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Paragraph 134: Planning permission for rural one-off houses

Wanting to build in a rural area but unsure you’ll ever get permission? Paragraph 134 may just be your answer

25 January 2024
5 minutes read
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In the ever-evolving landscape of UK town planning, specific policies occasionally emerge as hidden gems, ripe with untapped potential. One such policy is Paragraph 134 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is increasingly being recognised for its role in facilitating rural town planning.

While Paragraph 80 has dominated the conversation in this space in recent years - and has a notorious reputation for how difficult it can be to get over the line - Paragraph 134 could be the solution we’ve been looking for, providing greater opportunity and flexibility when it comes to achieving planning permission in rural and green belt land. 

If you have a rural or green belt site you weren’t sure you’d ever be able to develop, Paragraph 134 could just be the key you need to unlock new opportunities and build the home of your dreams.

In this article, we’ll uncover the nuances of Paragraph 134, discuss how it differs from Paragraph 80 and explain how you can maximise your chance of success when it comes to achieving planning permission by using this policy.

Let’s dive in.

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What is Paragraph 134?

Paragraph 134 is a section of the NPPF, the guidelines that determine what can and can’t be built in this country. Though Paragraph 134 has been in law since 2021, it's only recently that we’ve seen a surge in planning applications utilising this clause. 

The key points of Paragraph 134 are as follows:

- Development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it neglects to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design.

- Significant weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs that promote high levels of sustainability or help raise the standard of design in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings, while also reflecting local design policies and government guidance on design.

A new pathway for sustainable rural home development in the UK

Paragraph 134 serves to fill the gap in rural planning and is becoming increasingly relevant for projects struggling to align with the rigid isolation criteria of Paragraph 80 (outlined below), especially in green belt areas. It provides an alternate, more accessible route for obtaining planning permission for rural homes, particularly for 'one-off' dwelling houses aspiring to be part of the countryside but not conforming to the isolated criteria.

The shift towards Paragraph 134 in rural home planning also signifies a greater commitment to sustainable development in the UK, the policy allowing for more flexible siting of rural homes and encouraging the use of existing infrastructure and minimising ecological impact. 

Further, it promotes environmentally friendly construction practices, including the use of sustainable materials and energy-efficient designs, and supports the concept of building in harmony with nature, enabling developments that contribute to the ecological health of rural areas.

A growing number of planning applications are now leveraging Paragraph 134, a rise that indicates a heightened awareness among green belt architects and town planners of its practical use in supporting the development of sustainable rural homes. Previously overlooked, Paragraph 134 is gaining prominence as a feasible and perhaps more advantageous route for developing sustainable homes in green belt land and on the fringes of rural settlements. 

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Paragraph 134 vs. Paragraph 80: A distinctive contrast

Traditionally, Paragraph 80 (formerly known as Paragraph 79 and before that, as Paragraph 55) dominated the discussion around rural developments in the UK. Renowned for its stringent requirement that new homes must be 'isolated' in their location, it has shaped much of the rural architectural landscape. 

The policy is the latest iteration of a law that dates back to 1997 and while its purpose has always been to reduce the development of low-quality housing development in the countryside, in recent times it’s become increasingly strict on what is and isn’t classed as an isolated property. This has forced sites that may have previously been deemed isolated (and viable under this policy) into something of a grey area. 

But what does it actually demand? 

Paragraph 80 states that for ‘isolated homes in the countryside’ to be permitted, they must meet one or more of the following five criteria: 

(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 building; or

(e) the design is of exceptional quality, in that it:

- is truly outstanding, 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.

The criteria most relevant to architecture firms like ours is the last subsection requiring the design to be ‘truly outstanding’ and of ‘exceptional quality’ ’, as well as the term ‘isolated'.

What’s tricky is the murkiness in defining what ‘isolated’ actually means, as well as what makes a design ‘outstanding’. Because of this, getting Paragraph 80 projects over the line can be very much up to whoever’s desk the planning application slides across and in which council you’re located, due to the criteria’s subjective nature.

