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


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. 


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Readers' comments (7)

  • 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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