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John Pardey calls for ‘country house clause’ to be axed after appeal loss

  • 8 Comments

The director of John Pardey Architects (JPA) has called for the so-called ‘country house clause’ to be scrapped after losing a planning appeal over a low-carbon house in a Kent meadow

JPA applied to build the one-off house in High Weald near Tunbridge Wells, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, under Paragraph 79 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which allows ’exceptional’ development of rural sites.

However, in 2018 the project on the 4ha site was turned down by Tunbridge Wells council, which decided the proposal failed to ‘conserve and enhance the rural landscape’.

The house, designed for a private client, would have provided 492m² of living accommodation and ancillary space at the pavilion level and 544m² on the lower ground floor.

Now planning inspector Jonathan Parsons has dismissed the client’s appeal of the refusal, ruling that, despite its ‘truly outstanding and innovative’ design, the project would harm the scenic beauty of the area.

Reacting to the decision, practice director John Pardey said the government should scrap or reform the clause as, in its current form, it is ’way too easy for planners to say “no”’.

He added: ‘In the 22 years since it has been in effect it has spawned only about 130 approvals, so the risk is huge and the commitment in both time and financial terms is very high.’

’We had succeeded on a country house clause house before, but that had the benefit of a large site covered in derelict chicken sheds. Here we had a beautiful site – a 10-acre wildflower meadow, a lake and an adjoining ancient woodland – so it was always going to be tough.

‘From the start, the planners, while happy to engage, struggled with the idea of building a house, no matter how “outstanding” it might be, on such a beautiful rural site.’

Contemporary architecture one off houses fairmansmeadow 03 jpa

Contemporary architecture one off houses fairmansmeadow 03 jpa

Source: nu.ma

John Pardey Architects’ Fairman’s Meadow in Kent

In his decision, Parsons described the designs as ‘a cluster of contemporary designed pavilions’ built in cross-laminated timber and clad in locally-sourced sweet chestnut.

The sweet chestnut cladding would complement the ‘changing colours of the meadow’ and the use of rammed earth material in the construction would be ‘ground-breaking’, Parsons noted. 

He also said the integrated hybrid solar energy and battery storage systems would support the scheme’s potential to exceed net zero carbon and be carbon-negative.

It would also be one of the first houses to use biomimicry in glass to make it visible to birds and prevent them flying into it, while its glazing would maintain ‘excellent daylight levels’, Parsons said. 

However, the inspector criticised the house’s ’bold rectilinear configuration’ and said the project would bring about a marked change of character from undeveloped field to domestic dwelling.

Pardey said the inspector had ’praised and damned our proposal in one paragraph’, adding: ’But we would rather that than succumb to some kind of ghastly pastiche of a country house that many have succeeded with.

’We remain very proud of the design that will now not see the light of day.’

Formerly known as Paragraph 55, the country house clause became Paragraph 79 in the revised NPPF in 2018 and remains one of the few items of planning law that explicitly demands exceptional architectural standards.

Last year the AJ reported that data from over two-thirds of the local authorities in England and Wales showed an approval rate of 58 per cent in Paragraph 55/79 applications. 

  • 8 Comments

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Readers' comments (8)

  • It doesn't matter how architecturally brilliant a proposed development is considered to be, it might still be a 'blot on the landscape', to put it bluntly. Both client and architect could surely have foreseen that planting a fairly assertive house on open ground in an AONB was only a good idea from their point of view (assuming that others didn't have the same idea nearby).
    I wonder if Mr Pardey is a bit too hasty in his disappointment? 'way too easy for planners to say no' has a whiff of spoilt privilege about it, and the suggestion that 'some kind of ghastly pastiche of a country house might have succeeded' sounds like barking up the wrong tree.
    What on earth is wrong with protecting a fine landscape that's free of buildings from having a prominent one plonked on it, however brilliant the architecture?
    To borrow from Isaac Newton, Mr Pardey's sour grapes risk being countered by the complaint that he's an arrogant architect with a selfish client. It's also worth pointing out that John Pardey Architects have produced excellent work elsewhere that's neither pastiche nor disruptive to the landscape.

