What to check before buying a home in a conservation area
Conservation area homes are usually desirable, and command premium prices. There can be drawbacks however, especially if you want to alter the property.
How and why are places designated as Conservation Areas?
Introduced in the late 1960's, there are now around 10,000 conservation areas in the UK.
Conservation areas are typically designated in the older areas of towns and villages, but also include large country estates and areas close to significant landmarks.
They can include different landscapes and styles and types of building. Generally, their purpose is to protect and enhance areas of special architectural or historic interest. This may mean placing 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 the property is in a Conservation Area?
It is likely that if the property is within a Conservation Area it will be advertised as such by the estate agent. However, there is no national database of Conservation Areas. If you are unsure you will need to check with the relevant local authority.
You can find a property's local authority here.
What does living in a Conservation Area mean to the property owner?
Because there may be restrictions or limitations on the way improvements or alterations are made, you could find that cost of implementing any changes or repairs is higher than normal. Changes may also take longer to be approved.
If the house you were intending to purchase had rotten window frames that needed replacing, you might find you were restricted to the type of window you could use. Often this means no uPVC or double glazing. Both restrictions have cost implications.
You may notice that other properties within the conservation area have uPVC windows. This could be due to different practices by previous conservation officers, or the area may have been only recently designated as a Conservation Area.
In addition to conforming to restrictions regarding construction materials and methods, you may find that you cannot substantially alter the appearance of a property.
So, if you were planning to buy a house with the intention to create a loft extension, you might learn that you could not install Velux windows if they were 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 shade of green that you do not like.
Trees within Conservation Areas are usually automatically protected, so you may also need permission to fell that tree that blocks all the light into the kitchen.
Even though permitted development rights (PD) will usually exist, these rights may be curtailed in some way.
All of this does not mean that home improvements cannot be attempted, however. Providing that any changes will enhance or preserve the area, and that planning permission has been granted, many alterations can be safely made.
So basically the rules are not much different to any other property?
Not quite. You cannot build a side or two-storey extension to your property if it is in a Conservation Area.
Conservation Areas also attract more than their share of 'Article 4 directions'. These are restrictions made by the local planning authority to control works, normally allowed under PD rules, if they could threaten the character of an area.
Article 4 Directions are often administered without consultation. The directions usually relate to particular streets or even houses, and concern issues such as prohibiting satellite dishes and making significant changes to gardens or front doors.
You cannot appeal against an Article 4 direction being applied to a property.
Are all Conservation Areas subject to the same rules?
Because Conservation Areas have different features, each one may be subject to different restrictions, even within the same local authority.
Policies vary from one area to another, and may vary over time as new guidelines or restrictions are introduced. Your conveyancer will need to undertake a local authority search to find any factors that may affect the property.
Should I consider buying a house in a Conservation Area?
Although there may be limits and costs involved, the benefits of living in a beautiful and historic location usually outweigh these restrictions. However it is worth being as informed as possible before you make an offer.
If you are buying a property, read our guide: 'How to compare conveyancing quotes' and avoid the common traps.