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Paragraph 80 houses: Building a new home in the countryside

For architects, they are the highest challenge of their skill. For you? Often your only chance to get planning permission in the deep countryside. Here's your in-depth guide to Paragraph 80 homes

16 January 2024
8 minutes read
Modern countryside house at dusk featuring sleek design with large glass windows, a cantilevered upper story, and wooden cladding surrounded by lush greenery and soft landscape lighting.

Have you ever found yourself dreaming about building a Paragraph 80 house?

Building your own grand design house in the countryside is a dream for lots of people; something to aspire to and daydream about. But could it turn out to be a reality?

Well, for any of these daydreams to become bricks and mortar (or maybe that should be hempcrete and recycled stone) you’ll need to be fully up to speed with Paragraph 80 (or ‘Para 80’) of the National Planning Policy Framework, previously known as Paragraph 79 (‘Para 79’ informally) and before that Paragraph 55 (‘Para 55’).

This article will show you exactly how to design Paragraph 80 houses so that you can build a unique and individual bespoke home tailored to match your needs and aspirations.

You will learn how to work collaboratively with your architects and planning consultants to increase your chances of getting planning permission for your Paragraph 80 house in the countryside or on the Green Belt.

We will show you outstanding design examples, explain the principles of good design and reveal the importance of innovative construction and sustainability methods. And if you don’t own a piece of land yet, we will also show you a step-by-step guide to help you find the best plot for developing your countryside house.

So let’s begin…

Rustic countryside house at sunset with a modern twist, featuring a gabled roof, wooden facade, and glass conservatory, set against a backdrop of autumn-colored trees, with a beagle dog in the foreground and a couple walking in the distance.

What is a Paragraph 80 country house?

Paragraph 80 projects follow the guidelines in criterion (e) of what is now Paragraph 80 (formerly Paragraph 79) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which governs the construction of new, isolated homes in the countryside.

To begin with, paragraph 80(e) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is a unique regulation that provides exceptional circumstances for allowing the construction of isolated dwellings within the countryside. The policy assesses a planning application against a set of tests to ensure an exceptional quality design that reflects the highest standards in architecture.

Fact: paragraph 80 began life back in 1997 as Planning Policy Guidance 7 (PPG7). It was introduced by then Environment Secretary John Gummer (now Lord Deben). In its earliest form, the guidance stated that:

“An isolated new house in the countryside may also exceptionally be justified if it is clearly of the highest quality, is truly outstanding in terms of its architecture and landscape design, and would significantly enhance its immediate setting and wider surroundings’. This means that each generation would have the opportunity to add to the tradition of the Country House which has done so much to enhance the English countryside”.

As years and governments have passed, PPG7 slowly transformed into Paragraph 80, but the initial framework remains. The current legislation states that a house given Paragraph 80 planning permission must:

  • be of exceptional quality
  • be truly outstanding
  • reflect the highest standards in architecture
  • help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas
  • significantly enhance its immediate setting
  • be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area
Aerial view of lush green fields and patchwork farmland in the UK countryside, with roads intersecting under a clear blue sky on a sunny day, highlighting the rural landscape's natural beauty and tranquility.

Paragraph 80 policy explained in detail

Paragraph 80 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provides exceptional circumstances for permitting the construction of isolated dwellings within the countryside.

Subparagraphs a) to d) deal with rural workers housing and the reuse of existing buildings. Then 80(e) opens up the possibility for entirely new houses that fall outside of any of the previous conditions.

The policy assesses a planning application against a set of tests to ensure the proposal meets these specific criteria.

Your design should:

Modern countryside house with a striking combination of dark corrugated iron, white rendering, and natural stone cladding, featuring expansive windows, a cantilevered upper floor, and an inviting entrance with potted plants.
Architectural Design by Urbanist Architecture for the development of a large dwelling house

1) Be of exceptional quality

Your planning application will be subject to rigorous analysis, but you should highlight the exceptional quality of design.

That sounds simple, but it isn’t.

In fact, it can be difficult to pin down what exceptional quality design is as this can mean different things in different locations and settings. It will depend on the existing design standards and the local character of the area.

However, despite there not being a clear definition of exceptional design, what is clear is that your proposal must be way above the ordinary. Not only should it be unique, but you should be aiming to push the contemporary boundaries of construction and design methods.

Believe it or not, the depth of understanding of Paragraph 80 will vary from council to council. Therefore you should do everything in your power to ensure that your local planning authority has a strong core understanding of the policy and knows how to apply it.

Let’s be clear: exceptional quality of design also requires the balance and integration of building design and landscape design. It’s the marriage of structure and topography. That is why it is crucial that you give as much consideration to landscaping as the design of the building itself.

In other words, landscape can’t be an afterthought. You should have landscape design front and centre to give you the best chances of winning planning permission.

Therefore, you should have a successful landscape architect as a part of the design team from day one. New isolated homes in the open countryside require the creation of a distinctive sense of place that fully integrates the building with its surroundings. Make no mistake about it!

With attention to detail towards the high design quality of the building and its harmony within the landscape, you can achieve an exceptional development that draws on its distinctive setting while remaining contemporary, modern and timely.

It’s true that the merits of exceptional design are open to subjective interpretation. But there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you have done everything in your power to achieve exceptional results. For example, early engagement and correspondence with your local planning authority and a Design Review Panel will increase your chances of your application being successful. More about that later…

Contemporary countryside home in the late afternoon with mixed materials of wood and stone, featuring large glass windows that reveal a cosy interior and modern furniture on the outside deck, nestled in a tranquil natural setting.
Architectural Design by Urbanist Architecture for the development of a large dwelling house

2) Be truly outstanding

It is important to note that the policy requires your design to be truly outstanding. Previous versions of this policy, such as that outlined in the PPS7 (Sustainable Development in Rural Areas), required the proposal to be innovative and outstanding, while Paragraph 79 allowed for the design to be either truly outstanding or innovative (or both). Since July 2021, the requirement has been reduced to simply "truly outstanding".

But while the word innovative has vanished from the legislation, that does not mean that the people judging the design won’t be looking to see advances in construction technology, especially when it comes to sustainability.

Here’s another way to think about it…

Paragraph 80 is the premier league of housebuilding. So the policy wants dwellings to be at the forefront of ground-breaking design and construction. You’re not just meant to be designing a great house for you, you should be raising the standard of design in general.

By and large, the policy tries to reinvent traditions into something more contemporary, creating an opportunity for each generation to create its own legacy through outstanding architecture. Your outstanding design should be bold and daring while looking to celebrate the distinctiveness of the local area.

Modernity is often assumed to be “innovative” but this doesn’t mean that traditional schemes can’t be innovative too. In fact, the innovation is likely to come from engineering and construction methods. This is an area that is trending big time in Para 80 schemes. And you can use cutting-edge construction approaches on a traditional-looking house.

The difficulty with innovation in architecture is that it demands a constant raising of the bar. Remember: your scheme should be a unique one-off design – repetition is not an option. Being truly innovative means doing something completely different as opposed to doing the same thing but better.

Beyond that, proving architectural innovation is not just a tough task – it can ultimately be self-defeating. The risk is that we end up with a generation of prototype houses that exist in their own little world, rather than raising the standard of available housing stock.

There is no doubt that the balance is currently heavily in favour of contemporary interpretations of the country house with a sustainable flavour. This, however, does not mean you can’t opt for a more traditional look.

But one thing’s for sure: there is not a “one size fits all approach” to innovative design. What would be considered innovative in one setting may not be considered in another – it depends on the situation. There is little point in mimicking previously approved schemes, because what has been considered innovative in one proposal simply will not be deemed innovative in another.

What it all boils down to is that a clear innovative concept that has evidently driven the design of the dwelling can provide sufficient evidence to support your application. Innovative concepts can find new ways to achieve carbon zero, off-grid hydrogen homes and designs that incorporate green technology of types that haven’t been used in this country before. Linking architecture, landscape design and mechanical and engineering often results in truly outstanding and innovative design quality.

A few years ago, sustainability was treated as a golden ticket to get projects through pre-application, outline planning application and full planning application. The sustainability agenda has become implicit in the Para 79 era and is a key part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Using a sustainability consultant is now commonplace, but the desire to get approved sometimes means that sustainability for its own sake overshadows building it into every part of the design.

Despite the policy itself only being short, you require a substantial amount of evidence to support a Para 80 scheme. Like “exceptional quality”, innovation in design is open to subjective interpretation. So it’s time to start thinking outside of the box.

A modern countryside house with a stylish combination of dark wood cladding and natural stone walls, featuring tall vertical windows and a welcoming entrance flanked by potted topiaries, under the gentle shade of green trees.
Architectural Design by Urbanist Architecture for the development of a large dwelling house

3) Reflect the highest standards in architecture

To gain approval in the countryside, designing a beautiful home is not enough. Your home must be an expression of progressive and pioneering design fit for the 21st Century and beyond.

Therefore, a Para 80 house with the highest principles of architecture should incorporate sustainability. They can start this incorporation by considering the best technologies to integrate into the design - but it is key that these technologies are derived from the project site's resources and surroundings. (Some of these technologies are things like heat recovery ventilation, triple-glazing, insulation, rainwater harvesting and passive solar gain etc. But it is important to implement them holistically into the project.)

Simply adding UV panels is not enough, it is not innovative, and generally non-site specific. This sort of approach is unsuccessful because it will appear as 'sustainable decoration' as opposed to truly well-considered and well-integrated sustainable technology that take advantage of the site's landscape and resources.

That is not to say that you cannot use UV panels, they are a great technology to adopt; provided that they are integrated into the larger building system. For example, provided your site is situated somewhere relatively sunny that has a good south-facing area, you could integrate UV water heaters or electricity generators that feed directly into the house to power and or/support other sustainable technologies. It is also vital that you consider how these panels are seen. Are you taking full advantage of these panels and making them a feature? Are you integrating them into the roof, to make them vital to the building’s enclosure layers and energy systems?

Houses and buildings need to be designed with the idea that they are one system that has a plausible narrative: the site location, resources, and surroundings inform the technologies and orientation, which then inform the aesthetic and physical manifestation of the building, which then inform the way the space feels. When looking at “truly outstanding” design, integration of every system and building element needs to work in harmony. The “highest standards of architecture” refer to much more than just the design. It refers to the integration of the technologies within the design, the way the technologies are derived, and the way a building functions as one body with many elements.

This is where systems like Passivhaus come into play.

Passivhaus design is a standard for design and construction that aims to create homes that maintain comfortable temperatures with minimal energy use; they should be homes that can control the interior environment without much interaction from the building user. The principles are as follows:

  • super-insulated envelopes
  • airtight construction
  • high-performance glazing
  • thermal-bridge-free detailing
  • heat recovery ventilation

Whatever approach to sustainability you and your design team take, whatever particular elements are incorporated, the crucial thing is that these are part of the design from the very start and contribute to a whole that works harmoniously on both the practical and aesthetic levels.

Obviously, a combination of factors will help you to justify whether your scheme reflects the highest standards in architecture. If your proposal meets the policy’s other five criteria, it should be well on its way to hitting that target. This quote from a planning inspector in an appeal decision reinforces this point: “The building would be constructed to a high level of energy efficiency incorporating many sustainable construction features including high standards of thermal insulation, rainwater harvesting, air source heating, photovoltaic panels and low energy lighting. I consider that this dwelling is of a very high standard of architecture, includes a number of innovative features, and would raise the standards of design more generally in rural areas.” (Appeal Ref: APP/N2535/W/16/3149772 – approved at appeal)

Contemporary countryside house with a sleek design, featuring wooden slat upper balcony, stone cladding, and a built-in garage with a luxurious black SUV parked in the driveway, illuminated by ground lights.
Architectural Design by Urbanist Architecture for the development of a large dwelling house

4) Help to raise standards of design in rural areas

Despite a general drive to increase the quality of design of new build homes, the vast majority of houses built in the countryside are mass-produced housing stock. Most new-build homes are less than remarkable, cookie-cutter builds with below-par environmental performance.

Therefore, Paragraph 80 of NPPF seeks to promote “exceptional quality” homes with “outstanding” design quality in open countryside, on designated Green Belt land and for areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). Paragraph 80 policy encourages developments that demonstrate quality efforts that match and complement the environment they reside in.

In other words, the policy also acknowledges the issues of typical housing design. It is important in architects’ professional development – it makes them respond to a setting and produce amazing outcomes. A Paragraph 80 home should aspire to be noticed on the national stage for its use of experimental design and technologies.

In order to help raise standards of design in rural areas, your proposal must become an exemplar for outstanding and innovative rural architecture. It should be one from which future projects can take inspiration. You can achieve this through the use of particular materials, the adoption of particular methods of construction or through conservation of the environment.

Luxurious modern countryside home with a distinctive wooden slat design, glass balconies, and a visible interior including a dining area, juxtaposed against a lush landscape and a clear sky.
Architectural Design by Urbanist Architecture for the development of a large dwelling house

5) Significantly enhance its immediate setting

A famous architect once said: “The task of the architectural project is to reveal, through the transformation of form, the essence of the surrounding context.”

Who was that architect?

Vittorio Gregotti.

How can that quote apply to your project?

Quite simply, you need to start designing with context in mind. In other words, your design should not stand out but fit in! Your home must embrace its immediate surroundings and find ways to enhance them.

Having a thorough understanding of the site’s context is essential if you are going to significantly enhance its immediate setting. So it is worth taking the time to study and assess the features and characteristics of your site and the area in which it is located.

For this reason, your design needs to be site-targeted. Your architects will have to extensively analyse and evaluate the context so that they can utilise it to the best of their ability within the scope of your project and Para 80 criteria required.

Besides focussing your design on context, you also need to pay particular attention to local history, and local character. Your architects need to find a balance between preserving the heritage of the setting, for example by using local materials, while creating designs that are modern and contemporary.

But here’s the problem… You may question whether your chosen site can actually be enhanced any further. There is a good chance that your chosen site will already be exceptional and beautiful due to its isolated countryside setting. However, there are a number of ways in which already beautiful sites can be enhanced.

In any case, exceptional quality design will mean different things in different locations; this can make the process complex. However, it generally ensures that your proposal fits beautifully into its surroundings.

A successful scheme that will gain approval based on its ability to enhance its immediate surroundings should look to establish a strong connection between the structure and its surrounding landscape. No doubt about it…

All in all, if architecture is contextual, it paves the way to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the landscape and its surroundings. All good architecture and design should seek to achieve this. Contextual design should positively respond to the physical characteristics of the site, which results in something unique… which is exactly what a Paragraph 80 home should be. So, is that all clear?

