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Planning to build a new country house?

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Knight Frank
London and Country specialist property buying agents
14 Jun 2017  |   Jonathan Bramwell

In the last 5 years, we have seen a definitive increase in the number of clients looking to build their own homes in the countryside.  This remains a challenging brief as finding a suitable site is fraught with difficulties especially if there is no knockdown-and-rebuild option available and we are faced with buying a virgin site. Once clients understand this, many will be put off by the risk and the upfront costs of gaining successful planning consent.  But for those who are prepared to take this on – with the likely costs of around £100,000 to £250,000 to achieve a successful consent – it can be a really rewarding when working with the right architect and planning advisor.  Therefore, it’s essential that The Buying Solution bring in suitable experts when a site is identified to ensure we are not chasing a dead duck.  We often choose to work with Rural Solutions, Planning and Development Specialists.

Here, Duncan Hartley, Director of Planning at Rural Solutions and himself, a former Chief Planning Officer, explains the impact of the change in the national planning guidance and how Rural Solutions help clients to secure planning permission for new-build country houses.

“Prior to the policy change in 2012, permission was only granted for new-build country houses in greenfield sites if you proved the design to be both truly outstanding and innovative. Now houses can be either innovative or outstanding in their design to meet the planning criteria. This makes things marginally more achievable—it was always a challenge before trying to prove that a house was innovative as you can’t be first for everything.

As a result of this change, more new-build houses are being approved under this policy but it’s still an extremely small number–I’d estimate that no more than 150 new houses have been approved in England under this policy in the past 25 years. More people are, however, feeling encouraged to test the policy boundaries and seeing it as an opportunity to have a go.

When John Gummer MP, introduced his Planning Policy Guidance 7 (PPG7 but known commonly as “Gummer’s Law”) in the early 90s, the objective was to reinvent the English country house tradition. Prior to his intervention, there was no policy foundation for the building of new houses and the only way permission was granted in an isolated location was if the house met the needs of an agricultural worker or other rural-based activity.

Up until 2012, most successful applications were of a contemporary design—save for the odd few by the classical architects such as ADAM Architecture and Quinlan Terry. Today, there is much more potential therefore for a new country house to be derivative of the classical form as a number of recent approvals, among them the Ramsbury Estate by Francis Terry, has shown.

More often than not, the reason why applications fail isn’t anything to do with the design of the house but the landscaping. What makes the English country house so great is the marriage between the building and the landscape; poor schemes struggle to understand the importance of the setting.

The process

Ideally, we will go with a landscape architect first to test the potential of the site. The right site needs to have some character that the landscape architect can work with—a flat arable field with regular boundaries offers little potential.

Once the site has been approved, then the architect comes in to establish how to locate house in context of the site having taken advice from a landscape architect. We, as a planning consultancy, assist on process because of our extensive experience of dealing with councils–we know what ticks the boxes of the planning authorities and we know what will gain planning permission.

Once the team puts together a proposal, we tend to go into pre-application consultation not just with the council but also the design review panel. It’s very valuable to use a design review panel who are independent arbiters on quality and design and whether the application will meet provisions in Para 55. More often than not, councils don’t have in house experience so they are often led by that.

We will also consult with a range of bodies such as the local Parish Council and landscape societies to make sure there’s a rounded awareness of those who are involved in the decision making—so that there are no surprises at the point of submission.

Once planning has been approved, it’s over to the architects and their clients to move the project forward.

Duncan Hartley is Director of Planning at Rural Solutions (01756 797924; ruralsolutions.co.uk)

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