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Need to know – Home improvements in conservation areas

With over 10,000 conservation areas now existing in the UK, you may be wondering whether your property lies within one. If so, how does this affect planning rules regarding what you can and cannot do to your home? To set the record straight, here’s just about everything you need to know…

What’s does a conservation area do?

Conservation areas were first introduced in the 1960s to ‘preserve and enhance’ areas of architectural or historic interest. While you might think these are rare occurrences, there are actually thousands of them scattered all over the country. They’re not restricted to quaint villages and areas of outstanding natural beauty either, since many of them are in the cities. To find out if your home lies within one, just contact your local planning authority.

Can I make changes to my home?

What you can and cannot do to a property will depend on the character of your conservation area as well as the attitude of its conversation officers. Historic England states on its website that the extra planning controls and considerations of a conservation area will “most likely affect owners who want to work on the outside of their building or any trees on their property.”

You still have ‘permitted development’ rights, though they are somewhat curbed. The only extensions you can carry out without planning permission, for example, are single storey rear extensions of no more than three metres for a semi/terraced property or four metres in a detached. It is also likely that you will need permission to do things such as exterior cladding or recladding, or adding an outbuilding to the side of your house.

Does design matter?

Architects and other industry professionals have noted that the secret to getting approval for works in conservation areas is ensuring a high quality of design. While outside of these areas, the local planning authority may only consider things such as size, positioning, safety and energy efficiency before making their decision, conservation officers will consider the actual design and aesthetics of any proposed works.

Despite what you might think, these local officials tend to have no problems with contemporary architecture. In fact depending on the authority, they may actually have a bias towards innovative and contemporary aesthetic design since they are seeking to constantly improve the overall architectural profile of their conservation area.

 Image Credit: Brian Green. License:  Creative Commons   Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic .

Credit: Brian Green. License:  Creative Commons   Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic .

What’s the deal with trees?

Living in a conversation area doesn’t just affect what you can do with your home, it also protects the trees in your garden and the surrounding area. If you are planing on cutting down, topping or lopping anything but the very smallest of trees, you’ll have to notify your local planning authority six weeks in advance. Their response to this request may be to impose a preservation order preventing you from working on the tree, yet failure to notify your authority, or be bound by its decision, could result in a hefty fine.

Watch out for ‘Article 4’ directions

Article 4 directions are orders that the planning office can put in place to prevent smaller alterations to the outside of your property that would normally be permitted even inside a conservation area. These tend to be applied to things such as the colour of your front door or whether satellite dishes can be fixed to the front of houses.

Article 4 directions can be put placed anywhere, not just in conservation areas, but are far more common within them. If you want to make a change to your property that an Article 4 direction has prohibited, you will have to apply for planning permission.

Having a property within the boundaries of a conservation area can sometimes limit what you can do when it comes to making changes. But don’t let that stop you striving to improve your home – there’s still a great deal you can achieve. The best thing to do is to speak to a professional who will be able to tell you precisely what you can and can’t do in your conversation area.

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