Planning Permission in Rural Areas

How do you build a new house in the countryside? Architect Nicolas Tye’s Bedfordshire practice specialises in designing houses in rural areas, and he has had great success in steering some exceptional buildings from planning permission to completion. Here, he explains how ‘rural’ is defined by local planners, and shares his advice on how to give yourself the best chance of being able to build in the countryside.

How do planners define ‘rural areas’?

Local authorities have defined the settlement edges of large towns and cities, which create the boundaries between built-up areas and rural countryside. These invisible lines are not necessarily where you may think they are, and need confirmation by liaising with your architect or local authority as to where they specifically fall. This should all form part of the due diligence of understanding the ‘status’ of the land – whether it’s inside or outside a settlement edge; in a conservation area; on green belt, etc – because this status can have a profound effect on planning.

stockgrove house exterior

Stockgrove House in Buckinghamshire, a modernist replacement dwelling on a plot that is both green belt land and an area of Special Landscape Value © Nerida Howard


Development in rural areas is restricted, because built-up development would be an unwanted addition to the countryside in general if it was not controlled. There are various mechanisms for this control – from green belt to areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), and these need to be investigated by your architect. For example, on green belt land, replacement homes (if you were knocking down a dilapidated old house to build a new one, for example) can often be no greater than 25%-50% bigger that the original footprint. However, we have completed an application where 160% increases have been established.

How are planning laws different in rural areas?

Planning policies vary significantly depending on whether they are ‘within settlement’ to ‘outside of settlement’, but there are a number of very interesting policies that a lot of people are unaware of. For example, we recently received approval for two houses of more than 8,000 sq ft, on sites with no residential buildings on them. They received planning permission under what’s called Paragraph 55 of the government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which permits the construction of new country houses proven to be of outstanding architectural quality. Nicolas Tye Architects specialises in these types of projects.

planning permission on rural land

Nicholas Tye Architects received planning permission for this house under the government’s Paragraph 55 policy, which allows for building a rural dwelling if the architecture is of outstanding quality.

So can you still build your dream house in the countryside?

Yes! The ‘easier’ sites are the ones with houses on already, where a lot of our clients are knocking these down and replacing them with larger dwellings. That said, you you need the right architect who can steer you through the issues, and their fee should ‘disappear’ in the overall costs, because of the added value they can bring to a project.

What should you look for when buying a property in the country or on the coast, if you’re thinking about making some significant changes?

The status of the land, as already detailed above, is critical. Also, check there are no legal complications on deeds etc: for example, it can be the case that there is a restriction placed on development by a farmer that allows him 50% of the profits on any development, even after the land is sold.

planning permission on rural land

Settlement edges are defined by local planners, and the planning status inside and outside these boundaries can be very different; this status is the first thing to check when thinking about buying a rural plot © Nerida Howard

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