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6a architects wins rare PPS7 appeal for ‘landmark’ house

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London’s 6a Architects has finally been given the green light for this house in rural Cambridgeshire after winning a planning appeal

The proposal for Mines Farm in Weston Green, Weston Colville, was approved under the ‘contemporary country house’ clause, officially known as Clause 11 of Planning Policy Statement 7 (PPS7), which provides a rare exception to the rule banning development in rural areas.

The practice joins only a handful of architects to have secured planning permission through the clause, which was saved from the legislative axe in 2004.

It is understood that just 13 other firms have used PPS7 to win approval for their schemes, including David Chipperfield Architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Aedas.

However, 6a founder Tom Emerson admitted he had not talked to these practices before submitting his proposals. ‘We were aware it would be challenging,’ he said. ‘But we intentionally didn’t look at the other schemes – we stuck our neck out.

‘If you are looking to other architects for a [PPS7] trick, it’s almost the worst thing you can do,’ he added, referring to PPS7’s insistence on innovation.

The firm’s scheme, a five-bedroom house with two staff dwellings set in 39ha of arable land, was originally turned down by South Cambridgeshire District Council last year.

But 6a appealed and the planning inspector overturned the decision. He said: ‘The building has been designed as a sculptural object and is intended to act as a local landmark.

‘In my view there is no doubt that the building would be of very considerable architectural interest on account of its outstanding design, its innovative use of materials and construction methods,’ the inspector added, referring to the house’s two-layer exposed timber frame with hempcrete infill.

Although successful, Emerson – who worked alongside Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects and environmental engineer Neil Daffin of Max Fordham Consulting Engineers – believes the clause still needs further clarification. He said: ‘PPS7 is rather vague on how innovation and quality is measured. We focused on the project rather than the policy.’

This could be the first in a wave of PPS7 approvals. The AJ has learned that Reid Jubb Brown is about to win the go-ahead for a house in Northumberland, while Leeds’ Architecture2B is about to submit plans for another in Yorkshire.

What clause 11 says

 ‘Very occasionally, the exceptional quality and innovative nature of the design of a proposed, isolated new house may provide this special justification for granting planning permission. [It] should be truly outstanding and ground-breaking, for example in its use of materials, methods of construction or its contribution to protecting and enhancing the environment, so helping to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas. The value of such a building will be found in its reflection of the highest standards in contemporary architecture, the significant enhancement of its immediate setting and its sensitivity to the… characteristics of the local area.’

 Top tips for PPS7-friendly developments

 • Planners are interested in integration and innovation.

• Proposals should require limited connection to the national utilities infrastructure and not draw heavily on local resources.

• Understand the site’s ecology. Working with a landscape specialist is essential.

• Select interesting, low-carbon-footprint materials.

• The Code for Sustainable Homes is the standard for design and construction elements – include a code pre-assessment to back up your proposals.

 Neil Daffin, Max Fordham

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