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NPPF Paragraph 79 projects of architectural excellence or innovation

03/06/2021

Grand Designs

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Residential

NPPF Paragraph 79 projects of architectural excellence or innovation

Base Senior Associate Joe Salt is a RIBA qualified architect, town planner and MRTPI (Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute). In this regular column, he takes a look at key planning issues and shares his experience and advice.

This month he takes a look at the current state of play regarding schemes developed under the National Planning Policy Framework’s Paragraph 79.

The context to Paragraph 79 has historic links to the country’s traditional, large country houses within a setting of extensive, landscaped grounds. This concept has been carried through national policy into its modern iteration and sets an extremely high bar to reach either innovative or exceptional design. Paragraph 79 deals with development in rural areas but the relevant parts are outlined below:

“Planning policies and decisions should avoid the development of isolated homes in the countryside unless one or more of the following circumstances apply…

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 critical element of the policy is found within the first line of the policy: namely that any site that is being considered has to be ‘isolated’. This needs to be determined before commencing any design work and unfortunately there is no agreed definition.

Two leading cases on the meaning of this expression are Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and others [2018] EWCA Civ 610 and City & Country Bramshill Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities And Local Government & Ors [2021] EWCA Civ 320. The conclusion of these decisions was that the determination of whether a site is ‘isolated’ will be a ‘matter of fact and planning judgement’.

Once we are assured that the site is isolated, the exciting part of designing an exceptional building can begin! Exceptional buildings require exceptional architecture and as a practice we have extensive experience in developing Paragraph 79 schemes. These types of projects require a careful and balanced approach of the highest architectural quality in order to meet all of the criteria set out in Paragraph 79, including being truly outstanding, significantly enhancing its setting and being sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.

A new build we secured permission for under Paragraph 55 (now P79) – Hill Wicket

As such we have developed and established a robust design methodology to ensure that any potential design solutions are correctly considered within the constraints of the site, providing clients with an exciting, inspirational and unique design experience. Due to the unique nature of Paragraph 79 schemes, we recommend engaging with an external specialist design panel comprising of experts in their field in order to independently critique initial design options against the stringent requirements of Paragraph 79 policy. The evaluation and commentary that a professional, experienced design panel provides greatly assists in further refinement and progression of the design, whilst also giving credibility to the final scheme when it is being determined in the planning process.

It is common practice that Paragraph 79 projects require more extensive supporting external consultant input when compared to more standard planning routes. Quite often consultants provide advice and input that directly impacts and influences the overall design journey. As part of our service, Base Architects effectively coordinates and leads any required consultant input to ensure that the most effective and appropriate advice is provided to support the scheme, ensuring that findings are fully considered and incorporated into the final design.

Recent appeal decisions have indicated that there is an inherent risk involved with pursuing the development of a Paragraph 79 scheme, as some local authorities are reluctant to grant permission on the misguided idea that it would open the door to further development in rural areas. The process of Paragraph 79 actually works against this premise, as any newly approved scheme resets the bar for exceptional design that any subsequent scheme must then exceed. It is also not uncommon for local authorities to disagree with the conclusions of external design panels based on nothing more than subjective design opinion.

Base Architects has an exceptional success rate for such difficult proposals and is currently working on a number of Paragraph 79 schemes at various stages from initial site review, initial concept design and at planning appeals. Our approach is to try to work with local planning authorities in order to achieve a positive outcome for our clients, but we do have the in-house expertise that allows us the option to appeal any planning refusal, should it become necessary.

If you think a Paragraph 79 project is for you and you are passionate about exceptional and innovative architecture, please get in touch. We would love the opportunity to work with you!

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