What to check before buying a home in a conservation area

Homes in charming conservation areas are often very desirable. There can be drawbacks, however, especially if you want to alter the property.

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What is a conservation area?

A conservation area is a designated area of special historic or architectural interest.

Introduced in the late 1960s, there are now around 10,000 conservation areas in England and they can be found in all local authority regions.

Conservation areas are typically designated in older parts of cities, towns and villages, but they can include large country estates and areas close to significant landmarks. Areas may also include different landscapes and styles or types of building.

Generally, conservation areas are designated to protect and enhance an area of particular architectural or historic interest. Protecting these areas usually means additional control on new development, as well as maintaining the existing buildings and environment.

The designation process is usually handled by local authorities under the 1990 Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act, although English Heritage may also be involved.

How can I find out if a property I want to buy is in a conservation area?

There is no national database of conservation areas.

Estate agents usually mention a property's conservation area status in the sales particulars. However, the only reliable way to be sure is to check with the relevant local authority - which can usually be done online.

You can find a property's local authority pm the GOV.UK website.

What does living in a conservation area mean for property owners?

Properties in conservation areas will usually have been preserved in order to keep their original charm or historical interest. Tight planning controls preventing unsympathetic and incongruous development allow local authorities to maintain an overall sense of cohesion in conservation areas.

For most homeowners, the pros outweigh the cons. Properties in conservation areas tend to sell at a premium and appreciate in value faster.

Restrictions and limitations

There may be restrictions or limitations on the way improvements or alterations can be made to your new home. Complying with the rules may increase make the cost of modification, maintenance and repair.

You may also find that you cannot substantially alter the appearance of your home.

If, for example, the property you are buying has rotten window frames, there may be restrictions on the type of replacement window you could use. Often this means no uPVC.

If you intend to create a loft extension, you might not be allowed to add a dormer or Velux window, if they would be visible from the street.

Even changing the colour of the front door might not be permissible. You might have to learn to live with a colour that you do not like.

Trees are also usually protected, so you may need permission to cut a tree down.

Don't assume that the existence of other properties in the area with 'out of keeping' modifications means that you too will be able to get consent. Properties may have been modified before the area was designated as a conservation area. Disparities could even be the result of differing interpretations between conservation officers over the course of time.

Even if you would normally have Permitted Development (PD) rights, conservation rules will take precedence.

The above does not mean that you won't be able to improve your home. Providing that any proposed alterations will enhance or preserve the area, you may be able to get planning consent..

So conservation area rules are essentially the same as for other areas?

Not quite. You cannot, for example, build a side or two-storey extension on a property in a conservation area.

Conservation areas are often affected by 'Article 4 Directions', which are restrictions imposed by local authorities that restrict works normally allowed under PD rules.

Article 4 Directions are often implemented without consultation. These rules are implemented to protect and preserve the character of an area but can apply to specific streets or even houses.

Rules typically prevent significant changes to front gardens, walls or doors, or the addition of satellite dishes.

You cannot appeal against an Article 4 direction.

Are all conservation areas subject to the same rules?

No. As conservation areas are designated for different reasons or features, the rules can vary - even within the same local authority.

Your conveyancing solicitor will carry out a local authority search which will set out the specific rules pertaining to the area.

Should I buy a house in a conservation area?

You should certainly be aware of the issues and restrictions applicable to your potential new home. If extending your new home is, for example, a key consideration, then you should consider any planning restrictions before you buy the property.

For most people, however, the benefits of living in a beautiful and historic location will outweigh any restrictions.

Your next step

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher