Flight Farm, Leckhampton Hill, Cheltenham

In a wooded site on the escarpment to the Cotswold Hills, the para 55 house drew on influences from the surrounding quarries to produce an innovate sustainable design that was successful at planning committee following the input from the design panel.

Joyce Clifford – Architect, Quattro Design Architects Ltd (Chair)
Teresa Hazelwood – Landscape Architect, Pegasus Landscape Design
Toby Coombes – Architect, Coombes Everitt Architects
Ross Sharpe – Architect, Yiangou Architects LLP
Helen McHollan – Landscape Architect, Illman Young Landscape Design
Mark Walsh – Engineer, Davidson Walsh Consulting Engineers
Charles Cox – Architect, Heath Avery Architects
Oliver Rider – Case Officer, Town Planning, Tewkesbury Borough Council


The Architect assisted by the Landscape Architect and Client presented the proposal to construct a new house at Flight Farm on Leckhampton Hill, Gloucestershire. The policy basis upon which the proposal relies is Paragraph 55 of the NPPF, that the proposal is truly innovative or outstanding.

In January a pre-application submission was made to Tewkesbury Borough Council (TBC). Although within a pocket of housing on the side of Leckhampton Hill, TBC regarded this site as an isolated location, outside the residential development boundary. The site is within the Cotswolds ANOB, adjacent to a triple SI and SAM on Leckhampton Hill. Mature trees on the site are currently not protected under TPO.

A favorable response to the concept was received from TBC in April. The case officer attending the panel meeting explained that TBC were keen to support the proposal and would like to raise architectural standards within Tewksbury, but questioned whether the proposals were truly innovative.

The pre-application information was made available to the panel via web-link. The Architect has continued developing the scheme since this submission and the information presented was an update on the original information.

The Architect is very familiar with the policy of Paragraph 55. The supporting information to submit with the planning application is being assembled. Some of the panel members had local knowledge of the site. Others were very aware of the Cotswold setting and Local Architectural styles.

The architect explained the strategies for developing the proposals, essentially coming from the site itself. Connectivity at various levels was key to the design concept. The client was very aware of the special qualities of the site and was keen to enhance the landscape setting. The brief was to create a family home within a beautiful woodland setting. It is the clients desire to keep the integrity of site as a rustic area of the hillside, retaining as many existing trees as possible.

From the analysis of the site the Architect came up with a preferred location for the new building at a relatively early stage. There are limited clear glades within the wooded site which enjoy light and space. The building has been positioned in the centre of the site so that the open spaces around the building can be enjoyed.

The Architect explained the existing site sequencing would be retained, from an existing entrance and Cypress Avenue to finally approach the building from the south. The conflict between orientation of the building and vehicular access led to a solution of light entering the building from the south via tall chimneys. The Architect described that the form of the building came from the local history of limekilns on Leckhampton Hill.

The internal floor plans were not discussed in great detail. The entrance from the south, has led to the main living accommodation being at the north end of the building, with bedrooms on the first floor leading onto a terrace.

The landscape architect explained how the existing landscape would be retained and enhanced, intensifying habitat diversity. The site was in need of Woodland management, to remove the disease within the Beech Trees, and provide a sustainable source of wood for fuel. The architect claimed that half of heat load would come from the surrounding woodland. The landscape would provide screening and privacy with glimpses of the building.

The SUDS strategy is to treat all surface and fowl water within the site through a system of pipes and ponds.
The ‘sustainable’ elements, which make this building innovate, were addressed at the end of the presentation.


The comments below should be read in the context of the information that was available to the panel immediately prior to the presentation, namely the pre-application report dated Jan 2014. Some of the plans presented differed from those on the web-link. The presenting architects confirmed that the scheme proposals are still being developed and there were some points raised at the meeting by the panel members, which the architect was keen to introduce into the scheme.


  • The panel appreciated the detailed analytical approach to the site and the sustainable solution proposed. However information on the more recent history of the site would have better placed the building in its context.
  • The presentation would have been assisted by the use of 3D images and drawings showing clearly the existing and proposed levels. A comprehensive landscape master plan was also considered to be lacking.
  • Further drawn information would be expected for a proposal seeking to rely upon Paragraph 55.


  • The design panel supported the landscape and sustainability concepts siting a new house within the landscape. The concept of grouping a series of structures, utilizing the natural topography was supported in principle, although difficult to read from the material as presented.
  • Site is very rustic and the relatively ‘light touch’ approach with a management plan and increased biodiversity was supported by the panel. The concepts of soft materials and colour reflecting the landscape, the blending of walling and boundaries was also considered appropriate for this site.
  • The panel recognized the advances in ‘sustainable’ design that were embedded within the design proposals. The approach for treating water on site was appropriate, and the panel suggested enhancing the landscape design through integration with the surface water design.
  • Panel members questioned the authenticity of the limekilns and the orientation of the building in relation to the associated external spaces, which would be used by the family.
  • Also the choice of materials was less compelling. The use of Cotswold stone slates on such complex roof forms seemed to be at odds with a very traditional material, and this sat heavily on a lighter weight base. The ‘chimneys’ appeared very tall and imposing within a landscape setting where the building seeks to ‘blend’ in through selection of materials and colour palette. The panel questioned what the spaces would be like to live in for the client.

