Are you looking to build a new house, or improve an existing one in a conservation area? In order to preserve and/or enhance what is already there, here are some key factors worth considering from the moment you buy your property.

With almost 10,000 conservation areas in the UK, the most typical ones you might come across include:

  • Significant historic landmarks
  • Country estates
  • Centre of older cities, towns and villages
  • Older suburbs
  • Early housing estates

Conservation areas like these of special architectural or historic interest are managed by local authorities whose duty it is to protect and enhance the area.

Preserve and Enhance

Your proposal will be assessed on whether you plan to preserve what is there or improve the existing building, making the conservation area more desirable.

So if for example you are taking on a big project, whether it’s a new build or conversion that is likely to enhance the area you will need to take this into consideration when designing your build, ensuring it meets the high standards.

Designing your build

Conservation officers are looking for a high quality design, whether it is in line with the design traditions of the surrounding area or something a bit more architectural progressive.

If you’re thinking of going down the modern, contemporary route but worry your design may be too ambitious, don’t be put off, so long as your design incorporates traditional local forms and materials that’s detailed and re-engineered in a contemporary way.

To put it simply, conservation officers are looking for the quality of the materials, not a particular style.

It is good practise to improve on what already exists in the area and reference the area in some way, either through use of local materials, or imitating the landscape through the architecture of your build.

And remember, how you present your application is key, so consider 3D modelling and freehand sketches as opposed to sterile blueprints. Sometimes a freehand drawing can give a more charming representation of the building.

Early engagement & pre-application advice

It’s important to show that you have taken early engagement to give you a better chance of success. Being open from the start is a better approach to take, whether it’s getting pre-application advice from your local authority conservation officer or informal engagement with neighbours and attending relevant parish council meetings. Remember that they will have a much bigger interest in your scheme and so will need to be a part of the process.

Permitted Development (PD) rights

There are requirements to follow when it comes to PD rights in conservation areas which include:

- Extensions: You will need to apply for planning permission for any extension other than a single storey rear extension of no more than 3m or 4m if the house is detached. Side extensions and two storey extensions are all excluded from PD rights in a conservation area.

- Recladding: Before cladding the outside of your house with stone, artificial stone, pebble dash, render, timber, plastic or tiles you will need to apply for planning permission.

- Outbuildings: Conservation area homeowners have the same PD rights as those of regular homeowners with the exception of the ability to erect an outbuilding to the side of the house.

- Solar Panels: If you have a south –facing house in a conservation area, you can have solar panels on your roof providing certain limitations are met. You won’t need planning approval for this unless the solar panel is wall mounted , i.e. not on your roof.

- Windows: In theory you can replace existing windows with new windows and doors of similar appearance to those used in the construction of the house. You will however need permission if you have a completely different window design in mind.

The Application

A good application is one that shows in depth knowledge and analysis of the Conservation Area’s history and settlement pattern. So do your homework and encourage your designer to spend time looking around the area.

Make it clear you have considered local building styles and history as well as the natural landscape and surrounding elements.

Avoid the old box-ticking exercise. The less detail you provide the less worthy an application it will be.

For further planning guidance see our easy to use ‘planning process flowchart’

By Olivia Catterall