Conservation areas are defined under The Planning (Listed Buildings and ConservationAreas) Act 1990 as “areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.”
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. Once a plan has been adopted, 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 (November 2016) no plan for the Mark Hall Conservation Area has yet been adopted.
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.
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.
The 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. These are always significant documents, clearly written and well-illustrated. Interested readers can find links to them and to boundary maps for each of the ten conservation areas at: