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Start your dream of escaping to the country: Navigating Paragraph 84

Do you dream of living in a beautiful home in the countryside? How about building your own home in the countryside?

If so, have you thought about how to do this? What experts do you need to make this happen? Where’s the right location to build a new home? Do you worry about the impact on the local environment or how to navigate planning approval? 

Building a dream home on a secluded site in Britain’s greenbelt is certainly not easy and comes with a unique set of challenges. 

It’s therefore crucial to understand Paragraph 84. Often referred to as the ‘country house clause’, Paragraph 84 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will have a significant impact on your dream.

Here we explain Paragraph 84 in more detail, providing insights into the process of planning and designing homes in the open countryside and the constraints you should be aware of. 


What is Paragraph 84?

Paragraph 84 is a section within the UK’s planning policy that impacts the building of dwellings in the open countryside. In December 2023, the Government published its latest iteration of the NPPF. Renaming the previously known Paragraph 80 to Paragraph 84. The provisions within this paragraph remain the same and are as follows; 

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

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. the development would re-use redundant or disused buildings and enhance its immediate setting;
  4. the development would involve the subdivision of an existing residential building; or
  5. 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.”

For people wanting to build a home in the countryside, Item E is the most important. The criteria within this section of Paragraph 84 allows for the building of new, isolated homes in the countryside. Provided they demonstrate exceptional quality and innovative design. This sets the bar very high for new builds and makes it harder to get the planning permission required for dwellings.

A key part of what makes a design ‘exceptional quality’ is sustainability. Paragraph 84 projects need to show the highest standards of design and this includes the highest standards of sustainability. 

From the start, the overall environmental footprint of the project should be considered. The design should have a very high thermal performance with minimal energy consumption. 

Designs that use recycled and sustainable materials during construction and include renewable energy sources can also help in getting planning approval. But a word of warning. New green technology can be untested, and there may not be strong evidence that the technology reduces it’s environmental impact. 

The essence of Paragraph 84 is to encourage architects and clients to think beyond the ordinary, pushing the boundaries of design to create groundbreaking homes.

Its purpose is to protect rural landscapes by ensuring that any new developments enhance, rather than detract from, the natural beauty of their setting.


HEM Architects designed this earth-sheltered Passivhaus home in Stockbridge, South Yorkshire using Paragraph 84 policy.

The design is simple but makes the best use of the site and its surroundings. It will be a bright, uplifting home with impressive views over the valley despite part of the house buried in the ground.

Our rigorous approach to the design and planning process meant we gained planning permission on our first attempt despite the difficulty of this approach. It was the first NPPF 55 approval in South Yorkshire and one of the earliest in the country.

An earth-sheltered Passivhaus


Choosing Your Design Team 

Whenever you’re undertaking a complex new build project, particularly one with stringent planning requirements, it’s crucial to have the best design team behind you.

On a Paragraph 84 project your design team is likely to involve an Architect, Planning Consultant, Landscape Architect, Ecologist, Arboriculturalist, Highways Consultant, Heritage Consultant, Mechanical and Electrical and Structural Engineer. The team of professionals is large and is partly why there’s considerable costs involved. But having a high quality and experieced team for such a project will have a direct impact its outcome.

With an experienced design team by your side, you can ensure thorough consideration of all aspects of this section of planning policy. They’ll design your new home to meet the necessary provisions, ultimately saving you time, hassle, and a significant amount of money in the long run.

When designing a new dwelling, incorporating some degree of flexibility can increase the likelihood of obtaining planning approval.

While you may have a clear vision for your countryside home. Your architect and planning consultants will have an in-depth understanding of planning laws. Some give and take is crucial to ensure your design has the best chance of success.

It’s important to listen to the advice provided by your design team throughout.


Finding the Right Site 

One of the most important parts of a Paragraph 84 project is choosing the right site for your new home. After all, your site is something that can’t be changed by your architect. Some locations will be more likely to receive planning approval than others and several factors can impact the success of your application. 

In the countryside, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Conservation Areas, and Green Belts often hold the most appeal. AONB safeguard landscapes and ensure their preservation.

Local planning authorities designate conservation areas for their special architectural or historical significance. Green Belts serve to maintain open land, preventing urban sprawl.

However, whilst sites within these areas can be attractive to anyone wanting to build a home in the remote countryside. They are notoriously difficult to get any type of planning approval. Building outside of protected areas can be less complicated than attempting to get approval for sites with natural and cultural importance. 

