Frequently Asked Questions: Conservation Areas

A conservation area is defined as an area of “special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which is desirable to preserve or enhance” (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Planning Act 1990). The aim of designating conservation areas is to ensure that the character is not damaged, destroyed or undermined by inappropriate changes to the elements which shape the area. Within conservation areas is it not just the buildings which contribute to the special character but also the materials used, history, architectural detailing, hard and soft landscaping including trees.

The designation of a conservation area can be based on qualities such as;

  • The historic layout of streets, plots and boundaries,
  • The quality, character and ‘group interest’ of its buildings
  • Boundary features and their materials
  • The spaces that the buildings enclose, including open spaces and greenery
  • The view, vistas and ‘townscape’ character created by the buildings and spaces
  • Traditional uses and activities which characterise the area
  • The sounds, smells and activity which give an area its distinctive character.
  • Aberdyfi
  • Abergwyngregyn
  • Bala
  • Beddgelert (*Article 4 Direction)
  • Betws y Coed
  • Cymmer Abbey (Llanelltyd)
  • Dolbenmaen
  • Dolgellau
  • Harlech
  • Llanllechid
  • Maentwrog
  • Nantmor
  • Nant Peris
  • Pandy’r Odyn

As within the Conservation Area of Beddgelert, sometimes, there are additional planning controls to protect the historic and architectural elements that make the area special. These special controls are called Article 4 Directions, which require planning permission/conservation area consent to permit changes to the outside of a building. These can include cladding, replacing doors or windows, and installing satellite dishes and solar panels.

Conservation Area Appraisals defines the special interest of the conservation area that merits its designation and describes and evaluates the contribution made by the different features of its character and appearance.

The purpose of an appraisal is to provide:

  • a clear definition of the extent and boundary of the conservation area and its setting
  • a clear definition of the special interest of the area through an assessment of its character and appearance
  • an assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, taking into account condition, use and function, positive and negative features, for example an analysis of the policy and management needs of the area including an assessment of the effectiveness of current planning controls, the need for any supplementary protection and the identification of ways in which special character can be preserved and enhanced
  • a vehicle for engagement and awareness raising

Further information can be found here: Managing Conservation Areas in Wales (Cadw, pdf)

Allied to the appraisal is a detailed conservation area management plan. This should address the issues raised in the appraisal and identify responses or actions appropriate to the significance of the area, supported by local or area-specific policies in the local development plan. The management plan is where policies for enhancement can best be set out.

Further information can be found here: Managing Conservation Areas in Wales (Cadw, pdf)

Historic buildings are a precious part of our heritage, as they help to create Wales’s distinctive character and contribute to our identity and sense of place.  The most significant buildings, in this context, are listed for their special architectural or historical interest, but that doesn’t mean that other buildings, especially in the context of conservation areas, are not important.  These lesser, but still important, buildings are known as Locally Significant Buildings.

Whilst not achieving the ‘special’ status of Listed Building these locally significant buildings are important in their local area, for their architecture, materials, character, group value with other buildings or historic associations with a person or event. These buildings still require protection from inappropriate development. In the context of conservation areas, each appraisal identifies a range of Locally Significant buildings which play an important role in the character and significance of the conservation area.

Conservation areas will also contain other traditional buildings which, whilst not falling into the above categories, may still play a positive role in the area and will also function in a different way to modern buildings, influencing the appropriate approach to conservation and any enhancements to their energy performance (see question on modern building techniques and standards for traditional and historic building).

A building is listed when it is of special architectural or historic interest considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting, in a similar fashion a conservation area is designated when an area is deemed to be of ‘special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which is desirable to preserve or enhance’.

In response to the Government’s Climate Change agenda and Decarbonisation there will be a need to undertake considered change to traditional/historic buildings to improve energy performance, where this can be done without significant detriment to the special character which makes them worthy of protection.

This aim of national policy in moving towards more sustainable and zero carbon buildings in Wales has also been adopted within para 4.13 and Development Policy 6: Sustainable Design and Materials of the Eryri Local Development Plan to ensure that energy reduction is incorporated into design at the outset of a development proposal.

It is essential to understand, however, that traditional/historic buildings do not function in the same way that modern buildings do (see question on modern building techniques and standards for traditional and historic building for further information), there is a need to ensure an appropriate and sustainable approach to energy retrofitting by understanding the way traditional buildings work, as well as the need to respect their character and significance.

Energy retrofitting is the term used for making changes to your home/building’s energy system to improve its thermal performance or energy consumption. They can range from quick modifications like improved draught seals to more significant interventions such as additional insulation, more efficient systems or energy generation from sustainable sources (such as solar panels or heat pumps).

Traditional/Historic buildings do not function in the same way as modern buildings. Forgetting this can have very detrimental effects on not only the character of the building but also the quality and function of the building.

As an example, traditional buildings often have solid walls (as opposed to cavity walls, with damp-proof courses). To stay dry they rely on the physical thickness of the wall and the use of ‘vapour-permeable’ materials which allow moisture to pass through them. Moisture is absorbed by the fabric of the building during damp conditions, but is free to evaporate away naturally when conditions become drier. Evaporation prevents solid walls from becoming continuously damp, i.e. the wall is allowed to ‘breathe’.

Introducing impermeable materials, such as cement pointing, cement renders, gypsum plasters or modern paints can compromise this breathability, as can removing other means of ventilation such as historic windows or chimneys. This can easily lead to damp, deterioration and decay.

It is therefore important to understand the construction as well as the significance and character of the building. This will then inform and enable an understanding of how the building works to ensure suitable and sustainable approach to enhanced energy performance.

It is also essential to remember that some energy retrofit works in conservation areas, and most to listed buildings will require consents and appropriate professional advice.

A Conservation Area designation is not intended to prevent change. The purpose of a CAC is to ensure that the significance of the area is considered when making decisions regarding change and development.

CAC is required for the demolition of an unlisted building within a conservation area, though there are some exceptions.

CAC is also required for advertisement development within a Conservation Area Designation.