By Bob Kindred Published 11 February, 2013
Bob Kindred trained as a planner and was Head of Conservation and Urban Design at Ipswich Borough Council until 2012. He now runs his own consultancy.
Since 1967 local planning authorities have been able to designate conservation areas, extending statutory protection from individual buildings of special architectural and historic interest to whole areas, thereby protecting the overall character of cities, towns and villages.Historic England has also the power to designate conservation areas in London in consultation with the relevant London Borough Council.
A conservation area is defined in legislation as "an area of special architectural interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance". The focus is thus on identifying and protecting the local much-loved and cherished local scene, and consequently nearly 9,000 conservation areas in England now enjoy this protection.
Conservation areas vary widely in size and type. Traditionally they included a core of Listed buildings and/or buildings of special local interest. They often include historic parts of cities, towns and villages, but conservation areas may also cover, for example, 18th 19th or 20th Century suburbs; model housing estates; historic parks and open spaces; or engineering structures such as 19th Century canals.
It is good practice for the local planning authority to assess the special character of the area prior to designation in order identify its special characteristics, and explain and justify the proposals through a process of public consultation with those likely to be affected.
Following designation, the local authority should review the conservation area periodically and from time to time bring forward proposals for protection and enhancement.
It is now usual for Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Plans to be prepared explaining what the Council considers to be special about the character of each area; the precise boundaries; the properties that fall within it; and the policies for protection and specific measures for improvement of - for example - the public realm. Not all conservation areas have these Appraisals and Plan in place as yet, particularly where the authority has a large number of conservation areas and where many designations were undertaken before the mid-1990s.
Some local authorities encourage or support Conservation Area Advisory Committees (CAACs). The composition of these is usually drawn from a mix of local professional and lay opinion, usually including representatives of local amenity bodies and sometimes including local business. Such Committees frequently offer advice on the identification of areas suitable for designation, policies recommended be followed within the area, and advice to the Council on the heritage implications of development management proposals.
Implications for designation for owners & occupiers
Property Alterations: Planning Permission may be required for a variety of works to a property in a conservation area (either for residents or businesses) if it is proposed to make alterations such as over-cladding the exterior; inserting different windows; installing satellite dishes and solar panels, adding conservatories or other extensions, laying forecourt paving or building walls; and can include increased control over advertisements and shop signs. This is because it is the appearance of the area as a whole that is important and this could be spoiled by unsympathetic work that diminishes its special character.
The Council can increase the types of alterations needing planning permission by making Article 4 Directions to bring within planning control works within the conservation area that might be permitted without consent elsewhere.
The existence of the conservation area designation and any Article 4 will be clearly indicated on the Local Land Charges Search and it is always advisable to make contact the local authority before contemplating any work.
Trees: Particular emphasis is given to the protection of trees in conservation areas and anyone thinking of doing any pruning works or felling of a tree must notify the Council 6 weeks in advance to enable and assessment to be made about the contribution the tree makes to the special character of the designated area. The Council can also decide to specifically protect the tree by making a Tree Preservation Order.
Demolition: Substantial or complete demolition of a building within a conservation area will usually require permission from the Council.
Where to find out more
Guidance on good practice on the appraisal and management of conservation areas and the use of Article 4 Directions are available on the Historic England website:
Other useful information includes
Historic England, Conservation Principles, 2008
Advice about a conservation area or specific planning applications or proposals within it
• Your local council