Renovating In A Conservation Area

12 August 2021 by Simon Drayson

Rear extension and refurbishment of a Georgian house in Islington 2

George & James Architects were approached by Love Renovate, the online home improvement platform, to share advice on renovating within a conservation area. Having worked on numerous projects located in these protected zones, we have extensive, expert advice to share.

Conservation areas can be found in a rural setting and within the urban cityscape, they are there to protect historically important architecture of an area and to preserve the natural look and feel of an area. We personally do not find the restrictions an obstacle in creating stunning, contemporary homes, they often give us design challenges which add to the rich design solutions.

Interestingly when working on our Alloway Road project, as the public realm could not see the rear ground floor, the restrictions did not apply. This gave us the opportunity to introduce contemporary features (such as bi-fold doors and modern window frames) at this level as it did not impact the surrounding area, whilst we gave the first floor a sympathetic refurbishment in keeping with the conservation restrictions.

We often introduce reclaimed bricks into our projects when working in a conservation area, this helps to blend new additions into the surrounding context. For example, we incorporated reclaimed bricks at Barnsbury Road when we extended the wall dividing the rear garden from the adjacent street, allowing us to raise the roof level within the existing property. At Cromwell Grove the bricks have ensured the new rear extension is in keeping with the existing, helping it to seamlessly blend in. In addition to this we also replaced the modern metal staircase, which we felt was totally out of character with the area, and re-introduced a traditional stone staircase which offered much needed storage space for refuge and recycling.

We shared our advice with Love Renovate, originally published June 2021, the full article can be found here.  

Do I need to apply for planning permission for an extension in a Conservation Area?

Yes, in most circumstances you will need planning permission to extend in a Conservation Area as they are subject to an Article 4 direction, which removes your permitted development rights. The only exception is a single storey rear extension of less than 3 metres (or 4 metres for a detached property), provided the Conservation Area has not had its permitted development rights removed (more on this below). In all circumstances you are best to get advice from your architect and Local Authority.

Some types of work including repairs may not, but it is always a good idea to check with your Local Authority to be sure. Some councils will be able to give you a definitive answer for free via their ‘duty planner’ service in person or over the telephone, whilst others may insist that you seek their pre-application advice in writing in the first instance, which is usually subject to a nominal fee.

Conservation Areas exist because of special architectural or historic interest which should be preserved or enhanced; it is worth remembering that the character or appearance of the surrounding neighbourhood is probably one of the reasons you purchased your property in the first place!

Are there any exceptions when my project would be within permitted development?

More often than not, Conservation Areas are subject to what is referred to as an Article 4 direction, which removes your permitted development rights. If your local planning department advise that these have not been removed, the Planning Portal have particularly useful interactive guides on common homeowner projects. That said, the rules are complex and can be restrictive, but a good architect will be able to help you interpret these to avoid common pitfalls. It is worth noting that there are some sites not in a Conservation Areas which do not have any Permitted Development Rights. 

Are there any other additional consents required other than planning permission if my home is in a Conservation Area?

If you are lucky enough to live in a Listed Building (be it either Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II) you will also need to apply for Listed Building Consent, as these are protected by law. Not to scare you, but Listed Building offences are criminal (not civil) with a maximum penalty of two year’s imprisonment or an unlimited fine. You will also need to make a Building Control Application, either to the council or an Approved Inspector, which contrary to common belief is wholly separate to planning. If you are building over or near a public sewer, you will need a build over agreement with your regional water authority. Depending on your project, you may also need one or more Party Wall Agreements.

Is there a particular style of extension that works well in a Conservation Area...will planners look more favourably on a traditional style of extension rather than contemporary style?

When dealing with planning, particularly regarding Conservation Areas, there is no one size fits all approach. A rule-of-thumb that we sometimes use, which may or may not be relevant to your project, is that works to the front of your house will most likely need to be more traditional, whereas those to the rear can sometimes be more contemporary. There are two schools of thought in conservation, with extensions either reproducing or contrasting with the original building. We have successfully taken both approaches in the past, after constructive conversations with our clients and the planners.

Do you have any advice on how to successfully obtain planning approval within a Conservation Area?

The starting point for any project in a Conservation Area should be to read the Conservation Area Statement. These vary considerably in terms of depth and breadth of content from council to council, with some not having been updated since Conservation Areas were instructed thirty years ago. If yours is particularly sensitive, it might be prudent for you to discuss your proposals with your neighbours (we always recommend this) and the local civic society (if there is one). Bringing interested parties into the conversation can really help things go smoothly. The council will be consulting with these parties, so you might as well get a head start if you can!

Is there anything else I should consider?

We have had a few instances in the past where projects have been located outside a Conservation Area, but because proposals would be visible from within the Conservation Area they were determined as such. Another thing to watch out for are locally listed buildings, which present their own planning challenges. If you found the above useful and would like to have a conversation about your project, please do get in touch as we are always happy to help.

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