Who wouldn’t want to live in a desirable residential area? If you prefer the look of period properties in an established residential neighbourhood rather than a new-build development, you may consider buying a home in one of the UK’s many attractive Conservation Areas.
But what exactly does this mean for the property you’re investing in?
Buying in a conservation area: Pros and cons
If you are thinking about buying a property that is in a conservation area, then there are some pros and cons to consider.
We’ll go into more detail about the benefits and the downsides later but here’s a quick summary:
- The neighbourhood will have a distinctive character and historical value too – and it’s this that the local authority will want to protect from unsuitable development or alteration
- There will be an aesthetic appeal and charm of the period properties and the surrounding environment, which may include green spaces, canals or historic landmarks
- The property values tend to be higher because of the demand from buyers – which means there’s a lower risk of depreciation.
- There are more restrictions and regulations on what you can do to your property, such as changing the windows, doors, roof, colour or extensions
- Any changes or alterations that affect the appearance or character of the property or the area will need planning permission from the local authority
- Any work carried out will need to use specific materials and styles that match the original features of the property or the area
- This level of work will, inevitably, cost more and there will be regular maintenance and improvement tasks that will need to be carried out – and these too must comply with planning rules
- Be prepared for higher insurance premiums since period properties are more expensive to repair or rebuild in case of damage.
- The planning restrictions also mean there’s less flexibility and freedom to personalise your property or adapt it to your needs
- The process to apply for planning permission may be long and cumbersome.
These are the pros and cons to consider when buying in a conservation area, now let’s examine the crucial questions you might be asking.
What is a Conservation Area?
The concept was introduced in the 1967 Civic Amenities Act, which dubbed Conservation Areas as “areas of special architectural or historical interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance” (Civic Amenities Act, 1967; Larkham & Jones, 1993).
A Conservation Area status comes with certain legal restrictions regarding any changes that can be made to the buildings, greenery and street furniture within it. The aim is to preserve the unique character of the place; here is a good example.
The restrictions will vary depending on the rules set out by the relevant local authority and the character of the area to be protected by the Conservation Area status.
Some areas might stipulate details such as the colour of external elevations or front doors, or forbid any changes to be made to original railings or street lighting. The designation applies to the area and any building inside it – it is not the same as listed building status.
Also, being inside the boundaries of a National Park doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be in a conservation area. For example, when we looked to move to the North York Moors national park, there were 42 separate conservation areas within the park.
What are the planning restrictions?
Using Article 4 Directions, local authorities can limit the changes that homeowners can make to their property under normal ‘permitted development rights’ without planning permission. Some issues where you will be required to obtain planning consent if the building in question is in a Conservation Area include:
- Altering the property, e.g. by adding a conservatory or building extension, or installing cladding;
- Replacing windows, doors and guttering;
- Roof extensions, installing solar panels and satellite dishes;
- Removing original buildings or outbuildings;
- Removing or pruning trees.
If you are not sure what exactly is covered, speak to your local planning authority to find out the specific restrictions that apply to the Conservation Area you are looking to buy a property in.
It’s also a good idea to consult with a historic building surveyor to talk through your plans for the building and get a thorough understanding on the condition of the heritage building you are thinking of acquiring.
How not to break the rules
If you are planning to make changes to the building, an experienced building surveyor should be your closest ally, helping you to “preserve the original building materials and methods of construction, particularly where these are of architectural or historical significance” (Hutton + Rostron).
It is highly advisable to speak to the local planning authority at the earliest opportunity and let them know what you are proposing and whether your plans are likely to require planning permission, then ask your builder, architect or other professional to help you with the application.
Please be aware that carrying out works in a Conservation Area without planning consent is a criminal offence punishable with up to 2 years in prison.
Is the building in a Conservation Area?
It may not be obvious when you view a property to buy whether or not it is situated in a Conservation Area – at least not until the conveyancing process starts in earnest after your offer has been accepted.
The best way to find out is by asking the estate agent to confirm, or by contacting the local authority directly.
You can also search online for the website of the relevant local authority. There should be a list or map of all the Conservation Areas within that council’s boundary, often with additional documents that list the restrictions.
How does the Conservation Area status affect the property value?
One important issue when buying in a conservation area is, according to recent research, that homes in Conservation Areas sell for a premium of 10% across the country, and 12% in London. Estate agents agree that period features add value to a property and help sell a home more quickly.
While it may be more restrictive and expensive to maintain the property, it’s the knowledge of being in an attractive, protected neighbourhood that keeps prices high.
What’s more, you could argue that additional planning controls are a good thing, ensuring that any home improvements are carried out professionally, sensitively and in keeping with the character of the neighbourhood. The designation acts as a safeguard to protect the desirability of the entire area.
Buying in a conservation area – Pleasure or pain?
There’s no doubt that buying in a conservation area can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience if you appreciate the historical and architectural value of the property and the area and are willing to abide by the rules and regulations that aim to preserve them.
However, if you prefer more modern and contemporary properties, or want to have more control and choice over your property, you may find buying in a conservation area frustrating and limiting.
It is essential that you weigh the pros and cons carefully before you make your decision. Good luck!