How To Obtain Planning Permsion in The Open Countryside?
Obtaining planning consent for new housing within the open countryside.
We are answering the tricky question of how do you get planning permission in the open
What do we mean by open countryside?
We mean the land that sits outside of the settlement boundaries that are defined around our towns cities and
villages those are essentially imaginary red lines that sit around these towns villages and are the central core
for most of the facilities and services that work for them within those settlements.
Most of our residential housing our commercial developments and our infrastructure is located within towns and
settlements. Outside of them is land that is subject to separate planning policy the planning policy that's
relevant to those areas that sit outside of the settlements are determined based upon the classification of the
land in question and the land outside of settlements could be subject to different range of designations including
standard open countryside areas of outstanding natural beauty the green belt or national parks.
Within each of those locations the designations and policy requirements are slightly different so, if you're not
quite sure what the designation is for your target area for a planning application the first thing you should
really do is try and find that out.
You can do that two ways. You can go in your planning authority's website go into the planning policy section
search through their interactive maps and it should identify what designation the land is. Alternatively you can go
on the defra website, go onto the magic map and in the magic map you can zoom down in a sort of google street view
scenario and click on the individual keys associated with the map and it provides a designation on there with
regards to the different designations to the policy.
As I said, it is slightly different within each one so within an area of outstanding natural beauty for example
the concentration is on the visual impact associated with development so making sure that anything you do doesn't
disrupt the visual form that is considered to be a priority in an area of natural outstanding beauty.
Within a national park, the policy directive is very similar that area has been protected for its natural
benefits to its surrounding area and as such any development that occurs there is highly sensitive with regard to
its impact upon landscape and visual impact.
Within the open countryside - that is essentially land that simply sits outside of a settlement boundary - it
isn't subject to any further designation but it is essentially land that is considered to contribute to the
openness of the countryside beyond it. So again, matters associated with the visual harm and landscape harm are the
central key of focus.
And then finally, there's the green belts. The dreaded green belt is the land that is probably most protected
within the uk and it's essentially a sort of band of green ring that forms itself around settlements and seeks to
prevent any specific encroachment or growth of settlements into the countryside beyond it.
When it comes to the policy perspective on green belt there are two strands. The first strand is a list of
things that are considered to be inappropriate and that list is significant and most importantly identifies
that new residential development within it starts from a position of being inappropriate.
The second issue is even if you can demonstrate that the residential development you're proposing is not
inappropriate it could still impact upon the openness of the greenbelt land and openness is essentially a visual
and landscape harm perspective. So, by comparison, green belt has two separate strands that have to be addressed in
order to demonstrate that the development you want to do is acceptable which means it makes it very hard in order
to demonstrate to a local planning authority that the development is acceptable within a green belt location.
Beyond this there are two other separate measurements associated with land outside of settlements and that is
the test of isolation and whether the site is in a sustainable location so the test of isolation in all of these
designations including the open countryside is if you are bringing forward a property within the open countryside -
is it isolated or is it in a location whereby other residential development or built form is essentially located
the second strand.
One of the most important factors associated with open countryside development is, is the
property within a sustainable location with regard to its accessibility to facilities associated with towns cities
and villages so that is - are you able to access the local facilities such as schools and shops in a manner that
makes no use of the car so you're not reliant upon a car to take advantage of those facilities.
This is a separate measurement that each of these planning applications in each of these designations will have
to also demonstrate is suitable in planning terms. The starting point of planning policy in each of these locations
is essentially - is it appropriate development and, in most circumstances, it isn't appropriate development to
allow a new residential dwelling to be located within the countryside.
There are some exceptions to this so a new property for a rural worker that can be demonstrated to be directly
linked to an agricultural holding is acceptable. Beyond this, the reuse of existing buildings so long as it doesn't
it enhances its location from a visual perspective (and enhance is a very difficult thing to measure) is also
Potentially the subdivision and reuse of an existing dwelling so one house into two can be acceptable so long as
it does again enhances the location within which it sits from a visual perspective.,
Beyond this, the final strand of development that allows for housing within the open countryside in policy terms
is what's called ‘paragraph 79’ development and that is essentially part of paragraph 79 at the national planning
policy framework. You may have come across paragraph 79 development (previously called paragraph 55 development) in
the previous national planning policy framework and it is essentially a mechanism that allows for innovative and
quality architectural design to be located within a within an area and justify its inclusion within the open
So, the idea of the paragraph is it demonstrates that if you are able to justify an architectural proposal by
way of its ability to be innovative and or exceptional, then that has an ability to be acceptable as a policy
perspective within its location.
