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There ain't no sanity clause?

technical & practice

The PPG documents will be replaced at the end of the year but should we really be worried about particular clauses?

Clause 3.21 of Planning and Policy Guidance Note 7 (PPG 7) (The Countryside, Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development) begins: 'New house building and other new development in the open countryside should be strictly controlled.' (As an aside, should architects really be campaigning for strict planning controls? ) The clause within the clause, which the AJ is campaigning to keep and which John Gummer added, much to his credit, says: 'An isolated new house in the countryside may also exceptionally be justified if it is clearly of the highest quality' In other words, it is not the clause the AJ wants to keep but the exception. When inspectors allowed Robert Adam's design for a large country house in undeveloped countryside in Hampshire's Test Valley (see my article, AJ 22.2.01), it showed how the exception had fulfilled Gummer's purpose. Subsequently, it has allowed planning inspectors to permit one or two (some say up to 15 since 1997 but the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister does not know the number) exceptionally well conceived, designed and landscaped new country houses on exceptional sites to go ahead. I say 'inspectors' because, by their very nature, exceptions tend to come up against the overriding prohibition contained in the guidance, which itself is generally also the local plan policy.

The Adam case indicated how the Planning Inspectorate should use the clause as a way of addressing the integrity of the design - as distinct from the integrity of the style. Hopefully, the longoverdue replacement for PPG 1, which is the umbrella government policy note, will include the involvement of a qualified designer - most probably an architect - as a material consideration where design matters are at issue in a planning application.

Statement of intent Under the White Paper planning reforms due to be enacted by November, PPGs are to be replaced by PPSs (Planning Policy Statements). The G for guidance will be dropped and the new notes are to be more concise statements of strategic policy, free of prescriptive guidance. The intention is to give more room for local policy in the new frameworks, which are to replace turgid development plans.

Come July, the ODPM will have published the new draft PPS 7 for consultation. The main concern should be to influence the PPS policy in such a way that it does allow flexibility at the local level.

But the nub of the issue is the concern we architects might share that, in general, an exceptionally good design might make acceptable something that would otherwise not be. And the place to do this will be the replacement for PPG 1. In the original PPG 1, the involvement of an architect was itself a material consideration in a planning decision but this was dropped in the current version.

Reviving the campaign to reinstate this position may seem a bit retrograde but times and the climate have moved in our direction with the Task Force, the Urban and Rural White Papers, and the successful establishment of CABE.

In reviewing the imminent PPS 7, we might be well advised to seek CABE's support so that we do not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership. Contact brian@bwcp. co. uk Clause for thought PPG 7, clause 3.21 says: 'New house building and other new development in the open countryside, away from established settlements or from areas allocated for development in development plans, should be strictly controlled. The fact that a single house on a particular site would be unobtrusive is not by itself a good argument; it could be repeated too often. Isolated new houses in the countryside require special justification - for example, where they are essential to enable farm or forestry workers to live at or near their place of work.

Advice on the special considerations which may arise in relation to agricultural and forestry dwellings is given in Annex 1. An isolated new house in the countryside may also exceptionally be justified if it is clearly of the highest quality, is truly outstanding in terms of its architecture and landscape design, and would significantly enhance its immediate setting and wider surroundings. Proposals for such development would need to demonstrate that proper account had been taken of the defining characteristics of the local area, including local or regional building traditions and materials. This means that each generation would have the opportunity to add to the tradition of the country house, which has done so much to enhance the English countryside. Sensitive infilling of small gaps within small groups of houses or minor extensions to groups may also be acceptable, though much would depend on the character of the surroundings and the number of such groups in the area.'

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