What is a conservation area and how does it affect permitted developments?

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Often when individuals are developing their property they require planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA). However, there are certain permitted developments that do not require planning permission.  This changes if a property or a piece of land is found within a conservation area, where even for what is usually permitted development would now require permission from the LPA.

What is a conservation area?

Simply put, a conservation area is an area that has special architectural or historic interest. In order to maintain this special architectural or historic interest, the LPA will seek to prevent land owners from committing certain types of development in order to preserve or enhance said interests.

Who decides that an area must be conserved? 

The LPA in most cases decide that an area must be conserved. The LPA has the authority to designate conservation areas within their area of influence and locality. This can be reviewed from time to time. This review can lead to new areas being made a conservation area, an area to cease being a conservation area, or changing the boundaries of a conservation area to be larger or smaller. However, there is no legal requirement for regular review, it is at the discretion of the LPA. Aside from the LPA, the Secretary of State in rare cases can designate an area as a conservation area. 

So how does a conservation area affect permitted developments? 

Permitted developments can be found in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (GPDO 2015). This Order details what type of development is automatically permitted. The GPDO covers both commercial and residential properties. In normal circumstances, this means that such developments like general internal works that do not affect the external appearance of a building would be building. 

However, in a conservation area permitted developments cease operation. Meaning that even smaller developments permitted by the GPDO cease relevance and require LPA permission. This is in order to maintain the special architectural or historical interest of a property in a conservation area. There are stricter planning requirements in a conservation area.

Therefore, the LPA will not give planning permission unless the land owner carries out developments in a certain way to maintain or enhance the property accordingly. This often means that the landowner would have to use specific materials in order to maintain the architectural interest or repair the property to look how it did prior to the damage. Essentially, the LPA would not want the character or appearance of a conservation area to change and will not allow development that is contrary to this. 

Planning permission in a conservation area can even extend to additional protection for trees. There is such a concept known as a tree preservation order (TPO). A TPO prevents certain trees from being cut down entirely or there will be fines and consequences from the LPA. 

How can a person find out that they are in a conservation area?

There are several ways a person can learn that they are in a conservation area. The first is usually when a person is purchasing the land. The conveyancer or the solicitor will almost always send a questionnaire to the seller to inform the buyer of any historic issues regarding the land. This questionnaire will ask if there has ever been planning permission that has been rejected, and if so, what the reason was for the rejection. This will usually inform the seller (and then subsequently the buyer) that the property is in a conservation area. 

Another way to learn about whether the property is in a conservation area is simply to enquire with the LPA before purchasing the land or before any developments are carried out.

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