Sites that were previously home to abandoned or derelict dwellings can be a good option to explore for Paragraph 84 projects. Since they have been previously used for residential purposes, they are often suitable for future development. Therefore, you may have a better chance of getting planning approval. However, the site’s proximity to other homes can impact whether or not it’s considered ‘isolated’ as required by the NPPF. 

You may also find that some local councils are more open to Paragraph 84 projects than others. Depending on where you’re looking to build a countryside home. The task of finding an appropriate site that the local planning authority will approve may be more complicated. 

It can be beneficial to do some research into previous Paragraph 84 homes in the local area. The number of applications received by the authority, as well as the number of approvals, refusals and appeals. This insight can help you decide whether or not a site is likely to be suitable for your project and whether planning approval is realistically achievable. 


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This distinctive Passivhaus in Ramsbottom, Lancashire achieved planning approval at the first attempt using the Paragraph 84 country house clause.

To mirror the buildings from nearby small-holdings, the first floor, containing bedrooms, are made of a set of ‘sheds’. The sheds vary in form and roof pitch creating a broken and complex roofline and framing picturesque views.

The living accommodation in the ground floor is carefully embedded into the slope of the hill.

A distinctive energy-efficient home


How Long Does a Paragraph 84 Project Take?

When compared to building other types of dwellings, Paragraph 84 projects can be more time-consuming. From the first project preparation meeting to gaining planning permission and the home being built, the entire process can take years. Several factors impact how long a project will take and it’s important to set realistic timescales.

Anticipating a complicated planning process and preparing yourself for setbacks can avoid disappointment.  

It’s key to remember that should your initial planning application be refused by the local planning authority, you may have the opportunity to appeal.

Should this be the case, the appeals process can take longer than you may assume and depending on the reason for the refusal, there may be several aspects of the original application to reconsider.

Patience is crucial whenever you want to build a countryside home and the process is anything but straightforward. Yet, with the right team of experts on your side, you can ensure your plans stay on track. 


The Planning and Design Process Under Paragraph 84

Designing homes in the countryside under Paragraph 84 and getting planning permission is a complex but exciting process. It demands clever thinking and creativity to create new build homes of the highest quality.

With the right approach to Paragraph 84, you can create a one-of-a-kind home on a site that may have been unsuitable for development. Here’s an insight into the process of planning and designing homes; 

Discovery and Initial Consultations

Typically, the process begins with determining what makes a site unique. Not every piece of land in the countryside can be built on and the site needs to be regarded as exceptional or individual. During an initial consultation, experienced architects will work closely with you to review your site and unearth its potential. 

This initial phase is crucial because it sets the direction for the entire design process. It involves identifying the unique aspects of the site and understanding your vision, forming a foundational concept that aligns with the strict criteria set out in Paragraph 84.

Innovative Design

For architects, pursuing an ‘exceptional design’ under Paragraph 84 is an opportunity to showcase their creativity and innovation. This is one of the most enjoyable stages of a new build project for clients. It involves conceptualising a design that not only meets your specific needs, but also reflects the highest calibre of architecture and integrates seamlessly with its natural surroundings. 

A strong story / narrative is key for any Paragraph 84 project. Local authorities are keen to ensure any potential approval is seen as a ‘one-off’. Avoiding setting a precedent for similar projects on similar sites.


Design Review Panels

Given the high standards set by Paragraph 84, architects must use Design Review Panels from a very early stage.

These panels are composed of independent professionals with architecture and design expertise who can provide recommendations to improve proposed designs and increase the likelihood of planning permission being granted. 

Regular consultations with a Design Review Panel will ensure the project continues to positively evolve. This will maximise the chances of the local authority having a good response to the designs. Adhering closely to the policy’s requirements for innovation and excellence.

Planning Process

The planning process when building new homes under Paragraph 84 is meticulously staged to minimize risks and enhance the likelihood of success.

This involves getting multiple design reviews and a pre-application response from the local planning authority.

It’s important to consider various planning constraints, such as highways, protected species, and trees, to minimize the risk of planning permission rejection.

Each phase of the planning process aims to enhance the proposal. Ensuring the design and planning application are thorough, well-considered, and prepared for approval.


Costs

Making a Paragraph 84 design home exceptional and innovative means it won’t be for those on a tight budget.

These kinds of projects tend to be large, so expect the costs to match. Unique sites often come with challenges like slopes or tricky access, which can drive up the expense. But, Paragraph 84 homes don’t have to be huge. We think really great design and creativity shouldn’t just be for big projects and more modest ones can also be breathtaking. 


Ready to retreat to the country?

If you dream of waking up to bird song and peaceful views then contact us, the experts in designing new homes on secluded sites.