You may never have heard of the term “Conservation Area” until your solicitor tells you that he has the result of his local authority search and this indicates that the property you hope to buy is in a conservation area.
As you will be aware, if you want to make alterations to a property you may need to obtain local authority consent (planning permission). However, if the property is in a conservation area, you may also need consent to carry out works which might not otherwise need consent, such as putting in windows, installing a satellite dish visible from the street, adding a conservatory or other extension, laying paving, building walls. Even works which require planning permission in the usual way may well also require conservation area consent and building control approval.
Each local authority will have different requirements and practices about conservation areas and you should contact the Conservation officer to discuss any plans you have to alter your property.
You will also find that if you want to cut down or carry out any works of pruning, lopping, etc. to mature trees within the boundary of the property you must obtain prior local authority consent (usually six weeks before you wish to carry out the works). The local authority may, as a result of its inspection, decide to make a tree preservation order to protect the tree.
If your applications for consents are refused you can appeal. Note however that it is a criminal offence to carry out works without consent. Retrospective consent may be given but this is not guaranteed.
So why do local authorities designate some areas with conservation area status? Normally it is to maintain and preserve the character and appearance of the neighbourhood. The areas tend to be designated because of historical or architectural interest. The conservation status protects the overall character of the area as well as individual buildings. Of course, this can enhance the value of the neighbourhood and avoids unsympathetic alterations which can detract from historic streets or the local character.
The most important thing to do is, as always, to check with your solicitor first if you think the property may be in a conservation area. Please speak to Suzanne Middleton-Lindsley, partner in Druces LLP’s Property team, for more information.