Response to the Site

Elements of the proposals respond well to the site (see above) and the design concepts appear logical, relating specifically to the local site conditions. The panel agrees that the site has the potential for a ‘Paragraph 55’ dwelling.

The panel thought that the form of the building and the choice of materials should be reviewed.

The local authority if minded to approve will need to ensure that all of the stated objectives including the sustainable output and the use of timber are sufficiently robust to ensure that the assurances given now by the applicant are not subsequently diluted.

The panel was unclear about the views of the site from the surrounding landscape – particularly from Leckhampton Hill at both the foot and the top of the escarpment. The relationship with the neighboring properties had not been described within the presentation material. The photomontages only showed the proposals from within the site. Further work was required to demonstrate how visible the building was within the landscape. The panel considered an LVA should form part of the planning application. A general principle of not hiding the building was the preference of the panel.

Highway access was raised by panel members as an area of concern, particularly during the construction process. The suggestion from the architect that some elements might be prefabricated off site was not considered a realistic proposition due the restrictions the nature of the site imposed. The retention of a central yew tree in the middle of the construction area also seemed to be presenting a problem.

In consideration of the application the local authority will seek validation from this panel and others to assess whether the proposal meets the requirements set out under paragraph 55 of the framework.

In this specific regard the panel comments as follows:

  1. Is the proposal truly outstanding or innovative, helping to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas

The panel considered that although certain elements of the proposal needed to be described more fully before a final comment on the architectural merit of the scheme could be judged as outstanding, the proposal could be described as innovative through the progressive approach to sustainable design.
The panel agreed that the holistic approach to keep energy on site through use of phase change materials and the integration of a system for battery store, the energy profile modeling and combined systems was progressing sustainable design development.
The generic material included in the pre-application, based on the Architects own house, had been superseded by specific information relating to the project. Consequently this has been reviewed by the panel in less detail. Nevertheless the panel was convinced that the architect had the knowledge and research experience to produce an innovative solution.
The panel thought that further investigations on the local ground conditions was required to support the SUDs proposals and the soil battery. The location of the PV’s whilst in a discrete place were compromised by the overshadowing trees and being close to the southern boundary gave less control to the owner in the future.
TBC will need to ensure that the technical details are substantiated.

2. Reflect the highest standards in architecture:

The panel considered that the proposal has the potential to achieve this objective, but further work is required, and 3D presentation is necessary to demonstrate the design in the context. It was questioned whether the paradigm of the limekilns was the right approach for the site, and the choice of materials. A more contemporary approach would be considered acceptable.
The panel has a fundamental concern over certain elements of the design e.g. the orientation of the living spaces, the height of the chimneys and the choice of materials with the particular building forms.

3. Significantly enhance its immediate setting:

The existing landscape setting is attractive but unremarkable, having been modified for a tennis court and then a ménage with timber sheds. The panel agreed that this particular location, situated between two other hillside properties, has the potential for a ‘Paragraph 55’ dwelling. It is thus considered that a proposed building meeting all the objectives of Paragraph 55 will enhance the site’s immediate setting.
It is the view of the panel that the proposed use of materials and architectural style needs some revision to be appropriate for the setting.
The absence of 3D visualisations, sections showing existing levels and a comprehensive landscape masterplan have made it hard for the design panel to fully assess the impact or otherwise of the proposals on the setting.
Other elements which were not explored but will need to be visually illustrated to the planners include the treatment of the hard landscape features, access road, retaining walls, boundary treatments.

4. Sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area:

Whist the panel support the use of local crafts people and locally sourced materials, the panel considered that further work was needed with specific regard to the defining characteristics of Leckhampton Hill. In particular the way in which local materials are assembled and the local geology. The heavy roof on light weight structure is not a local tradition.


The panel felt that it was hard to comment on the scheme as presented without further views of the site and a detailed landscape masterplan. 3D’s would show how well it sits in the landscape.

There was no representation from Planning Consultants from either the Applicant or the panel, and hence the views of the panel have concentrated mainly on the architectural and landscape aspects of the design.

In conclusion, the panel considered that whilst the proposed is ‘close’ to meeting the objectives set out under paragraph 55, it is not quite at a stage whereby the panel would support the development. Subject to specific concerns been satisfactorily addressed the panel considered this would be an appropriate form of development in this location.