Key Considerations for Designing in a London Conservation Area

We all love the idea of having total creative freedom when we’re designing builds, developments or extensions to our homes, but the reality is that we have to work within strict planning rules and controls. And if you’re lucky enough to be designing in a London conservation area, those rules will be even tighter.

But don’t worry, we can help you stick to the rules, preserve the character of your area, and still get a design that you love.

What is a conservation area?

A conservation area is somewhere with ‘special architectural or historic interest’, which has been deemed so unique that it is important to protect, preserve and enhance it. Since 1967, over 8,000 sites in England have been designated conservation areas, with 26 conservation areas in London. Many of the conservation areas surround our city’s best-loved sights, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Leadenhall Market. Others, like the Brewery conservation area, surround areas of industrial importance. Dating as far back as medieval times in some cases, all have their own distinct character and atmosphere. It is this character that makes them such desirable areas to live in and develop, so of course it is crucial that they are protected and treated with respect.

Rules for designing in a conservation area

Plans for designing in a London conservation area need to be carefully considered and presented to have the best chance of approval. The unique architecture and character of your conservation area must be taken into account and treated with sensitivity.

Rules-wise, each conservation area will have its own different level of protection and rights. In general, the principle of conservation areas is that plans must ‘preserve and enhance’ the area.

You might think this prohibits contemporary design, but that is not the case at all with some strikingly modern designs being approved in conservation areas. However, as long as your design has a strong emphasis on high-quality design and materials, there can still be plenty of scope for creativity and embracing a range of architectural styles. After all, architecture moves forward.

Planners don’t want us to simply create replicas of historic buildings in an inauthentic way, they want new designs that are of a similar quality to those existing in the area – designs that will stand the test of time and become historic pieces of architecture themselves in the future.

If your design is a fairly small-scale alteration, it is worth finding out what the Permitted Development Rights for your area are. These rights cover certain kinds of work that are permitted without the need to apply for planning permission. If you think your plans fall within Permitted Development Rights, it is still worth discussing them with your Local Planning Authority to be on the safe side.


Early engagement with your neighbours, the parish council, and your conservation and planning officers is key to winning approval for your design. All will either sit on your planning committee or have the power to block your designs. You need to demonstrate that you have understood and analysed your conservation area’s history, character and needs. Building good relationships early on will help the process.

And lastly, make sure you present your application beautifully. Enlist a professional Architect who knows how to make the best of your plans and ensure they are presented as firmly enhancing your area.

How do you know if your property is in a conservation area?

You can check if your property is in a conservation area by using the interactive map on the City of London website. You can also contact your Local Planning Authority (LPA) who can tell you whether your property is in a conservation area and the level of protection that has been designated to that area.

Designing in a conservation area can be complex so please contact Granit’s specialist conservation architect, Robert Wilson, if you need advice.