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The word from the ODPM: no special treatment for the country house


The ODPM gets full marks for efficiency for its handling of the AJ's letter concerning PPG 7. Amid the chaos of the Cabinet reshuffle, Keith Hill MP, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, delivered a thorough and coherent response by return of post (Lord Rooker, to whom the letter was originally addressed, having been 'shuffled'to Regeneration). Hill's letter, along with the original letter from the AJ and its 250 or so signatories, can be viewed online at ajplus. co. uk. It reiterates the belief that 'good design is central to achieving wellplanned, high-quality, sustainable communities in both urban and rural areas'and that 'architects have a crucial role to play in helping to deliver these communities and a better quality of life for all'. In short, it looks promising for architecture in general, but less so for the future of the contemporary country house.

Hill stresses that he is not in a position to anticipate the precise content of the forthcoming public consultation draft of the revised planning policies for rural areas.

But he also argues that abolishing the 'special case' proviso for outstanding isolated houses would be 'a perfectly equitable solution'- suggesting that its chances of surviving the revisions are small. The gist of his argument is that removing the policy exception would not necessarily outlaw the construction of isolated high-quality country houses, since it would still be possible for individual applicants to provide 'special justification' for any particular scheme.

Which sounds fair enough in theory. Had the policy exception never existed, this might be a realistic option.

But taking a deliberate decision to remove the provision gives planning authorities a clear message that such projects are no longer in line with government policy, making their chances of gaining planning approval even slimmer than before. Even with the 'special treatment' afforded by the current PPG 7 the number of 'PPG 7 houses'which have actually been built is negligible.

Estimates vary from two to 15 in the past six years. If the government expressly removes its support, it seems highly unlikely that a single project of this type will see the light of day.

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