Conservation Areas are designated to ensure that change is managed in a way that protects and enhances "the cherished local scene". In Ipswich, additional planning controls have been Imposed in two Conservation Areas. This ensures that such changes are in sympathy with the prevailing historic character by requiring planning permission not normally required in undesignated areas. These measures have generally been supported and appear to be well understood. Planning proposals requiring consent have usually been sympathetic to the area and been approved swiftly. When properties have changed hands, a specific note accompanying the Local Land Charges Search has also made the procedure clear.
In September, the Council was made aware by several local residents that the natural grey state roof of a semi-detached villa in the Anglesea Road/Norwich Road Conservation Area was being removed, and inappropriate (and heavier) red concrete roof tiles were being readied for installation. Not only would this work have required planning permission, but would probably have had structural implications (as a consequence of the extra weight) under the Building Regulations.
The nature of this visually inadvisable refurbishment seemed to follow the concepts of house renovation which it was hoped had long become discredited, particularly in a Conservation Area designated over 25 years ago! The new owner claimed to be unaware of the restrictions made explicit in the Search and was clearly intending to "renovate" the property quickly and resell it - diminishing the special character in the process.
Since the Council would not have granted consent in retrospect for this unsympathetic work, it felt obliged to threaten that enforcement action might ensue. Fortunately commonsense prevailed and the original state roof was reinstated shortly thereafter.
Three points are worth emphasising from this episode. Firstly, the character of Conservation Areas is usually derived from harmonious use of traditional materials and designs which collectively enhance the appearance, but also make the areas attractive to live in and command a premium when they are sold. Would anyone choose to live next door to a house, for example, covered in crazy paving?
Secondly, the Council was heartened that local people had taken the trouble to complain about the works as soon as they got under way. Not only was this helpful in dealing with the works before they had become too advanced; it suggests that the additional controls enjoy public support.
Thirdly, when things do go wrong, the democratic checks and balances of the planning system can result in the Council's enforcement actions becoming drawn-out by the perpetrator. In this instance the matter was resolved expeditiously but in some other cases, where no physical remedy is swiftly implemented, it may seem to the public that the Council is not intervening to rectify the situation, when in practice the process is far slower than we would wish. Fortunately, the Government also recognises this and is currently consulting on ways of speeding, up the resolution of cases similar to the one described here.
BOB KINDRED, Ipswich Conservation Service