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Constituents living in conservation areas and listed buildings may discover that it can be difficult to obtain planning permission for common domestic projects such as energy efficiency improvements. This article describes planning controls relating to designated heritage assets in England and provides some sources of further information and advice.
What is a listed building?
A listed building is a building that has been included on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). The NHLE is compiled and maintained by Historic England. There is a statutory duty on those making planning decisions to have “special regard” to the desirability of preserving the building and any features of historic interest.
What are Conservation Areas?
Conservation areas (CAs) are areas designated by the local planning authority (LPA) as being of special architectural or historical interest with a definable character or appearance. There is no central list of CAs. LPAs will be able to provide information about CAs in their area, including detailed boundaries and when they were designated.
There is a statutory duty on those making decisions affecting CAs to pay “special attention” to preserving or enhancing their character or appearance.
Is permission required?
Many types of home improvement works are covered by permitted development rights (PDRs), which allow property owners to carry them out without planning permission. However, some PDRs do not apply to buildings that are listed or in CAs. The Planning Portal sets out whether planning permission is required for common projects
LPAs can remove additional PDRs by issuing an Article 4 direction if they believe that doing so is necessary to protect heritage assets. Constituents should check with the LPA for restrictions in force locally (eg Hackney Council, Article 4 Directions).
As CA status is about protecting the appearance of an area, permission will often be required for external works such as replacing windows or erecting fences. Interior works will not normally be affected, unless the building is also listed.
A parallel regime, listed building consent (LBC), applies to listed buildings. LBC must be obtained from the LPA for all work affecting a listed building’s historic character, even if the work does not require planning permission.
What are the relevant planning policies?
The withdrawal of PDRs does not necessarily mean that planning consent will not be granted. It simply means that an application must be submitted, so that the LPA can examine the plans in detail. All planning decisions must be made in accordance with national and local policies, taking material considerations into account.
Policy for England is contained in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF, July 2021). Chapter 16, Conserving and enhancing the historic environment deals with designated heritage assets, with more detail in the Planning Practice Guidance on the Historic environment.
The LPA’s Local Plan should have a section explaining its general approach to the historic environment (eg Birmingham CC, Development Plan 2031, p84-85). The LPA may also have prepared Conservation Area Appraisals and Management Plans, which will set priorities for the management of specific CAs (eg Trafford Council, Barton-upon-Irwell CAA and CAMP).
How are applications affecting heritage assets determined?
National and local policies provide the decision-making framework but it is for LPAs to determine how they ought to be applied to an individual application. The LPA will need to assess how much harm the proposed works will cause to the significance of the heritage asset, whether alternatives or mitigations could avoid or reduce it, and whether the harm is sufficiently justified.
Constituents can find information about how to address these issues in applications in Historic England’s advice notes on Statements of heritage significance and Listed Building Consent. The LPA’s past planning decisions can also be a good source of information, although it should be remembered that each application is considered on its own merits.
Proposals affecting heritage assets should be formulated with heritage in mind.
Information about a CA’s historical significance can be found in the LPA’s relevant Conservation Area Appraisal, which will identify aspects such as building design features and construction materials that give the CA its character.
A listed building’s NHLE entry will provide information about its significance, although the level of detail varies. Historic England can be asked to enhance the listing.
Prominent features such as windows are likely to make a large contribution to a building’s or area’s historical significance. The greater the significance, the more applicants will be required to mitigate or justify any harm caused.
Constituents should be encouraged to seek advice from the LPA or Historic England if they are unsure about the heritage impact of their proposals.
Wherever possible, repairing heritage assets is preferable to replacing them. Applicants should also consider whether the benefits used to justify the proposed works (eg energy efficiency) could be achieved by other means.
Historic England’s website provides information about how to maintain and upgrade historic buildings. Advice about specific features can be found in their guidance publications. Guidance is also available from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and groups dedicated to specific building types, such as the Victorian Society.
Where replacement is necessary, LPAs will expect the harm to be mitigated by, for example, using materials or designs that are sympathetic to the original. Whether proposed mitigations are sufficient is largely a matter of local planning judgement. LPAs may have published documents providing specific guidance (eg Bradford CC, Repairs and maintenance guidance).
For more complex projects, it may be worth finding an architect with local conservation expertise.
Decision-makers must determine whether the harm caused by a proposal is ‘substantial’ or ‘less than substantial.’ Where harm is less than substantial there is greater scope for heritage considerations to be outweighed by the public benefits of the proposal (NPPF para 202). ‘Public benefits’ are broadly defined in the PPG on the historic environment as “anything that delivers economic, social or environmental objectives” of the NPPF (para 020).
All harm must be clearly and convincingly justified, however, and the PPG goes on to emphasise that private benefits are not enough. For example, the energy cost savings of double-glazed UPVC windows are, by themselves, unlikely to justify the heritage damage of removing traditional timber windows.
While this is a matter of planning judgement, the statutory duties regarding CAs and listed buildings mean that any harm will create a strong presumption for refusing permission. Heritage is the primary consideration, not just one factor among others.
Historic England, Advice on the Most Common Types of Work to Older Houses
Historic England, Conservation Area Appraisal, Designation and Management
Historic England, Living in a Conservation Area
Historic England, Living in a Listed Building
Historic England, Saving Energy in your Home
House of Commons Library, Planning in England: permitted development and change of use
Planning Portal, Common projects
Practical Law, Listed buildings: overview
Practical Law, Special planning controls: conservation areas