Conservation Areas - who needs them? The Dulwich Society was founded four years before the Civic Amenities Act 1967 which launched the creation of Conservation Areas and has been a staunch defender of them since. There are now over 10,000 such areas designated in Britain, two in Dulwich itself (and there is a big argument that the unique style of East Dulwich, built up from farm fields in a single generation in the final quarter oi the nineteenth century should be a worthy candidate). Dulwich’s first listed Conservation Area, largely bounding the Village and College Road was made in 1968 and extended twice, in 1971 and again in 2005.
The object of a conservation area is to preserve areas which are a value to society that require protection. The property rights of all owners of buildings are restricted, not only those owning listed buildings. Changes that can be made are limited and the choice of materials is also restricted. The additional cost to owners is justified by the enhanced heritage effect which can lead to a higher value of property within a Conservation Area.
According to the arguments set forth at its inception, a Conservation Area gives places greater stability, and a clear identity. However, there have been no studies as yet to determine if these values have been achieved or whether the designation protects the character of the area. This was the basis of a recent objection to a development lodged by the Dulwich Society’s Planning and Architecture Group, that the demolition of an existing house, and its replacement by two others, would indeed alter the character of the street. How the Council interprets the application is yet to be seen.
Strong values are also attached to a green and peaceful environment, yet these same values appear to need to be constantly protected against nibbling infringement. For example, when the legislation was passed it restricted rear extensions to houses to be limited to a full-width single storey. Subsequent relaxation of planning laws has eroded this limitation. Perhaps more significantly was the requirement to preserve boundaries especially the spaces between properties. There are numerous examples where owners have extended their houses laterally to the very edge of their boundary thereby eliminating the open and green feel such spaces might provide and at the same time also altering the character of a street.
Not provided for, or even envisaged, by the framers of Conservation Areas, is the lengthy time being taken by owners to alter a property. In practice this might mean unsightly hoardings in place for several years. The case of the proposed housing development behind the shops in the Village is a particular example of an ongoing eyesore compounded with the unnecessary closure of a public road to benefit a private developer.
There does seem to be a case for looking again at the regulations for Conservation Areas to see if these and other irritations might be alleviated by a tightening up of the legislation.