Orbis Town Planning Ltd

Para 55 – Innovative and Exceptional Houses in the Countryside

Posted on: August 13th, 2017 by Orbis

Above – ‘Thousand Trees House’ in Essex – a ‘para 55’ approval

Para 55 Housing – exceptional & Innovative housing in the countryside

What is Para 55 ?
Paragraph 55 of the NPPF, the ‘Framework’, the ‘National Planning Policy Framework’. This adds national level guidance over local development policies. It firstly reconfirms the need to ‘avoid new isolated homes in the countryside’ (on the grounds of sustainability, but which includes landscape), but it then reaffirms the potential to allow certain homes that do not come under the usual remit of providing essential homes for rural workers in the countryside, or in some cases, affordable housing.

How does this help you ?
Essentially, para 55 provides definite scope to build the house you always dreamed of (or at least a version of it – you will really need to be led by the design) but this clearly comes with a high benchmark in terms of design and other outcomes, such as energy performance (Think Passivhaus).

Sounds great – Are there are pitfalls ?
Unlike how some news outlets like the Mail might have you think this isn’t carte blanche to ‘pave over the countryside’. Far from it and there have been many failed attempts, but there have been some misunderstandings about the true nature of this policy. Para 55 essentially balances any normally ‘harmful’ impacts of an ‘isolated’ new build home with the positive impacts brought about by its exceptional quality or innovative function. On previously developed sites where there is a clear harm, a new house might be justified because it leads to an enhancement to the immediate setting – a lower threshold than a new build on a virgin site. Developing afresh on a virgin site must also:

– 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
*Source: NPPF Para 55

For many (including many planning officers) this has in the past been taken to mean that a new building needs to be so exceptional that it would otherwise never be allowed in normal circumstances. This is not necessarily the case, but you must remember that the criteria is open to subjective argument. To address this it will require a combination of architectural and technological expertise, as well as the strongest planning arguments to provide the evidence and comfort to decision makers.

There haven’t been thousands of houses built using this policy – if there had they would stop being so ‘exceptional’. Nonetheless there are a growing number approved, built and lived in across the country as the concept has gained a greater and deeper understanding, and as is the case with some existing listed buildings (which can be considered to be exceptional due to their rarity in a particular geographical area) there is no reason to preclude new technological or architectural practices in new areas of the country – they remain exceptional by virtue of their newness. This was the case in a Nottinghamshire appeal where the appeal inspector conceded that ‘The proposal would be readily visible and accessible and as such, it would act as an exemplar of regional and national, and possibly international, significance. In my view, these factors represent significant benefits.’

You may have gathered that this process is definitely not for the faint hearted. It takes commitment, passion, to some extent ‘resources’, and a willingness to be lead through this by your architect and planning team. Time too, maybe a significant factor. However, a successful outcome can make this all unbelievably worthwhile.

We specialise in providing planning solutions to Bespoke housing projects, and can draw on our extensive list of architectural contacts to bring forward the right project designer for you and your site. At Orbis we also have the know-how, tenacity and resources to bring your project to fruition. We’ll also be brutally honest with you if we feel it just cannot be done. We have to be.

Contact us on 0333 987 4286 to discuss how we can help you. At the outset we’d recommend a feasibility assessment at the very least.

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