Paragraph 134 offers a distinct alternative to Paragraph 80, bypassing the necessity for isolation which holds so many projects back. This crucial difference is particularly significant for projects in the ambiguous 'planning grey area' - those not entirely isolated nor situated within a settled community.

How do you know if your plot is Paragraph 80 or Paragraph 134?

Paragraph 80 sites are typically well separated from settlements, with a significant level of seclusion and tranquillity. These sites are not immediately visible or adjacent to built-up areas and maintain a sense of isolation, even if they are somewhat close to a settlement, provided they do not assimilate into the local townscape.

On the other hand, Paragraph 134 sites may not be isolated and are more integrated with the character and appearance of the nearby town, sharing its aesthetic and not differentiated by substantial landscaping. 

Key factors that determine the classification of a plot include the degree of isolation, as well as the plot's integration with or separation from the nearby settlement. To aid in grasping the distinctions between Paragraph 80 and Paragraph 134 classifications, consider the following examples:

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Example one:

The site presents a markedly secluded character, significantly distanced from any towns or communities (also known in this context as ‘settlements’). The surrounding environment is tranquil, with scarcely any adjacent buildings. It falls within the ambit of a 'Paragraph 80' development. This offers a unique prospect for a development that must not only blend with the rural context but also elevate it, meeting the stringent criteria for sustainability, design, and enhancement of its setting.

Satellite image showing a mix of urban and rural landscapes with a red location marker on a green outlined field, contrasting with surrounding developed areas, illustrating land use planning.

Example two:

The site is situated in closer proximity to a settlement than the previous example, yet it maintains a distinct separation from the immediate built-up area. It is delineated by a considered arrangement of landscaping along its periphery, creating a visual and physical buffer from the local community. Despite its nearer location to the settlement, the site does not assimilate into the local townscape, thereby upholding the criteria of a 'Paragraph 80' development.

Overhead satellite view of a rural landscape with agricultural fields, featuring a red pinpoint marker on a highlighted green area, adjacent to a small development, illustrating land surveying or potential development planning.

Example three:

The site is intimately aligned with the character of the nearby town and is located within a stone's throw of the community, devoid of substantial landscaping to distinguish it from the contiguous urban fabric. It integrates seamlessly with the settlement, sharing its aesthetic and spatial characteristics, which diminishes its potential to be considered isolated. Consequently, it falls within the ambit of a 'Paragraph 134' development.

Drone view of a rural area with a clear demarcation between agricultural fields and residential development, featuring a red pin on a highlighted parcel of land, indicative of geographical analysis or real estate assessment.

Example four:

The site is comfortably nestled within a leafy area, well set back from the main road, which shields it from immediate view. The abundance of trees not only fortifies the site's edge and distinctiveness but also accentuates its isolation, a characteristic that positions it for consideration as a 'Paragraph 80' development.

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The challenge of green belt planning permission

Securing green belt planning permission can be a complex process. This is because of the strict rules in place to achieve planning approval, a result of the government’s reluctance to allow urban sprawl in the countryside. 

While it’s important that the UK’s rural areas are respected and not overdeveloped, there is a certain misconception when it comes to what the green belt actually is. Though many very reasonably conflate the word ‘green’ with ideas of protected farmland and forestry that should be preserved at all costs, the reality is that large sections of the green belt are just low-quality scrubland, void of any natural beauty or agricultural purpose.

Adding to this, there is an argument to be made that in the face of the housing crisis we’re currently living through, greater freedoms to allow people to build in the green belt could assist in providing better housing solutions throughout the UK. 

In the context of Paragraph 134, obtaining planning permission in the green belt involves a nuanced understanding of the balance between sustainable development and the preservation of these patches of the UK. 

The trend towards more applications under Paragraph 134 suggests a growing awareness of its potential, even in green belt areas, where development is traditionally more restricted.

