Summer break puts damper on Architects' Journal victory

Triumphant: Architects’ Journal and its news editor, Ed Dorrell

A campaign by the Architects’ Journal has forced the government to back down over proposals that would affect the building of large country houses on agricultural land.

However, unfortunately for the magazine – which won praise from the planning minister, Keith Hill, for the part it played in bringing about the U-turn – it happened on one of the weeks of the year it isn’t published.

Last year, AJ launched its PPG 7 (Planning Policy Guidance) campaign to retain an exemption to build large country houses on agricultural land, following moves by the government to scrap the clause, originally placed by the Conservative environment secretary John Gummer in 1997.

It allows for the building of isolated large houses on greenfield sites, as long as their architecture and landscape design enhance their surroundings.

AJ sent a petition with 400 signatures and co-hosted a debate with the Royal Institute of British Architects backed by Lord Foster, the Labour MP Alan Howarth and leading architect Richard Rogers. The move led to an early day motion in Westminster and a phone call to the magazine last week from Hill, announcing that contrary to the government’s previous policies, the new planning policy statement will include a rewritten clause. “Hill said he was ‘really very pleased’ to have made the changes, and that AJ should be ‘very proud of its campaign’,” AJ’s news editor Ed Dorrell said.

In a bitter twist, however, the news broke during one of the weeks of the year when AJ skips an issue, leaving a 10 day gap before it can actually publish the story.

Although the news was carried by most of the nationals last week, AJ is planning to go big on it this week, dedicating three news pages, a profile and a leader to the story.

“It was just the most frustrating thing you could possibly believe. We are weekly throughout the year apart from August and the one week where we drop an issue they decide to grant us a victory,” said Dorrell.

“It was all over the nationals on Wednesday – I actually helped out two of them, sent them images, explained the story. They said they’d give us a name check and then when we got the paper the next day there was no mention of us.

“But this is extremely important for us, we put a lot of effort into it.

Campaigns rarely get won by small magazines so it’s absolutely fantastic.

Ninety per cent of our readers probably won’t ever do a country house, however a huge proportion of our readers care about the retention of the clause.”

By Ruth Addicott

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