What is Paragraph 80 and how to use it to build your dream home in the country?

What is Paragraph 80 and how to use it to build your dream home in the country? Planning Paragraph 80

What is Paragraph 80 and how to use it to build your dream home in the country

Securing planning permission to build new, isolated homes (Grand Designs-type properties) is intentionally difficult. But that’s not to say that it’s impossible.

Far from it. Rules exist to permit this type of development. The governing framework is Paragraph 80(e) of the National Planning Policy Framework. The stated intent of Paragraph 80 is 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.

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The 25-year history of Paragraph 80

The history of Paragraph 80 goes back to 1997, the sunset days of the John Major government. Since that time, the regulation has been subject to four important revisions which we detail below.

1. The beginnings of Paragraph 80 in 1997

In 1997, John Gummer, the then Environment Secretary, introduced a revised version of “Planning Policy Guidance 7: Countryside”.
Permission to build a new isolated dwelling was subject to the property being either:

  • “Essential to enable farm or forestry workers to live at or near their place of work”
  • “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.”

That a property would be “unobtrusive” would no longer be “by itself a good argument”. It continues, “proposals for such development would need to demonstrate that proper account had been taken of the defining characteristics of the local area, including local or regional building traditions and materials.”

“Gummer’s Law” was intended to give “each generation would have the opportunity to add to the tradition of the Country House which has done so much to enhance the English countryside.”

2. The 2004 revision

In 2004 with the publication of “Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas (PPS7)”, the New Labour government revised the Gummer guidelines.

Paragraph 11 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 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.”

Whereas PPG7 was just guidance, PPS7 was actual policy meaning that local authorities had to apply these standards legally.

3. Creation of the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012

For decades, planning policy in the UK (later just England following the establishment of the devolved parliaments) was governed by a mish-mash of over twenty Planning Policy Statements (PPS) and Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGN).

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came into force in March 2012 replacing all existing PPSs and PPGNs. The NPPF brought also about the scrapping of regional planning strategies and housing targets (although the latter never really went away). Local authorities’ role was now to proactively plan for new developments and to greenlight individual proposals which were consistent with the new guidelines.

In the NPFF, the original Gummer’s Law found its modern form in Paragraph 55. Permission to new, isolated homes should be refused except if:

  • “The development would re-use redundant or disused buildings and lead to an enhancement to the immediate setting”
  • “[A dwelling is of] exceptional quality or [its design is of an] innovative nature. Such a design should:
    • be truly outstanding or innovative, helping to raise 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.”

These were tough conditions to pass. So much so that a contemporary report in the Architects Journal found that only 58% of Paragraph 55 proposals were actually approved by local planning authorities.

4. A new NPPF in 2018

Paragraph 55 became Paragraph 79 when the 2018 revision to the National Planning Policy Framework was launched.

Paragraph 79 was slightly different to Paragraph 55 and the guidelines were now:

  • “The design [of a proposed development] is of exceptional quality, in that it:
    • is truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture, and wouldhelp 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 phrase, “truly outstanding or innovative”, a hangover from the 2012 wording, continued to prove problematic. Did a design have to be one or the other to get through the planning process successfully?

As Building Design reported at the time, some architects wanted the “or” to be replaced with “and”. Some accused others of “gaming” the planning system by adding “tech gizmos” in an attempt to fulfil the “innovation” criteria. Many backed the Beauty Commission’s report to simply remove the word “innovative”.

Research cited in the same Building Design article showed that roughly the same proportion of applications was being refused under Paragraph 79 rules as under Paragraph 55 rules. Out of 200 applications, 120 had been approved (with 14 needing to appeal for their approval).

5. NPPF version 3 July 2021

Architects got their way as new national planning guidance was introduced in 2021. In the new NPPR, the 2018 wording – “truly outstanding or innovative” – was replaced with just “truly outstanding”. The rest of the wording remained the same but now Paragraph 79 was Paragraph 80.

The five key Paragraph 80(e) tests your project needs to pass.

Paragraph 80 only applies to isolated buildings in the open countryside. It doesn’t apply to, for example, agricultural land that may border a village, town or hamlet.

The regulation permits the development of new dwellings so long as it meets the following six criteria:

1. Exceptional quality

“Exceptional quality”, like all six Paragraph 80 test criteria, is subjective. Faced with the same submission, one local authority may deem a proposal to be of exceptional quality while another may disagree.

To be “exceptional”, the design of both the building(s) and the surrounding landscape should go far beyond what would be expected for a project that would not require Paragraph 80 approval, for example, building on brownfield land.