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Navigating Paragraph 134: A challenge and opportunity

For landowners with plots in rural areas, adapting to Paragraph 134 presents unique challenges and opportunities. It demands an in-depth understanding of the policy's potential and its limitations, offering a new avenue for sustainable rural development as an alternative to the isolation criterion of Paragraph 80.

As the planning applications of Paragraph 134 homes increase, we can expect a more varied and sustainable array of rural homes across the UK. This policy, once less known compared to Paragraph 80, is now becoming a significant tool in transforming rural development, paving the way for a future where sustainable homes blend harmoniously with rural beauty and ecological responsibility.

We highly recommend conducting a comprehensive feasibility assessment before embarking on any development, especially on green belt land. This appraisal should detail the main planning issues affecting the site's potential, explore all strategies for securing development, and clarify the opportunities and constraints, ultimately providing an assessment of the likelihood of success.

Understanding these aspects is crucial for those considering development on green belt land. Should you need further assistance or if you have any queries, please don't hesitate to reach out for a more detailed conversation.

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What does a planning application with Paragraph 134 cost?

Each project is unique, and accurately estimating the professional fees for architects and other consultants without an in-depth assessment is quite challenging. However, for a Paragraph 134 dwelling house, you should be prepared to allocate a minimum of £15,000 for the application process for planning permission.

Typically, the fee for a full architectural service, encompassing everything from the initial concept to completion, is calculated as a percentage of the build cost. For buildings of this nature, this fee usually ranges between 12% and 20%, covering all of the professional work from conception through to completion.

While you may find slightly lower rates, remember that Paragraph 134 houses demand specialised expertise, experience and distinctive design flair. Often, choosing cheaper options leads to long-term regret due to unsatisfactory results. Opting for the right firm can significantly reduce your risks and be instrumental in bringing your vision to life.

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How much does it cost to build a Paragraph 134 house?

As you consider embarking on the journey of building a Paragraph 134 house, a key question arises: what price range should I expect when planning to build a house in accordance with Paragraph 134? These houses, distinguished by their superior quality and unique design, represent a significant financial undertaking and understanding the cost structure is an essential first step.

The estimated cost for building a high-standard Paragraph 134 house typically starts at around £3,000 per square metre. Depending on the intricacies of the design and specific requirements, this cost could escalate to as much as £7,000 per square metre. For instance, if you're considering a dwelling with 200 square metres of living space, the starting cost for building your Paragraph 134 house would be approximately £600,000.

Keep in mind, the final build cost of your house will be influenced by several factors such as the design's complexity, the extent of structural works needed and the quality of fixtures, fittings and material finishes. These elements can significantly impact the overall budget for your Paragraph 134 house.

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How can Urbanist Architecture's expertise benefit a Paragraph 134 project?

A distinctive aspect of our practice that we believe sets us apart is the breadth of our multidisciplinary services, all conveniently available under one roof. This unique combination is a hallmark of our boutique small architecture firm. Among these services, town planning and architecture stand out as two of our key offerings.

Our team of architects and town planning consultants has decades of experience in navigating the intricacies of planning policy and over the years has established strong relationships with councils, allowing us to understand the nuances of different planning authorities and how to best preempt any issues that may arise. 

As green belt architects and planning consultants working closely side by side, we have an extremely high success rate in securing planning permission for Paragraph 80 and Paragraph 134 houses, a level of achievement that is not always attainable by other firms.

The close relationships we have with councils allows us to have open conversations early on in the piece so we can quickly establish whether your property would be classed as a Paragraph 80 or Paragraph 134 site and what strategies would be most suitable in achieving permission for your project.

Ufuk Bahar, Founder and Managing Director of Urbanist Architecture
AUTHOR

Ufuk Bahar

Urbanist Architecture’s founder and managing director, Ufuk Bahar takes personal charge of some of our larger projects, focusing particularly on Green Belt developments, new-build flats and housing and high-end full refurbishments.

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