Living in a Conservation Area
Conservation areas are there to protect the special historic and architectural interest of a particular place. This has also been described as the features that make the area unique and distinctive, but what is living in a conservation area really like and what impact could it have on homeowners?
You can find out if you live in a conservation area by contacting your local planning authority. They will tell you when it was created, how far it extends, the reason it was created, and the level of legal protection that is in place.
Planning controls and considerations are most likely to affect homeowners who want to work on the exterior of their home or fell any trees on their property. The exact restrictions on what you can and cannot do vary according to the rules set by your local authority and the area it is trying to protect. In some areas, for example, the rules could prevent changes to railings, trees, street lighting, and windows, down to the colour of paint residents are allowed to use on their front door. In other areas, rules may be less onerous.
If you are someone living in a conservation area, it may be more expensive to get work done if there are restrictions on what materials can be used. There may also be more paperwork to complete. The latest in-depth study undertaken by the London School of Economics in 2012 found that homes in conservation areas sell for a premium of 9% on average, which is likely to have significantly increased in the ten years since this study was completed.
Planning restrictions for homes in a conservation area
As stated above, local authorities can place a number of additional restrictions on homes within conservation areas. These are known as “Article 4 Directions” and limit the changes homeowners in any other area would otherwise be able to make to their properties under “permitted development rights”. Much of this information can be found in a Local Authority search carried out by your conveyancer.
These rights govern home improvements, retail premises, industrial and warehousing that property owners are allowed to make without first obtaining planning permission. For those who live in conservation areas, such automatic rights are more limited.
Permitted development in conservation areas
As stated above, permitted development rights are slightly different in conservation areas compared with others, and in fact, between conservation areas itself. This means that if you live in such an area, you will first need to make a planning application for some forms of development, for example:
- Any detailed residential changes, such as two storey extensions, stone cladding and dormer windows
- Any extension to retail premises (although for minor floor space increases, its appearance should match the existing footprint, and limitations to facilities for click and collect)
- Industrial and warehouse buildings, including smaller increases in floor space
- Controls on materials for buildings on the site of a college, school, hospital or university
- Limitations on change of use, such as agricultural or retail to a dwelling house, for example.
Your local planning authority will be able to tell you what specific restrictions apply to your area, however the general rules are that you cannot, without permission, demolish:
- A building of more than 115 cubic metres
- A wall, gate or fence over 1 metre if it borders the road, or higher than 2 metres if it does not.
You would also need to obtain permission for the following alterations:
- A single storey extension that extends more than 3 metres beyond the back wall of the property in question or 4 metres if the house is detached
- Extensions over one storey
- Extensions to the side of a property
- Extensions to a roof or any alterations
- Cladding in any material
- New construction of outbuildings, sheds or swimming pools
- Installation of chimneys, vents or flues at the front of the property or at the side if it faces the road
- Installing antennae or satellite dishes that face the road
- Installing solar panels to the front of the roof facing the road of 150mm from the roofing ridge
- Installing solar panels protruding by more than 150mm from the roof
Additionally, your local authority may have imposed particular rules on the conservation area that you live in, so it is essential to check these. Such rules could include:
- Prohibiting you from replacing original windows or doors
- Changing the gutters or pipes
- Removing shrubs or felling trees
- Painting the exterior of your property or changing the colour of doors and window frames.
Finding out whether the property you want to buy is in a conservation area
Unfortunately, there is no easy search facility where you can insert a postcode and see if the property you want to buy is in a conservation area. Initially, you should check with the estate agent or the seller. They should be easily able to tell you that despite some additional red tape, a property in a conservation area is generally considered a selling point as opposed to a negative.
Your conveyancing solicitor might also be able to tell you, but do not rely on this because it will not necessarily be flagged by standard property searches. The best and safest option is to check for yourself. If you are searching for a property online and want to find out whether the house falls within the boundaries of a conservation area before you book a viewing, take a look at the website for the relevant local authority. You should be able to locate a map or list of all the conservation areas within the local authority’s boundaries. You will also be able to find details that list the restrictions for that area.
Where to get advice on undertaking building work without breaking the rules
If you plan on living in a conservation area in a property that requires development, you should speak with your local authority at an early stage to talk through your proposed plans to ascertain if they are likely to need planning permission. If you do find out, you need to get planning permission. You could get your architect, builder, or planning consultant to submit the application on your behalf.
What are the penalties for breaking conservation area rules?
Undertaking illegal work within a conservation area can be a very serious offence. It is a criminal offence that is punishable with a maximum prison sentence of two years under Section 74 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
Managing a conservation area
Residents can have their say as to how their conservation area is managed. Local communities often work with local authorities to draft management plans and Conservation Area Appraisals.
Many local authorities have Conservation Area Advisory Committees which can include business representatives and local residents. There may also be civic societies and local amenity groups who are involved with the management of the conservation area. If you have not already come across these groups, your local authority will be able to point you in the right direction.
Financial benefit of living in a conservation area
Homeowners value conservation areas for their uniqueness, historic appeal, and visual character. Research conducted by the London School of Economics and Historic England found that this premium is reflected in the cost of properties in conservation areas. Although they do cost more to buy, they appreciate more in price than property in other areas, even after adjusting for location and additional factors.