In early 2014 The Design Review Panel was asked to provide a design review panel session for a paragraph 55 house being proposed to be built in the Blackdown Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The proposed site was also designated as a County Wildlife Site.
Four years later the Design Review Panel members, who reviewed the original scheme, were very kindly invited by the owners, Stephen and Elizabeth Tetlow, to visit, the now constructed paragraph 55 house, to see to what extent the completed building had managed to successfully meet the aspirations set out at the design and planning application stage.
Background & Site Location
The proposal presented to the Design Review Panel was for a new house at North Grays Farm, which followed a three-year journey by Stephen and Elizabeth Tetlow to realise the creation of an exceptional and innovative new house on their land in which they intended to live.
The process undertaken by the applicants was a very long evolutionary design process involving a multidisciplinary design team including: Architects, Landscape Architects, Ecologists and Engineers, and including consultation with key stakeholders and liaison with organisations such as the UK Green Building Council, the Building Research Establishment and The Design Review Panel.
How was The Design Review Panel instrumental in achieving planning for this NPPF Paragraph 55 house in Open Countryside:-
Due to the location of the proposal site within open countryside, in order to obtain planning permission, the proposals would need to meet the policy criteria set out with paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the relevant part of which, for this project, states:-
“Local planning authorities should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances such as:
the exceptional quality or innovative nature of the design of the dwelling. Such a design should:
be truly outstanding or innovative, helping to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas;
reflect the highest standards in architecture;
significantly enhance its immediate setting; and – be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.”
The applicants planning consultants felt that, in order to demonstrate compliance with the above policy requirements, it would be necessary to seek independent, impartial, multidisciplinary and expert review and input from The Design Review Panel.
The local authority planning department gave the feedback from The Design Review Panel significant weight within their case officer Planning Committee Report, in particular stating: -
“In terms of being truly outstanding this is necessarily a subjective judgement, however, in an aim to apply some measure of objectivity the scheme was presented to the local Design Review Panel.”
Furthermore, the Local Authority Planning Committee also gave the Design Review Panel’s feedback significant weight, treating the Design Review Panel feedback as a material consideration. The Planning Committee Minutes state: -
“It is accepted that this is always going to be a subjective assessment and will polarise opinions and further that this is an exceptionally high benchmark to meet. However, in this case the applicant has gone through an iterative process of design and had this assessed and reviewed (through earlier design review panels) before arriving at the current proposals again these have been rigorously integrated by other design professionals and it is clear from their comments that they feel this benchmark has been passed.”
A Summary of The Design Review Panel Feedback After the Initial Review Session
It helped the applicant and their design team that they engaged with the design review panel process at an early stage of the design process whilst the design was still fluid, and they felt able to amend the proposals as necessary in response to feedback given. Notwithstanding the above, at The Design Review Panel session it immediately became evident to the Panel that already a huge amount of work, care, sensitivity and multidisciplinary expertise had gone into to both the contextual, ecological and landscape analysis as well as the design proposals as a response to the clients brief.
Furthermore, it was felt by the Panel that the high level and quality of detailed information provided in advance of the Devon Design Review Panel session was extremely thorough and was helpful to the Design Review Panel process.
The Panel was encouraged to see landscape and ecology being the driving force behind the project and that the proposals had been designed from the outset to respond to both the local and wider environmental context. The presentation demonstrated an informed understanding of the site, among other aspects, in terms of landscape and visual impact, ecology and topography as well as its constraints and opportunities.
Paragraph 55 of the NPPF states that proposals should be ‘truly outstanding or innovative’. In this instance the Panel considered the design to be both truly innovative and outstanding. It was felt that the proposals were innovative for the reasons of its sustainable and energy generation credentials, building management system, proposed construction and physical form. The projects innovative credentials were further supported by the specific legacy and educational aspirations of the proposals, that it was felt demonstrated how the project may help to raise the standards of design more generally in rural areas.
In terms of design it was felt that the proposals represented a design that was exceptional and that demonstrated a great deal of creativity.
There were of course aspects that the Design Review Panel felt would benefit from greater detail and clarification. One such concern was in regard to the building footings and the detail of how it would sit within its meadow context. The Panel was encouraged that the applicant was extremely keen to protect the meadow in both the short and long term. Therefore, the P