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GOING TO PLAN IN THE COUNTRY

AGENDA

Barring a major disaster, the architects at Feilden Clegg Bradley (FCB) will be quite within their rights to feel slightly smug this morning.

FCB is keeping its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired house and stables in Lincolnshire under wraps. But last night it was expected to become the first to win planning permission under the country house 'exception clause' in Planning Policy Statement 7 (PPS7).

Surprisingly, no other architect has managed to achieve this feat in the 18 months since the clause - formerly known as PPG7 - was triumphantly saved from the axe in 2004 (AJ 12.08.04).

Back then, the decision to retain Paragraph 11 of the planning guidance was seen as an all-clear for architects to build a wave of 'innovative' and 'ground-breaking' houses in previously untouchable rural spots. But it hasn't happened.

Under the old PPG regime, around five houses a year were given the thumbs-up by local planners. However, until yesterday, not one architect had managed to successfully argue that their scheme met the new PPS7 criteria - not even at appeal, where eight projects have already been turned down.

According to architect James Gorst, this can be blamed on the planners. In October, Gorst's Burley Hill House in the New Forest (pictured) was rejected by the council, and he has since decided to appeal.

He says: 'Success has a lot to do with the calibre of the planners. The New Forest planning department wouldn't engage with the project as a PPS7 application.

'There is no compulsion on the part of the planning agencies to look at the clause and they wanted to wash their hands of the scheme.' Gorst admits that although council officers have little to compare any new country house against, they are understandably influenced by local pressure.

He adds: 'The planners were also very mindful of the press regarding the proposed house, which is in an area of outstanding natural beauty.' Even so, Gorst remains confident his proposals ticks all the boxes in terms of delivering a 'ground-breaking design' which would justify planning consent. Developed with environmental engineer Max Fordham, the innovative designs will use locally sourced oak, rammed-earth walls, photovoltaic cells and a heat pump.

One other major cause for concern, says Gorst, is that the wording of Paragraph 11 is too vague, giving authorities an easy escape route.

'The way it says 'isolated' is imprecise, ' says Gorst. 'Does that mean set within 1,000 acres? If so, the clause is only concerned with very big houses for the very rich.' These comments are echoed by architect Anthony Hudson, of London-based Hudson Architects, who has recently had his Elvendon House in south Oxfordshire turned down at appeal.

'Potentially, there are so many get-out clauses, ' he says.

'If there is a chance of some opposition, justified or not, it is incredibly easy for planners to interpret PPS7 to gain a let-out.

The way the clause is set out is very unhelpful in what it is trying to achieve, and it should be made much clearer.' However, there may be another reason for the lack of new Modern country houses.

Architectural historian Neil Guy also blames the lack of clients who want progressive rural homes or who are brave enough to embark on the PPS route.

He said: 'Most people are looking to build a new country house with a traditional appearance. Architects just don't have the clients with a Modernist nature.' Hopefully, the predicted success of the FCB scheme will provide a benchmark for future applications and an impetus to prospective clients who want to have a contemporary home in the country.

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