Passing this test alone is not a guarantee of approval however as “exceptional quality” is just one of the six criteria. For example, in 2022, a proposed Paragraph 80 build in Northumberland judged by a planning officer to be an exceptional design was eventually rejected because it was on green belt land.

2. “Outstanding”

“Innovation” disappeared from the 2021 Paragraph 80(e) criteria. But “outstanding” is, many architects believe, almost a synonym.

To be “outstanding”, the design and build should contain significant advances in both creative imagination and building innovation. Planning officials want to see a bold, distinctive technical design of the highest order and a construction that utilises cutting-edge techniques. Paragraph 80 properties should be truly unique. This is, after all, the continuation of a trend of era-defining architecture and landscape design going back centuries.

But, like “exceptional quality”, “outstanding” is subjective. This recently led to planning officers rejecting an application from a couple in Cornwall for a three-storey home only for the authority’s sub-area planning committee to disagree and give the green light to the project.

3. Reflect the highest standards in architecture For Paragraph 80 developments, sustainability has two meanings.

The standard meaning of sustainability applies. Using recyclable and renewable materials and resources with an emphasis on environmental protection and a reduction in energy consumption and waste will be viewed favourably.

However, its second meaning may be more important – sustainability in the sense of a development responding to its particular site and the surrounding landscape and resources. Your project should take as an example of this, the Planning Inspectorate overturned 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 that it passed this particular Paragraph 80 test.

4. Raise standards of design in rural areas

Paragraph 80 properties inspire architects and future architectural design.

That doesn’t just mean the building design and its place with its immediate surroundings. It also means the materials used, the standard of workmanship during construction, the sustainability of the project and the use of 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 that was voted as one of Britain’s 12 least desirable structures.

When applying for Paragraph 80 planning permission, bear in mind that the property must not jar in its environment. It must do more than simply 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 that’s expressed in a more modern form. It should also not lead to significant negative impacts on local wildlife and ecology.

An example of the importance of the fifth and sixth rules came when Winchester City Council recently refused an application to build a floating five-bedroom home with part subterranean garage. It was to be built on previously agricultural land and the work required the reshaping of an extant reservoir.

Among the many reasons the project was refused permission to proceed was that the project “would not significantly enhance its immediate setting, and is not sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.”

Eden House terrace patio with coffee table and large window doors, WindsorPatania Architects

Where to build your Paragraph 80 property

Although you can use Paragraph 80 to build on green belt land, expect an even more intense scrutiny of your proposal if you choose that.

Ideally, don’t 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 areas at higher risk of coastal change and flooding.

If that land has been developed before and you wish to return it to use, it may be slightly easier. If your project is reasonably close to other facilities and housing estates but not too close, 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.

Paragraph 80 FAQ

What is paragraph 80 of the National Planning Policy?

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”.

What is paragraph 79 of the National Planning Policy?

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.

What is paragraph 55 in planning law?

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 erected in an isolated area.

What is the difference between paragraph 55, 79 and 80 of the National Planning Policy Framework?

Paragraphs 55, 79 and 80 of the NPPF provide local planning authorities with guidance on how they should 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.

Are Grand Designs houses the same as Paragraph 80 houses?

Not necessarily but many properties featured on Grand Designs may have had to submit and pass a Paragraph 80 planning application.

Does my local authority support Paragraph 80 developments?

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 true that some authorities deal with more Paragraph 80 applications than others. Those authorities with less experience may be more hesitant to approve isolated new houses because they’re simply unfamiliar with the process.

How much does Paragraph 80 planning permission cost?

Total costs of preparing and applying for Paragraph 80 approval vary but expect to pay between £10,000 and £30,000.

Choosing the right team for your Paragraph 80 project

This is a lengthy process but, in the end, it’s worth it when you spend your first night in your dream home in the English countryside for the first time after the work is completed.

Getting approval is dependent on a number of different circumstances working out in your favour simultaneously. Where you wish to locate your Paragraph 80 property is a particularly important consideration. We can not stress enough however that you should avoid buying land with the intention of applying for Paragraph 80 permission because ownership does not improve the chance that your application should be approved.

Start by choosing a firm of architects, like WindsorPatania, that has a substantial track record in working on high-specification residential developments for private clients.

Your architect will assemble a multi-disciplinary team consisting of planning consultants, landscape architects, surveyors, engineers and other professionals. They’ll also create a project-specific design review panel to provide advice and support throughout the project and to liaise with local planning officials.


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