Properties and localities of conservation areas can offer very special character features and histories. Of course, this is all part of the charm of living in such an area but can make it more difficult to do everyday things such as extending the property with a loft conversion.
Although the answer is that it may be possible to convert your loft if you live in a conservation area, it’s guaranteed that there will be additional, stringent regulations in place, so you will have plenty to consider if you’re planning to try.
Broadly, a conservation area is a zone which has been assigned designated status to allow aspects of it to remain protected. This could be within more rural areas for environmental reasons, such as areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, pockets of specialised habitat of Scientific Special Interest, as well as designated urban areas of historical and architectural interest and significance. Having a property in a conservation area may also include owning a listed building.
UK planning regulations were amended back in 2008, and the scope of Permitted Development (alterations and extensions to properties without submission for prior planning permission) was relaxed slightly, in order to help homeowners extend accommodation and offer reprieve from the high costs of home-buying and moving, as well as to help ease the housing crisis.
However, a loft conversion in a designated conservation area does not fall under Permitted Development, so planning permission and planning regulations will still apply. So what does this mean?
For the average homeowner in a conservation area, this means that rather than aspects of the loft conversion, such as positioning, size and volume, being subject to the ‘lesser’ constraints of permitted development (as many loft conversions generally are) planning permission will be required before the work can be carried out.
Planning permission, the consent of the local planning authority to carry out changes to the fabric of the building, is in place to protect areas from inappropriate development. This is highly important in conservation areas, where any alterations need to be ‘in keeping’ with the area as a whole. So, any alterations, improvements and even some basic repairs taking place on properties in conservation areas will require planning permission. It is also in place to protect neighbouring properties from issues such as privacy invasion or theft of light.
If a property in a conservation area, permission given by the planning office may well be subject to specific planning conditions. Any stipulations made by planners must be adhered to, as alterations in a conservation area, including alterations to listed buildings, without prior permission is actually a criminal offence and could lead to significant fines, prosecution (including imprisonment) and the very expensive requirement to return the property to its original (pre-alteration) state.
Special controls which relate to your conservation area are known as Article 4 Directions and are largely in place to ensure that plans for the property remain in keeping with other properties in the area, specifically remaining consistent with original design. As such, the planning office will look carefully at the application in relation to:
- Impact – including noise, parking, roofline
- Nature conservation
- Privacy / overlooking
- Loss of light / overshadowing
In conservation areas particularly, impact on the roofline is a key issue and planners will always check to see if the proposed loft conversion design will put the external view of the roof out of line or out of keeping with other properties in the area.
Although this sounds like a major issue, when it comes to creating extra accommodation in a conservation area, a loft conversion is often subject to less additional regulations than alternative types of home extension, such as a ground floor extension.
To find out if your home, or the property you’re looking to extend with a loft conversion, is within a conservation area, always check with the local authority. The UK’s planning portal offers a quick search tool here for finding the contact details of your local authority.
Consider the conversion
Once issues of conservation and consent have been identified, it’s then a case of checking to see which types of loft conversion may be possible in your conservation area.
Some types of loft conversion designs are more commonly acceptable in conservation areas than others. For example, plans which feature Velux and Mansard loft conversion designs are often considered more favourably in planning as these designs tend to be less intrusive and have less impact on the outward appearance of the property. Alternative designs, such as dormer windows and roof terracing are less likely to pass planning as these significantly change the appearance of the roof-line.
Even where permission is granted, for a dormer or other design, being in a conservation area means it’s likely the permission given will be conditional in respect of environmental impact and may include design stipulations, such as size and shape, which it will be essential to comply with.
Consider having the right conversations
The essential action in all aspects of consent, conservation and conversion is to have the right conversations with the right professionals:
- Planners: Guidelines will vary from one planning authority to another, so guidance from local planning officers and building control should always be sought, not only to identify what planners are looking for in your particular area but also to identify exactly what the planning permission process involves and approximate time-lines in the local area.
- Designers: Holding conversations with your structural engineer, architect and loft conversion professional, in conjunction with research into planning, is essential to ensure that designs for the proposed loft conversion are in compliance with both general building regulations and guidelines specific to the conservation status.
Because planning guidelines in general, and for conservation areas in particular, can be ‘open to interpretation’ it’s particularly useful to be working with a local architect or loft conversion company who have contacts in (and can liaise directly with) the planning office. This not only helps to ensure communication is maintained throughout design and planning as well as building and checking phases, but also reduces the chance of falling foul of planners by misinterpreting design guidelines and stipulations. One of the surest way to get permission granted first time around is to have conversations with the right professionals and pay attention to their advice.
Finally, it’s also worth having conversations with any neighbours who have also had loft conversions, to see which types of design have already been given permission in the area. Sharing this information with your own loft conversion specialist can save considerable time at both design and planning consent stages and may also improve your chances of achieving a loft conversion in a conservation area.