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What is 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". The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 sets out the special planning controls applied to conservation areas. When considering proposals for conservation areas these are some of the questions we ask:

  • History
    Can the historic development of the area be clearly seen, for example through the street pattern; or the property boundaries; or the open spaces; or the way buildings have been adapted to different uses?
  • Buildings
    Do the buildings contribute positively to the character and appearance of the area? Local building styles and traditional materials are linked and create a harmony which it is important to protect. Buildings need not be picturesque to be important.
  • Archaeology
    As well as known monuments, is there potential for further discovery?
  • Landscape/Townscape
    How do the buildings and the spaces between them affect the character of the conservation area?
  • Setting
    How significant are views - near and distant - into and out of the conservation area?
  • Potential for enhancement
    Some buildings or sites may detract from the special character of the area but do they provide opportunities for enhancement of the area?
  • New Development
    The designation of a conservation area imposes a duty upon the Council to protect and enhance it. Some new development may be needed to respond to social and economic change. Not all development is bad. It might replace ugly buildings. It can provide the money to fund repairs and improvements which produce and maintain a high quality environment, and in turn encourage investment. The test quite simply is - does it harm the features which make the area special? The most common problems are proposals which are too big, out of scale, in the wrong place or use unsympathetic detailing or materials. Gap sites need extra special care. New buildings in conservation areas must have a sympathy with the area and should be good architecture in their own right, not just a copy - they will be around for a long time.
  • 'Restoration' and 'Improvements'
    Unfortunately 'restoration' doesn't always restore and 'improvements' don't necessarily improve historic buildings or the space between them. Good restoration is a skilled business. Badly designed alterations or extensions can have an impact out of all proportion to their size, and the cumulative effect of many poor, small scale alterations can be disastrous to a village or town. As with new development, construction details and materials are very important. The best advice is - look carefully at other buildings in the same conservation area. Removing or replacing parts of a building reduces its architectural value ... there's less of it! ... and often changes its appearance - much better to repair chimneys, doors, windows, etc. If things have to be replaced, use the old one as a pattern. Shop fronts and signs are necessary to attract customers. They are a particular class of alteration - bad ones can spoil the enjoyment of shopping in an historic environment. Environmental improvement schemes often control the car and make shopping streets much more friendly. They are good, provided that all areas don't end up looking the same.
  • Form
    Proposals are often just too big and don't easily fit traditional forms. Key points are roof span and pitch, storey height, rooms in the roof space, building line and orientation. Relative scale and height need to be considered at an early stage.
  • Materials
    The older buildings in a conservation area illustrate the range of materials used in the past. This is the starting point. In an entirely new building there is greater scope for the use of good quality modern materials, compatible in colour and texture with the older materials.
  • Techniques and construction details
    It is often in the detailing that a design succeeds or fails, for example, in the design of roof edges, doors and windows. Slight variation in the colour of bricks makes an enormous difference as does the mortar mix and joint used in the pointing.

Applications for listed building and conservation area consent and planning permission are registered and administered by the Development Control section. If you would like further information or advice on this or on any building conservation or urban design matter, please contact, telephone 023 8028 5345.

Updated: 20 May 2016
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