What is 'Para 55'?

Building a new home in the countryside is often considered by many to be a dream, an aspiration that in reality could never happen. But could it?

'Paragraph 55' or 'Para 55' is short hand for the special circumstance set out in bullet point 4 of paragraph 55 of the NPPF that allows new isolated homes to be built in the countryside, subject to certain requirements.

Contrary to the general policies of restraint for building new dwellings in the countryside, the National Planning Policy Framework (Para 55) allows new dwellings to be built in the countryside where they are of exceptional quality or innovative in their nature of design. 

The policy is a response to the reality that, despite the drive to improve the design quality of new housing generally, new housing continues to be very ordinary, homogenous and with very poor environmental considerations.

Hughes Planning LLP has unrivalled experience and expertise in successfully obtaining planning permission for Para 55 houses in different parts of the country, including sites within the Green Belt and in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To date, the practice has been instrumental in successfully obtaining planning permission for 13 Para 55 houses and is acting as Planning Consultant on a number of new schemes.

As part of our successful approach, at the very outset of a proposal and well before any design work is initiated, we visit all prospective Para 55 house sites and undertake a development appraisal to advise our clients as to whether there is a realistic chance of success in obtaining permission for a new dwelling under the provisions of bullet point 4 of paragraph 55 of the NPPF, based on our experience in this field of planning.


20 YEARS of Para 55 !

In 2017, the 'Para 55 house' policy celebrated its 20th birthday.

The policy started in 1997 when the then Environment Secretary, John Gummer, introduced into planning policy - Planning Policy Guidance 7: Countryside - the opportunity to secure permission for new country houses to continue the centuries-old tradition of building stately homes in the English countryside.  The roots of Para 55 are clearly visible from the origins of "Gummers Law"...

New house building and other new development in the open countryside, away from established settlements or from areas allocated for development in development plans, should be strictly controlled. The fact that a single house on a particular site would be unobtrusive is not by itself a good argument; it could be repeated too often. Isolated new houses in the countryside require special justification - for example, where they are essential to enable farm or forestry workers to live at or near their place of work. An isolated new house in the countryside may also exceptionally be justified if it is clearly of the highest quality, is truly outstanding in terms of its architecture and landscape design, and would significantly enhance its immediate setting and wider surroundings. Proposals for such development would need to demonstrate that proper account had been taken of the defining characteristics of the local area, including local or regional building traditions and materials. This means that each generation would have the opportunity to add to the tradition of the Country House which has done so much to enhance the English countryside.
— PPG7, paragraph 3.21 (1997)

In 2004, the Labour Government initially sought to remove the policy due to it seeming to unduly favour the wealthy elite.  However, the policy was retained, albeit in a different form, in the newly published Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas (PPS7).

Contrary to the normal policies of restraint for new residential development in the countryside, PPS7 contained an exciting provision (at paragraphs 10 and 11) that allowed new dwellings to be built in the countryside where they were of outstanding quality and design.  Those dwellings proposed under the aegis of paragraphs 10 and 11 of PPS7 are commonly known as “PPS7 houses”.  The guidance stated that isolated new houses in the countryside would require special justification for planning permission to be granted, whilst at paragraph 11, it went onto say: -

Very occasionally, the exceptional quality and innovative nature of the design of a proposed, isolated new house may provide this special justification for granting planning permission.  Such a design should be truly outstanding and ground-breaking, for example, in its use of materials, methods of construction or its contribution to protecting and enhancing the environment, so helping to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas.  The value of such a building will be found in its reflection of the highest standards in contemporary architecture, the significant enhancement of its immediate setting and its sensitivity to the defining characteristics of the local area.
— PPS7, paragraph 11 (2004)

On 27th March 2012, the Government issued new national planning guidance entitled the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and this replaced PPS7.  Significantly, the provision that allowed for the erection of houses of exceptional quality and innovative nature of design in the countryside was retained in the new national planning policy guidance.  At paragraph 55 of the NPPF, the guidance advises local planning authorities that they should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are ‘special circumstances’.  One such special circumstance (at bullet point 4) is the exceptional quality or innovative nature of the design of the dwelling: -

Such a design should:
be truly outstanding or innovative, helping to raise the 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.
— NPPF, paragraph 55 (2012)

It is clear from the wording of the current policy that some of the more difficult terms in paragraph 11 of PPS7 were not carried forward into the NPPF.  For example, terms such as ‘very occasionally planning permission will be granted…’ and ‘such a design should be ground-breaking’ no longer appear in the policy wording.  In addition, it is significant to note that the design of dwellings can now either be truly outstanding or innovative, but they do not have to be both.

Whilst there is no doubt that the challenges presented by the requirements of paragraph 55 (bullet point 4) of the NPPF set a high bar for proposals, and rightly so, the removal from the policy wording of some of these more difficult terms was welcomed, particularly the terms ‘very occasionally’, which inferred few and far between, and ‘ground-breaking’ which had always proven almost impossible to demonstrate in practice.


Our Experience

Hughes Planning LLP specialises in proposals for Para 55 houses in locations throughout England where new build houses would normally be restricted. The policy provision for new houses in the countryside (introduced in its current form in March 2012) presents an exciting opportunity to achieve planning permission for houses that are of an exceptional quality of design.  The practice has worked in recent years in close collaboration with HAWKES Architecture, an architectural practice based in Kent that specialises in and has developed an enviable track record for designing Para 55 houses, AR Design Studio based in Winchester and PAD STUDIO based in Lymington. 

Rob Hughes, Principal Partner at Hughes Planning LLP has contributed to several articles on the subject of Para 55 houses in The Daily Telegraph, Homebuilding & Renovating MagazinePlanning Resource and The Architects Journal and on the Internet.