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'Ugly' houses are being built in beauty spots due to loophole, say campaigners

PUBLISHED: 10:05 03 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:39 03 January 2019

Ultra modern houses like this can be built in rural areas, thanks to the 'Countryside Clause.' Pic: www.gettyimages.co.uk

Ultra modern houses like this can be built in rural areas, thanks to the 'Countryside Clause.' Pic: www.gettyimages.co.uk

People are building "ugly piles of bricks and the sort of house Michael Jackson would want to live in," in rural Norfolk by exploiting a planning loophole, countryside campaigners have warned.

The site at Church Lane, Hethel, is for sale with Jackson-Stops. Planning was granted for this under the Paragraph 79 clause, however the details for this property state the build must be completed to the original design. Pic: www.jackson-stops.co.ukThe site at Church Lane, Hethel, is for sale with Jackson-Stops. Planning was granted for this under the Paragraph 79 clause, however the details for this property state the build must be completed to the original design. Pic: www.jackson-stops.co.uk

Local councils were urged by the CPRE, Campaign to Protect Rural England, to tighten up on approving plans for new builds in beautiful parts of the county.

The CPRE considers too many ultra modern homes, approved under an exemption to the usual planning restrictions in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), are getting built, many which do not even resemble the original designs.

David Hook, CPRE chairman for the Vision for Norfolk, said: “People are building houses like Michael Jackson would want to live in, circumventing the planning permission which would apply to normal people. With one or two exceptions, what we are seeing are ugly piles of bricks spoiling the enjoyment of the countryside for many.

“It’s a case of your view spoils our view.”

David Hook, CPRE chairman for the Vision for Norfolk. Pic: www.edp24.co.ukDavid Hook, CPRE chairman for the Vision for Norfolk. Pic: www.edp24.co.uk

Mr Hook was referring to in his words “a disastrous piece of legislation” brought in by Michael Heseltine in 1997 called the Countryside Clause, or officially Paragraph 79 (formerly Clause 55) of the National Planning Policy Framework which allows new homes with ‘truly innovation or outstanding designs’ to be built in AONBs. It was designed to ensure grand houses were built in the countryside for the future, however Mr Hook said too often plans were re-jigged further down the line meaning what was actually built was far from exceptional.

“I do think the responsibility lies with the local councils, they need to be tighter and assess whether what is being applied for will actually be built.

“But people with power, influence and money are building houses in areas they would never normally get permission for.”

Some architects are saying there is an increased request for homes to be built under the clause because of the increased awareness of it thanks to TV programmes like Grand Designs.

Periscope House, near Norwich; a design using the paragraph 79 planning clause. Pic: www.studiobark.co.ukPeriscope House, near Norwich; a design using the paragraph 79 planning clause. Pic: www.studiobark.co.uk

However, when used correctly, the clause enables some architecturally stunning homes to be built in the countryside. For example, a 1.25 acre site is currently for sale on Church Lane in Hethel for sale for £295,000 with planning permission granted under the clause by South Norfolk District Council – the details clearly state, however, that the house must be built to the original plans.

Jonathan Pyle, South Norfolk District Council’s communication manager, said: “Every planning application received by the council is assessed on its merits and where relevant that would include whether it meets the robust requirements of para 79, or in the past, para 55.

“Since 2004 the council has approved eight applications that met para 79/55 requirements and refused 10 that did not. Of the applications that were refused, seven went to appeal and all seven appeals were dismissed.

“All applications for “post approval” changes are re-assessed and the revised scheme would need to satisfy these requirements again in order to obtain approval.”

Pivot House, a design at Reymerston, near Dereham, mid Norfolk, applied for using the paragraph 79 clause. Pic: www.edp24.co.ukPivot House, a design at Reymerston, near Dereham, mid Norfolk, applied for using the paragraph 79 clause. Pic: www.edp24.co.uk

Simon Redman, a partner at Cowper Griffith Architects, which has created many projects in Norfolk, both residential and including the new entrance and library to the Norwich University of the Arts, said: “More clients are expressing an interest in para 79 houses, inspired in part by mainstream media coverage of bespoke home projects.

“Taking on a para 79 house is definitely not for the faint hearted, but the opportunity for design excellence and distinctiveness, combined with the benefits of a highly desirable site, mean that a home which continues to inspire and excite long after completion is genuinely achievable.”

ExampleExamples of ultra modern designer houses approved under the paragraph 79 clause include Periscope House, near Norwich, built in 2014 to a design by London-based architect firm Studio Bark. Another, Pivot House in Reymerston was approved in 2017 by Breckland Council.

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