Buying a Property in a Conservation Area
There are many reasons why you might want to buy a property in a Conservation Area. They are by definition neighbourhoods with a high percentage of properties of architectural beauty, often of historic significance, and imbued with a special atmosphere. However, there are potential drawbacks, specific considerations and restrictions that come with living in a protected residential zone.
Planning constraints in Conservation Areas
The easing of planning constraints introduced by the Permitted Development Rights legislation in 2015 does not necessarily apply in Conservation Areas, because local councils have the right to override where special features are concerned.
Conservation Areas are also subject to strict Planning Regulations designed to preserve the character of the area, be that architectural or historical. No two Conservation Areas are identical, and the features being protected will differ hugely. One may prize its chimneys and roofline, another its windows, and yet another its brickwork style.
Before buying you should make yourself aware of the specific planning guidelines and restrictions in place – your surveyor can help here – and work out whether they risk scuppering your plans. You may well need planning consent to make the smallest of modifications, and there is still no guarantee you will be successful.
Alterations to a historical property
Because most properties in a Conservation Area have features of architectural or historical importance, you have to assess whether any alterations or renovations you intend to make blend in harmoniously. Not just with your prospective property, but with the neighbourhood as a whole. Failure to meet these criteria will mean a failed planning application. Again, your surveyor can advise, and also, he can put you in touch with conservation and heritage groups, able to give you a better feel for the area.
Being part of the community
Perhaps the biggest plus of living in a Conservation Area (always assuming you share the vision) is being part of a closeknit community that cherishes the local heritage and protects it passionately. Join the local residents’ association and perhaps a heritage type group and you will become an integral part of that community.
Conservation Areas are undoubtedly attractive places in which to live, as confirmed by above average property values. And that sense of civic pride, backed up by the local council’s protective planning policy, ensures that property values match, if not outstrip, the market.
Maintenance and repairs in Conservation Areas
But buyer beware! Maintenance and repairs can be expensive, and in principle you have a legal obligation in Conservation Areas to maintain your property to the neighbourhood’s accepted standard. Older properties are generally more expensive to run, and, rightly or wrongly, tradesmen with experience in historic buildings are even more costly.
If it is obvious that various works on the property are urgently needed, it makes sense to contact local tradesmen with the relevant skills to give an idea of likely costs. Again, your surveyor can point you in the right direction.
Property insurance in Conservation Areas
Property insurance in Conservation Areas is likely to be higher than for houses of similar size elsewhere. Re-instatement/rebuilding costs will be higher, perhaps because potential risks such as fire are greater, perhaps because re-instatement of special features specific to the area involve highly specialist skills. It is prudent to insure through insurance specialists/brokers in the heritage sector, and to back that up with a suitably qualified surveyor’s estimate of rebuilding costs.
What about amenities and facilities?
Amenities and facilities in Conservation Areas are generally good. However, as with any other property purchase, you need to consider whether they suit your lifestyle. It’s not just about access to local shops, good schools, green spaces and public transportation. If you are a three-car family, parking could be an issue. And if you are of advancing years, steep hills could be a future (if not present) problem.
Buying a property comes down to ticking boxes. If all boxes are ticked, the purchase is a no-brainer. If the majority are ticked, it comes down to how important the unticked boxes are. If in doubt, get an independent, balanced opinion – your local building surveyor is the obvious choice.