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Restore PD rights to rear of houses in conservation areas

Comment 10th August 2010

Allow residential householders whose house is in a conservation area to  apply to the Council (LPA) to have their full permitted development (PD) rights under the GDPO restored to the rear elevantion of the property where that elevation has no significant conservation value.  If granted normal PD rights under the GDPO would apply unless and until the Coucils made an Article 4 GDPO Direction to restrict or remove them again.  The Council would be allowed to refuse a PD restoration application if it can demonstrate the rear elevation of that individual property or its immediate vicinity has significant conservation value, linked to the character statement they must produce for the particular conservation area. The Council would be allowed to impose conditions e.g. to protect particular features worthy of preservation or specify that certain materials be used.  There would be a right of appeal against refusal or unreasonable conditions to an independent planning inspector.  Express planning permisison would still be required in the normal way for any alterations to the front elevation not currently permitted in conservation areas under the present GDPO , and to any at the rear that fall outside current PD limits.  These would have to meet the normal conservation area test of whether they preserve or enhance the character of the area. 

Why does this matter?

The rear elevations of properties in conservation areas often have no or little conservation value but are subject to the same rules and policies that are designed to protect the character and features of the front.  Councils make blanket designations of large areas as conservation areas without any great individual discrimination or justification with the result that many individual buildings, and indeed whole streets, are included that most ordinary people would be surprised had any real conservation value or anything to distinguish them from similar areas not in a conservation area. Statutory character statements are extremely broad-brush, often academic in style, and give little indication as to why a particular building or group has been included in the area or what particular features have value.  They rarely concern themselves with the rear of properties included in the conservation area and whether they have any justifiable conservation value.  In the same way LPA conservation area guidance rarely distinguish between what is appropriate for the back elevation in contrast to the front.  As a result they are often applied inflexibly by planning officers and without a great deal of common sense that looks beyond what the policy says, particularly for fear of creating a precedent. The statutory test as to whether a proposal preserves or enhances the conservation area is inherently subjective, and depends entirely on the views and prejudices of the planning officer of inspector you are dealing with.  Conservation areas are often used as a cloak to impose controls that simply wouldn’t otherwise be justifiable.

This produces an unnecessarily intrusive, academic, rigid and dogmatic approach to small alterations that will result in no real harm to amenity or loss of character to the area, but nonetheless are important to enhancing occupants’ day-to-day enjoyment of their homes and properties.  It ignores changing social and environmental conditions and expectations, e.g. many older buildings were designed for a population whose average height was considerably smaller than today’s and external alterations are needed to address the problems caused by this (restricted head heights over stairs which is a problem that is only going to get worse as the population ages) but conservation area policies concerning roof alterations pay no heed to this.  It elevates the judgment of a small group of unaccountable professionals over and above that of householders who want to invest in their homes and who (within reason) should be left to be the best judge of what is appropriate for their own properties, and how they want to invest their time and money.  The same comments apply to the planning inspectorate as much as LPA planning officers. It produces results that most people outside the planning and conservation area profession simply don’t understand and think unreasonable.  The present planning system simply serves itself and has lost sight of the needs of its residents and householders. 

The blanket designation of conservation areas in large part results from Councils being lazy, and simply not wanting to go to the bother, expense, justification and the potential of a compensation claim involved in making individual Article 4 GDPO Directions, which is what they should properly do where a building or group has only specific or limited conservation value e.g. where the front of a terrace is a prominent feature justifying protection.  It is easier to make a blanket designation of a whole terrace or street and to retain control that way.  The way the conservation area map is prepared means that it includes the entire curtilage of the buildings within it.  Thus both the front and rear elevations are affected by conservation area classification, even though the rear may have little or no conservation value.  The GDPO excludes many important permitted development rights from conservation areas, as Article 1(5) land.  The smaller the area the more likely the proper judgements are made; however, the larger the conservation area, the greater the impact on the lives of householders, and the greater the potential for unfair and unreasonable planning decisions, including on appeal.

My proposal change would bring back flexibility to the system whilst at the same time protecting those features within conservation areas that can be justified in conservation terms.  The change would allow small householder alterations to the rear to take place without the need for a planning application, providing certainty for subsequent alterations, and save the householder time and money. It will benefit LPAs by allowing them to save money and target resources more effectively to address important conservation issues.  Huge numbers of unnecessary planning applications have to be processed by Councils at considerable expense for small alterations that are perfectly compatible with conservation area status.  It would allow the Council a degree of control over certain aspects of householder development, allowing them to tailor responses to individual buildings.  It helps tilt the balance of power back towards residents and puts the onus on the LPA to justify their decisions whilst providing safeguards on both sides. 

 

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