What that essentially means is from an architectural design perspective, you have to demonstrate
that the proposal could not be delivered anywhere else, is specifically bespoke to its location and has pulled in
the strands and characteristics of its location to bring forward an architectural property designed to an
That is an extremely difficult standard to meet and has been subject to a significant amount of interpretation
successfully and unsuccessfully over the previous years but nonetheless, if you are able to bring forward the
development of an exceptional architectural standard, it could provide the basis upon which to unlock policy to
support a planning application within the open countryside given the difficulty in meeting the exception list
associated with your other opportunities. So, rural workers locations the ability to enhance the location by way of
the reuse of existing buildings etc.
What you tend to find is that open countryside policy has two opportunities - two separate strands in order to
justify itself. One of those is paragraph 79 development and the other one is basically demonstrating to the
authority that, on balance, the benefits associated with the development outweigh any lack of accordance with
policy. So, you're basically demonstrating that the benefits of your proposal outweigh the negatives set by policy
that it sits against you.
We will look at those two strands now. Firstly paragraph 79 - so as we've said, that is essentially innovative
or exceptional development that has justified itself within its location and essentially brought forward the
characteristics to assess itself within the context of its location. What it essentially means is every single
element of the design whether it comes down to the materials used the form and scale of its proposal, the
configuration, has all been specifically justified against its location.
So what we mean by that is it is pretty much impossible to take an architectural design off the shelf and locate
it within a parcel of land in order to justify that paragraph 79 position. You basically need to design something
that hasn't been designed before and that is a very difficult bar to reach.
What tends to happen is that a planning application for a paragraph 79 development is prepared directly by an
architect - ideally one that's had experience in it before . It will take a significant amount of architectural
research in order to justify the proposal and to bring forward all its benefits and justify its position.
Then, before the application is submitted to the local planning authority it will likely go forward to an
architectural design review panel that review panel is made up of a region selection of expert architects who will
cast their eye over the development. They will look at the justification for the proposal in the context of its
location and they will make an independent decision on whether the proposal meets that strand of being either
innovative or exceptional.
They will then produce a report and that report usually goes with the planning application to the local planning
authority providing that independent review on whether the application meets the standards expected by paragraph
Now, given that a local planning authority doesn't generally have an architect on staff and often has to
outsource any review of urban design to independent parties the design review panel is meant to provide a sort of
independent arbitrary review of the application essentially if it's considered that the proposal meets the
requirements of paragraph 79.
There is not much more to discuss. At that point in time it meets the exception of the policy and, as such,
should be supported in policy terms does that sound too good to be true. Well in most cases it probably is as it's
extremely expensive to get to the point of meeting the standards of paragraph 79. Both the architectural fees in
the first instance and the design review panel are an expensive proposal to undertake.
However the risk / reward is pretty good when it comes through to the statistics of the planning permissions
that are called off the back of it. So what are the statistics? Well its 57% of planning applications made
specifically under paragraph 79 so not looking to sort of part justify itself against the paragraph brought forward
to local authorities over the course of the past six years were successful which, in principle, sounds pretty good
given the type of development brought forward but the statistics and these were gathered in 2019 demonstrate that
there are only 116 applications made across that six year period so what does that tell us that the process is
statistically decent - you're in a position where you have over a 50% chance of the application being successful if
the application is submitted in the first place.
However the key thing is that the process is extremely expensive as a starting point and, as such, the risk
reward is still relatively high otherwise there will be significantly more than the number of applications made
over the course of that six years to try and take advantage of it.
What is clear is that the development needs to have demonstrated that it is exceptional within its location and
that the location itself is key to justifying the narrative that is formed through the architectural design so
paragraph 79 development may be for you. The risk / reward is relatively decent in terms of statistically how many
of those applications get planning permission however the cost of getting to the point of the application being
submitted is substantial in architectural fees that are not particularly cheap in the first instance but the amount
of work required for a paragraph 79 development is exceptional.
Nevertheless if you were to go down that route I would suggest that you use an architect that has experience in
dealing with paragraph 79 development previously and choose a parcel of land that is able to bring something new to
So, if you're looking at a very small parcel of land within an existing sort of residential row outside of a
settlement boundary it's probably not going to give you the characteristics as a starting point to develop
The other strand that's available to people with regard to getting planning permission within the open
countryside is one of ‘planning balance’ and in most circumstances this is the more realistic approach in terms of
budgets available to you to prepare a planning application for consideration.
Again what we're looking to show here is that the benefits of the development outweigh any negatives that
planning policy provides the analogy that I always use in this regard is a set of weighing scales and what you're
looking to do is essentially tip the balance in favour,
But’ in order to do that you need to identify how much weight sits against you in planning terms. So how
inappropriate is the development? Once you understand that you can contextualise that you can understand how much
planning benefit needs to be provided on the opposite side of the scales to tip the balance in favour.
