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Conservation Areas

Conservation Areas

What is a conservation area?

Since 1968, Planning Authorities have had the statutory duty to identify the special architectural or historic interest of settlements or groups of buildings within their boundaries, together with the local power to designate Conservation Areas, with the aim of preserving or enhancing their character and appearance.

Today, there are 166 Conservation Areas within or straddling the boundaries of the National Park, ranging from the historic market towns of Lewes, Petworth, Midhurst and Petersfield, through many villages and smaller settlements, to individual sites of grouped buildings such as a Victorian water pumping station in the Meon Valley.

The rules for selecting Conservation Areas have been kept deliberately loose to allow discretion to include the infinite variety of building groups that collectively make up the historic built environment across the country. However, each area must possess architectural and historic interest and they are overwhelmingly characterised by built form, rather than open space. The exception to this norm is where open space has been consciously designed with a cultural purpose, such as parkland, or a churchyard, gardens or a cemetery.

What must I do if my property is included?

Conservation Areas should not be regarded as ‘preservation’ areas. They are not intended to prevent all change, just ensure that change is carefully considered in planning decisions and does not spoil the overall character of the settlement. There is a general expectation that older buildings making a positive contribution within them will be retained and the features that make them special will be conserved.

If you own property within a Conservation Area you cannot demolish it without planning permission – and you would normally be required to give full details of any development proposed to replace it. Where consent is granted conditions or legal agreements should also be expected, to ensure that these proposals are actually followed through in a manner that protects the setting of neighbouring property and the wider street scene.

Permitted Development Rights normally enjoyed by householders are modestly constrained by Conservation Area status. The exception to this is if your property is covered by an Article 4 Direction. This is likely to have a more restrictive impact on the external works you can undertake without an application for planning permission.

If you own a tree in a conservation area you are obliged to offer six weeks written notice of your intention to fell, lop or otherwise destroy it. This allows the Authority time to raise a Tree Preservation Order in cases where local amenity and public interest demands it.

Conservation areas are defined by law as areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.

Conservation area appraisal and management plans

A Conservation Area Appraisal is an objective analysis of the elements which together define the area’s special architectural or historic interest. These elements will be largely physical, both man-made and natural, but will also include more ephemeral considerations, such as spaces, views, uses, and sounds. The appraisal seeks to describe and map these elements to inform everyone involved in the planning process.

Appraisals also consider those elements and issues which currently are neutral or detrimental to the special character of the conservation area.

The normal lifespan for an appraisal is 10 years, after which they should be reviewed. Some of the conservation areas within the national park have appraisals that are less than 10 years old and it is worth checking the website of the appropriate district council to see if this is the case for any particular place. However, most appraisals are older than 10 years and the national park has a rolling programme to update them. Links to those which have been completed so far are below:


"The Downs...too much for one pair of eyes, enough to float a whole population in happiness."