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?
What is a Conservation Area?
A Conservation Area is a designated area of historic and architectural interest, which 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.
A look at the history
The first Conservation Areas were established by the Civic Amenities Act of 1967 as a way to preserve some of the best examples of the UK’s urban and village-based built heritage. 51 towns were originally chosen including Marlborough in Wiltshire and Lewes in East Sussex as well as Bath, Chichester, Chester and York, but the first one was Stamford in Lincolnshire.
Today, Section 69 of Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 enables local councils to designate special areas, and there are over 10,000 Conservation Areas that include estates and parks, canals and historic town centres, and some complete villages. Many Conservation Areas are residential in nature.
While there are many advantages of living in these protected neighbourhoods, chiefly the fact that their original architectural features and attractive surroundings are preserved, there are implications and potential restrictions in terms of planning control.
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?
According to recent research, 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.