New country houses built through PPG 7 have made a positive economic contribution to the countryside, researchers from the University of Reading have concluded.
Their report, published this week, found that the policy had created local employment, supported the continuation of local skills in construction, gamekeeping and woodland management, and led to improvements in the local environment.
Researchers Roger Gibbard and Peter Prag, from the university's department of real estate and planning, looked at specific case studies to consider whether paragraph 3.21 in the government's countryside guidance was working in practice and whether it was justified in economic terms.
As well as the positive benefits, they concluded that fears that the policy - which allows for an exceptionally well designed isolated house in open countryside - would open up the floodgates for speculative development 'just hasn't happened'.
'However localised, we think the policy has got something to offer, ' Gibbard said. 'The number of houses that have got through the planning system is so low that on a national scale their impact has been pretty insignificant. But on a local level, the effect has been important - not least the impact owners make on the local environment.'
Gibbard warned that the government's retreat from paragraph 3.21 was a mistake.
'The planning system was probably flexible enough to allow these houses through without paragraph 3.21, but now that there has been a positive policy in place, once it is dropped this will give out a negative message.
'My fear is that planning authorities will see the government's position as outlawing new country houses, rather than just being neutral.'
He added that he suspected local authorities were already reluctant to make visible decisions to approve the new houses, and were passing on the responsibility to the government's planning inspectorate.
The researchers also make a number of recommendations for improvements to the policy.
The quality of the houses should be 'carefully controlled', they suggest - approval from an overseeing body, most suitably CABE, should become a statutory requirement. Local authorities should prepare written statements outlining their policy towards new country houses, and planning permissions for new houses should be tied to 106 agreements for affordable housing or other benefits for the local community.
'I would be the first to agree we need more affordable housing in the countryside, ' Gibbard said.
'But this is not mutually exclusive from building top-end houses. In fact, these houses could help fund more local affordable housing. You can have your cake and eat it in this instance.'
See AJenda, pages 30-31, for the case for and against saving PPG 7.
Clause for debate
The Architects' Journal, in collaboration with the RIBA, will be holding a debate on the countryside clause in PPG 7 on 9 July at the institute's headquarters in Portland Place. Come and explore the issues surrounding the policy and the plans to drop it. More details to follow.
Keep emailing your views to ed. dorrell@construct. emap. com.