The possible conservation area designation of either the north end of Hamlet Court Road (HCR), south of London Road, or of a wider area including all of HCR, Preston, Ditton Court, Cossington and part of Canewdon Road is currently out to public consultation. If you live locally you may have received a letter recently from an anonymous ‘resident’ suggesting that conservation designation ‘can mean many restrictions’. This is misleading and here we’ll try to explain each of the claims.
Please note planning rules can be complicated and will depend upon the exact planning rules in place in the area. Below is only general comment and we would always advise that as it is the local authority who make the decisions they are best placed to advise on individual cases.
The first response to the claim is that the implication of living with difficulty is quite wrong. There are around 10,000 conservation areas nationally, from sophisticated urban areas to simple rural and coastal settlements, some very modest. Nowhere across these areas will you find a public outcry of injustice. Conservation areas work and are generally welcomed and supported by residents, businesses and local authorities. Yes, there are differences as to how town planning works in a conservation area but you will see that these are not restrictive.
The incorrect or misleading claims are that restrictions will generally apply to:
1 Changes to your windows Repairs to windows do not require consent. If you wish you change your windows on a like for like basis, timber replacing timber, steel replacing steel or uPVC replacing uPVC these changes are usually permissible and have consistently been agreed in next door Milton Conservation Area. Yes, you probably will need to make a planning application for alternative changes as it is common for what are called Article 4 Directions to remove permitted development rights for windows, in protecting a conservation area. Generally, uPVC windows replacing original timber windows will not receive planning consent in a conservation area. Many people would not consider this a restriction.
However, in 2005 the World Wildlife Fund published ‘Window of Opportunity’ which showed that timber windows compare far more favourably than uPVC windows when comparing life costs, length of service life, environmental harm (PVC releases poisons when incinerated) and waste. Later, in 2013, a university report found that timber windows are carbon negative (i.e. not contributing to CO² growth), last more than twice as long uPVC (60 years compared to 20-25 years – although many historical timber windows last for over 100 years due to the quality of the timber used at the time) and have lower life cycle assessment impacts than uPVC. uPVC windows are also not maintenance free, a common misconception. Whilst the purchase cost is less (hence the attraction and growth of the uPVC window market) the opposite is true in terms of life cost and environmental sustainability. Therefore, in 2021, when society is working towards a carbon neutral future, the likely refusal of planning permission for uPVC windows in a conservation area may not be considered a restriction.
In nearby Milton Conservation Area most people understand about not replacing timber windows with uPVC and this is widely accepted. This planning control is not seen as a restriction.
2 Installing solar panels Solar panels are likely to require consent and this may not be given to street facing roof slopes but are likely to be permitted for rear facing roof slopes. Given that beautiful roofs are an important part of a conservation area this is not surprising.
3 Demolishing part of the property Demolition of small parts of a property do not require consent. Consent is required if you wish to demolish a property of 115 cubic metres or more, which almost never happens in a conservation area. Consent is also required for demolition of a wall or fence more than 1m next to a highway or 2m elsewhere. This is to protect historic enclosures but consent has been given for well designed alterations to front gardens across England, including for vehicular hardstanding – as can be seen in the illustrations here.
4 Building new walls or extensions Interior changes do not require consent (except that Building Regulations may apply, as is universal). Small changes and extensions at the rear of properties do not generally need consent as is the case across the whole country, with slightly different size limits before consent is required in conservation areas. Larger extensions will need consent but some of the most modern extensions are built at the rear of properties in conservation areas. Street boundary walls are a little different and may require consent where an Article 4 Direction (see 1 and 3 above) applies.
5 Laying paving No consent is required for paving (although suitable drainage is a requirement). Planning consent is normally required for a vehicular hardstanding but this is more to do with the vehicle than the paving (see answer 3 above).
6 Cutting trees. You will need to give notice (free of charge) of works to trees but this is almost always agreed by the local authority. Trees in conservation areas need to be maintained like anywhere else and local authorities understand and support this. If you wish to completely remove a significant tree in a conservation area, usually one contributing to the character of the area, you are likely to need consent. Removing trees in back gardens is usually permitted.
A conservation area is there is protect the heritage of the past. Yes there are different controls but these are not restrictions and many forms of development are perfectly possible.
 Dr Gillian Menzies, Institute for Building and Urban Design, Herriot Watt University, June 2013, Whole Life Analysis of timber, modified timber and aluminium clad timber windows: Service Life Planning, Whole Life Costing and Life Cycle Assessment