Philip’s Advice: The Challenges of Building a Home in the Countryside and How to Beat Them

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Advice for building a home in the countryside

More and more people are escaping the squeeze of London life to find space to breathe in the Home Counties, which is reflected in our increasingly rural portfolio of bespoke homes.

But with multiple layers of overlapping protections and very strict local authorities (not to mention disgruntled locals), it’s easy to be scared off building your dream home in the countryside.

Here are the challenges of home building in Green Belts, AONBs and National Parks – and how we can help you through them.

Listed Buildings

Many building in countryside are listed, with entire villages given listed status to protect their contribution to the environment.

With listed buildings, the current position of conservation officers is that any modification of the existing building constitutes harm. This means that your starting point is having to justify every change you want to make and how you will mitigate the “harm” that you will cause.

Even modest renovations can require months of negotiations and expert assistance from historic building consultants, so if you want to demolish and build a new home, you can completely forget about doing so to a listed building.

AONBs and National Parks

Like Conservation Areas in cities, National Parks and AONBs strip away your usual permitted development rights, which would allow you to carry out minor works such replacing windows, laying decking or building a small single storey rear extension without requiring planning permission.

In National Parks and AONBs, you must seek planning permission for all alterations to your home, no matter how minor.

If you’re moving to a National Park or an AONB from a town or city, don’t assume you’ll be able to get away with the same building works or you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

Chichester Harbour AONB

Green Belts

Green Belts (or Metropolitan Open Land) don’t necessarily overlap with AONBs or National Parks, as Green Belts are defined not by their beauty, but their proximity to an urban centre.

Green Belts are protected areas of land around cities and towns put in place to hold back urban sprawl. Exact policy for Green Belt developments depends on the local plan of whatever council governs that particular section of the Green Belt.

New developments in Green Belts are tough to have approved, but there are still plenty of opportunities. As the purpose of a Green Belt is to prevent sprawl, it’s often possible to build a new home if you remove an existing building in the process – as long as it isn’t listed, of course.

Your best opportunity to build in the Green Belt is to replace a low quality building and stay roughly within its original footprint, or build elsewhere on the land at a similar scale.

You can build a new home in the countryside – it just has to be exceptional

It may surprise you, but local authorities in the countryside actually encourage new developments as they have quotas to meet for building new homes – even in National Parks and AONBs.

However, they won’t let people build whatever they like. Only exceptionally high quality homes with cutting edge sustainable design are permitted. This is how projects from our portfolio such as Merimac (top of the page) achieved planning success.

With such an emphasis on quality in protected areas, your chances of obtaining planning permission is massively improved if you work with an architect who has a proven track record designing and building state of the art homes.

Space restrictions for new rural homes are becoming a headache

Policy in rural areas is shifting from using the floor area to calculate the size of your development to volume – which is far more restrictive.

Where before we could design a building which, through more efficient use of space, is significantly larger despite taking up the same footprint, now a volumetrically small house might need a volumetrically small replacement.

For example, imagine a house with a pitched roof versus a modern, square building. The square building is much larger, but would still be permitted if we’re working within the same floor area. If we have to work within the same volume, however, the square building suddenly shrinks dramatically, as shown in the diagram below.

Volume restrictions for rural new builds

This is even worse in flood zones, where the Environment Agency recently revised their models upwards – massively. In a recent project, these revised models recommended that the ground floor should be 2.5 metres above ground level.

As you can imagine, when combined with volume restrictions, this absolutely destroys the size at which we can design. If we were to follow these recommendations to the letter, we would have a tiny bungalow on 2.5 metre stilts.

Of course, the local authority wouldn’t want such an eyesore in their area, so we’re stuck in a standstill between two sets of regulations which don’t seem to know what the other is doing.

The only upside is that volume restrictions don’t apply to basement levels, though that’s of little comfort in the above example.

Contact us if you’re planning to escape to the country

You can build remarkable, modern family homes in the countryside, as our portfolio proves. But you need to be prepared for a more challenging planning process than you ever experience in the city.

If you want to know where to start, you can get in touch with us at [email protected]

Philip Jones Lloyd