Our guide to what is special about these areas, and what you need to consider when planning to buy, extend or build there…
What is a Conservation Area?
First of all, let’s examine what a conservation area actually is:
- Conservation Areas are designated to protect any special historic or architectural interest – and to ensure that any new development and changes are controlled so that they are sympathetic to the locality.
- There are nearly 10,000 Conservation Areas that have been designated in the UK – they were first introduced in the 1960s.
- Usually it is the local authorities that designate these areas – the process comes under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Sometimes the conservation charity English Heritage will also be involved in the process.
- Conservation areas can usually be found in old cities, villages and towns and some older suburbs. There are even some of the earlier housing estates that are protected this way, as well as areas around historic landmarks.
Planning permission in Conservation Areas
You will probably meet a special conservation officer, who will be influential when a council deals with an application within Conservation Areas – if no such position exists within the local authority, you will simply deal with the planning officer.
Officers look for designs that will enhance and preserve the character of the area, so this is the main thing to bear in mind when planning any development. So just ask yourself – does your plan improve the existing building and the Conservation Area, or does it help to preserve what is already there? You’ll often find that your design will be far more important – and attract far more attention from the local authority – than any normal application. The quality of the design will hold far more importance, and details that might be more readily agreed on another application will come under increased scrutiny.
If you see any odd anomalies in a Conservation Area (think plastic windows for instance) this may have been allowed under a different officer or was carried out under Permitted Development (see below) or pre-dated the Conservation Area designation.
Interestingly, it doesn’t mean your design has to be completely traditional and a copycat design of what is already there. Contemporary designs can be approved – especially if the area is already a mix of different designs. It also depends on whether your home has any actual historical or architectural merit – it may simply be within a Conservation Area due to where boundaries have been drawn.
To streamline the planning process, and take the strain off already stretched planning departments, there are certain alterations and extensions that are allowed without the need for planning permission. You might be surprised to know that this is the case, even in Conservation areas, although the rules are a little different.
The following are allowed without planning permission:
- Single storey rear extension of 3m, or 4m if it is a detached house
- Replacement windows of a similar appearance to the originals (unless your home is subject to an Article 4 Direction)
- Solar panels are allowed, if they are not on a wall facing the highway. So, roof-mounted panels are fine.
Who has the final say?
Do bear in mind that the planning officer will normally determine your application, however, the conservation officer may be assigned instead or at least provide influential opinion via the consultation process. In addition, however much the conservation officer may love your design, if the application is contentious due to local objection it might be referred to a planning committee, which will make the council’s final decision.
Getting in early
Planning can become a lengthy and time-consuming business if the right preparation is not done. Getting pre-application advice from officers, particularly the conservation officer– and separately consulting with neighbours and the parish council – is enormously helpful. The conservation officer can help you work out what might or might not be acceptable before you proceed with a planning application – which can save both time and money. Employing the services of a planning consultancy – especially if they have experience of working with heritage issues eg, developments in Conservation Areas or affecting listed buildings – can also be a useful strategy.
It is possible that if you live within a Conservation Area your home will also be listed, but the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
A building will be listed if it has a special historic or architectural interest. In all there are around 500,000 listed buildings in England – all of those built before 1700 and most built between 1700 and 1840. There are more modern buildings included too.
Listed buildings are subject to strict planning controls covering the exterior and interior of the building – and to alter, extend or demolish part of your property you will need to apply for Listed building consent. Normal permitted development rights do not apply for houses that are Listed buildings, therefore, you even require permission to erect sheds and or fencing in or around the garden.
In some properties, even light fittings may be historically or ornamentally important and fitted cupboards and bookcases may be regarded as part of the original fabric of the building. To find out whether your property is Listed, look it up on the Heritage List.
Your next step will be to contact the local authority and find out more about getting Listed building consent. Once you apply it should take about eight weeks for the council to decide your application. If you carry out work without consent you could be subject to prosecution, as it is a criminal offence.
You can also find out more about Listed Buildings on our website here.
If you would like to discuss your own planning project with us, or just find out more about what we do, please continue to browse the website or drop us an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org without obligation.