Most people watch Grand Designs and dream of building their own house. In whatever form, this ambition takes some bravery, conviction, and not least money.

I have worked with many inspiring clients as they seek to create their dream home in the North East and beyond.

Increasingly the houses are becoming more environmental and sophisticated, so that cutting-edge design is as important as the energy to make them and the on-going running costs. We are entering a phase when heating systems, cars, energy generation are all fast-changing technologies.

Some aim to build in the cities and others in the countryside. Both offer challenges. They must adhere to the planning legislation of the NPPF and local authority requirements for conservation areas, specific issues and sensitivities.

In the countryside, development is permitted so long as it meets the requirements of paragraph 79 of the NPPF and this sets out specific requirements in terms of rural workers, using a historic building or disused building. One of the further criteria is a ‘design is of exceptional quality, in that it: – is truly outstanding or innovative’.

The policy provision for new houses in the countryside presents an exciting opportunity to achieve planning permission for houses that are of an exceptional quality of design.

We are working on a proposal, Fold House in Northumberland’s Green Belt, under these criteria and the client’s ambition is to create a truly superb piece of architecture set in a beautiful natural landscape setting. The building will look like a modern farmhouse set into a farmer’s pasture field.

The other aspect is the innovation and defining what is innovative. On Fold House, the client is maximising solar heating from the sun and creating an earth battery by means of storing heat in the summer, for use in the winter.

So why go to the bother of doing all this? These houses carry on an English tradition of country house building, with an emphasis in quality of architecture and workmanship to create something special. The raising of design standards can then benefit all rural design and national housing. The use of innovative construction methods, technology and design can teach us so much. They are the Formula One cars of housing. Just as the car manufacturers use racing cars to trial new technology, so do we need houses to experiment. We need to develop new, cleaner and more energy efficient houses.

It is easy to criticize and comment on these one-off house proposals, but like Fold house, they invite commentary. We are all adjusting to a new world and developing new ways to build and live. To further the car analogy, I drive a clean hybrid car but love the sound of a classic six cylinder engine – Does that make me hypocritical? I do not think so, as there is place for both. We must be focusing on the new houses, so that we are able to preserve the best of the old country houses as well.

This tradition of developing new unique houses must continue for the benefit of us all in the development of the mass housing of tomorrow.

May 2020 Neil Turner

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