What is a Conservation Area and what does it mean to me?

Reading Borough Council’s website provides no guidance at all on the requirements placed on property owners in Conservation areas.  We hope this page will therefore be useful. We looked at the websites of a number of other councils and decided to draw the text below from the Bath and North East Somerset Council’s website on Conservation Areas as it up to date, simple and comprehensive. There is a section about the control of works to Trees in Conservation Areas.

Check with the Planning Department first

The notes below summarise additional planning controls which apply in conservation areas.

In summary Permitted development rights are limited in conservation areas. Planning permission is required for certain external works to a house within a conservation area, which would not normally require planning permission elsewhere.  There are also further restrictions. The requirements also apply to the owner or tenant of a flat or a commercial property.  Further details are provided below.

You should, before undertaking any works to your property or to trees within the conservation area, always check the position first with the  Planning Department. Unauthorised works to property or to trees could result in legal proceedings being taken against those involved. 

Reading Borough Council guidance 

A leaflet about Conservation Areas in  Reading was published many years ago but “lost”.  We share it here as it offers guidance on; what is a Conservation Area, where they are( though two further areas were added following publication), living in a Conservation Area and in particular works which require further permission,  character and appearance, businesses in Conservation Areas.  The requirement for Conservation Area consent  for full or partial demolition of a building or structure,and works to trees has been replaced by a requirement for planning permission or specific approval for Tree Works.

rbc-conservation-area-document

The following information  is taken from Bath and North East Somerset Council’s website. 

Living in a Conservation Area

A conservation area is an area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. This means that when a conservation area is designated, the Council has recognised that the area has a special character and identity which is worth protecting.

Additional planning controls apply to conservation areas. Guidance on living in a designated conservation area can be found below.  Please also refer to the advice available from the Links section on the bottom right.

What is a conservation area?

Local planning authorities have a duty under section 69 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to designate as conservation areas any ‘areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance’.

There are 15 designated conservation areas within Reading.

What is the special character of a conservation area?

When a conservation area is designated it is the character of the area, the familiar and cherished local scene that conservation area designation seeks to protect.

The special character of these areas does not come from the quality of their buildings alone. The historic layout of roads, paths and boundaries; characteristic building and paving materials; a particular ‘mix’ of building uses; public and private spaces such as gardens, parks and greens; and, trees and street furniture, which contribute to particular views – all these and more make up the familiar local scene.

Conservation areas give broader protection than listing individual buildings: all the features within a conservation area, listed or otherwise, are recognised as part of its character, as are the range of uses to which land and buildings are put.

What does conservation area designation mean?

Conservation area designation helps to protect an area’s special architectural or historic interest by providing

  • the basis for policies designed to preserve or enhance all aspects of the character or appearance of an area that define its special architectural or historic interest
  • control over the demolition of unlisted buildings and works to trees within a conservation area
  • stricter planning controls within a conservation area
  • introducing a statutory requirement for the local planning authority to consider the impact of a proposed development upon the character or appearance of a conservation area

How is change managed in conservation areas?

The emphasis within conservation areas is on ensuring local character is strengthened, not diminished, by change. Sensitive management of change is essential rather than no change at all, and applications for planning permission must still be determined on their planning merits.

This can be achieved by the preparation of a character appraisal for each conservation area, policy making and by prudent development control.

What is a conservation area character appraisal?

A character appraisal is a written assessment of an area’s special interest and its character or appearance.

The character appraisal will clearly outline the special architectural or historic interest that warrants the designation of a conservation area and provide a framework for future control or enhancement.

How are conservation areas cared for?

The designation of a conservation area should help to safeguard the special character particular to the locality. Designation therefore creates additional responsibilities for those involved and the Council welcomes the help and co-operation of the public in these areas. It is important that local people become involved in the care of conservation areas through residents’ associations, amenity groups and local history groups to ensure standards are maintained.

Small scale enhancement schemes such as the reintroduction of traditional paving materials and more appropriate but efficient street lighting are often beneficial to the appearance of a conservation area.

There are many instances when a seemingly small alteration can damage the historic character and appearance of an area, including

  • replacing natural slate or clay tiles with interlocking concrete tiles
  • painting or rendering stonework or brickwork
  • replacing original timber doors with ‘off the shelf’ plastic or tropical hardwood doors
  • replacing original timber sash or casement windows with plastic or tropical hardwood windows that do not match the original glazing pattern nor design
  • replacing boundary walls, railings and hedges with materials not traditional in character

What is the relevant legislation?

Current legislation relating to conservation areas is contained within the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990

Historic England has on their website some useful references with regards to Conservation Areas.

What works to houses in conservation areas are controlled?

