Looking to improve an existing house in a Conservation Area? Then you may be aware that there are some key rules that are worth knowing in advance. ‘The overall principle when renovating in Conservation Areas is simple — to enhance and preserve the area,’ says one local authority conservation officer.

Those two key words, ‘enhance’ and ‘preserve’ can also be an either/or measure, so in other words, will what you are proposing either improve the existing building and overall impression of the Conservation Area, or will it help to preserve what is there? Therefore, high-quality design is key to a successful planning application.

It is usually a good idea to get pre-application advice from a local conservation officer. Enter discussions with the conservation officer and parish council (which is consulted on planning applications) as soon as possible to make sure they are part of the process and you (and your architect) will have a better chance of getting your scheme right first time.

thatched roof conservation areas

Some, but by no means all, picture postcard villages have protected status

How do I know if my property is in a Conservation Area?

There is no national database that details Conservation Areas (so it won’t necessarily be picked up by one of the basic searches during the conveyancing process) — you will need to check with your local authority, which maintains the list.

In some cases, local authority planning departments publish interactive maps on their websites, which allow you to search for all planning legislation relevant to your home. If your local authority doesn’t, you’ll need to put in a call to the planning department itself.

Can I demolish a building in a Conservation Area?

The number-one priority in Conservation Areas is avoiding unwarranted demolition. You will need planning permission in order to demolish a building in a Conservation Area unless:

  • The building is less than 115m³, measured externally;
  • It’s a gate, wall or fence less than one metre high abutting a highway, or two metres high elsewhere;
  • It is an agricultural or forestry building built since 1914.

Demolition is defined as the removal of the whole building, not just part of it. However, the removal of the building except the key frontage would still amount to demolition. It is worth checking with your local authority before removing any building.

Can I carry out changes to trees?

In a Conservation Area you will need to notify your local planning department if you intend to carry out work (such as lopping, trimming or cutting back) to any tree that has a trunk diameter of more than 75mm when measured at 1.5m above-ground level. (It is advisable to take a few photographs to provide evidence that the tree is thinner than this if you want to undertake work.)

This is on top of the usual rules governing work on trees subject to a tree preservation order (TPO). You will need to notify the authority six weeks before you intend to carry out the work in order to give the planning authority chance to make a TPO.

stone village conservation areas

Castle Combe, in the Cotswolds: The purpose of Conservation Areas is to protect and enhance their existing beauty

Do permitted development rights still apply in Conservation Areas?

Permitted development rights still exist in Conservation Areas although some classes are curtailed. The key rules to bear in mind are:

Extensions: In a Conservation Area, you will need planning permission for any extension other than a single-storey rear extension of no more than three metres (four metres if the house is detached). Side extensions and two-storey extensions are all excluded from permitted development rights in a Conservation Area.

Roofs: You cannot make an alteration or addition to a roof without planning permission.

Recladding: Unlike in a non-designated area, if you live in a Conservation Area you will need to apply for planning permission before cladding the outside of your house.

Windows: Unless your Conservation Area home is subject to an Article 4 Direction removing some or all permitted development rights, including Class A, you can in theory replace your existing windows and doors with new ones that are of a similar appearance to those used in the construction of the house. You will still need permission for a radically different window scheme (including new openings). If in doubt, a call to the local planning department will give clarification on what you can do.

Outbuildings: Homeowners in Conservation Areas cannot erect an outbuilding to the side of the house, but otherwise PD rights for outbuildings are the same. Standard permitted development rights also prohibit outbuildings to the front of the property, impose height restrictions, and state that the new addition shouldn’t cover more than half of the area of land around the house.

Solar panels: The latest opinion is that if your home is in a Conservation Area, you won’t need planning approval for solar panels unless they are wall-mounted on a surface facing the highway. Therefore, if you own a south-facing house in a Conservation Area, you can install panels on your roof if certain limitations are met.

colourful townhouse fecades conservation areas

Typical Conservation Areas include parts or all of older cities, such as London’s Camden

What is an Article 4 Direction?

Article 4 Directions specifically prohibit certain types of development or alterations to a property (that would usually be allowed under permitted development) and are specific to particular streets, parts of streets and even specific houses. Typically they are concerned with issues such as repainting front doors with new colours, the banning of satellite dishes, even significant changes to gardens.

Article 4 Directions are not unique to Conservation Areas, but by their nature, tend to be more common in these sensitive locations. They are administered by the local authority and, particularly in Conservation Areas, can be applied immediately, without consultation, if the local authority requires it.

If you want to make a change to your house that is prohibited by an Article 4 Direction, you will have to apply for planning approval. You can appeal against an unfavourable decision, but not against an Article 4 Direction being applied to your house.