rules as under Paragraph 55 rules. Out of two hundred applications, 120 were approved, with fourteen needing to appeal for their approval.
NPPF version 3 in July 2021: In 2021, a new national planning guidance emerged answering architects’ calls for change. The previous wording, “truly outstanding or innovative,” was simplified to “truly outstanding.” The remainder of the criteria stayed intact, and as a result, Paragraph 79 transformed into Paragraph 80.
This latest iteration marked a significant step in the ongoing evolution of Para 80, simplifying the language and potentially streamlining the planning process. The history of this regulation reflects a continual effort to balance the need for exceptional quality in design with the preservation of the countryside’s defining characteristics, ensuring that new developments enhance the English landscape.
Six key Paragraph 80(e) tests your project needs to pass
Paragraph 80 exclusively pertains to isolated buildings situated in open countryside areas. It does not extend to, for instance, agricultural land adjacent to a village, town, or hamlet. This regulation allows for the development of new dwellings, provided it satisfies the following six criteria:
1. Exceptional quality
The term “exceptional quality,” similar to all six criteria outlined in Paragraph 80, is subjective. When presented with the same submission, one local authority may view it as meeting the “standard of exceptional quality”, while another may hold a different view.
To qualify as “exceptional,” the design of both the building(s) and the surrounding landscape should surpass what one would anticipate for a project not requiring Paragraph 80 approval, such as building on brownfield land.
It is important to note that passing the “exceptional quality” criterion is not a guarantee of approval; this is because “exceptional quality” is just one of the six criteria. For instance, in 2022, a proposed Paragraph 80 development in Northumberland, which a planning officer determined to be an outstanding design, was ultimately declined due to its location on green belt land.
The marker “Innovation” fell from power in the 2021 Paragraph 80(e) criteria. However, many architects consider “outstanding” to be nearly synonymous.
To meet the “outstanding” criterion, the design and construction should showcase significant advancements in creative imagination and building innovation. Planning officials look for a bold, distinctive technical design of the highest order and a building that incorporates leading-edge techniques. Properties falling under Paragraph 80 should genuinely stand out; after all, it is the continuation of a trend of era-defining architecture and landscape design going back centuries.
Nevertheless, similar to “exceptional quality,” the term “outstanding” is a matter of subjective judgment. Such a case was illustrated recently when planning officers rejected an application for a three-story home in Cornwall, only for the local authority’s sub-area planning committee to disagree and grant approval for the project.
To reflect the highest architectural standards in Paragraph 80 developments, the notion of sustainability carries a dual significance. The conventional understanding of sustainability remains relevant. Using recyclable and renewable materials and resources, emphasising environmental protection, reducing energy consumption, and waste minimisation will be regarded positively.
However, the second facet of sustainability may hold even greater importance. It entails a development’s capacity to harmonise with its particular site, the surrounding landscape, and available resources. An exemplar of this principle emerges in the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to overturn Shropshire County Council’s verdict against a “neo-classical building that is set on high ground back from the river’s edge. Part of their reason was that the property’s “appearance…together with its compact nature, is reminiscent of a folly in the English grand house tradition…that successfully blends traditional and modern styles.”
The Inspectorate ruled that “the design achieves a very high standard of quality” and successfully met this particular Paragraph 80 test.
4. Raise standards of design in rural areas
Paragraph 80 properties inspire architects and future architectural design. This influence extends beyond the building’s design and relationship with its immediate surroundings. It encompasses the materials employed, the level of craftsmanship exhibited during construction, the project’s sustainability, and the use of advanced technology.
In the Planning Inspector’s opinion on the “neo-classical building” mentioned just above, the project was described as “an example of a development that achieves two seemingly opposing outcomes: to both integrate within an existing bucolic landscape and to impose a manmade ‘statement’ in a similar manner to the country-house architecture of the past.”
“Accordingly, it is a modern interpretation of a traditional style of English architecture that has been appropriately executed and, as such, could be an exemplar for similar development.”
5. Significantly enhance its immediate setting
Some love Brutalist architecture because it stands out from classical architectural styles in what they consider a bold and confident way. Others hate it not necessarily for its style but because it often sits in sharp contrast to the buildings surrounding it. Consider the now demolished Westgate House in Newcastle that sat in its historic centre next to the Grade II listed “French chateau” Union buildings, voted as one of Britain’s 12 least desirable structures.
