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'Country house' clause victory for Burrell Mistry in Surrey

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Burrell Mistry has employed the ‘country house’ clause to help win planning approval for this new 1,263m² home in Ewhurst, Surrey

The London-based practice successfully convinced Waverley Borough Council the proposed house and studio was ‘of exceptional quality or innovative design’ and ‘significantly enhanced [its] immediate setting’ as set out in NPPF paragraph 55 of the planning legislation.

Formerly known as PPS7 or the Gummer Law, the paragraph is a rarely used planning law exemption allowing - ‘in special circumstances’ - new-build homes in the countryside.

The scheme will occupy the site of a former commercial nursery - a ‘virgin site’ in planning terms for a residential project - within the metropolitan green belt and an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB),

The plot sits in the grounds of the grade II*-listed Marylands house built in the 1920s by Oliver Hill - the architect behind, among other things, the Midland Hotel in Morecambe.

According to the practice, the scheme has been designed as a ‘flowing concrete structure’ with is ‘complex curving geometry suggesting an on-site moulded process’.

Work is expected to start on site in March 2016.

The architect’s view

‘The clients wanted a highly sustainable yet glamorous contemporary design, which could prise them away from their current home, Marylands, a fascinating blend of Moorish and Arts & Crafts influences.  They were clear from the outset what they did not want: a series of rectilinear glass boxes.

In response, our design is conceived as a flowing concrete structure, the complex curving geometry of which suggests an on-site moulded process. The house and landscape represents a series of interlocking and intertwining elements, inspired by the natural environment.  The building creates new gently flowing contours on the site that generate a fluid interaction between the building and the landscape, with large glazed areas reflecting the natural setting.  The plan takes inspiration from the natural curved and irregular forms of the local yew trees which, with their multiple layers and superimposition of elements, helps the building sit in harmony with the spectacular rural landscape.

‘The house incorporates highly sustainable technologies: biomass boiler, to be fed by the estate’s 15-acre copse, providing an example to other rural estates that there is an economic and sustainable incentive for energy generation through effective woodland management; solar hot water; photovoltaic and ground source heat pumps.  The building’s facade will be constructed in GGBS concrete (ground granular blast furnace slag – a waste product from the iron-making industry), tinted to replicate the natural sandstone of the neighbouring listed property. The environmental benefits of GGBS are significant: it reduces the overall environmental burdens by 30-40 per cent compared with regular concrete. It achieves a lighter colour for exposed fair-faced concrete finishes and produces a smoother, more defect free surface due to the fineness of the GGBS particles.

‘Although acknowledged that technological innovation is near impossible to achieve, the scheme uses the available technologies in an innovative way:

  • a sophisticated building management system controlling the individually zoned rooms and array of energy sources and working in conjunction with the basement swimming pool acting as a heat buffer
  • piled foundations will incorporate the ground source heat pump coils, precluding the need for separate bore holes; the indoor pool will serve as a heat reservoir for storing solar hot water and solar gain, which can then be used as a source of under floor heating
  • the central entrance atrium will act as thermal buffer to temper the air of surrounding living spaces
  • a 12v DC lighting and small power circuit will reduce the energy loss that occurs when converting DC power to AC when feeding power generated by PV into the grid. 12v batteries will store any excess for use after daylight hours
  • a bespoke hydroponics installation in the family kitchen will provide a bi-weekly yield of fruit and vegetables. Conceived as an integral part of the building design, it will be monitored over five years by a research unit promoting indoor farming.  Although the research study is primarily concerned with indoor farming in urban situations where outdoor space is limited or non-existent, nonetheless this project in leafy Surrey will deliver proof of concept.

‘When dealing with a site of such a high land designation, the challenge was - under the requisites of Paragraph 55 - to ‘significantly enhance the immediate setting’.  This was a particularly tough call when the already verdant site has glorious panoramic views over the Weald and South Downs and nestles among the mature parkland setting of the existing estate.  This consideration was ever-present during the genesis of the building design, but additional landscaping features were necessary to demonstrate this and the further criteria that the scheme ‘be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.’

The planning authority interpreted para 55 in the narrowest of terms

‘The planning authority interpreted the criteria of Paragraph 55 in the narrowest of terms, insisting that the ‘immediate setting’ and ‘local area’ were solely the AONB. 

‘Although aware that in recent years a scant number of schemes had achieved success under very similar circumstances, it was important to demonstrate that although the design is unashamedly contemporary, the AONB landscape is respected and replicated.  In relating the contemporary dwelling to its gentle rural setting, the landscape design will avoid any appearance of a domestic garden and adopt naturalistic indigenous planting, and an agricultural track to harvest wood for the biomass boiler will replicate the ancient hollow ways that constitute many rural roads across Surrey.’


Project data

Architects: Burrell Mistry
Location: Ewhurst Surrey
Type Of Project: residential
Project Architect: Burrell Mistry
Design Team: James Burrell, Jason Mistry, Ewan Whittle, David Martinez, Marzia Umani, Marialena Kougia
Client: private
Funding: Private
Tender date: November 2015
Start on site date: March 2016
Contract duration: 18 months
Gross internal floor area: 1,263m²
Form of contract and/or procurement: construction management
Total cost: undisclosed       

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