A novel interpretation

Paragraph 79 e) of the NPPF allows for the development of isolated homes in the countryside if the design is of exceptional quality in that it is truly outstanding or innovative. 

Persuading an inspector that the design of a proposed new country house is innovative is no easy task, however. Particularly, the appeal record shows that the incorporation of sustainable technologies such as solar panels and ground source heat pumps will very often be deemed ‘tried and tested’ as opposed to innovative. However, in determining an appeal against the refusal of a new house in rural Worcestershire (DCS Number 400-028-490) an inspector pointed out that Paragraph 79 development is a very specific matter within the wider ambit of development in the open countryside and, he said, should not be conflated with policies (including those within the development plan) relating to residential development in the open countryside more broadly. 

The proposal before him, the inspector remarked, was for a standard form of housing. Paragraph 79 e) concerning exceptional design quality was not relevant, he determined. Here is where it gets interesting. Instead, he reasoned, Paragraph 131 of the Framework relates to innovative design in general terms and was more relevant to consider. Paragraph 131 states “In determining applications, great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings.”

The inspector recorded that the definition of innovative [Oxford Dictionary] includes both the introduction and the use of new designs. The definition of new [Oxford Dictionary], he continued, includes something recently introduced. Consequently, he reasoned, even if the proposal was not entirely original in its approach, the application of recently introduced designs that may already be in use elsewhere in the construction industry (such as those relating to carbon negativity and other sustainability credentials) would still be innovative for the purposes of the Framework.

In this case the inspector dismissed the appeal, finding that by incorporating innovative designs, the proposal would take on a contemporary appearance that would generate significant contrast between the traditional dwellings nearby, and would erode the character and appearance of the open countryside. What this appears to tell us, though, is that a rural dwelling meeting Paragraph 131 requirements might be an altogether more achievable target than a Paragraph 79 e) new country house. 

There is a section on new country houses at 9.235 of DCP Online.