A successful scheme can be summarised in the following quote made by a planning inspector:

“I therefore conclude that the outcome would be an attractive assemblage of the natural and man-made that would represent a significant enhancement of the immediate setting” (Appeal Ref: APP/W1715/W/16/3148910 – application approved at appeal.)

Elegant countryside home featuring a blend of modern and rustic architecture with wooden slats, stone walls, large glass windows, and multiple balconies, nestled in a verdant landscape.
Architectural Design by Urbanist Architecture for the development of a large dwelling house

6) Be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area

There’s only one way to justify these criteria. So let’s take a closer look…

In a nutshell, your proposal would need to clearly demonstrate that the defining characteristics of the local area, including the local and regional building materials, have been considered and accounted for within your design. Your sensible design will look to preserve and enhance the unique set of circumstances surrounding the site.

But there’s one problem: certain sites can be deemed too exquisite, where a new residential development in the countryside simply will not enhance the setting. Alternatively, a worn-out, run-down piece of land, regardless of topography and open countryside, is sometimes deemed not worthy of exciting and innovative building design.

As if that’s not enough, local planning authorities can be subjective and seem to move the goalposts when they grant consent.

Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of your site including its landscape features, biodiversity, ecology and local contextual factors is critical in increasing your chances of a successful application. This will allow your proposal to be truly sympathetic to its unique and sensitive location.

Aerial view of two mirrored contemporary countryside houses with a symmetrical gabled roof, red brick facade, surrounded by lush greenery and a cobblestone driveway, with a white car parked and two bicycles chained to a cycle rack.
Planning Permission secured by Urbanist Architecture for the development of two dwelling houses in the Green Belt

How to get planning permission for Paragraph 80 homes

Paragraph 80 is an exception in the planning system that allows the construction of new houses in the countryside. You will be required to justify that your proposal meets the stringent requirements set out in Paragraph 80 in order to gain approval for an exceptional dwelling within an isolated setting.

Needless to say, when preparing your planning application, you need to pay special consideration to sustainability in terms of the location of the site, the proposed building design and construction technologies; visual impact on the countryside; and landscape design. Therefore, you need to adopt a meticulous design-led approach if getting planning permission for a Para 80 house is your end goal.

Like getting planning permission in the Green Belt, gaining approval for an exceptional dwelling within an isolated setting can be difficult – each application brings its own unique set of challenges.

Taking a bespoke approach

Unfortunately, there is no formula for providing a ready answer to any planning permission question for Paragraph 80 homes. Neither is there any rigorous and objective approach to assess Paragraph 80 planning applications for the criteria set out above.

The simple truth is each application has its own unique set of circumstances, which will be independently assessed by the local planning authority or the Planning Inspectorate. With the right team of professionals working on your project, you can pull out all of the stops to justify why your proposal should be granted consent.

And once completed, your Para 80 dwelling will become part of a legacy for future generations to enjoy and gain inspiration from. Remarkably, people will benefit from the innovative, outstanding design of your property through a trickle-down effect.

The truly unique design elements of your Para 80 house will set the standard for design for years to come. Meaning this policy presents the opportunity to inspire and influence housing design of the future. Imagine what it would be like!

So now you have a basic understanding of the fundamentals of the Paragraph 80 policy, let’s look at its imperatives in more detail and learn how to design an outstanding building to improve the chances of getting planning permission in the countryside.

Two modern countryside brick houses featuring dual gabled roofs, large windows, and central stone-clad entryway, complemented by a cobblestone driveway with a parked luxury SUV and a pair of bicycles to the side, set against a backdrop of lush trees and a clear blue sky.
Planning Permission secured by Urbanist Architecture for the development of two dwelling houses in the Green Belt

What to expect when submitting a planning application for a Paragraph 80 home in the countryside

The planning process is so important and understanding how to work it is critical to your chances of success.

But one thing’s for sure: You should expect a difficult planning and lengthy planning process because Paragraph 80 planning is an intricate process of give and take; you will need a strong team of experts in Para 80 houses and Green Belt developments.

I’ll walk you through the whole process…

First of all, you need to have a great team consisting of architects, town planners, landscape architects and other specialist consultants depending on your case. They will help you to navigate this complex piece of planning policy in order to secure consent for your new home. You must be prepared to listen and trust your team. We will explain the importance of this in the next chapters.

Secondly, it is so important that the scheme is not outright rejected by the case officer - it needs to go to committee. A consistent theme during the planning process is the need to educate the planning committee about the nuances of Para 80.

If I may say so, the difference in the level of understanding varies hugely from one local authority to another. However, if you can educate that committee about the project and arrange a site visit, it will be of huge benefit.

So what’s it all mean?

If the local planning authority in question has good knowledge about Para 80, this will act in your favour, as they are more likely to approve your application. However, you can’t solely rely on their knowledge – this must be accompanied by a meticulously prepared planning application.

On the other hand, if the local planning authority rejects your application, you have the right to appeal the council’s refusal. The case will then be overseen by the Planning Inspectorate, who will independently review the case.

