Legal advice on property conveyancing for a historic home

19th January 2015 by

An aspect of property conveyancing sometimes overlooked by a buyer who is keen to move into a historic home in a conservation area, and of which their solicitor should make them aware, is the potential restriction on building work at or adjoining the property.

First defined in 1967 by English Heritage as being of special architectural or historic interest, by 2010, there were more than 8,000 conservation areas in England, ranging from small groups of rural homes to communities within cities such as London and Brighton.

Many of the early designations made by local authorities reflected the history of districts which had retained their style from the past, especially where they were in the midst of more modern development.

Since then, the wish to conserve properties which are pleasing from an aesthetic point of view or have particular architectural merit, such as having been created by a pioneer of a certain design or movement, have led to the expansion of the range of homes which may be covered by conservation regulations.

Special architectural or historic interest

Local authorities may make any area within their jurisdiction subject to the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 but officers generally follow national guidelines from English Heritage when creating new areas of special architectural or historic interest.

Many buyers are attracted to the idea of living in a conservation area and willing to pay a premium for the cachet. Councils or residents’ charitable groups may enhance the streets with period-style lamp-posts, for example, or insist on a particular shade of paint for the exterior of homes in order to maintain continuity of appearance.

However, restrictions, such as specific painting requirements, may mean higher maintenance costs for the property owner and all external alterations will need to be approved by the local planning authority.

The type of work which will require permission can range from replacement windows and new roofs to installing satellite dishes, cladding the walls or erecting a conservatory. Most old houses are poorly insulated and difficult to adapt to the latest ‘green’ technologies; some eco-friendly additions such as solar panels may fail to find favour with conservation officers because of their non-traditional appearance.

Tree preservation orders

Off-road parking spaces in front of a house, demolition of garden walls, and putting up or taking down extensions are some of the other possible instances where an official approval must be sought before changes are made. Even work in the garden could be monitored, with tree preservation orders put in place if a tree is deemed to contribute to the character of an area.

If a property owner wishes to undertake work requiring planning permission on a house in a conservation area, a ‘design and access statement’ will be required from the applicant to show that attention has been paid to the significance of the building within the conservation area.

Planners are often sympathetic to the needs of those who live in homes within a conservation area and are unlikely to be obstructive to reasonable requests for improvements, indeed, grants and loans are sometimes available towards the cost.

Because the whole point of a conservation area is to maintain its appearance and contribution to the heritage of the overall neighbourhood, it is unusual for permission to be given for demolition of an existing property or the building of a new one on vacant land without special reasons. Any designs will have to be of a particularly high standard and likely to be subject to much negotiation with specialists.

If demolition or alterations take place without the council’s knowledge and approval, legal action will almost certainly follow and could well result in a large fine as well as compulsory rebuilding or similar order.

Buying in a conservation area with Healys solicitors of London and Brighton

With the high number of conservation areas in London and Brighton, the house purchase solicitors of Healys are particularly well-placed to advise on the implications of buying such a home prior to commencing property conveyancing.

Our helpful legal team will carefully examine any restrictions which may present financial or practical difficulties to a new owner and ensure all local authority requirements are met.

As Healys is part of a law practice with access to a wide range of specialists, should any issues arise once a home has been purchased, we can help with further aspects of living in a conservation area such as boundary disputes, representation at planning inquiries or tribunals and neighbourhood difficulties.

For more information and advice on costs of Healys’ conveyancing services, please request a call-back via the website or email partner Kiri Kkoshi – telephone 020 7822 4148.