Saving the clause could catalyse the changing role of the countryside
It has been an exciting week for The Architects' Journal. Working on a magazine, even one that has as close a relationship with its readers as we do, can be frustrating. We write, we argue, but how much effect do we actually have? Normally, we have to measure our influence indirectly. How good it is, then, to be able to see a tangible result - a U-turn in government policy as the result of a campaign by the AJ. Planning minister Keith Hill said that the AJ should be 'very proud of its campaign' to save the clause in PPG 7 that allowed exceptional one-off houses to be built in open countryside. And we are. The fact that PPG 7's successor, PPS 7, embodies a new version of that clause is thanks in large part to our campaign and to the many architects and other public figures who supported it.
But nothing is ever quite as one expects, and so the new clause does not exactly mirror the old one.
Classicists are getting hot under the collar, fearing that they are excluded by the new clause's emphasis on innovation. But it is perfectly possible to imagine a great building drawing on Classical tradition that could be 'truly outstanding and ground-breaking' and a 'reflection of the highest standards in contemporary architecture'. By ringing alarm bells, the Classicists could interpret the new policy to their own disadvantage in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
More intriguing is another change, defining the paragon of excellence as simply an 'isolated new house'.
There is no mention this time of a house standing in its own grounds. We are moving from the realm of the oldstyle country house to what may merely be a house in the country - a far more affordable proposition, and hence one for which there will be many more potential clients.
We all know that the role of the countryside is changing, from being a factory for producing cheap food to a far more complex place that encompasses ideas of leisure, repose, sustainability and different ways of working.
A healthy sprinkling of excellently designed houses, of significant but not outrageous size, would be a valuable addition to the mix. And would give the AJ, and its readers, even more cause for celebration.