Building a New Home in the Countryside

Building a New Home in the Countryside

Ever wanted to build your own home in the countryside?
A home that would not only be the envy of your friends but also an architectural icon?

For many of us the dream of a new house in the countryside is merely that, with planning laws and red tape making it all but impossible to gain approval. However, there are some remarkable houses being granted consent in rural areas under Paragraph 55 (now 79 since a revision in July) of the National Planning Policy Framework. 

This guide is followed by local planning authorities when they are asked to approve designs and could be the answer to self-builders’ dreams. Paragraph 79 says that the development of an isolated home in the countryside should be avoided unless it’s “truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture”, and “would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area”. These paragraphs have been pored over by architects hoping to get proposals agreed for a rural site and has led to some outstanding designs in the quest to be “truly innovative”. 

Building a New Home in the CountrysideArchitects get excited about any piece of planning law that lets them build what they otherwise could not. The fact that the unassuming few words of planning law allows them to push the boundaries of their profession and create something truly outstanding encourages them all the more. However, they get paid regardless and will be proud of their design whether it gets approval, or not. Whether this excitement should be replicated on the part of the client (you, the self-builder) who is paying, regardless, is the issue. It could be a costly project. 

As self-builders we all want what Paragraph 79 offers. Who doesn’t want a really cool new house in the countryside? And to feel like they are building a new home in a long line of historical country houses? 

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it. We’re talking about the chance to be the top of the self-build class and create the dream lifestyle in a brilliant home for you and your family. So, what’s the catch and why aren’t more people doing it? 

Here are some tips: 

  • No matter how outstanding the design, not all sites are suitable for para 79. It’s a good idea to get a planning consultant to do a site appraisal before spending money on architects’ plans. 
  • Choose an architect with Para 79 successes and experience.
  • Understand what the “defining characteristics of the local area” are. The build needs to show sensitivity to these.
  • You’ll need a landscape architect, as Para 79 states “significantly enhance” their setting.
  • You’ll need to budget as Para 79 homes have to be “exceptional quality”.
  • Be aware the planning process is likely to take longer than usual. Especially when applications are sent to an independent Design Review Panel.
  • If you can, send plans to the Design Review Panel before submitting your planning application, and take into account their suggestions. It’s rare for the council to ignore them.

The Property Drop spoke with local architect Garry Thomas about Para79 and ‘Green The Hill’ 

What constitutes the exceptional and outstanding? Garry Thomas of Herefordshire’s Thomas Studio, himself a Top 25 Grand Designs Architect, walks us through an exciting local example and successful Para 79 project here in our very Wye Valley… 

THE PROJECT – Green The Hill 

For an architect there’s nothing more motivating than an exciting design concept in an unusual location, we love a challenge, and para 79 houses do not necessarily mean big budgets. 

When Thomas Studio was recently contacted about a unique building project off Aylestone Hill on the edge of Hereford City, we set about doing some in depth research to support the design and planning, as this was going to be a classic example of a Paragraph 79 project. 

Not all Para79 builds have to be of mammoth size, hugely expensive and of outlandish design, but what sets them apart must be their creativity, innovation and empathy with the local area and its character. 

Research and Respect 

Building a New Home in the CountrysideThis particular site occupied a very special ecological and historic location in Herefordshire, it was down a small populated lane and onto land in the vicinity of the area’s Wildlife Trust. One of the key objectives of the proposal was to respond positively to its unique characteristics. The project aimed to set a new standard for enhancing local wildlife habitats in the UK, when building residential properties, and sought to lay down cultural and social connections with materiality and historic significance. The design proposed to be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area and represented the highest standards in architecture. As such the project was named: Green The Hill. 

The rigorous design process involving pre-application research into the site history and context consultations with specialists, research into materials and a peer-design-review was carried out, to achieve the high-design-standards the site demands. 

With a strong residential presence existing in the area, ranging from modern to classic and then listed properties, we were mindful to account for this and to respect the very special nature and importance of the local landscape, seeking to increase the bio-diversity of the area and to provide suitable habitats for the existing wildlife. The proposal made every effort to improve upon the local ecology and wildlife in an innovative and sustainable way.

Impact and Sustainability 

Building a New Home in the CountrysideHereford has a long tradition for connecting its local population with the wildlife in the area. Green The Hill proposed to continue with this historic tradition at Aylestone Hill, creating a strong connectivity between flora, fauna and people. 

The site’s location in a protected area needed to satisfy the local Wildlife Trust’s requirement for the preservation of natural habitats and landscapes and the richness of biodiversity. The build proposal not only achieved a neutral environmental impact, it exceeded this requirement by facilitating a positive environmental impact with the addition of the proposed gardens. 

With the site on a gradient, the stepping of the massing eastwards down the hill allowed for larger gardens and landscaping, which were then woven back into the living spaces. The landscape and building were sloped and stepped following the contours of the site. Parts of the structure and gardens sheltered by the earth. This helped the privacy, micro habitats and climates within the gardens and amenity spaces. 

The cast stone would be layered manually referencing the natural layering of rock, gravel, stone and earth that represents the local geology. The walls would also be thick, giving the structure good thermal mass and enhancing its energy performance. 

Building a New Home in the CountrysideThe local stone mix was to be sourced from a quarry just 1.45km north east from the site, which augments the sustainable principles of the proposal to minimise the carbon footprint. The proposal being to ram the concrete by hand creating a unique visual. In this method, less cement is needed and there is no need for steel reinforcement in the cast stone mix, making it a more sustainable alternative to traditional cast stone and concrete. 

Design and Structure 

The proposed structure would be highly energy efficient; with rammed concrete walls allowing the building to take advantage of thermal mass, energy generating photovoltaics, a ground source heat pump and an orientation of the building, taking advantage of solar gain. 

The building would be primarily constructed from locally sourced cast-stone and gravels to give a sense of permanence and solidity in reference to local structures and local landscaping features. Furthermore, lightweight walls would be clad in timber and constructed in highly insulated timber frame – again a readily available local technology. 

The Review process 

Building a New Home in the CountrysidePara79 properties are always monitored by an independent third party, which in this case was MADE in Birmingham. There are two reviews in total including site visits, design presentation to a panel, suggested amendments and a follow-up review. Only when all requirements are met can it proceed. 

MADE continues to work with Thomas Studio and the applicant in the next phase of the Review to bring all aspects of the design on this project to required levels. We’re excited that there doesn’t seem to be anything insurmountable. 

If you have a highly creative project or any general self build enquiries that you would like to discuss with Thomas Studio, contact Garry Thomas on T: 01432 860338 or browse further useful information on