The Forum Exeter, Devon

An RIBA south west award wining building at Exeter University in Devon; The Forum. This building benefited from design review during the design and pre-planning stage

Design Review Panel Training 2018

Design Review Panel training session carried out in Taunton and the Somerset County Cricket Ground in November 2018. The event was extremely well attended by local authority representatives, house builders and design team members

Exeter Quay by Jonathan Braddick

Photograph of Exeter Quay taken by Architect and Design Review Panel Manager Jonathan Braddick. The Design Review Panel holds regular design review panel sessions at Exeter City Council

Design Review Panel Training 2018

Design Review Panel training event 2018. Jonathan Tricker, Highways Engineer, Urban Designer & Director at Phil Jones Associates, gave a talk entitled: ‘Highway Design in Placemaking’

Steiner School Exeter

The design review Panel was engaged by Willmott Dixon during the pre-application design stage of the project to help them prepare a design that would be acceptable to the local authority

Design Review Panel Site Visit Poole

Photograph from a 2018 design review panel site visit carried out in Dorset in 2018. A full sit down design review panel was subsequently held in the Poole Borough Council Offices

North Grays Farm Para 79 House

External visualization for a NPPF paragraph 55 (now 79) house that was presented to the design review panel. This project has subsequently gone on to achieve planning permission and is now built on site

Design Review Panel Training 2017

Design Review Panel training session carried out in Exeter, Devon in December 2017. The event was extremely well attended by local authority representatives, house builders and design team members

Para 79 House by Hawkes Architecture

Para 79 House in Dover Kent by Hawkes Architecture

Rockfish Exeter Quay

A small but sensitive project in Exeter Quay; The Rockfish Restaurant has been designed by Grainge Architects who engaged with The Design Review Panel during the design & pre -application planning stage

Pegasus Life Project Sidmouth Devon

Pegasus Life secured planning permission through public inquiry for a Sarah Wigglesworth Architects scheme for a C2 assisted living community at The Knowle, Sidmouth, Devon. The Design Review Panel ( were instructed by East Devon District Council (EDDC) to provide multidisciplinary, expert, independent and impartial guidance and feedback to the local authority, applicant and design team during the pre-application design stage.

Plymouth Hoe

Photograph of Plymouth Hoe, Devon. The Design Review Panel holds regular design review panel sessions at Plymouth City Council

Design Review Panel Training 2017

Design Review Panel training session carried out in Exeter, Devon in December 2017. The event was extremely well attended and incorporated a mock design review panel session and design workshop

NPPF Paragraph 79 House in Open Countryside: Design Review Panel Visits Constructed Scheme

Updated: Jul 13, 2019

In late 2015 The Design Review Panel was asked to provide a design review panel session for a paragraph 55 (now para 79) house being proposed to be built in the East Devon open countryside.

Four years later a selection of volunteer Design Review Panel members, were very kindly invited by the owners, Eileen and Nigel to visit, the now constructed, paragraph 55 (now para 79) 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.


The proposal presented to the Design Review Panel was for a new house in the open countryside, which followed long journey by Eileen and Nigel Dutt 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 Design Review Panel.

How was The Design Review Panel instrumental in achieving planning for this NPPF Paragraph 55 (now paragraph 79) 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 79 (e) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which states: -

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

e) the design is of exceptional quality, in that it: -

  • is truly outstanding or innovative, 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.”

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 Committee gave the Design Review Panel’s feedback significant weight, treating the Design Review Panel feedback as a material consideration.

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 being the driving force behind the project; the proposals had been designed from the outset to respond to the local & wider environmental context. The presentation demonstrated an informed understanding of the site in terms of landscape & visual impact, ecology & topography as well as its constraints & opportunities.

Paragraph 55 of the NPPF stated that proposals should be ‘truly outstanding or innovative’. In this instance the Panel considered the design to be outstanding. The buildings sustainable / low energy credentials also supported the feeling that the proposals represented the highest standards in architecture. In terms of design it was felt that the proposals represented a design that was exceptional & that demonstrated a great deal of sensitivity.

There were of course aspects that the Panel felt would benefit from greater detail and clarification and these were responded to by the applicant and their design team before submission to the Panel.

How Successful do the Panel feel the As Built is Compared to the Pre - Planning Design Proposals Presented to the Design Review Panel? -

Nick Perrett, Chartered Landscape Architect at Redbay Design & Volunteer Design Review Panel Member: -

"I felt the house fitted really well with the existing walled garden setting, the honeycomb brickwork façade, which allows light into the building whilst maintaining the integrity of the wall garden, allowing the house to be hidden. The way the entrance hall forms an inner court yard as you enter the house with a corridor which provides a visual connection through an archway into the original walled garden is of particular note.

The use of the espalier hornbeam to create the delineation between garden and parking works well to define the garden space and create the ‘fourth wall’.

The only aspect I may have approached differently was the yew hedge; that said the use of the new native hedge bank, complete with wildflower turfed bank, forming the site boundary with the public highway creates an appropriate edge to the development that is in keeping with a country lane, an element that was missing pre- development.

In the context of Para 55/79 I can see that the setting has been enhanced considerably from its close cut lawn appearance prior to development, the spirit of the wall garden runs through the soul of the development and the project is sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area."

Arthur Tatchell, Chartered Architect & Volunteer Design Review Panel Member: -

“I had not been involved in any of the design review panel sessions for this project, so to visit this building was a test of how comments made by other panel members were representative of the group as a whole.

Apart from taking a look at the original submission document, I had not researched this project as I wanted to understand the sense of place and the atmosphere created by a building that strictly speaking, should not really be there, as it is an exception.