When applying for Paragraph 80 planning permission, remember that the property must not jar in its environment. It must do more than fit in within its surroundings –it must enhance them, too.
6. Sensitive to defining characteristics of the local area
Paragraph 80 properties should have a local accent and a local character, even if expressed in a more modern form. It should also not lead to significant negative impacts on local wildlife and ecology.
An instance highlighting the significance of the fifth and sixth rules became evident when Winchester City Council refused an application for the building of a five-bedroom floating home with a partially subterranean garage. The proposed site attempted to find a home in formerly agricultural land, and the project entailed the reshaping of an extant reservoir.
Among the various reasons the project was refused permission to proceed was that it “would not significantly enhance its immediate setting and is not sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.”
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Where to build your Paragraph 80 property
Although you can use Paragraph 80 to build on green belt land, expect even more intense scrutiny of your proposal if you choose that.
Ideally, do not choose green belt locations that are also Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Local Green Spaces, land within a National Park or the Broads Authority, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, areas protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives, ancient woodlands, or locations at higher risk of coastal change and flooding.
If that land has been previously developed and you wish to return it to use, it may be slightly more manageable. If your project is reasonably closer (but not too much) to other facilities and housing estates, this may also work in your favour.
Some local authorities advertise their desire for more high-quality homes as an economic development goal for their area. Let this Google search link guide you to these authorities.
Your pressing questions answered
Any individual or organisation can apply for planning permission under Paragraph 80, but it is essential to remember that the bar for approval is set remarkably high. Aspiring applicants should be prepared to meet the stringent conditions mentioned earlier.
Paragraph 80 FAQ
Paragraph 80 of the 2021 National Planning Policy Framework stipulates that any design for a new, isolated home, including in sensitive areas like the open countryside or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, must be, among other criteria, “of exceptional quality” and “truly outstanding”.
Paragraph 79 of the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework covered what was needed to gain planning approval for the type of property that could be described as a Grand Design house. The guidance was replaced in 2021.
Paragraph 55 of the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework, introduced in 2012 and superseded in 2018, set out the circumstances under which a new residential development could be constructed in an isolated area.
Paragraphs 55, 79 and 80 of the NPPF provide local planning authorities with guidance on how to treat an application to build new isolated dwellings in open countryside or green belt land. Paragraph 55 was contained in the 2012 version, Paragraph 79 in the 2018 version and Paragraph 80 in the current (2021) version. There have been incremental changes to the guidelines with each new addition.
Not necessarily, but many properties featured on Grand Designs may have had to submit and pass a Paragraph 80 planning application.
Under the NPPF framework, it is the responsibility of your local authority to consider applications using Paragraph 80 as a framework for decision-making. You need to make sure that your proposal is compatible with their interpretation of the framework.
It is a fact that some authorities deal with more Paragraph 80 applications than others. By contrast, offices with less experience may be more hesitant to approve isolated new houses simply because they are unfamiliar with the process.
Total costs of preparing and applying for Paragraph 80 approval vary but expect to pay between £10,000 and £30,000.
How to build your dream home in the countryside
Obtaining approval for your project hinges on several factors aligning in your favour simultaneously. One of the critical considerations is the location where you intend to establish your Paragraph 80 property. It is important to emphasise that purchasing land with the sole intent of applying for Paragraph 80 permission does not improve the likelihood of your application’s approval.
Selecting the right team for your Paragraph 80 project is a crucial step in achieving your dream of owning a home in the beautiful English countryside. While it may be a lengthy process, the ultimate reward of spending your first night in your dream home makes it all worthwhile.
Partnering with WindsorPatania
To set yourself on the path to success, begin by engaging the services of a reputable architectural firm, such as WindsorPatania, renowned for its substantial record in working on high-specification residential developments for discerning private clients.
Your chosen architect will be pivotal in orchestrating a multi-disciplinary team, including planning consultants, landscape architects, surveyors, engineers, and other seasoned professionals. This collaborative effort ensures that every aspect of your project –from design to compliance– receives the precision and expertise it deserves.
Furthermore, your architect will establish a project-specific design review panel. This panel serves a dual purpose: it offers valuable guidance and support throughout the project’s lifecycle, and it acts as a bridge between your project and local planning authorities. This liaison is instrumental in navigating the intricate landscape of regulations and permissions.
Book a free discovery call with our team at WindsorPatania to discuss your project.