The inappropriateness against you is essentially the designation of the land in which your countryside location
sits and how sustainable it is with regard to its location. As a starting point for example if you're looking at a
parcel of green belt land the starting point is that it is significantly harmful to bring forward residential
development in that land irrespective of how sustainable the location is. That significance of harm doesn't really
change but what may change if you're in a location whereby you're bringing forward a development in the green belt
but it is adjacent to existing other buildings is that the impact upon the openness the second strand of the
greenbelt may not be as significant as if the property is high on a hill four miles away from any other
With regards to some of the other classifications, the open countryside for example doesn't carry that
significant harm of weight the same way that the green belt does but nonetheless starts from a position of policy
inappropriateness. Again, if you're looking at a parcel of land that sits outside of a village's settlement area
but it is essentially a parcel of land that sits adjacent to a pathway that can take advantage of all of the
services within that village centre and sits immediately adjacent to existing properties that may or may not sit
within that settlement boundary, the harm of weight to the open country side is significantly lower than if the
property again is four miles away from the nearest settlements high on a hill and very visible in the open
The importance is identifying the weight that sits against you and understanding how inappropriate the
development is so the starting point for example in the open countryside will be that residential development is
inappropriate in most cases but how inappropriate is it if you are adjacent to a settlement like we've said able to
take advantage of its services in a way that doesn't really impact upon anyone anyone else by way of its
development then, it may be a two out of ten on the inappropriate scale. But if you are located high on that hill
four miles away from the nearest property to you the impact is obviously going to be 10 out of 10.
Once you have that inappropriation assessed, you can start loading up the other side of the scales with the
benefits. So what are the available benefits to you? Those benefits are completely bespoke to its location and it's
up to you to identify whether one benefit is significant enough to outweigh the harm or whether the collection of
two or three can do the job for you instead.
Some examples of what those benefits could be that your local planning authority may be struggling to meet its
housing demand they may not have a five-year housing supply or they may have a significant under-supply and a
particular type of housing development which is very much in need within your locality.
You may bring forward a development that is of an architectural or green principle improvement in comparison to
the standard expected within your area so we're not looking at paragraph 79 levels of exceptional architectural
design but if your local authorities are used to the standard sort of red brick Taylor Wimpy style development and
if you're bringing forward something that could be said to be of a higher architectural quality or a higher green
principled quality than the standard, then that is something that you should look to do.
What you're essentially saying to your local authority is that my development maintains a higher level of
architectural green principle design or an amalgamation of the two and, therefore, in future when other
applications within the open countryside look to gain planning permission my position my standard should be the
starting point for all of that development.
You're essentially looking to take advantage of your ability to provide a catalyst for better quality
architectural design or green principles within your area. Other examples of benefits that can be knitted into the
narrative in favour are matters of ecological improvements so ecology protected species have as much rights as us
humans within policy terms and if you're able to improve upon the quality of a habitat of a location by way of
specific landscape design within your proposal that can demonstrate a net improvement in biodiversity, it's another
strand of improvement for your location.
If you're in a location whereby flood risk is a wider issue and you're able to improve flood attenuation by
changing levels of your land that is another thing that can be looked unfavourably.
It's all about understanding what the specific needs and characteristics of your area are and whether you're
able to contribute to them in a manner that would give your application a little bit of an underpinning of strength
once you've got into a position where you feel like you understand the benefits associated with your proposal and
you feel that they could tip the balance in favour of the policy position.
It's all about presenting that case in the most opportune way to your local planning authority
to try and get that planning permission.
Those are the two predominant strands of getting planning permission within the open countryside you have your
innovative and exceptional architectural design approaches set by paragraph 79 again very expensive but if it is
something that could be viable from your perspective, it is something that I would recommend but, alternatively,
the approach is the planning balance approach which you're looking to demonstrate to your authority the benefits of
your proposal outweighs the policy that sits against you now.
Development occurs in the open country side in greenbelt locations and in areas of outstanding attributes every
day. We can drive through the countryside and see these developments popping up. In the vast majority of cases the
successful applications that you can see being built within your locations have taken advantage of the planning
That doesn't necessarily mean that the statistics sit in favour. I would suggest that in most cases those
applications that are prepared are either poorly constructed or simply do not have the benefits established in
order to tip the balance in favour and, as a result, did not gain planning permission.
If you are able to fix the strands of the benefits together to tip the balance in favour and you're able to
present that to your local authority in a manner that takes hold of the planning argument and is very strong in its
position, then that is where you have the opportunity to secure planning permission and that is where these
properties that you see popping up here there and everywhere have been successful.