A sign of changing times perhaps was acheiving a PPS7 consent, granted in Lincolnshire. This contemporary country mansion would occupy a commanding position overlooking the rolling countryside of the Vale of Belvoir. Not somewhere you would expect to obtain planning permission without a public enquiry.

Project coordinator Nick Woolley, a leading sustainable property and development consultant suggested that it was the building’s modest total carbon footprint that helped to make the decision so easy for the local authority. ‘This is a house that blends well with the landscape, but also takes little from the environment’s natural resources to run it,’ he explained. ‘It really is not enough these days to submit a plan for an attractive country house that will consume vast amounts of energy to heat and light it,’ he added.

The house was only the second nationally to be approved under PPS7 without the need for a public enquiry, which would had major additional time and financial implications for the owner.

PPS7 permitted houses of exceptional merit and contemporary architecture to be built in areas not normally designated for development. The Planning Policy Statement outlined a number of detailed requirements for buildings in rural areas including use of environmentally friendly resources, materials, overall sustainability and enhancement of the local environment.

The house was set to become an exemplar of modern architecture, setting new standards for house-builders around the UK. The 1700m² eco-engineered home would bring together an extensive range of innovative design and construction techniques and materials for the first time.

The concept started four years earlier as a dream of the owning family. The project co-ordinator Nick Woolley, was and is widely considered a national authority on PPS7 and planning policy. He sat on one of John Gummer’s (now Lord Deben) advisory panels when details of PPG7 (the fore-runner of PPS7) were finalised fourteen years before.

The project team were all experts in their own fields selected by Mr Woolley for their experience, attention to detail in sustainable design and genuine passion for the project. They worked closely on the project with Woolley to ensure that the requirements of PPS7 were met and where possible, exceeded. Throughout the design and development process they also worked in close consultation with the local community, the District Council, OPUN (the regional office of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment – CABE), Natural England and other bodies.

OPUN, in their report concluded that:

“We are of the opinion that the proposal meets the criteria set out in PPS7 because of its overall quality and innovation. The scheme is a sensitive solution for the location, which will significantly enhance the setting and wider locality. The proposed sustainability credentials are also to be commended.”

Mr Woolley commented: “The house isn’t just designed to be beautiful architecturally, although it is. It’s a house designed to work in harmony with the surrounding natural environment by reducing the energy requirement to the absolute minimum and so minimise expensive eco-technology. It was crucial to get it right first time. Planning inquiries typically take at least six months if not more and could cost tens of thousands of pounds for a project of this scale and complexity.

“We now hope the project will also stand as a model for other types of development, not only in other cutting edge projects but also in high-volume house building. Although this project will be a very large house, the eco-engineering principles and all its services are taken directly from the acclaimed Hockerton Housing Project, in Nottigham. There, the five 1,500 to 1,800 square foot houses and all their services have proved themselves to be totally cost-effective in construction and autonomous to run, under strict monitoring, for nearly fifteen years. In addition, the overall design, all construction methods and materials proposed were carefully appraised by award-winning eco-engineers ‘J3 Building Futures’, to ensure that we achieved maximum energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It’s not always more expensive to build in an environmentally friendly way and most of the principles we have used in this project demonstrate that perfectly.” he continued.

Mr Woolley believes that proving that the figures add up by example may be key to getting the developers on board nationally to deliver the eco-housing now so desperately needed. He is also a keen advocate of PPS7, saying it works well as a benchmark for future build quality. Britain had a proud heritage of fine large country houses, built over very many centuries and he believes it both important and desirable for this to continue in and beyond the twenty first century.

He also adds that getting the right team together was essential to the success of the application. The skill and attention to detail that has been shown by both the house and landscape architects will make sure that the home, its services and garden around it will work well in a practical sense and, at the same time, be in harmony with the natural ecology of its immediate surroundings and the greater landscape beyond.

Award winning architect, Louise Cooper said: “We wanted to create a beautiful home which would encourage its family occupants to live a self-sustainable lifestyle and it’s great that this family have had the vision to let us do exactly that.”

Patrick James, of award-winning The Landscape Agency, who master-minded the landscape strategy added: “The new house will occupy a prominent position within an existing farm, set in the rolling Lincolnshire countryside. The team from the Landscape Agency has devised a ground-breaking landscape framework both immediately around the house and across the estate. The scheme particularly focuses on enhancing habitats that will greatly promote biodiversity across the site and we feel extremely proud to have been part of a project that has more than satisfied the hugely demanding guidelines of PPS7 that expect ‘truly outstanding and ground-breaking’ projects.’

Mr Woolley said that the family was delighted with the result. In conclusion, he added ’’Although this has been an ambitious project from the outset, the project team has worked hard to ensure every element is right, not only for the clients, but also from an environmental perspective and for the external agencies and planners which set out very rigorous objectives. The fact that it has gone through under PPS7 without an enquiry has kept the costs down and made the process a far more enjoyable team operation. From our original dream, that then became a vision, we have now moved to the reality of a planning consent, that will enable a beautiful home to be built, which will work well for future generations. It’s a fantastic outcome.”

For further information on this project or for a perspective on green planning go to www.woolley.co.uk or call 01638 721540