Design and conservation

A guide to living in a conservation area

This guide is to explain what a conservation area is, and how the designation of such an area affects those who live there, or who own land or property there. The aim is to provide advice on the type of works that normally require planning permission as a result of conservation area designation.

What is a conservation area?

Conservation areas take many different forms, varying greatly in their nature and character. Watford's conservation areas range from the semi-rural areas of Grove Mill Lane and Watford Heath, to the 1930s civic core at the north-western end of the High Street. Conservation areas are created so that areas of 'special architectural or historic interest' can be preserved or enhanced. Areas of architectural or historical interest might include:

  • the historic layout of roads, paths and boundaries
  • characteristic building and paving materials
  • a particular mix of building uses
  • public and private spaces, such as gardens, parks and greens
  • trees and street furniture
  • and spaces between buildings

There are a number of advantages of conservation area designation:

  • any new development or redevelopment is more closely controlled in terms of its character and appearance;
  • control over demolition prevents underdeveloped sites blighting the area;
  • Conservation Area status can encourage residents to form local groups, who can then work with a range of organisations to improve the area even further.

What about demolition in a conservation area?

Many buildings or structures within a conservation area may not be demolished, either completely or in part, without the council's prior consent in writing.

Generally the demolition of any building larger than 115 cubic meters requires consent; but there are exceptions to this, and it is always best to contact the council to check before undertaking any works.

Demolition of some boundary structures may also require consent.

Where a development proposal involves the total or substantial demolition of any building within a conservation area, a separate application must be made to the council for Conservation Area Consent.

This is in addition to any application for planning permission.

Generally, there is a presumption in favour of retaining buildings and parts of buildings which make a positive contribution to the character or appearance of the conservation area.

The council will not grant consent for demolition until planning permission for the building's replacement has been granted.

Is minor development permitted in a conservation area?

If you live in a conservation area, you will need to get planning permission before making some changes which might normally be permitted outside a conservation area, in order to ensure that any alterations do not detract from the area's appearance. The following development therefore requires planning permission within conservation areas:

  • cladding to the exterior of a house with stone, artificial stone, pebble dash, render, timber, plastic or tiles
  • side extensions
  • rear extensions of more than one storey
  • roof extensions and dormer windows
  • any building or enclosure within the grounds of a house required for a purpose incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling (including swimming pools, garden sheds, garages and summerhouses), which is between a side elevation of a dwellinghouse and the property boundary
  • a container used for domestic heating purposes (for the storage of oil or liquid petroleum gas), which is between a side elevation of a dwellinghouse and the property boundary
  • installation/alteration/replacement of a chimney, flue or soil and vent pipe on a dwellinghouse (where they front a highway and are on the principal or side elevation)

In dealing with any applications for planning permission within conservation areas, the council will consider the effect of the proposed development upon the character and appearance of the area.

Buildings within conservation areas may also be subject to Article 4 Directions, which further restrict permitted development rights. A full list of all the Article 4 Directions is included within the Conservation Areas Management Plan.

Can I install satellite dishes and solar panels in a conservation area?

In a conservation area, planning permission is needed to install any satellite dishes on any wall, roof slope or chimney which both faces onto and is visible from a highway.

If a dish is to be installed within a conservation area, then the very highest standards of care in locating and installing the equipment will be required in order to protect the special character of such an area.

Specific good practice guidance is available in relation to the appropriate size and siting of satellite dishes on buildings, both within and outside conservation areas, by contacting the Design and Conservation officers in the Planning Policy team.

If your property is in a conservation area, planning permission is needed if solar panels are to be fitted on the front or side elevation walls and they are visible from the highway.

If panels are to be fitted to a building in your garden, they should not be visible from the highway.

Are trees protected in a conservation area?

If you want to cut down, prune, top or lop a tree in a conservation area which is not covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) you will need to give six weeks notice in writing, prior to any works starting.

The notification should include a description of the tree and any works to be carried out. This applies to surgery works or felling of any tree with a trunk over 75mm in diameter measured 1.5 metres above ground level.

We can then consider the contribution the tree makes to the character of the area, and if necessary issue a TPO to protect it.

There are some exemptions but we would strongly recommend that you contact our Arboricultural (Tree) Officer, who can come and have a look.

You can contact him on tel: 0203 567 6900. Please note it is your responsibility to provide proof of the exemptions, in the case of challenge.


  • if the tree has a stem diameter of less than 75mm (measured at 1.5 metres from ground level);
  • if the works being carried out are to help promote the growth of other trees, and the trees have a stem diameters of less than 100mm (at 1.5 metres);
  • if the tree is dead, dying or dangerous.

Conservation areas application forms

The borough's Planning and Development team is happy to offer advice and information on design issues in relation to the historic environment of Watford.

This can include basic guidance on conservation matters, and more detailed pre-application advice prior to the formal submission of a planning application or Listed Building/Conservation Area Consent. 

Pre-application discussion is an important part of the development process and is actively encouraged by the Planning and Development department.

Below are application forms for planning permission, Listed Building consent, work to trees consent and Conservation Area consent:

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