Insider Guide: Conservation areas
In this Insider Guide we take a look at conservation areas, which exist to protect a location’s special architectural and historic interest. These are, of course, the features that distinguish the location. There are more than 8,000 conservation areas in the UK, and many of them cover residential areas. It is not always immediately obvious that somewhere has been designated as a conservation area, so it is important to seek professional advice should there be any doubt.
You can also check whether a property lies within a conservation area by contacting your local planning authority (LPA). If it is confirmed that the building is in a conservation area, the LPA will be able to confirm the following:
- When it was formed
- Why it was formed
- Its reach
- The level of legal protection surrounding it
In reality, conservation areas are subject to additional planning controls in order to protect their uniqueness. These controls have greatest effect in protecting the outside of buildings and any trees within the boundary.
Planning permission is required to demolish a building in a conservation area, and if the building is also listed, formal Listed Building Consent is also needed. Smaller works such as removing a gate, fence, wall or railing over 1m high next to a highway (including a public footpath or bridleway) or public open space, or more than 2m high elsewhere, will also need permission. Such controls tend to be individually set by each local council so it is advisable to contact the LPA prior to commencing any external work.
It is also likely that you may not be able to make substantial alterations to the appearance of the building. Extensions are subject to very strict rules, and may be denied altogether, but even small alterations may be disallowed. If you are purchasing the property with the intention of converting the loft, for example, it is possible that you would not be allowed to add Velux windows into any part of your roof that is visible from the street. The overriding idea is to ensure that any changes made to the building must be completely in keeping with its defined character.
Occasionally overlooked, trees are fundamental to conservation areas, and if you are wishing to cut down or prune anything but the very smallest of trees you will need to notify their local planning authority six weeks before carrying out the work. The authority will then assess what contribution – if any – the trees are making to the area’s character. If required, the authority will produce a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) to protect the tree.
Many LPAs have already created Conservation Area Appraisals for their conservation areas. These cover the area’s history, its unique aspects and, in many cases, outline guidance for managing and executing any development that may be required. LPAs may also have developed Supplementary Planning Documents for their conservation areas, which show how the authority intends to manage the area in the long term. Should you be considering purchasing a property within a conservation area, it is well worth contacting the LPA to see whether these documents already exist. Local amenity groups or civic societies may be involved in managing the conservation area, so it is also a good idea to contact them before proceeding.
Ultimately, people value conservation areas for their distinctive features, visual appeal and historic character, and research conducted by the London School of Economics and Historic England confirmed that these values are usually reflected in the price of properties within them. In general, properties within conservation areas are more expensive to buy and increase in value faster than other properties.
In conclusion, purchasing a property in a conservation area can be very rewarding but may not be without its complications, so we recommend taking formal advice. As a leading building surveyor in Cambridge, Anglian Home Surveyors can advise on the regulations that surround conservation areas and listed and cherished buildings, so please contact Raphael Stipic on 01223 661439 for an initial discussion.
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