Experienced renovator Michael Holmes advises on areas of special architectural interest in the second part of a new series. 

GALLERY IMAGE: The owners of this fisherman’s cottage in Padstow, Cornwall, had to change their plans for a roof terrace after planning permission was refused due to the property being in a Conservation Area.

What is a Conservation Area?

First established in 1967 by the Civic Amenities Act, Conservation Areas recognise and protect parts of the country considered to be of rich architectural heritage, landscape or historical value. They use the powers of the law to prevent inappropriate development, demolition and advertising.

There are now more than 9,300 Conservation Areas in England, around 600 in Scotland, 500 in Wales and 60 in Northern Ireland, together forming an important part of the nation’s heritage policy.

The legislation recognises that it’s not just the buildings that define an area’s character, but the sum of the elements that contribute to a sense of place, including layout, historic street plans, boundaries and thoroughfares, vistas along streets and between buildings, open spaces, the use of traditional materials and details, trees and landscaping, so all these are also protected

Do I live in a Conversation Area?

Your local planning authority (LPA) will be able to advise whether you live in a Conservation Area, as will a quick search of the LPA website. Go to Planningportal.co.uk to find further details. You will also be able to find the Conservation Area statement, which documents the history of the area, important characteristics, planning policy, and details of which restrictions to permitted development (PD) rights are in place and apply to your property.

Living in a Conservation Area has its advantages: properties are often worth more because of the character of the area and according to studies by the London School of Economics, tend to increase in value faster than other areas because they are more desirable places to live.

Planning controls ensure that what is most valuable about the character of the Conservation Area will be preserved, including trees and open spaces, but the quid pro quo is that there are restrictions on the alterations and improvements that you are able to undertake to your own property.

Are my permitted development rights affected?

If you live in a Conservation Area or other ‘designated area’ such as a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads, you will need to apply for planning permission for many alterations normally classed as permitted development in other areas, including to the roof, change of roof covering, adding timber, render or stone cladding, side extensions, rear extensions of more than one storey and demolition.

Many properties within Conservation Areas are also subject to further restrictions on PD rights under Article 4 Directions. This can include changing doors and windows, adding rooflights, painting the external walls and external joinery, adding satellite dishes or solar panels and any other alterations that could change the appearance of the area. If an application for planning permission is required because of an Article 4 Direction, there is no fee for the planning application involved.

Planning permission will not normally be needed for straightforward repair work, and if you are carrying out work to the interior of a building that does not affect the external appearance. It’s important to remember that flats do not have PD rights, and so planning permission will always be needed for all external alterations that will alter the building’s appearance.

Can I still improve my home?

Designation as a Conservation Area does not place a ban upon all new development within its boundaries. You may still carry out the following using PD rights, provided that an Article 4 Direction is not in place:

  • undertake a loft conversion with rooflights (but not dormer windows);
  • add a single-storey rear extension across the width of the original rear wall and projecting by four metres, as long as it is no more than four metres high (three metres with a flat roof) and with eaves no higher than 2.5 metres within two metres of the boundary;
  • add a porch measuring up to three square metres if it is no more than three metres in height and less than two metres from the highway;
  • paint the house and external joinery;
  • add solar panels, provided that they do not stand out from the plane of the roof by more than 150mm; n convert a garage and add new window openings; n construct outbuildings covering up to half of the original garden, where they are behind the house and no more than four metres in height (three metres with a flat roof) and with eaves no higher than 2.5 metres within two metres of the boundary; and
  • add gates, fences and garden walls up to 1.8 metres in height on the boundary, and 60cm on the boundary with the highway.

It is always worth checking with your LPA whether planning permission is required before undertaking any work. For certainty you can apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development, the current fee being £86 in England (£172 for an existing use or development) and £165 in Wales. Where permission is required it will be subject to closer scrutiny than in other areas, and so particular attention must be given to the height and scale of proposals, the form and layout including the footprint, setting and relationship with other surrounding buildings (the streetscape) the materials and details used, and the landscaping scheme.

Applications are only likely to be approved if it can be demonstrated that the Conservation Area’s character or appearance is not harmed, or that it can be positively enhanced through good quality design. Extensions will usually be considered appropriate if they use traditional form, are subservient to the existing building and use traditional local materials and detailing. High-quality contemporary design can also be acceptable, especially where it can be shown to integrate traditional materials and craftsmanship, and architectural details and features with a local connection.

Who decides whether to approve my proposals?

As well as being reviewed by LPA planning officers, an application affecting a Conservation Area will have to be approved by the LPA’s conservation officer, who will determine what is acceptable in relation to its Conservation Area policy and national planning policy.

The degree of subjectivity is far greater than in other areas of planning and so it can be useful to speak to builders and designers who have worked in the area and have an understanding of the approach taken. Larger and more significant applications, especially those in the setting of a listed building or other heritage assets will be sent for comment from English Heritage, or the equivalent (Cadw in Wales, Historic Scotland and Built Heritage in Northern Ireland).

In England and Wales, parish councils will also be consulted, as well as Conservation Area Advisory Committees

Do I need Conservation Area consent?

The total demolition of a building or structure in a Conservation Area (with the exception of buildings under 115 square metres, or gates walls or fences under two metres in height or one metre next to a highway) currently requires consent in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including the demolition of a building leaving only the facade.

Conservation Area consent was abolished in England on 1 October 2013 and demolition is now dealt with in the mainstream planning system. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are currently reviewing heritage policy and are likely to follow suit. Demolition without consent is unlawful and the owner may be required to reinstate the building, with there being no time limit on enforcement action.

Are trees protected?

Trees play an important role in the character of many designated areas and consequently almost all trees other than saplings are protected within a Conservation Area.

Undertaking any works to a tree with a trunk diameter greater than 75mm at 1.5 metres above ground level requires consent, and the LPA must be notified six weeks in advance in order for a decision on a Tree Preservation Order to be made.

Summary conviction for removing or damaging a tree without consent is a criminal offence and carries a fine of up to £30,000, with more serious offences dealt with by the Crown Courts, carrying an unlimited fine. It will also be the landowner’s duty to plan replacement trees of appropriate size and species in the same location as soon as possible What if my proposal is refused? As with any planning application, if your proposals are refused permission or the LPA fails to determine the application within eight weeks of registering it, you can choose to make an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

What about listed building consent?

Many buildings in a Conservation Area are also individually or group listed, adding a further layer of protection. If your property is listed you will also need listed building consent for any ‘material alterations’, both internally and externally, whether or not they require planning permission