What is Paragraph 79? (formerly Paragraph 55)

Paragraph 79 (formerly paragraph 55) is included in the National Policy Framework and has been designed to actively dissuade local authorities from approving developments on unbuilt land in a rural setting, in other words, to stop people from building new isolated homes in the open countryside.

There are a number of exceptions to be aware of, however, and each case is entirely unique. The clause itself ensures a one-off building of the highest standard and it does allow permission for projects that would otherwise never be possible to build. This can sometimes be an incentive for those who would like to build and own a bespoke property.

Although some people attempt to talk about paragraph 79 as if it’s a huge obstacle, it can actually be an exciting opportunity for a client and architect to work together to create something amazing. In the last few years, there have been just 113 applications. 66 of these have been approved; 59 at committee level, 7 on appeal. That is a success rating of over 50%, so it’s not impossible to do. The considered design approach required may result in a truly original home that you will not find anywhere else.

There are a few key points you should be aware of, though:

  • It’s not easy, but the process can be highly rewarding if you are successful.
  • You will need a dedicated team of professionals.
  • A close dialogue with the local community and planning authority will give your project more chance of success.
  • There must be local context and a convincing narrative when it comes to the site.
  • Surveying and specialist research is a must.
  • The second criteria, of the building significantly enhancing its context, needs to be considered at length.
  • There is no single ticket to success and each project is completely unique.

In July 2018, the government updated the NPPF. The ‘Paragraph 55’ policy changed in name to ‘Paragraph 79’, though the content itself is the same, stating that planning policies and decisions should avoid the development of isolated homes in the countryside unless certain circumstances can be met.

This is a truly interesting framework that can be looked at both as a challenge and an opportunity to commission and own a bespoke piece of architecture. That being said, in the six years since the NPPF was introduced, the take up for Paragraph 79 designs has been relatively slow. This can be put down in part to the challenging and subjective nature of the policy.

This can be an interesting approach for architects in Surrey, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire as Paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy allows new life to be injected into Britain’s renowned and historic heritage of country homes without disturbing the landscape that makes them so prestigious in the first place.

When it comes to the design of the project, the NPPF states that the design must be of exceptional quality, in that it:

  • Is truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture
  • Would help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas
  • Would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area

You will see how that in early articles on Paragraph 55 (now 79) it has been mentioned that clients must be willing to spend a substantial amount of money to gain planning permission. Although this is definitely a possibility and something you’ll want to greatly consider if you’re set on building an isolated property in the rural countryside, you may be able to gain paragraph 79 approvals for a much lower figure by working with the right architect.

By ensuring you take a collaborative and flexible approach, and that you establish a positive dialogue between critiquing parties, you will give yourself a better chance of success. An adversarial approach to this is not advised and will nearly always leave you disappointed. When it comes to planning, a positive approach will also give the local authority the opportunity to advise you on your proposals, which will then steer you in the right direction of an approach that is far more likely to be given approval.

Soft, flexible, and positive is key if you’re looking to gain paragraph 79 approval. Your architect will be able to look deeper into this with you and advise you further.

This guide is suitable for anyone requiring consent from the local council to alter a home. It reviews the ins and outs of UK planning and strategies for successfully navigating it, based on our own experience.

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