What is a conservation area?

A conservation area is a neighbourhood of special architectural or historic interest “the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance” (Section 69 of the 1990 Planning Act, Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas). Typically, conservation areas are in historic cities, towns and villages, 19th century suburbs and large country estates. About 10,000 have been designated since the concept was introduced under the Civic Amenities Act 1967. 

Conservation areas are usually designated by the local planning authority. The aim is to preserve the distinctive character of a whole neighbourhood by preventing too much change. For example, architecture, street layout, trees and views. Meanwhile the role of listed building consent is to protect individual properties.

Applying for planning permission

Building a large extension will generally need planning permission but extending in a conservation area adds another layer of scrutiny. Home owners submit a planning application to the local authority in the usual way. But in addition to assessing the application against local plan policies, planning officers will also refer to the rules governing the conservation area. These are written by the local authority to protect features giving the neighbourhood its special character.

The other major difference is there are some minor changes home owners can make today without applying for planning permission under Permitted Development (PD) rights. However, in conservation areas these rights are curtailed, so they may to need to apply for consent for those too.

Examples include:

·       Side extensions and rear extensions – some of which are permitted under PD rights in other areas.

·       Positioning of a satellite dish on a wall, roof or chimney visible from the road

·       Recladding with stone, pebble dash, timber or tiles.

Councils can add to the type of small alterations that need permission under Article 4 Directions. For example, controlling front door colours.

If a building in a conservation area is listed, a separate application needs to be submitted for listed building consent.

What about contemporary design?

Many people assume modern designs won’t be permitted in conservation areas.  But much depends on the individual area – and council. If the conservation area has a strong design identity with one dominant style, it may be more difficult to negotiate change. But many conservation areas have a variety of different ages and styles of buildings, so there is more opportunity to try something progressive. It will require more thought but it should be possible to design a scheme that incorporates traditional forms and materials in a more contemporary style. It is crucial for you and your design professional to get pre-application advice from the local authority.

Is demolition allowed? 

Usually councils will view applications from the standpoint of wanting to keep the building, so a strong case needs to be made for demolition. In most cases, home owners will apply for demolition as part of a wider scheme, for example knocking down all or part of a house to rebuild it.

You will need planning permission to demolish a building unless it is less than 115 metres cubed, so most detached garages and outbuildings are okay without but consult your local planning authority before knocking anything down. It is a criminal offence to carry out a demolition in a conservation area without permission.


You must notify your planning authority six weeks before work begins to cut down, top or lop any but the smallest of trees in a conservation area. The planning department will then consider the impact on the conservation area and may slap a tree preservation order (TPO) on to protect it. The same rules on trees covered by a tree preservation order (TPO) apply.

Financial benefits

Although buying a home in a conservation area means negotiating more planning controls, there are financial benefits. Homes in conservation areas sell for a premium of nine per cent on average even allowing for location and other factors, according to research by Historic England and the London School of Economics. Conservations areas are usually valued by people living and working in them for their visual appeal and distinctive character.

Will I need expert help?

If you want to remodel or extend your home, employing a surveyor will increase your chances of success. Surveyors should have a good working relationship with local planning and conservation officers and detailed knowledge of planning policies. Planning applications in conservation areas need more depth and analysis than standard ones. There will need to be a detailed heritage assessment of the property, its setting and impact of the proposed scheme. When choosing a surveyor, ask to see examples of similar buildings in conservation areas where they have won approval for major extensions.


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