Planning applications in a conservation area

A case where a couple painted the front wall of their house a gentle shade of lilac has been widely reported recently. The property stands in a street of properties of varying ranges and styles. Originally, the property was painted cream but the owners, who have lived in the property for 20 years, recently painted it a different colour and this is where their problems started.

The owners made a planning application for retrospective consent to change the colour of the property, but the consent has been refused. But why has the matter caused such a stir?

The answer is because the property is in a conservation area. This is a geographical area of special architectural or historic interest with a character or appearance that is desirable to preserve or enhance. There are no standard specifications for conservation area; they may include the historic parts of the town or village, have an important industrial past or cover an historic park. There may or may not be listed buildings within a conservation area. The listing of a building which is of special architectural interest covers the building itself and significantly restricts the changes that can be made to the particular building. In the case of the lilac house, the building was not listed, but the area in which the house is situated full within a conservation area. Conservation area status gives broader protection than listing a particular building – all features within a conservation area, whether listed or not, are recognised as part of its character.

Local authorities have the power to designate conservation areas; there are now over 8000 conservation areas in England. The significance of a property being situated within a conservation area is that the local authority has additional control over matters such as:

  • demolition of a building within the area
  • minor development - it is necessary to obtain permission before making changes which would normally be permitted elsewhere to ensure that any alterations do not detract from the appearance of the area. These changes could include certain types of cladding on the outside of the building, inserting dormer windows and putting up satellite dishes which are visible from the street
  • the protection of trees - if someone wants to lop or take down a tree that is in a conservation area, they must apply to the local authority first.

A property owner will find out whether their house is in a conservation area when they purchase it. Their conveyancer will carry out a local search which will reveal whether the property is within conservation area. Accordingly, anyone who lives in a conservation area should check with the local authority whether they need consent to make any changes to their house – otherwise they could full foul of the planning laws and find that they have made a costly mistake.

To discuss this or any other property matter, contact us.