What is a Conservation Area?

Wimbledon Park

In the United Kingdom, the term Conservation Area nearly always applies to an area (usually urban or the core of a village) of special architectural or historic interest the character of which is considered worthy of preservation or enhancement. It creates a precautionary approach to the loss or alteration of buildings and/or trees. As such it has some of the legislative and policy characteristics of Listed Buildings and Tree Preservation Orders.

The current legislation

The current legislation in England and Wales, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (Section 69 and 70), defines the quality of a Conservation Area as being, “the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance”. The current Scottish legislation is the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997. In Northern Ireland it is the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

Almost 9,800 conservation areas have been designated throughout England.

Who can designate Conservation Areas?

Local authorities are chiefly responsible for designating Conservation Areas. They can designate any area of ‘special architectural or historic interest’ whose character or appearance is worth protecting or enhancing. Local and regional criteria are used, rather than any national standard. In exceptional circumstances, Historic England can designate conservation areas in London, but it has to consult the relevant Borough Council and obtain the consent of the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. The Secretary of State can also designate in exceptional circumstances – usually where the area is of more than local interest.

Local authorities have additional powers under planning legislation to control changes to buildings in a Conservation Area that might usually be allowed without planning permission in other locations, for example changing the appearance of windows, adding external cladding or putting up satellite dishes.

Current Government planning policy on Conservation Areas is laid down (for England) mainly in section 12 ‘Conserving and enhancing the historic environment’ of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and (for Wales) in Welsh Office Circular 61/96 – Planning and the Historic Environment: Historic Buildings and Conservation Areas.

I plan on making external changes to my property within a Conservation Area – what should I do?

The most sensible course of action in these circumstances is to liaise closely with your Local Authority. They will be able to guide you on what or what will not be permitted. If, for example, you intend to change the style of windows or the fascia of a building you may require the Local Authority’s consent to do so. 

Whilst Conservation Area consent was abolished in The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (Abolition of Conservation Area Consent) (Consequential and Saving Provisions) (England) Order 2013 you will still require consent if you intend to demolish a building within a Conservation Area.

Trees within Conservation Areas

Trees within Conservation Areas are afforded special status.

The law generally requires that anyone proposing to cut down or carry out any work on any tree, with a stem diameter of more than 75 mm, when measured at 1.5 metres height above ground level, in a Conservation Area must give the planning authority six weeks’ notice of their intentions to do the work. 

Several exemptions from the need to notify exist including for removal of dead trees, the prevention or abatement of legal nuisance and for the implementation of planning permission. Work may only be undertaken either when consent has been given by the planning authority or after the six weeks has expired. As of 2012, in England and Wales penalties for cutting down or destroying a tree were upgraded to an unlimited fine (previously this was a fine of up to £20,000) and the landowner can also be required to replace the tree that was removed. For less serious offences, the penalty is a fine of up to £2,500.

For further information about Conservation Areas or Conveyancing in general, why not contact one of Alexander JLO’s expert property lawyers and see what we can do for you?

This blog was prepared by Matt Johnson, Partner with Alexander JLO on 31st March 2020 and is correct at the time of publication. Matt has many years of experience dealing with leasehold, freehold and shared ownership properties for first time buyers, investors and seasoned property owners. His profile on Review Solicitors can be found here

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