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09 Nov 2021

Period Properties: What You Need to Know

Peter Daniel, Product Innovation Director at The Rooflight Company, shares the top things you need to know about undertaking self-build projects in conservation areas and renovating period properties.

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So, you want to start a building project converting a period property, or perhaps you want to build within a conservation area. There’s going to be a lot of red tape, but the property or location is too beautiful to pass up. What do you need to know going in? Conservation efforts and the protection of period properties only received the backing of law in the mid-20th century, in response to a wave of developers all over the country, but especially in London, where they were tearing down beautiful old buildings, making space for modern developments.

The rules can feel restrictive and even frustrating, but they serve an important purpose – to save singular landscapes and historic architecture for posterity. The beauty of the area you want to build in is largely thanks to these rules, so don’t begrudge them. Yes, working within their confines can be tricky if you have not done so before, but it isn’t impossible.

The first thing you need to understand is conservation areas. Your property, or plot of land, may not be listed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t subject to more rules than the average home. Conservation areas are entire locations that are deemed to hold special architectural, natural or historic interest and are considered worthy of preservation or enhancement.

Being in a conservation area won’t make your project impossible to complete, but it will require more planning at the beginning of your journey. You’re likely to be affected by Article 4 Directions, which restrict the work you could normally do without planning permission, including simple aspects such as replacing a door or window or even considering the colour of your gutters. The good news is that most of the restrictions apply to the external look of your property; the idea is that your building will generally be in keeping with its surroundings. If you’re working in the Cotswolds, for example, you may be required to use Cotswold stone cladding on the exterior of your property, but it’s less restrictive when it comes to interiors.

Renovating a period property could bring up further complications and challenges. Aspects such as interior paint choices could require permission, and you might find there’s an awful lot of maintenance work to be done before you get onto any major renovations. But again, it’s not impossible to deal with – it requires more time and further negotiations with the relevant parties.

In both cases, the first thing you should do is contact your conservation officer. Collaborate with them on your ideas from the outset and be prepared for them to request changes to your vision.

Consider the materials and products you will need very carefully. You won’t be forced to use old materials or products necessarily, and there are many contemporary products that are designed to be in keeping with both listed properties and those in conservation areas, but you need to make sure your conservation officer is happy with your choices.

Our Conservation Rooflight, for example, is modelled after the original Victorian cast-iron skylight to create a seamless fit into a period home, whilst meeting the requirements of conservation areas but benefit from modern-spec performance. Likewise, Farrow & Ball have specialist heritage paint colours designed specifically to pass the requirements from conservation officers.

Finally, you need to get the right contractors to work on your vision. It all depends on what you’re working on, but if it’s renovating or recreating a period feature of some kind, you may need specialist traditional craftspeople to be able to complete the works to the required spec. A great way to find the right people is to ask your neighbours because they will most likely have similar period features and will have been there before themselves. The Federation of Master Builders is also a valuable resource to consider conducting your research.

Homebuilding projects are a huge undertaking at the best of times, and working in a conservation area or with a period property only makes things harder. But where there’s a will, there’s a way – don’t miss out on your ideal location or property because you’re scared of the red tape!

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