Despite the replacement of PPG7?the so-called Gummer’s Law which permitted the building of large new country houses of ‘exceptional architectural merit’?by PPS7, the Government’s ambiguous new planning policy statement on future country-house design, it is still possible to build a nice house in the country. In fact, at the moment there seem to be more prime country sites for sale with planning permission for large new houses than there are people wishing to build them.

One of the last few planning consents agreed under the old PPG7 rules was that granted by South Northamptonshire District Council in April 2003 for a new 7,800 sq ft country house to be built in 49 acres of historic parkland and water gardens at Blakesley Hall, near Towcester. The original Hall was demolished in

1957.

The Banbury office of Savills (01295 228010) is selling the site with planning permission for a nine-bedroom, Elizabethan-style mansion designed by the Roger Coy Partnership, at a guide price of £1.25 million (reduced from £1.75m). In neighbouring Buckinghamshire, Savills’s Beaconsfield office (01494 731950) wants offers ‘in excess of £4m’ for Kilnwood (Fig 1), with 30 acres of gardens, grounds and paddocks in fashionable Burnham Beeches.

The rambling 1930s house has been completely renovated in the past seven years by its owner David Pitcher, and now has four reception rooms, a breakfast room, five bedrooms, four bath- rooms, staff quarters, an indoor swimming- pool complex, a snooker hall, a tennis court and state-of-the-art equestrian facilities.

But in order to ‘cover all the options’, Mr Pitcher has applied to reinstate planning permission granted by South Buckinghamshire District Council in 1996 to demolish the main house and replace it with an 11,000 sq ft mansion designed by Quinlan Terry. Having consulted the local planners, Mr Pitcher expects his application to be approved ‘within weeks’.

According to land agent Clive Hopkins, 220-odd acres of bare land in the rolling Oxfordshire countryside are currently worth about £1m; but add a clutch of planning consents, and the value jumps to about £3m. That is the asking price quoted by Knight Frank (020?7629 8171) for the 221-acre Salford Manor Estate near Chipping Norton, where, in the past two years (and without invoking PPG7), Oxfordshire planners have approved a ground-breaking project designed to enhance the estate and the surrounding landscape. It involves

reopening an old quarry to provide stone for an ‘exceptional’ new 12,000 sq ft country house, to be built near the site of an existing two-bedroom bungalow.

The grand new manor house will have accommodation on four floors, including five reception rooms and nine bedroom suites, with an indoor swimming pool, billiard room and cinema on the lower ground floor. The plans provide for the creation of landscaped gardens and grounds, and a complete landscaping scheme must be approved by the local planning authority before any development takes place. Such an undertaking will clearly cost millions, but fortunately, Mr Hopkins says, his firm usually has ‘a steady stream of people who want to build their own houses’.

But it is not always necessary to spend millions to create a good new house in the country. Toby Milbank of Strutt & Parker points to the example of Rosemead Farm in the pretty village of Shalbourne on the Berkshire-Wiltshire borders. On June 23 this year, Kennet District Council extended the scope of a previous planning consent, granted under PPG7, to allow the replacement of a large, dilapidated bungalow with a classic, 6,237 sq ft, six-bedroom country house. The surrounding 4.77 acres can be landscaped and laid out to the purchaser’s own design.

Strutt & Parker (01635 521707) quote a guide price of £850,000 for the site, which has wonderful views across farmland to the Downs beyond. Mr Milbank estimates that it would cost between £600,000 and £800,000 to build the house as designed by Oliver Wake, but that, once completed, the property would be worth more than £2m.