The appellants sought permission to build a large, single storey "lifetime home" on an undeveloped paddock near Oxenbourne, a hamlet within the South Downs National Park (SDNP).
The application was produced by Hughes Planning LLP, a planning consultancy specialising in "paragraph 55 houses”. These are homes that are allowed in countryside locations because of their "truly outstanding and innovative design" – in accordance with National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) paragraph 55.
The scheme's 82-page design and access statement showed features including a "fluid, angular roof-scape" and locally sourced materials, including shingles made from sweet chestnut wood and knapped flint walls.
This design was supported by Design South East (DSE), an independent panel of design experts that provides “impartial design advice” on built development in the region. In its review of the case, the panel called the scheme “an exceptional proposal worthy of approval within the definition of paragraph 55”.
According to the South Downs National Park Authority's core strategy, the countryside should be protected from development "for its own sake", and new buildings should only be permitted in light of a "genuine and proven need for a countryside location". The appellants argued that protecting the countryside for its own sake is inconsistent with the NPPF, and NPPF paragraph 55 should therefore be weighed against it as a material consideration.
Inspector Grahame Gould "could not accept" this argument, noting that although the local development plan preceded the NPPF, it had since been "found sound". Observing the "rolling farmland" landscape surrounding the site, he considered that new development would not preserve or enhance it, regardless of high quality design. It would also diminish Oxenbourne's "loose pattern of development".
Gould concluded that although there was "much to commend about the quality and innovative nature of the house's design", he could not allow it to be built in the proposed "sensitive" national park location. The appeal was therefore dismissed.
A "dangerous precedent"
Wendy Perring, DSE board member and director of PAD Studio, the architecture firm behind the building’s design, told The Planner that the inspector's rejection of the paragraph 55 argument could set a "dangerous precedent".
She said: “The Inspector has adopted the attitude that the act of building can only ever be a destructive, not a constructive, act. As a practice, we fundamentally disagree: We believe that if a building is completely rooted to its landscape and setting, and that these qualities are reflected in the highest standards of architecture, that such a building can enhance a landscape, entering into intellectual dialogue with the place and revealing beauty."
Perring continued: “We do not believe that beauty in architecture is subjective – it is objective and quantifiable. The view of the Design Review Panel, who deemed that this building had satisfied the requirements of Paragraph 55, has been ignored. This could set a dangerous precedent. This Design Review Panel is composed of well renowned design experts (including Internationally acclaimed individuals such as Graham Morrison of Allies and Morrison, and Kim Willkie, Landscape Architect and academic).”
The inspector's report - case reference 3174552 - can be read here.