While, admittedly, planning inspectors are notorious for their rigorous approach to assessing planning applications; they have the best understanding of Para 80 and know how to apply it. They look very favourably on very well-prepared planning appeals. Remember; fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Therefore, the appeal stage is the golden opportunity to finally secure consent for your countryside home. Although appeals can take an age and cost the earth, a large proportion of Para 80 applications gain approval at the appeal stage.

Let me say this straight: there is no reason to give up on your dream home if you fall at the first hurdle. This process is a marathon, not a sprint, and you must be fully invested in this process, especially when you encounter obstacles such as a refusal.

Two professionals discussing architectural plans, with a woman holding a pen seated on an orange couch looking at a tablet showing blueprints, while a bald man in a white shirt listens intently, surrounded by scattered floor plans on a glass coffee table in a well-lit modern living room.
Urbanist Architecture team working on a new build residential development

Choosing the right architects and planners for your paragraph 80 project

Even if your feeling is that you don’t need a specialist Green Belt team or at the least think that that is not essential, higher approval rates are associated with meticulously developed and properly represented schemes created by leading Green Belt and Paragraph 80 architects and town planners.

2022 is the 25th anniversary of this policy yet many Para 79/80 and Green Belt architects and planning consultants still struggle to grasp the basic details, never mind the intricacies and nuance within each of the tests set within Paragraph 80.

Therefore, choosing the right architecture and planning firm for your Paragraph 80 project is not far off choosing a manager for your football team – no one comes with a guarantee of success but there are some who can display previous experience of achieving success, and some who have little experience but display all the facets needed for future success.

They will be the driving force behind your project, working with arboricultural consultants, ecology consultants, sustainability consultants and more… So, make no mistake about hiring the best Paragraph 80 architects, planning consultants and professionals.

You probably already know that we here at Urbanist Architecture have a strong track record in providing architecture and town planning services for developments in the Green Belt and countryside. Over the past five years, we have delivered incredibly successful schemes for national house builders and seasoned property developers right through to first-time investors and landowners.

As a multidisciplinary team of architects and planning consultants specialising in Para 80 houses and Green Belt developments, our structure allows us to specialise in crafting creative planning application strategies for residential developments with sensitive planning conditions and restrictions.

With a dedicated focus on developing good design with our clients and seeking collaborative negotiation with planning officers, we secure planning permissions for unprecedented and quite exceptional projects.

So now you have a basic understanding of the fundamentals of the Paragraph 80 projects, let’s look at some of this in more detail and start with how to find the best plot (if you don’t have one yet), how much it costs to submit a planning application and how much it costs to build a Para 80 house.

Aerial view of the lush English countryside, showcasing a patchwork of various agricultural fields, hedgerows, and clusters of trees under a partly cloudy sky, conveying a serene rural landscape.

Finding the right plot for building in countryside

So far, this article has established that there are a number of considerations in a successful design scheme, however, there is one element that should be prioritised above the rest – and that is the site itself.

An exceptional, outstanding site provides strong foundations upon which to build an exceptional and outstanding dwelling. The land is the only element of the site that you or your architect can not amend, so it is critical that you choose your site wisely.

Let’s jump right in…

The sites most likely to gain approval for Para 80 houses are those where a former country home has been located – these sites are often referred to as ‘long-derelict country homes’.

Essentially what this means is, the former country home has been removed due to neglect or an accident and the land is empty. However, the key thing is it has been previously developed and used for residential purposes.

In planning terms, your Para 80 dwelling would not be classed as a replacement home, but the land is being used for a similar purpose that it previously has been. A planning committee is more likely to support a scheme proposed on a site of this kind where the principle of a dwelling has been long established. Do you see where we’re going with this?

Every new countryside house approved under what is now Paragraph 80 should be of exceptional quality or innovative in its design. Exceptional doesn’t happen if you’re copying what has been done previously. This design test is great for architects’ professional development, but not so great for your overall approval process.

Remember: you have to also accept that a brilliantly designed new rural home will not be enough without the right site and context. You have a better chance of getting rural homes approved if there is a derelict property on the site or if the site is previously developed, or if the site is a woodland plot with enough space in a clearing for the house.

The feeling is that the perfect Paragraph 80 site should have a mythical property that is notoriously tough to define and impossible to predict. Any Paragraph 80 architect or a team of Paragraph 80 planning consultants worth their salt will tell you that the site is of prime importance in gaining planning consent.

Does that sound rather unscientific?

Well, it is. This is all about interpretation and feel rather than criteria.

Local planning policies (including local land supply targets) will to some degree have an influence on the success of approval but, every submission under Paragraph 80 will likely contradict local planning policy in that it will be a new house in the open countryside, but you can look elsewhere in the policy for elements to support your case.

It can be the case that some areas in England are more Para 80-friendly than others. Some councils may welcome this exceptional standard of development.

For example, South Cambridgeshire District Council, within their Economic Development Strategy, express an “unfulfilled demand for large high-quality homes in the £1 million plus category suitable for business executives”. A policy of this kind will work in your favour when submitting an application for a Para 80 home.

