When it comes to making plans for the future, one option that many homeowners consider is looking for additional borrowing from their existing lender or, if the circumstances are right, re-mortgaging in order to raise the money needed for a home extension.
According to a consumer survey earlier this year the prospect of carrying out home improvements rather than moving is very attractive – but the scope to build additional space is also often a key criterion for prospective buyers looking for a property where there’s potential to build up, down or out.
Deciding to add value through construction is all well and good, but what happens if you then discover your home is in a Conservation Area?
Conservation areas are protected by law from undesirable change because they’re deemed important either environmentally or architecturally. Every local authority has at least one of these conservation areas in the district it controls and there are now more than 10,000 of them in the UK.
The nature of what is protected differs from place to place. In some cases it might be limited to a few buildings boasting unique or historically-relevant architecture, in others it could be that the area is populated with ancient trees or that the general landscape is in some way worthy of safeguarding.
In all cases, the nature of any building work that can be carried out is limited in some way and knowing what you can or can’t do before you start the planning process can not only save you financially by helping you to avoid wasting money on professional and local authority fees for schemes that won’t be approved, but can also dial down the potential stress of being underprepared.
Typically, conservation areas are found in older cities, towns and villages, but can also be applied to early housing estates for their historical significance in town planning as well as to landmarks and country estates (including privately-owned property within their grounds).
If you’re not sure whether your home – or the home you intend to buy – is in a conservation area, the chances are the local planning authority will have a specialist Conservation officer who will be able to tell you if there are any restrictions that apply.
Not all local authorities have a specialist officer and if that’s the case for the area you’re interested in, someone in the planning department will be able to give you the information you need.
So, what does being in a conservation area actually mean in practical terms?
Well, the principal benchmark that applies to planning applications in a conservation area is whether the intended work serves to either enhance or preserve the property and the surrounding environment. All planning applications are assessed against this basic principle.
Once that test has been passed, the design element of your scheme will come under greater consideration than it would if the project were being proposed in an area not protected by Conservation Area status. Design, in this context, doesn’t relate to the size, position or mass of the intended completed property, but rather to the quality of the design and how it fits in to its surroundings.
What planning officers aren’t looking at is style – something of a different style to neighbouring properties isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker as long as it protects or enhances the immediate area.
Contemporary design is also fine as long as the project meets that basic enhance or preserve test overall. Don’t be sucked into a game of ‘well the house down the street has got X, Y or Z, so why can’t we?’
Many factors can determine what has happened in the past – from work undertaken under permitted development rules which didn’t require planning consent, to different planning officers taking a different view at a different time, to a conservation area being designated very recently.
There is no ‘precedent’ in play, which means engaging early with your planning authority is a good strategy. Finding out what’s likely to be allowed will save wasted drawings and wasted time on a process that won’t deliver the result you want.
If you use a local architect, he or she may well have a good understanding of the local authority view on the area.
A good rule of thumb is to make a positive effort to enhance or improve what exists now, to commit to referencing the local area in some way (by using local materials, for example) and to take care over how you present your plans (think about 3D modelling or hand sketches rather than relying on conventional blueprints alone).
Developing property in a conservation area isn’t a no-no – but it does require some thought and positive effort.
To find out more about our friendly and professional mortgage service, fees and what we can do to help make sure you’re not paying over the odds for your mortgage, why not visit www.oportfolio.co.uk or give us a call on 020 7371 5063.
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