'Why conservation areas matter in Hampstead'

The landlord's property is in South Hill Park, Hampstead

South Hill Park is one of Camden's 40 conservation areas - Credit: Archant

England has more than 10,000 conservation areas, designated because of their architectural or historical importance. They provide an important layer of guidance for homeowners about how to improve their properties – and can also offer fascinating historical perspective.

Camden alone has 40 such areas, covering half the borough, including Hampstead, Fitzjohns/Netherhall, Redington/Frognal and South Hill Park.

Designation as a conservation area means that extra planning protection is given to buildings and trees that are not officially listed but are deemed to contribute positively to the area’s character. It is against the law to demolish a property in a conservation area or to cut down a tree, unless you have obtained permission.

Each area has a document – a conservation area appraisal and management strategy – that sets out its character and historical development. Camden is currently revising the Fitzjohns/Netherhall statement and will soon be updating Hampstead’s, now more than 20 years old.

Janine Griffis

Janine Griffis says that conservation area statements must adapt to new technologies - Credit: Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum

Although these documents carry less weight than the Camden local plan and the Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan, conservation area statements are valuable in several ways.

Most importantly, the statement describes the character not only of the area, but of sub-areas and streets within it, and lists properties that are deemed to make both positive and negative contributions. If a property is considered to make a positive contribution, any changes must be sympathetic. Negative contributors, on the other hand, are usually ripe for development.

The documents also include management strategies that guide Camden in assessing planning proposals. The draft Fitzjohns/Netherhall plan outlines problems such as loss of rear gardens, loss of front gardens and hedges for car parking, and loss of trees. It sets out strategies for enhancing the public realm, new development and alterations and extensions, all based on analysis of the character of each sub-area.

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As new technologies emerge, such as solar panels and heat pumps, management plans will need to adapt. But to quote the Fitzjohns’ plan: “Good conservation is not about preventing change, but ensuring that change preserves or enhances the character or appearance of the area and does not cause harm.”

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum aims to help ensure that conservation area statements provide the framework needed to make sensible decisions.

Janine Griffis leads on planning issues for the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum (hampsteadforum.org)