Blog: House with a difference update

29 August 2018

The latest blog from Luke Abbott, architect and director at the Roger Coy Partnership, as he gives an update on plans for a partially earth-covered house in Northamptonshire, approved under Paragraph 79 of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework).

When the NPPF was introduced Paragraph 55 referred to dwellings in the open countryside. It has been updated (July 2018) to Paragraph 79 and now reads as follows:

Paragraph 79

Planning policies and decisions should avoid the development of isolated homes in the countryside unless one or more of the following circumstances apply:

a) there is an essential need for a rural worker, including those taking majority control of a farm business, to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside;

b) the development would represent the optimal viable use of a heritage asset or would be appropriate enabling development to secure the future of heritage assets;

c) the development would re-use redundant or disused buildings and enhance its immediate setting;

d) the development would involve the subdivision of an existing residential dwelling; or

e) the design is of exceptional quality, in that it: - is truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture, and would help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas; and - would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.

Securing planning permission is always a significant achievement because there have often been months – or even years as is the case here – of work involved.

A project which starts life as a concept sketch to watching the first spade break the ground is always a cause for celebration – and one of those moments was when Daventry District Council gave consent for a NPPF Paragraph 79 dwelling in Northamptonshire.

I have been involved in this application in Church Stowe for the last three years when we first met the owner of the land who wanted to secure permission for a low carbon building which harmonises with, and uses the natural terrain as a design cue.

By their very nature, Paragraph 79 applications mean the planning process takes far longer than usual and involves many more consultants on the design team in addition to a peer review panel, in this instance The East Midlands Opun Design Review Panel.

It is Section E Paragraph 79 which allows these sophisticated designs to be approved. To meet with those requirements, it is clear that much time and effort must be invested in the pre-planning design process.

This is the first Paragraph 79 Dwelling for which we at Roger Coy Partnership have secured permission since the Government updated its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July 2018. These approvals are rare and require much time during the design process.

Our design team consisted of RCP (Architects), Sacha Barnes (Landscape Architects), Lockhart Garratt and Cotswold Wildlife Surveys (Ecology) and IS Heritage (Archaeology). Further, we attended two peer review panels.

Our design ethos was:

- Landscape led architecture that reflects its context

- To create a strong sense of identity and place

- To form a dwelling to Code 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes

- To create a safe and attractive environment

- To be innovative and to meet the exacting standards of Paragraph 55 (as it was)

We took design cues from the evident Victorian quarry earth works to inform the elevational treatment; the gabion walls will be formed where the historic quarry face exists. The rolling upland Northamptonshire Hills are expressed in the domed roof covered with local meadow flower species. The tool of choice used by the Victorian quarrymen; the pick axe can be seen expressed in one of the roof forms. The building is set in strong landscape which really works to enhance the building and its context.

This process has been challenging, eye-opening and intensive. Moreover, it has been hugely rewarding, we choose to become architects for these bespoke projects. To me this is architecture; it is taking the science of building, the bureaucracy of law, much site analysis, design team consultant input, and individual requirements and making them into art form.

We have learnt much from this process, have improved our arsenal of design tools and wait eagerly for the next Paragraph 79 opportunity.