In addition to that, the site’s proximity to existing homes affects the way any approval might be considered “isolated”, but this is far from clear-cut. Common sense dictates you wouldn’t expect to see new Para 80 country houses at the end of a row of existing homes.

One such example was an application for a project in Nottinghamshire that was rejected despite meeting all the criteria outlined in Para 80; the house was literally across the road from houses in the Greater Nottingham conurbation and therefore was not deemed to be isolated.

Lots of the countryside we see as perfect for Para 80 houses is part of the Green Belt or situated within an AONB; traditionally a no-go area for local planning authorities as enshrined in all local plans. The good news is that Para 80 can trump Green Belt designations. You will need to demonstrate attention to visual impact, exceptional landscape and building design and exemplary sustainable design.

In order to secure your own piece of Green Belt land, upon which to build a Para 80 dwelling, the following criteria may help you to improve your chances of success:

  • Green Belt land, ideally previously developed
  • Not in an existing housing development – but not (see below) too far from one either
  • Located within one kilometre of a train station (TfL or National Rail), roughly a 10-minute walk
  • The land should not (ideally) fall under: protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives and/or designated as sites of special scientific Interest; land designated as local green space, an area of outstanding natural beauty; land within a National Park (or the Broads Authority) or defined as Heritage Coast, irreplaceable habitats including ancient woodland; aged or veteran trees; designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest referred to in footnote 68 of the NPPF); and areas at risk of flooding or coastal change.

The simple truth is you can’t just buy a plot in the hope of getting Paragraph 80 approval. It’s difficult to assess why some sites gain approval and some don’t. Good quality design and a sustainable design with a minimal carbon footprint and green technology may help are some instances. Exciting and innovative building design with high-quality building materials that reflect the very highest standards of architecture and landscape may help in others. But in the end, it can be a bit of a lottery.

Man standing in the doorway of a modern minimalist white villa with large glass windows overlooking the ocean, under a clear blue sky, exemplifying contemporary architecture and luxury coastal living.

How much does it cost to get planning permission for a Para 80 house?

Although every project is unique and it is impossible to calculate the professional fees of architects and other consultants without a detailed assessment, you should be prepared to invest at least £20,000 to apply for planning permission for a Paragraph 80 dwelling house.

Purely as an indication, charges for full architects service, from conception to completion, can be calculated as a percentage of the build cost and ranges between 12% and 20% for these types of buildings.

You may find slightly cheaper rates – however, Para 80 houses require specialist expertise, experience and design talent, and cutting costs in professional fees would not work in your favour. We probably all have memories of cutting costs and then having to live unhappily with unsatisfactory results for a long time.

For example, if your team fails to justify how your proposal meets the requirements of the Para 80 policy, you are going to be tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket, potentially with nothing to show for it. It is tough to meet the criteria of the Para 80 clause. Even if you feel you have, the decision rests with your local Planning Committee and if you appeal, with the Planning Inspectorate.

Therefore, selecting the right architecture and planning firm to help you prepare and present your case, and secure your Para 80 planning permission is key to minimising your risks and bringing your vision to fruition.

Early construction phase of a building with wooden scaffolding and concrete pillars on a construction site, showing the foundational framework and the beginning of a new structure under a cloudy sky.

How much does it cost to build a Para 80 house?

Paragraph 80 of the National Planning Policy Framework emphasises the need to prove the exceptional quality or innovative nature of the design of the new dwelling.

This means that you would need to incorporate innovative construction methods and sustainability initiatives into the design of the building envelope to create a potential “Signature/Grand Design” scheme to improve the chances of obtaining planning permission.

For this reason, the true cost of building houses to such high standards would start in the region of £4,000 per square metre and depending on the design, it may go up to £8,000 per square metre. For example, if you require a 200sqm living space, then your Paragraph 80 house cost would start from £800,000 to build.

Quite surprisingly, a relatively high number of Para 80 houses that obtained planning permission have never actually been built. Sometimes this is due to the owners of the sites wishing to cash in on their newly valuable land, but it also happens because the actual build costs became astronomical.

Three professionals in a meeting room reviewing architectural plans, with a man presenting to a focused male and female colleague across a polished table, in a modern office setting with natural light and a vase of white flowers.

How to work with an architect to design and build a Para 80 project

Firstly, be careful who you work with. An increased level of interest in and knowledge of the policy means that this is less of an exclusive club than it previously has been.

Therefore some new names in Para 80 business actually have limited or no success so far. The truth is it can be difficult to know how much your architects and planning consultants know about the implications of a Para 80 process until you really start to work with them.

Many architects want to grab the opportunity to work on a Para 80 project with both hands, however, experience in this field is key when it comes to a successful scheme.

But one thing’s for sure: you first need to take the time to have a proper initial discussion process and base it around the way they might look at a project of this type. You should examine evidence of an understanding of the importance of how they will balance the criteria of Para 80 and how they will justify your scheme.

