Plainview Planning have secured planning consent for an innovative and inspiring paragraph 79 dwelling in West Sussex. This project was particularly challenging and interesting, not only because of its unique approach to design and materials, but also due to the ongoing debate relating to isolated dwellings following the case of Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors  EWCA Civ 610 (28 March 2018).
Background to the scheme
Our involvement with the project started back in 2016. The overarching aim was to secure planning for a new dwelling which would have close links with the existing home, enabling 3 generations of the same family to live on the land together as part of a mutually supportive family estate.
It was a challenging site – located outside of the settlement boundary, close to open countryside, deemed to be isolated and in a Local Authority area that already benefitted from a 5-year housing land supply. But tempered with some solid planning merits, we felt that with a careful and long-term planning strategy we would be able to help our client realise their development aspirations.
What is a Paragraph 79 dwelling?
The name relates to the paragraph number in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2018), (previously para. 55). The NPPF advises that planning policies should avoid the development of isolated homes in the countryside, unless certain circumstances arise which justify a step away from policy. One such exception is a design of exceptional quality, which is defined in the NPPF as being:
- truly outstanding or innovative; and
- would significantly enhance its immediate setting and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.
This is a very challenging definition to argue and there have only been a handful of successes, the key problem being that concepts such as exceptional and innovative are of course open to interpretation.
Making the case for a paragraph 79 dwelling
Given the sensitive and isolated location, we worked with our client to pull together a robust project team:
- The inspired design by Barefoot Architects sought to sink the house into the landscape to minimise visual impact and maximise living space. Uniquely, the excavated material was to be used to make unfired clay bricks onsite, a truly innovative and sustainable building technique;
- The innovation extended to the interior design, where guidance from Hydrock identified ways to create an energy surplus;
- Whilst a panel of experts supported the uniqueness of the methodologies behind the materials and design comprising: The University of Bath, Roundfield, and the Bristol Urban Design Forum.
However, it was up to our consultants to make the planning case for the scheme and to identify how these individual factors could result in an innovative and exceptional dwelling. Our compelling planning submission, supported by experts, relevant stakeholders and pertinent planning justifications, case law and precedent, successfully evidenced why a cumulative approach should be taken when considering whether a scheme is innovative and justified how and why the scheme met the requirements of a Para. 79 dwelling.
The Braintree judgement – defining isolated homes
During the application determination period, an important Court of Appeal Case was decided, which clarified the NPPF’s position in relation to ‘isolated’ homes (Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors  EWCA Civ 610 ((28 March 2018)).
Following the Braintree decision, the LPA confirmed that they no longer considered the application site as isolated. As such they intended to refuse the application on the basis that paragraph 79 was no longer applicable.
We prepared a robust response. Whilst the Braintree decision had an impact on the paragraph 79 definition, we successfully argued in favour of other paragraphs in the NPPF which make clear that great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative design regardless of location.
Our positive and proactive stance with the LPA enabled us to engage in worthwhile and interesting debate on the planning merits of the scheme and shift the LPA’s decision from a recommendation for refusal to a recommendation for an approval and success at planning committee.
We have loved working on this scheme, both with our client and with a superb project team and are delighted with the outcome, securing approval for a truly unique and rare opportunity for the local area to benefit from an innovative and exceptional development, which fully champions the positive promotion of sustainable and innovative new self-build methodologies in the UK.
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PROJECT ARCHITECTS: Barefoot Architects
LANDSCAPE & IMAGE SOURCE: Roundfield