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A Guide to Building in Designated Areas

Period-Style Home in a Conservation Area
(Image credit: Darren Chung)

Designations are generally protectionist in nature, and the local planning authority (LPA) will seek to conserve and enhance protected areas through the use of specific planning controls. That said, although designated areas often act as a constraint, development is still possible, subject to the nature of what is being suggested and its potential local impacts.

Designated areas include:

  • conservation areas
  • areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB)
  • the Broads
  • national parks
  • World Heritage Sites

With regards to all planning applications, be it for works to a dwelling, replacing an existing dwelling or building a new home, it is crucial to have an understanding of the inherent constraints that may relate to the site and the local area.

Permitted Development (PD) rights – which allow certain works to be undertaken without the need for a planning application – are also restricted. Designated areas come under the banner of ‘Article 2(3) Land’ in the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO). As such, works to an existing home and conversions, which may have fallen under PD ordinarily, may well need a planning application.

For example, the longer rear extensions (up to 6m on an attached house and 8m on a detached home) allowed under PD will need planning permission in Article 2(3) areas. The same is true of Class Q and the conversion of agricultural buildings to dwellings.

Therefore, Article 2(3) areas limit and restrict some of the available opportunities with regards to PD — there is a higher probability that works would trigger the need for planning permission.

Here, I explore the designations which are most common and pertinent to custom and self builders in more detail.

What is a Conservation Area?

Local planning authorities have an obligation to designate parts of their own area that may have a special architectural or historic interest, or where it is desirable to preserve or enhance the area’s character and appearance, as conservation areas.

A conservation area affords an LPA control over the demolition of unlisted buildings and new development to ensure that schemes:

  • conserve and/or enhance all aspects of the area’s character or appearance which define an area’s special interest;
  • protect open spaces, views, road networks;
  • use materials and other elements which are integral to the character of an area.

In England alone there are around 7,000 conservation areas, which differ widely with regard to their character and the reasons for being designated. Conservation areas may include examples such as historic town or city centres, areas relating to local or industrial heritage, and 18th- and 19th-century suburbs, to name a few.

The LPA should hold a map which shows the extent of the conservation area, in addition to an appraisal document which sets out the key aspects of the designation. From these documents you should be able to ascertain where your site is in relation to the designation, as well as the key features of the designation and general parameters for development.

When Alexa and George Ergatoudis decided to build for the second time, they chose a narrow infill plot in a Surrey conservation area.

“The plot stands in a conservation area so I knew there would be restrictions, but planning permission had already been granted for the site, so it was a case of designing something we liked which the planners would approve of,” explains Alexa. “We engaged an architect and devised a three-storey design, which meant that the plot needed to be extensively excavated to lower the roof height to match the adjacent cottages.”

Georgian-Style Self Build in a Conservation Area

(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

Three planning applications were made before the design was approved, mainly due to the glazed element to the rear, which was originally planned as a two-storey structure. While the exterior has a Georgian feel, inside the open plan interiors are reminiscent of an Manhattan apartment.

You should also note that being close to, but not in, a conservation area is often a constraint, as the development will be considered in relation to how it could impact on the nearby designation and its setting.

For extensions or new buildings over 100m² and new dwellings in a conservation area, a Design and Access Statement is a mandatory requirement with your planning application submission. In addition, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out that applications in a conservation area should be supported by a statement which establishes the significance of the designation and how it may be impacted upon by a development.

The extent of detail to be included in both documents really depends on the nature of the designation and the complexity/scale of the development. It is therefore crucial to engage with professionals in this regard and, in the majority of cases, seek pre-application advice from the LPA. It would be a reasonable summary to suggest that if any development is allowed on the site at all, the designation will seek to ensure a higher quality of development through design, scale and materials.

vernacular scheme planning permission was already in place for the existing house to be demolished, with approval for two new houses, when Alison Farell-Price and her husband purchased this site in a conservation area. Alison chose to resubmit with plans for two carefully detailed period-style properties (just visible left of shot).