Don’t forget: your team will be fundamental to your success and will include the likes of architects, planning consultants, landscape architects, sustainability consultants, topographical surveyors, arboricultural consultants, transport impact assessors and other specialists depending on the requirements of your development.

Let’s dig a little deeper…

Having picked an experienced architecture and planning firm, and the rest of the team, it is time to forget what you think you know about a self-build project. One of the things you will need to understand early is that even though this is your dream, to get a successful result, you will need to accept that there will be shared ownership of the project as it starts to take shape.

You probably have a vision of the house you want. However, try not to get your heart set on too many aspects of the design as your project will have to evolve organically and will be shaped by external factors. Also, you will have to make a number of changes to your design throughout this process, based on recommendations from external consultants and design review panels.

In short, the design process for these projects is intensive and thorough. You can’t submit a couple of sketches with a few words of explanation. When your home needs to be the crème de la crème, quality needs to be through the roof and your team needs to be in control of the arguments.

You will also have to accept that your needs and wants may need to take a backseat – at least partially – to the needs of the rural development area. A Paragraph 80 house design means compromise; it is not uncommon to end up with a country house that is still a fantastic piece of architectural design, but is nothing like you originally envisaged. Same land, same location, but a different design using professional innovation.

So it all adds up to this: preparing an application for a Para 80 dwelling is a truly collaborative process, which will involve the exchange of ideas and input from a whole host of built environment professionals. Shared ownership of your scheme is the key to success.

A focused engineer in a white hard hat and reflective vest taking notes on a clipboard in front of a tall observation tower with a green lookout post, set against a backdrop of a clear blue sky.

How to work with landscape architects and arboricultural consultants

It is essential that the landscape design and the building design work in harmony with one another. In other words, the physical realities of the site, including the land topography, vegetation and trees should complement the building design.

During the planning application process, you and your dedicated team of professionals will spend time liaising with landscape architects, who will commission reports and surveys that aim to enhance your understanding of the ecology, biodiversity and resources of the site.

This is a long process that uncovers minute but important details about not only the landscape of the site but animals, prevailing wind direction, sunlight, climate and geology among other things.

So what does all this mean?

The plans produced by landscape architects help to develop the narrative behind the dwelling design and articulate the contextual relationship of the house and its surroundings. The more time your team spend on understanding a site and its context, the stronger this narrative becomes, allowing a more responsive design to emerge. Therefore, if you work with a successful landscape architect, you will get proposals that positively respond to the landform.

Ensuring you involve a talented landscape architect from the outset allows them to lay down some rules about the site. There are a number of ways in which your proposal can enhance the landscape including:

Forming a relationship between interior and exterior spaces through the complementation of architecture and topography; binding the site together using woodland; linking up habitats; bolstering the woodland edge; introducing wildflower areas and a quality mowing regime to promote biodiversity; Putting management plans in place for all areas. In fact, the landscape of your site can become a major part of your overall design concept, therefore it is important that you consider how your home will integrate into the landscape. You should consider landscape design as a fundamental component of your project, underpinning the whole scheme.

Let’s not forget: one of the aims of Paragraph 80 homes is to celebrate the diversity of the English landscape. Therefore it is crucial that the architecture takes its design notes from the landscape and its rich defining features. The Planning Inspectorate often comments on landscape design in their appeal statements:

“The important point about this proposal would be the combination of features and opportunities offered on the site which would combine to form an integral part of its design. Overall, the design would embrace the site’s physical characteristics in terms of the contours of the land, its orientation and views towards the ponds. It would be of an exceptional quality.” (Appeal Ref: APP/M1710/W/15/3010471 Wishanger Estate, Smithfield Lane, Headley Down, Bordon, East Hampshire GU35 8ST – scheme approved at appeal).

Landscape architects and arboricultural consultants will assess the impact of your development on trees and landscape features on your site. Quite simply, the local planning authority will look favourably on your application if you have considered the care and management of these features.

Not only is it important to create a strong narrative between the scheme and the landscape, you must also be able to develop a strong narrative between you and your proposed scheme. This personal narrative matter almost as much as the story of the site.

The understanding must go beyond the layout and the number of bedrooms proposed. Successful applications will include detail on how you plan to make effective use of the landscape, how you plan to move through it and what personal connection, if any, you have to the site. A strong and compelling personal narrative will help those assessing your application to gain a rich and meaningful understanding of how you will make the most of this exceptional piece of landscape. Just imagine that…

Here’s the point: your Para 80 proposal should represent a design that addresses the complementary relationship between architecture and existing site features. Your proposal must display a thorough understanding of the local landscape issues and present your case in the best light all of which will have a huge influence on your project’s success.

That is why a holistic landscape design is crucial to gaining the support of the local planning authority and the Planning Inspectorate. It is not something you should overlook or neglect in the planning and design process.

Close-up of professionals' hands gesturing over an architectural model of a building complex on a table, indicating discussion and planning in a brightly lit office environment.

Should I use design review panels?

