Seymour-Smith Architects have achieved three Para 55 planning permissions which is a 100% record so far. Well that’s not quite true. The first was Underhill House which was a PPS7 (Planning Policy Statement 7) project which eventually became NPPF Para 55.
What is a NPPF Para 55 project?
It is the holy grail for building a new house in open countryside. NPPF National Planning Policy Framework and Paragraph 55 being the section that covers building "Exceptional and innovative houses in open countryside". This is because to achieve the "Exceptional" part of Para 55 you have to push the boundaries of design and produce a truly one off building that would otherwise never be permitted under normal planning situations. You will notice from our projects below that they are all very individual in style, this is because you can’t reuse the design for another Para 55 project once you have the correct formula, it would no longer be an exceptional design, you have to raise the bar and redesign for every project.
Just as important if not more important is the "Innovation".
The innovation for Underhill was to build the first Passivhaus in England, this wasn’t easy as everything was written in German at the time and Google Translate didn’t exist. Having finished the house we wanted to spread the word about passivhaus and invited social housing trusts to visit and experience how a Passivehaus works and how it would help to remove their tenants out of fuel poverty. Passivhaus is now the predominant form of construction for housing trusts. We would like to think that in a small part we helped this along is way.
We are at times criticized for designing houses that are beyond the reach of the average person, which is partly true, but when we do design and innovate we hope that we send ripples that eventually effect the wider market. We equate this process to ABS breaks which where developed at high cost for executive cars, and now they are found on all cars, and that is the point… You need a catalyst to move an industry standard.
We are not proposing you open your new Para 55 house to the public, but the innovation part of Para 55 is a kind of TAX for the privilege of building in open countryside.
As a practice we spend a large amount of time reading, researching and visiting exhibitions like Ecobuild to find that elusive innovation. Quite often the manufacturer doesn’t even realise their product could be used in an alternative and innovative way until we tell them. As was the case for the sawdust blockwork that we used in Underhill, the manufacturer hadn’t even thought about the sustainable credentials of their product. It is our years of experience in designing Para 55 and passivhaus houses that gives us this insight.
If you want more information about what is involved in the Para 55 route Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine have written an excellent article.
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We are particularly proud of this project as we believe it is the first Para 55 project granted permission to build on a virgin site in an AONB, by virgin we mean there hasn’t previously been a building on the site. All previous Para 55 projects have been brown field sites.
The site was in an AONB, the question to ourselves was how do you hide a house in an AONB? This lead to the exceptional design angle. The angle was to design the house to reflect the form of an agricultural shed, of which there a thousands in the countryside, you just don’t see them because you expect them to be there. The innovation was to store the excess energy available during the summer for use during the winter when you really need it. You can read more about this on the project page.
The site has been cleared and is ready for the house to be built.