The scheme was designed to emulate a Tudor farmhouse with a black weatherboarded barn alongside it.

Period-Style Home in a Conservation Area

(Image credit: Darren Chung)

“I used designer Pete Tonks to get us through planning,” says Alison. “Conservation officers often prefer artistic hand-drawn elevations to show how a finished building will look and how it will sit in the street scene — difficult to achieve with a CAD drawing.

“I also held a meeting in the village hall so that everyone had a chance to see our proposals,” she adds. “We had unanimous support from the local residents because our plans were more in keeping with the historic village setting than the designs that had been previously approved.”

What Are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

An area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) is a statutory designation stemming from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which applies to England and Wales. The designation means that local authorities have: “a permissive power to take action to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the AONBs in their areas.”

The intention of an AONB is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape with the designation being of national importance. In England there are 34 designated AONBs, with notable examples being the Cotswolds, the Kent Downs and the Surrey Hills. If you are unsure about whether your site is within an AONB you can use Google Maps as a starting point, in addition to consulting mapping held by the LPA.

An AONB may straddle a number of LPA areas and as such, to ensure a consistent approach and continuity of advice, there is often an AONB Board that will be consulted with regards to planning applications. These applications will also be considered against the specific AONB policies in a local development plan.

If you are undertaking works to an existing dwelling in an AONB such as adding an extension or building a replacement dwelling, the issues relating to any impact upon the designation should be less of a constraint, given the presence of an existing building. However, a new building in an AONB would be the subject of additional scrutiny. Prominent or stark buildings may not be supported; therefore, it is important to take into account scale, massing and materials so that the development is harmonious within the local landscape.

Architectural practice PAD Studio is well versed in designing schemes for the New Forest National Park — this replacement dwelling being a case in point. “To satisfy the stringent planning policies, an economical floorplan was developed and height is used throughout to help the home feel more generous (the guest bedrooms have mezzanine levels above),” says architect Wendy Perring of PAD Studio.

A new home in Hampshire mixes contemporary design with traditional materials including clay tiles and brick walls

(Image credit: Nigel Rigden)

The exterior draws cues from the local vernacular. This blending of old and new is key to the success of the building — showing that contemporary design can embrace natural, crafted materials to effectively satisfy both camps.

National Parks

The law establishing national parks was passed in 1949. Subsequent legislation such as the Environment Act 1995 has followed suit, amending the original and establishing two statutory purposes: to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage” and to “promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public.”

There are 15 national parks in the UK — 10 are located in England. Each has a specific national park authority (NPA) which, in most cases, takes on the planning functions in respect of new development and plan production; the NPA will have specific development plans to establish how new development will be considered. As you can imagine, the restrictions in such areas are greater but development is often still possible depending on the nature of the site and the proposal.

In general terms, an extension or replacement dwelling is often more likely to be considered acceptable compared with a new build scheme. Design, materials and scale are all again key aspects to consider. However, the focus and nature of each national park is different, and therefore understanding local policy is key before considering a project.

Taking on a Project in a Designated Area

All the designations referred to are designed to protect an intrinsic quality or character which could be damaged or lost as a result of a new development. It is important, from the very outset, to understand what designations may relate to your property or site as there is the potential that the nature of a conservation area, for example, may severely restrict or even stymie what you are trying to achieve.

A key thing to remember is that there is a degree of subjectivity when it comes to dealing with heritage and landscape designations. There is no real measure of impact, more of a consideration or weighing up of factors in coming to a determination. As such there is often a degree of divergence between the view of the planning authority and applicant.

The Importance of Pre-Application Advice

This is where a thorough pre-application will pay dividends. A designation, as discussed, should in itself not put you off buying a site or dwelling or even embarking on a project. However it should add an air of caution to the approach.

Planning consultants will be able to provide advice on how to navigate the planning policy issues and also assist in the likely nature of the design considerations in this context, providing guidance to ensure that the design is appropriate.