Conservation areas, introduced by the Civic Amenities Act 1967, are areas of ‘special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. These are designated by each borough council and their designation imposes a duty on the Council, in exercising its planning powers, to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the area.
Although often planners will seek to prevent any development in a conservation area, this should not be the case because in fulfilling it’s duty in relation to Conservation Areas, the Council should not be seeking to stop all development, but to manage change in a sensitive way, to ensure that those qualities which warranted designation are sustained and reinforced rather than eroded.
Conservation area designation introduces a general control over the demolition of unlisted buildings and the lopping or felling of trees above a certain size; however it does not control all forms of development and some changes to family houses (known as “permitted development” or PD) do not normally require planning permission unless there s an Artcle 4 Direction limiting PD rights.
Permitted changes include minor alterations such as the replacement of windows and doors, or the alteration of boundary walls, although where such changes would erode the character and appearance of the area, harm local amenity or the proper planning of the area (for example, by damaging the historic environment) the Council can introduce special controls, known as Article 4 Directions, that withdraw particular permitted development rights. The result is that planning permission is required for these changes.
A conservation area requires a character appraisal and aims to define the qualities that make an area special, and this involves understanding the history and development of the area as well as a detailed analysis of its current appearance and character (including in some cases, describing significant features in the landscape and identifying important buildings and spaces). It may also involve recording, where appropriate, intangible qualities such as the sights, sounds and smells that contribute to making the area distinctive, as well as its historic associations with people and events. An appraisal is not, however, a complete audit of every building or feature, but rather aims to give an overall snapshot of the area and it provides a benchmark of understanding against which the effects of proposals for change can be assessed, and the future of the area managed. It also identifies problems that detract from the character of the area and potential threats to this character.
The legal basis for conservation areas is the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.