What are conservation areas and its impact on conveyancing?
What is a Conservation Area?
Conservation Areas are protected and managed places with special characteristics and include buildings of architectural importance considered worthy of preservation. It is estimated that there is at least one Conservation Area for each local authority in England; with 59% rurally and 41% in urban spaces.
Once the local authority has ‘designated’ an area of conservation there are additional requirements surrounding planning controls which serve to protect the historic and architectural aspects that make the place exceptional.
Homes in Conservation Areas require planning consent for work where consent would not usually be required in non-Conservation Areas.
How is a place ‘designated’?
This is a formal process where the local authority establishes a Conservation Area following identification of a space of ‘special architectural or historic interest’. They do this to protect and manage the character of the area and to ensure that alterations to any property and/or land falling within the Conservation Area are subject to certain standards, restrictions and controls.
What does this mean in practice?
The Local Authority must ensure all properties situated within the Conservation Area have informed the Land Registry and recorded it on the charges register as a local Land Charge. It is important to note that if a property falls within the area, the property owner may need permission from the local authority before making alterations on things such as (but not limited to):
- Window installation
- Door replacement – even changing the colour of the front door may not be permissible
- Demolition – if you wish to demolish any building, even a small outbuilding, providing it is over 115 cubic square metres, you will need to obtain planning permission from the Local Authority. If the building is listed you will also need to obtain Listed Building Consent.
- Installation of a satellite dish or solar panelling
- Extensions such as, conservatories, or other extensions such as a loft extension and dormer windows
- Laying paving or building walls
- Felling trees or pruning work – if you want to fell or even lightly prune a tree within a Conservation Area, you must notify the Local Authority six weeks before the work is scheduled to begin. They will determine what contribution the tree makes to the character of the area in question and could always impose a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) to protect it if necessary.
If you make any changes within a Conservation Area without permission, penalties may be imposed which can be costly. It can also be unlawful to make any changes without consent so care should always be taken when considering property renovations. Section 74 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 states that it is a criminal offence to demolish any building within a Conservation Area without first obtaining planning permission. The maximum penalty is two years in prison or an unlimited fine.
There will usually be ‘Permitted Development” (PD) rights within a Conservation Area although they may be curtailed in some way. These are known as ‘Article 4 directions’ and are restrictions placed on property owners by a Local Authority to control works which are usually allowed under permitted development rules.
This means that planning permission will need to be applied for some forms of development which would not usually need permission outside a Conservation Area, such as:
- Two storey extensions, dormer windows or cladding
- Ensuring extensions to retail premises match or blend in with existing buildings, including limitations to such matters as ‘click and collect’
- Increasing floorspace in industrial buildings and warehouses
- Controlling materials used for buildings at sites such as schools, colleges, universities or hospitals
- Limitations on changes of use, e.g. retail or agricultural to dwelling house
Article 4 directions are often administered arbitrarily and without consultation. There is no right of appeal against an Article 4 direction being applied to a property.
How do I find out if I am living in a Conservation Area?
You can find out if you are living in a Conservation Area by getting in touch with your local planning authority, They can tell you when it was created, the extent of the area covered, give you the reasons for its creation and the level of legal protection afforded to it.
What does it mean if I own property in a Conservation Area?
For the most part imposed legal protections are only likely to impact owners who wish to work on the outside of their properties or on any trees within its boundaries. It restricts work that you would usually be able to do without planning permission in a non-Conservation Area and means that you may need planning permission to replace a door, windows, or to change gutters and downpipes for example.
No two Conservation Areas are the same and it is important to note that the controls are tailored to each individual Local Authority and depend upon the particular elements of the local area they wish to protect.
What if I want to sell my property, will it impact on the sale?
It may not be obvious to a buyer that they are viewing a property in a Conservation Area and a seller may wish to notify the buyer when they look around. Additionally, the estate agent should mention it in the property particulars and it should be advertised as such as a matter of good practice.
The impact of a Conservation Area upon the conveyancing process
Once you have decided to buy a home within a Conservation Area, your conveyancing solicitor will need to advise you accordingly. Interestingly, there is no national database of Conservation Areas.
Included within the property contract, the seller must have completed a ‘Property Information Form’. The form includes information about the property’s boundaries and who is responsible for the preservation of those boundaries, it also includes things such as works carried out on the property. There is also a section on the property information form specifically referring to Conservation Areas and asks the seller to confirm whether the property is located within such an area.
If works have been completed at the property prior to the sale, the conveyancing solicitor will be required to obtain Local Authority consents before exchanging contracts and should review any work previously carried out on the home. This protects the buyer from potentially illegal works carried out prior to the purchase and means the buyer cannot be held accountable for those works.
As part of the conveyancing process, as extra security and confirmation, the solicitor will arrange searches of the local area which will reveal/confirm if the property is situated within a Conservation Area. Your solicitor should also advise and make you aware of the following:
- Possible implications and restrictions that could be imposed upon you and the property
- Explain the need for additional consent should you wish to make any changes to the property. You should always bear in mind that the extra requirements may cause inconvenience, delay, and additional expense.
- Advise you of the costs implications for repairs or alterations you wish to make to the property due to restrictions or limitations placed on the area.
This does not mean that home improvements should not be made in a Conservation Area but that any potential changes should either enhance or preserve the space around it. Providing planning consent has been obtained, many improvements can be safely made without the worry of falling foul of your obligations towards it.
If a conveyancing solicitor fails to exercise due diligence in these matters and there is an issue following purchase that had not been identified, then you would need to firstly make a complaint to the firm of solicitors and in the absence of an adequate response refer it further to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
What is a Conservation Area?
A Conservation Area is an place of special interest designated by a Local Authority to protect buildings of architectural importance considered worthy of preservation. It places restrictions, obligations and controls upon property owners within the designated space.
What types of work require consent?
You may need planning permission to install a satellite dish or solar panels, felling or pruning a tree, demolition or removal of buildings, replacement or windows, doors, guttering and downpipes, and any extensions including a conservatory or loft. If you are in any doubt, it is advisable to contact your Local Authority for clarification.
Are there any penalties for changing a property without consent?
Yes. Any changes made on a property within a Conservation Area without first obtaining planning permission may be deemed a criminal offence which is subject to a term of up to two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
What should a conveyancing solicitor be looking for?
A conveyancing solicitor should check the property information form within the property contract and apply for searches to confirm the property lies within a Conservation Area. They should also review any works previously carried out and apply for Local Authority consents before exchanging contracts. This protects the buyer and means the buyer cannot be held accountable for potentially illegal works prior to the purchase.