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  • Sorry slightly confused... is the illustrated house (which looks to be 'real') actually a CG of the refused project??

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  • I can't see what's so special about this design. In my opinion, having worked for many years as a planner, this paragraph wasn't a sensible idea in the first place. allowing considerations such as AONB, landscape, nature conservation etc. to be ridden roughshod over. It not the design. Planners in Local Planning Authorities, in the main, like to see innovative design. But in the right places.

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  • It highlights the total inconsistency of decision-making. Plenty of new estates of shoddy "executive homes" have been permitted on areas of natural beauty and more.

    The difference here is that the council's up against a single individual rather than a hoary volume house builder promising special favours.


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  • Paragraph 79 and its predecessors was drafted to make approval extremely difficult. Calling it the country house clause only confused the issue, when it was first promoted by John Gummer. Having reviewed many of these applications for local planning authorities who do not consider they are qualified to judge truly outstanding design and the highest standards in architecture, only the most exceptional should be granted approval particularly in an AONB. The default response therefore is No. This example for all its qualities has offended a number of the requirements of the clause and so the appeal has rightly been dismissed. Even if the design is seen to raise the standards of architecture in the locality, it will invariably be an extravagant unaffordable design solution. If some balancing factor of economy and modesty could be introduced combined with a solution that really does raise standards of design in the country and not necessarily in the open countryside, that would be an advance. Small sites outside village settlements exist but the process of Paralgraph 79 and the costs associated with gaining approval deter applicants who could become part of a larger developing community. So far of the 15 or so schemes I have seen only one came close to approval and that was refused. It may be the subject of an appeal in due course.

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  • The application is simply too greedy, that's obvious at first glance.

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  • You rarely get discussion in these cases of whether in reality anyone can see the house from a public place. That is surely rather important.

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  • “Paragraph 79 requires projects to meet the exceptionally high bar of being ‘architecturally outstanding and or innovative and enhance the landscape.’ These projects are meant to be extraordinary houses that hold the potential to become the listed buildings of the future. There is no requirement for them to be large and there is nothing within the legislation to state that small is not acceptable – Paragraph 79 is no longer the remit of the wealthy landowner, nor does it resort to stylistic preconception of country house architecture.

    It is right therefore that this process is rigorous. It is wrong that the judgment of what is deemed to be 'exceptional and or 'innovative' varies so much across the country from one Local Authority to another, which is where I suspect Mr Pardey’s frustration lies. What one LA deems to be exceptional, another does not. Unfortunately, those making the very final decision regarding the exceptionality of such schemes are trained in planning matters, not aesthetics, or innovation. What is deemed to be exceptional should not vary so widely across the UK and more weight should be given to professional Design Review Panels and their collective and experienced judgment of what meets the requirements of Paragraph 79. Style should not be part of this argument – a house can be contemporary and bland and not designed to enhance its landscape setting or it can be traditional in its form, execution and relation to the landscape in which it sits (thus enhancing it) and be exceptional, or vice-versa. Just because a piece of land is beautiful and not inhabited by dwellings does not mean that it cannot be enhanced by being built on provided what is being built is of the highest possible quality. If it were the case that any act of building blotted the beauty of the idyllic landscape, we would not have the exceptional country houses that are part of our national heritage. To subscribe to this notion represents a poor understanding of the relationship that great quality architecture, which sits in harmony with its landscape, can create. Sadly there are Landscape Officers and Planners that take this approach. It is entirely possible that if the architecture is 'exceptional' as the intent of this clause, that it will enhance the observers view, appreciation and understanding of both the place and the landscape quality. To achieve this requires a committed client (and yes, deep pockets) as this clause is a gamble and therefore brings associated risk. Paragraph 79 is not a loophole, it is a challenge of the highest order (not for the fainthearted) and it is right that it be rigorous and demanding. Not everyone will succeed but reading between the lines (and perhaps what makes a good headline AJ!) Mr Pardey is calling for reform, not an ‘axing’ of the policy.

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