Here’s the thing: significant cuts to local authority budgets mean that many councils no longer employ in-house design teams. What does that mean for you? The people making key design decisions are planners who lack both the knowledge and the experience to make a sound judgement about whether a proposal meets or reflects the highest standards in architecture.

Although it is up to the final judgement of the local planning authority to establish whether a design meets the standards specified in the policy, we highly recommend the use of design review panels.

Basically, a design review panel is an independent advisory body made up of highly distinguished built environment practitioners. They offer impartial advice and guidance on design issues related to new and emerging development typically at the pre-application stage. The expert knowledge and advice from the review panel can be instrumental in securing planning permission for your Para 80 home.

In short, the design review panel provides evidence for proving the ‘exceptional’ nature of your project. The members of the panel will provide impartial expert advice about the design of your proposed home, which can prove invaluable when it comes to putting together a full planning application.

Making the most of early engagement

In previous cases, the Planning Inspectorate has given great weight to feedback from the design review panel, therefore, engagement with a design review panel is crucial. Also, the panel itself will commend you for bringing your proposal forward for review at an early stage.

Obviously, the report the panel produces will help to prove how the highest standards in architecture have been met within your design. However, the panel’s report will also include design recommendations that will increase the likeliness of your application being approved by the local planning authority. This is why early engagement is crucial, as amendments can be made to the design while it is still fluid.

Remarkably, there are endless benefits to using design review panels as part of your application, all of which should be given great consideration in the early stages of your project. Having the support of a professional design team, as part of your application, can significantly increase your chances of securing planning permission for your dream Para 80 home.

An angled view of a wooden and brass seal stamper leaving an 'APPROVED' impression on a white surface, symbolising official planning permission approval by the Local Planning Authority (LPA).

How likely are you to get planning consent to build a Paragraph 80 house?

First, you must establish whether the site has the right ingredients to achieve planning consent. You must meet all the tests of the Para 80 to secure planning permission. The catch is that local planning authorities will take different approaches to assessing if these tests have been met.

Let me explain…

A planning decision can be made at various levels: under delegated powers, at committee or at appeal. A report, appraising the proposal, will be produced at each one of these stages. Within the report will be justifications for the officer, committee or planning inspector’s decision.

The majority of Para 80 applications are decided at committee level. Most planning officers will refer the application to a planning committee if they believe it does not meet the Para 80 criteria. Even if officers think it does comply, committees like to assess potentially controversial applications.

Let’s not forget: planning consent is never guaranteed. However, councils should assess all developments on the planning balance qualitatively rather than quantitatively. The interpretation of the policy can be seen to rely heavily on subjective criteria, meaning there is the opportunity for the application of varying definitions of what constitutes “exceptional” or “outstanding” to create conflicts and contradictions from place to place.

The success or failure of your planning application will be affected by a multitude of factors relating to the materials submitted and the existing site circumstances of any project.

Pie chart depicting Approval and Refusal Rates with Urbanist Architecture logo: 52% approval, 34% refusal, 9% awaiting determination, 5% withdrawn, on a white background.

This chart provides a clear indication of the resulting success rate of what were then Para 79 planning applications - in 2018, 52% of applications were approved and 34% refused. For example, for projects in the Green Belt, there is the principle of openness. If your site has other buildings on it, one option is “consolidating building form”. If there aren’t buildings, the process may be more difficult.

For instance, strict national policy protects Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This doesn’t mean that it is not possible to get approval, but it is far more complex to build on these pieces of land.

Another example is that if your site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or on top of a hill, your development will have a huge visual impact. Hence, the chances of getting planning consent will be slim. If you are able to minimise this visual impact, your chances will be significantly improved.

The good news is the NPPF now requires all councils to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply. That means they have to identify enough land available for building on to cover five years worth of housing need. If a council is unable to demonstrate this, you can use this information to benefit your project. Quite simply, your home will be contributing to the council’s housing supply and helping them to meet their target. Whether they like it or not…

Bottom line

Paragraph 80 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) seeks to raise the bar in terms of quality when building in the countryside or on the Green Belt. The planning process of your development will be both time-consuming and exacting. However, it is an exciting route to navigate, and living in the countryside in your special house will offer you a quieter, more peaceful and more relaxing life.

The majority of Britain’s most beautiful landscape is under protection and subject to strict regulation and control. But Paragraph 80(e) presents a unique opportunity to build something extraordinary despite (and yet working with) those restrictions.

Para 80 houses are not for everyone. However, if you are looking for a bespoke, innovative home of outstanding quality, that is both sustainable and futureproof, then it is worth exploring this planning avenue. Imagine what it would be like to have a unique opportunity to create your own tailor-made living environment that suits your needs. Astonishing, isn’t it?

Robin Callister, Creative Director and Senior Architect at Urbanist Architecture
AUTHOR

Robin Callister

Robin is our creative director, guiding our architectural team with the wisdom of more than 20 years of experience. All architectural projects at our practice are overseen by Robin, so you know you’re in the safest of hands.

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