England, unlike Canada, has a robust, national strategy for the conservation and adaptive re-use of the existing build environment. The aim of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. A key element of planning policy is the protection of the historic environment. The NPPF has 12 core planning principles, one of which is that ‘planning should conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance’ because they contribute to the overall quality of life and should be enjoyed by both current and future generations.
Conservation areas are defined under The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as “areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.” Designation of a Conservation Area constrains the type and extent of changes which owners can make to their property. The intent is not to prevent change, but to manage it in such a way that the architectural and historic character which led to the designation of the Area in the first place are not adversely affected. What designation does is add an additional set of planning controls to those already in effect. Permission from the local Council will usually be required in order to make alterations to a building such as changing the cladding, inserting windows, installing satellite dishes and solar panels, adding conservatories or other extensions, laying paving, or building walls. And of course, demolition of all or part of a building will almost certainly require planning permission.
Designations aren’t static. After the original designation of an Area, Councils can change the types of alterations that need permission by making Article 4 Directions.
There are ten Conservation Areas in Harlow, five of them in the immediate vicinity of the Memorial University campus: Harlowbury, Old Harlow, Churchgate Street, Harlow Garden Village and Mark Hall North. The Mark Hall Area will preserve the character of Harlow's first complete New Town neighbourhood. Designation of conservation areas to protect Twentieth Century townscapes is extremely rare in Canada, but there are two of them on the fringes of Old Harlow: Mark Hall and Harlow Garden Village. At the time of writing (June, 2018) the Mark Hall North Conservation Area Management Plan has not yet been adopted.
Trees in Conservation Areas are also subject to regulations. Anyone wishing to prune or cut down a tree must notify Council at least 6 weeks in advance. This gives Council time to assess whether the tree makes a contribution to the character of the conservation area sufficiently important to warrant the making of a Tree Preservation Order.
Designation of a Conservation Area requires the production of a Character Appraisal and a Management Plan. Because of their legal status, and the need to consider very carefully whether designation of an Area is warranted and feasible, these documents are always clearly written and well-illustrated. Two Character Appraisals and Management Plans have been completed, one for Old Harlow and the other for Harlow Garden Village. These documents, and boundary maps for all of the ten designated conservation areas can be found at: