What is a conservation area, and what effect does it have?

What is a Conservation Area?

A conservation area is an area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance (Section 69 of The 1990 Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act).

The main attributes that define the special character of an area are its physical appearance and history, i.e. the form and features of buildings and the spaces between them, their former uses and historical development.  Where there are a number of periods of historical development, the character of individual parts of the conservation area may differ.  Contrasts between the appearance of areas and the combination of buildings of various ages, materials and styles may contribute to its special character.

In some instances, areas that either contribute little, or are even detrimental to the character of the conservation area, are included within the boundary because of their potential for enhancement.  It is important that the council carefully balances the benefits of potential enhancement against the possibility that the inclusion of such areas may be perceived as devaluing the status of the conservation area as a whole.

The effects of conservation area designation

Conservation area designation is the means of recognising and protecting all the features that contribute towards the special character or appearance of the conservation area. Extra controls apply in conservation areas.

Some of these are given below:

  • Preservation and enhancement

Under planning legislation the local planning authority has a duty to 'pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of that area'. This is mainly carried out through the development management application process, through good design and managed change. Regular repair and maintenance of properties, trees and spaces by local residents and statutory undertakers is encouraged.

  • Minor works that would not normally need planning permission outside a conservation area may need planning permission in a conservation area.

These changes are outlined in the General Permitted Development Order. If you have any questions about restrictions on permitted development please visit the Planning pages of our website or speak to a member of our Planning Team.

  • Control over demolition

Unlisted buildings, in groups or individually, can often contribute towards the character of a conservation area and the loss of these buildings can be detrimental.

For this reason, planning permission is required for the substantial or total demolition of certain buildings exceeding 115 cubic metres. There are exceptions and therefore advice should be sought from the council regarding the demolition of a building or structure such as a wall, within the conservation area. Application forms are available on the council's website, the Planning Portal or by request.

  • Control over trees

Within conservation areas trees are given special protection. Written application for consent must be made to the council giving six weeks notice of intent to top, lop, or fell a tree over 75mm (3 inches) in diameter, measured at 1.5 metres above ground. This period of six weeks must be given for the council to either approve the application or to serve a Tree Preservation Order. Certain trees are exempt such as dead, dying or dangerous trees and some fruit trees. For more information on tree work applications, please visit our Forestry team website page or telephone 01235 422600.

  • Biodiversity

Conservation Areas are often notable for their biodiversity value. Protected species and habitats need to be addressed when reviewing buildings, sites and planning works.

  • Power to seek repair of unoccupied buildings in conservation areas

Special powers to serve an Urgent Works Notice are open to the council 'if it appears that the preservation of a building is important for maintaining the character or appearance of that area'.

  • Reduced permitted development rights

Some minor developments which do not require planning permission outside a conservation area will need permission in a conservation area, including for example the insertion of new dormers, roof extensions and cladding. The size and locations of extensions are also subject to stricter controls. Satellite dishes on a building may require consent, depending on their size and location. Further clarification and advice can be obtained from the planning department.

  • Restrictions on outdoor advertisements

Certain categories of advertisement which have ‘deemed consent’ under the Advertisement Regulations, are restricted within conservation areas. Further clarification and advice can be obtained from the planning department.

  • Planning permission

Planning applications in conservation areas should be accompanied by sufficient details to enable the impact of the proposed development on the character of the conservation area, to be assessed. This includes details of scale, massing, design and materials of buildings and their relationship to existing buildings and the impact on their setting. Applicants are required to describe the significance of all assets affected by development, proportionate to the proposal. This should be done through Heritage Appraisals and Impact Assessments or as part of a Design and Access Statement.

  • New development in conservation areas

Conservation area legislation helps to ensure that the natural process of renewal and change in rural and urban areas is managed, to preserve and enhance the best of the past and allow for sympathetic new development. The council looks very carefully at the design of new development and has policies in its Local Plan which seek to carefully control changes in conservation areas. Where planning permission is required, proposals are advertised on site and in the local press.

  • Repairs and maintenance

In conservation areas owners of buildings are encouraged to repair and maintain their properties without loss or damage to their character or integrity. Repairs should be considered as the preferred option, with replacement only where it would enhance the character or appearance of the conservation area. Historically correct solutions should be adopted, using appropriate design, materials and construction methods to match the original.

  • Designation or alteration of conservation areas

Consultation is an important part of the designation process. Local opinion is sought prior to the designation or alteration of conservation areas and suggestions and comments are welcomed. Notice of a newly designated or altered conservation area is publicised in the London Gazette, a local newspaper and registered in the Local Land Charges Register.

If you are in any doubt as to whether or not planning permission is needed please contact our Planning Service using the contact details section of this page.

For more information for owners of properties in conservation areas, see the Historic England website

Last reviewed: 11 - 10 - 2017

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