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 was turned down by the local planning authority, which decided the proposal failed to ‘conserve and enhance the rural landscape’.
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.’
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.