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19 Nov

Paragraph 79 of the NPPF and the ‘isolated home’ debate

Blog written by Katarzyna Gotlibowska

According to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) 2018, development in the Green Belt is inappropriate except in very special circumstances (paragraph 143).

Very special circumstances will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations. There are only a limited number of exceptions which include circumstances such as: provision of appropriate facilities, limited infilling in villages, limited affordable housing for local community needs (NPPF paragraphs 145 and 146).

However, if a development meets the requirements of paragraph 79 of the NPPF, it can be considered as a “Very Special Circumstance” and it has been interpreted as such through numerous planning appeal decisions. Note that paragraph 79 of the 2018 NPPF was formerly paragraph 55 of the 2013 NPPF.

Paragraph 79 states that development of isolated homes in the countryside should be avoided unless one or more of the below circumstances apply:

  • there is an essential need for a rural worker, including those taking majority control of a farm business, to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside
  • the development would represent the optimal viable use of a heritage asset or would be appropriate enabling development to secure the future of heritage assets;
  • the development would re-use redundant or disused buildings and enhance its immediate setting;
  • the development would involve the subdivision of an existing residential dwelling; or
  • the design is of exceptional quality, in that it:
      • is truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture, and would help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas; and
      • would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.

The term of an “isolated home” in paragraph 79 of the NPPF is an interesting subject which has been considered by both High Court and Court of Appeal. This is because paragraph 79 can only apply if a home is considered to be isolated. Due to the fact the NPPF does not provide a clear definition of an “isolated home”, each case is associated with discussions between parties on whether the house can be considered isolated or not.

In trying to define an “isolated home” judges have made the following points:

Lewison LJ states that ‘a new dwelling within that curtilage [curtilage of an existing permanent structure] will not be an “isolated home”’ (Dartford Borough Council v  Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Others [2017] EWCA Civ 141).

On the other hand, Mrs Justice Land J. argues that ‘in applying [paragraph 55 of the NPPF], and considering whether proposed development amounted to “new isolated home in the countryside”, it is irrelevant that the development was located proximate to other dwellings”, and that “[the] key question was whether it was proximate to services and facilities so as to maintain or enhance the vitality of the rural community” (Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Governments and Others [2017] EWHC 2743). The Judge also suggested that ‘as for the “immediate context” of the policy, “isolated homes in the countryside” are not in communities and settlements and therefore, the distinction between two is primarily spatial/physical’.

Dr Bowes disagreed with that opinion and stressed that ‘the word “isolated” in the third sentence of paragraph 55 can mean either physical or functional isolation, and that, in the application of the policy, both of these two concepts are relevant and significant’ (Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Others [2018] EWCA Civ 610).

According to Lindblom LJ, ‘the word “isolated” in the phrase “isolated homes  in the countryside” simply connoted a dwelling that is physically separate or remote from a settlement. Whether a proposed new dwelling is, or is not, “isolated” in this sense will be a matter of fact and planning judgement for decision-maker in the particular circumstances of the case in hand’ (Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Others [2018] EWCA Civ 610).

It is clear that there is no fixed legal definition of an “isolated house”. However, certain principles can be extracted from these judgements, which should be considered when seeking to understand if a dwelling can be treated as an “isolated house” and therefore, whether paragraph 79 can be applied to a case:

    1. whether or not it is located within the settlement boundary;
    2. proximity to other dwellings;
    3. proximity to local services and facilities;
    4. access to public transport services;
    5. physical and visual separation from the settlement.

Although, the above are the main points to consider, it is crucial to remember there is no statutory definition ofanisolated home, and therefore, each case will be considered individually and will be a matter of planning judgement for decision-maker to decide whether or not a dwelling is ‘isolated’.

NJL has the expertise to assess whether a proposal could be considered as isolated under the paragraph 79 test. If you have any queries about this article or paragraph 79, please get in touch today.

Image courtesy of Jeffrey Bell Architects


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