Exclusive: Sharp rise in appeals to allow 'outstanding' country homes

The number of appeals that cite a controversial planning policy allowing new homes to be built in the countryside providing they are of 'outstanding' architectural quality has almost trebled since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), exclusive research by Planning shows.

Echo Barn, Kent. Pic: Hawkes Architecture
Echo Barn, Kent. Pic: Hawkes Architecture

The so-called 'Gummer's Law' – named after its author, the former Conservative environment secretary John Gummer, now Lord Deben – was introduced in 1997 via Planning Policy Guidance Note 7 (PPG7). This allowed for new isolated homes in the countryside if they were of "truly outstanding" design.

The policy continued in Planning Policy Statement 7 (PPS7), published in 2004, and the current version is found in paragraph 55 of the 2012 NPPF. This states that 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".

Though there is no information available on the number of applications and permissions, exclusive research by Planning using our sister service Compass's appeals database indicates growing interest in the policy in recent years.

Since it was introduced, there have been 147 appeals citing Gummer's Law, following council refusals of permission, with 26 of these allowed by planning inspectors.

Appeal numbers have grown rapidly in recent years, from an average of three per year under PPG7 to six per year under PPS7 to 15 per year under the NPPF.

Appeals in 2016-17 shot up to 31 - the highest ever level - from 14 the previous year (see infographic, below).

However, the likelihood of winning on appeal is slim. The overall approval rate for appeals involving Gummer's Law over the two decades is around 18 per cent - about half the approval rate for all appeals, which is around 32 to 35 per cent.

Last year, of the 31 appeals, just eight – about 26 per cent – were allowed. But this figure amounts to almost a third of all appeals citing this policy allowed over the 20-year period. And it compares to just two allowed in 2015-16 and three in 2014-15.

Robert Hughes, principal planner at consultancy Hughes Planning, which specialises in paragraph 55 schemes, says the increasing numbers of such schemes are a result of growing media interest, reflected by programmes such as Channel 4's Grand Designs.

Architect Richard Hawkes, whose practice specialises in paragraph 55 schemes, sits on advisory group Design South East's review panel. He says there has been "a massive increase" in Gummer’s Law projects passing through the panel in recent years.

See the full feature here.

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