Standing on the entrance drive, the front elevation can be seen as an extension to the original walled garden, with subtle modern interventions suggesting it is something more. The landscaping to the front is not yet complete, however the pleached hornbeam panels, the yew hedge planting and the planted Devon bank beyond, when mature will echo the hit and miss brickwork and offer glimpses to the main elevation.

I also understand that the slate ribbon margin is to be replaced by a bed of tall bleached grasses which will soften the brickwork and reinforce the majesty of the wall, which is undeniably protective.

The single square bay window, reflected on the ground in a pond, is intriguing as is the suggestion of major and minor axis shaping both building and setting.

The entrance is set back into the wall offering protection to those entering and is dark. On entering the building, expecting a continuation of the darkness, one is exposed to a light, bright and vibrant entrance hall with one wall housing a display of ceramics. It is a warm, welcoming and contemplative space where you can feel the pace of life slowing.

The pastel coloured brickwork styled flooring and the natural colours to the walls are harmonious although varied and with subtle tonal changes. Despite a collection of hard surfaces, there is no echo. Standing in the hallway, the geometry, location and layout become apparent when one notices a secondary axis running from one side of the house to the other, the extension of which takes one into the original walled garden and additional spaces beyond, also in a complementary geometric pattern.

This secondary axis, or perhaps it should be the primary axis, is the line of the original footpath to the walled garden. The use of this “footpath” links the building to its site and allows a three-dimensional expression of a use and a route which has existed for many years, reinforcing the sense of place. It is no surprise that internal spaces, you cannot call them rooms, are arranged around this axis, with a secondary parallel axis beyond which leads to the more private and personal spaces.

Subtle detailing to the spaces with many internal walls stopping proud of the external walls, with either an open slot or a glazed panel inserted, provides a delightful play of natural lighting and a further connection to the outside.

The main kitchen, living and dining room spaces flow into each other backed by a large timber “cube” which provides solidity and anchorage to these spaces. The “cube” houses the utility and storage areas, allowing an uncluttered and functional kitchen area where the family can all engage as one, without walls and the usual segregation. The large screen windows can roll back at one end allowing access to the large south facing timber deck, where a grove of silver birch has been planted to soften the light and provide dappled shade.

Personally, would I have done anything differently? ...Yes. I think I would have allowed the windows in front of the kitchen workstation to roll back to the full width of the workstation to provide an inside-outside experience and integrate this space with the decking beyond; this is a perfect location for al-fresco dining.

Do I have any concerns? ... Possibly only one, which is overheating to the large area of south facing glass to the dining, kitchen and living areas. This is possibly the reason for the planting of a small grove of silver birch trees. I may have investigated a timber arbour with vines or other planting; however, I do realise this could detract from the strong geometry instilled within the finished building.

Do I think it is successful and a good example of a Para 79 (previously Para 55) approval? ... Yes, without doubt. This is a very fine building which has made exceptional use of the site, drawing on its history and previous uses as well as local materials and colours.”

Applicants Thoughts on Engaging with the Design Review Panel Process

The Design Review Panel very much enjoyed visiting the completed house and are grateful to the applicants Eileen and Nigel Dutt for inviting us back to view the project as-built. The Design Review Panel feels this continued sharing of knowledge and learning outcomes represents a genuine integrity and determination to comply with the requirement of paragraph 55 (para 79) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), in terms of helping to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas. Hopefully future paragraph 79 houses may be able to learn from Eileen and Nigel in terms of their approach to the design and planning process.

Of his experience engaging with the Design Review Panel during the pre-planning application stage of the project, the applicant Nigel Dutt said:-

"As required by our local planning authority we attended the Devon Design Review Panel with our architect and jointly presented our proposed house as a potential NPPF Paragraph 55 exceptional dwelling.

We understood that it was unusual for applicants to present their project themselves, rather than using an agent, but we found it to be a very straightforward, efficient and helpful process.

The Panel had clearly studied the documents that we had sent in advance, leading to a valuable question and answer session, followed by an excellent summing up. The subsequent DRP report was very positive about our proposal, stating that the Panel believed that it fully met the criteria for Paragraph 55 [now paragraph 79]. However, the Planning Officers disagreed with the DRP's findings, and recommended refusal on that basis. When it went to the Development Committee, the members approved the application almost unanimously as they felt that due weight should be given to their appointed Design Review Panel [] who were, after all, professional practitioners trained in design review.

During the planning process we found that the type of project under consideration here is outside the usual experience of the Planning Officers, so obtaining the opinions and support of experts in the field who could appreciate the merits of such a proposal was critical to its success. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that the whole point of an application under Paragraph 55 [now paragraph 79] is that it is intended to be truly exceptional and so is very infrequently encountered by planning departments."

East Devon District Council (EDDC) should be congratulated for their proactive and enlightened approach, as well as the importance they place on good design in planning. This project is an excellent example of the importance of local authorities meeting their obligations to ensure they engage with the design review panel process as set out in Paragraph 129 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which states: -

“Local planning authorities should ensure that they have access to, and make appropriate use of, tools and processes for assessing and improving the design of development. These include workshops to engage the local community, design advice and review arrangements … In assessing applications, local planning authorities should have regard to the outcome from these processes, including any recommendations made by design review panels.”

Lots more pictures, including those taken throughout the construction process and relating to the garden/landscape can be seen by visiting Nigel's blog on the following link:-


Article compiled by:-

Jonathan Braddick,

Chartered Architect &

Design Review Panel Manager

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