Editor's pick: Innovative design secures green belt acceptance

A five-bedroom house proposed at a farm in the Buckinghamshire green belt has been judged to be of sufficiently high standard to overcome the council's policy concerns.

The site contained a disused yard, access track and dilapidated farm buildings. The appellant proposed an unusual modern design, much of it below ground, aiming to achieve zero carbon targets using Passivhaus design principles. This included a revolutionary seasonal thermal energy store which the appellant said was untried and innovative.

The appellant planned to monitor the system's capacity to store enough heat generated by hot water solar panels during the summer months to provide adequate heating and hot water all year round. He explained that the system would be tested over a three-year period, with assistance from a university, to assess its potential for wider application.

The council claimed that if the store was allowed to justify an exception to green belt policy, further advances in energy efficiency could in turn be used to justify further exceptions. It also claimed that provision under paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for allowing truly exceptional house designs in the countryside did not apply to the green belt.

The inspector found nothing in the NPPF to suggest that truly innovative designs were automatically unacceptable in the green belt. In his opinion, paragraph 55 was aimed at stimulating innovation, including developing new techniques in energy production, storage and use. The Passivhaus design would reflect the highest standards of architecture and its construction would enhance the immediate setting, he decided. He concluded that the scheme's benefits amounted to the very special circumstances required to justify development in the green belt.

Inspector: David Nicholson; Hearing

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