A brief introduction to conservation areas

We did a building survey of a house in conservation area in Greenwich last week which prompted our client to state: “Conservation area? What’s that and so what?” or words to that effect. So, here’s a quick overview of Conservation Areas. As always check with your local planning office and conservation officers for local information – most of them don’t bite!

Graffiti art on wall

Conservation areas are designated locally by local councils, they are usually designated by virtue of their character and history – reasons for designation can include architectural merit, layout, historical importance, green spaces, trees etc. In general the areas are designated because a local authority believes they are worth protecting. You will almost certainly find a conservation areas statement on your council’s website in the planning section.

If you have a property in a conservation area it means there is an extra layer of planning controls that you have to consider when proposing any alterations (principally external) that may otherwise fall within the provisions of ‘permitted development’. For instance, you will probably need to seek planning consent for alterations such as changing the roof covering and altering the external appearance, adding extensions. What used to be known as ‘conservation area consent’ has now been abolished and matters fall within the general provision of planning consent.

The type of work that can usually be carried out without consent (assuming that no local rules apply) include loft conversions without dormers, single storey extensions across the width of the property at the rear, a small porch, external painting and installing solar panels.

Some local authorities do however introduce particular rules for their conservation areas. These are known as Article 4 directions and can require approval to be sought for items like altering doors and windows (including installing double glazing), external paint colours and even adding satellite dishes.

In most cases, like for like repairs and maintenance will not need approval, but if in doubt ask the planning office. Demolition in a conservation area generally requires consent.

Trees in a conservation area are protected and you will need to notify the planning office six weeks before any proposed works to give them a chance to object. Generally speaking, smaller trees with a trunk diameter of less than 75mm do not require notification.

Buying a house in a conservation area is certainly nothing to be scared of and can be beneficial to the property and its value. English Heritage have some useful guidance available on their website.

Our principal advice is, if in doubt about your proposals, then ask. Breaching the rules can result in abortive work requiring reinstatement and heavy fines.

(Originally published by Steve Way, 24 October 2014)