Permitted development rights granted under the Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (Permitted Development) are limited in conservation areas. Planning permission is required for certain external works to a house within a conservation area, which would not normally require planning permission elsewhere.  There are also further restrictions, for example

  • cladding any part of the exterior
  • adding to or altering the shape of the roof
  • installing an antenna on a chimney or to a building which exceeds 15 metres in height or to a wall or roof slope which fronts a highway
  • the addition of a side extension

Further information is also available on the Historic England website.

You should always check first with RBC Planning Department.

What works to flats and commercial properties in conservation areas are controlled?

If you are an owner or tenant of a flat or a commercial property within a conservation area you are not only governed by normal planning controls for most external alterations, but the conservation area designation will mean that particular care will be taken to ensure that, if planning permission is granted, then the character or appearance of the conservation area is preserved or enhanced.

You should always check first with the Planning Department.

What about new development in conservation areas?

Where the Council considers new development to be appropriate, a high standard of design is expected. Contact the Planning Department for informal design advice for development in conservation areas. The Council will require new building work to preserve and/or enhance the existing character or appearance of the conservation area, and will typically insist that planning applications include a statement explaining how the development meets these statutory tests.

Special regard should be given to such matters as scale, height, form, massing, detailed design and quality of materials in the interests of harmonising the new development with its neighbours. Density of development is an intrinsic part of the character of conservation areas. Proposals to subdivide grounds or large gardens will not normally be permitted unless it can be demonstrated that such proposals will not harm the character or appearance of the conservation area.

What demolition in conservation areas is controlled?

Subject to some exceptions, works for the substantial demolition of all or part of an unlisted building in a conservation area require planning permission for relevant demolition in a conservation area.

However, works which involve the removal of the fabric of only part of a building may not be regarded as works of demolition and therefore may not require planning permission for relevant demolition in a conservation area.

Whether the works are substantial is a matter of fact and degree which will depend upon the circumstances in each case.

You should always check first with the Planning Department when considering works of demolition.

The Planning Portal website has additional advice.

What demolition of garden walls in conservation areas is controlled?

Consent is sometimes required for the demolition of garden walls, especially those facing a highway or public footpath. Further controls on Permitted Development rights will apply if the Council have made an ‘Article 4 Direction’. Further guidance is available on the Historic England website.

As circumstances may vary you should always check first with the Planning Department.

What works to trees in conservation areas are controlled?

Local authorities are required to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of conservation areas as a whole, not just the character or appearance of buildings within them. A major element in the character or appearance of many conservation areas is the trees, gardens and other open spaces within them.

The character of a conservation area relies on people thinking of the needs of future generations. If you plant a tree you will probably not see it in all its mature glory, however you would have put something in place for others to enjoy.

Careless works to trees, such as any cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting, willful damage or willful destruction of any tree may not only lead to the loss of the trees themselves, but may also ruin the appearance of the conservation area surrounding them and spoil the setting of any buildings nearby.

All trees with a trunk diameter of 75mm measured at 1.5m above ground level within conservation areas are protected under Section 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Any proposed works to them will require a written notification to the Council six weeks prior to beginning those works.

If you wish to erect a shed or carry out any development under Permitted Development in a conservation area close to a tree then you are required to notify the Council in the same way as if you were carrying out works to the tree.

It should be noted that it is a criminal offence to carry out works to such trees within a conservation area without giving prior notice to the Council.

In addition, many trees within conservation areas will be subject to Tree Preservation Orders in which case a formal application will be necessary before any works can proceed. The Council will have regard to the character of the area and the significance of the tree in determining any such application.

There are exemptions from the general protection given to such trees in the conservation area, namely

  • Trees that are dead, dying or that have become dangerous.
  • Pruning of fruit trees in accordance with good horticultural practice.
  • Trees that are the subject of a legal nuisance.

Where the loss of a tree is unavoidable, replanting with species that are native or traditional to the area will be encouraged.

Websites about conservation areas and trees and their care

The following websites are further sources of information and include references to a range of publications.

Conservation Areas

Building Conservation Directory: http://www.buildingconservation.com

Historic England: https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/planning/conservation-areas

Georgian Group: https://georgiangroup.org.uk

Institute of Historic Building Conservation: http://www.ihbc.org.uk

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings: http://www.spab.org.uk

Twentieth Century Society: http://www.c20society.org.uk

Victorian Society: http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk

Trees

The Arboricultural Association: http://www.trees.org.uk

The Tree Council: http://www.treecouncil.org.uk

These website addresses are given for information purposes only and do not imply any endorsement of the website supplier or the content of these external sites. Reading Civic Society carries no responsibility for the accuracy of any information on the websites concerned.

Check with the Planning Department first

The above notes summarise additional planning controls which apply in conservation areas. You should, before undertaking any works to your property or to trees within the conservation area, always check the position first with the  Planning Department. Unauthorised works to property or to trees could result in legal proceedings being taken against those involved.