You’ve found a great property: it’s handsome, homely and you can see yourself living there. But it’s in a ‘conservation area’. What does this mean? Will there be all kinds of constraints on your planned improvements? Fear not. A conservation area (CA) is nowhere near as prescriptive as a ‘listing’ – that is, one of the Government’s three grades ‘of special architectural or historic interest’ – and, although you’ll have to observe certain regulations, being in a conservation area generally works in your favour.
What is a conservation area?
Sometimes called ‘conservation zones’, CAs were first designated in 1967 and since then have grown hugely in numbers – there are now nearly 10,000 in England alone. They’re normally created when a local authority identifies an area of architectural or historic interest and acts to protect that area’s character. Unlike listings, they apply to historic groupings rather than one-off buildings. Normally, your local authority will be quickly able to tell you if a property is in a CA and you should be able to find maps online showing their boundaries.
Part of history
There are many CAs in London, primarily listed by borough – for example, in Westminster there are 56; in Islington, 40; in Lambeth a huge 61. Generally speaking, if you fall within a CA your area has been considered of historic interest. Consider it a conversation piece.
What can’t I do?
If you’re considering substantial alterations, definitely check with your local planning authority. Permitted development – work that doesn’t need to be signed off by the council – has a different status in a CA where, typically, you can’t demolish a building with a volume of more than 115 cubic metres or 50% of the structure; make any alterations to the roofline; change gates, walls or railings over 1m high; or chop down old trees.
CAs are about preserving period character so anything affecting that feel – such as new cladding, uPVC windows, ‘Velux’ windows, satellite dishes, solar panels, conservatories – will most likely need special permission. Always make a call to the local authority before going ahead and remember it can be a criminal offence to carry out demolition in a conservation area without planning permission. At the same time, remember that a CA can protect against unwanted development. Recently residents in an Ealing CA held back a housing development that would have meant the destruction of much-loved mature trees.
Is it worth buying in a CA?
Yes. Period character carries a premium. A CA shows your area has historic value, and it will most likely add to a property’s value. A 2012 study by the London School of Economics found that being in a CA added a 9% premium to house prices and 0.2% a year to greater price appreciation, a princely sum in some parts of London.