The Panel received a report and presentation which outlined the intent, criteria and proposed timeframes of the Local Planning Authority to consider as possible conservation areas three areas as set out in Appendix 1 to the officer report, namely Butler Avenue (and surrounding roads in W Harrow); West Drive Gardens, Bellfield Avenue and West Drive numbers 1-41 (odd) and 2-36 (even) in Harrow Weald; and Suffolk Road and seek Members’ input on the proposals.
Officers explained that detailed assessments would be undertaken, the outcomes of which would be evaluated against national and local criteria and would subsequently be reported to the next Planning Policy Advisory Panel (PPAP) meeting.
Members were informed that London Borough of Harrow did not currently have a local area designation based on architectural or historic interest of an area. The threshold for achieving a conservation area status is very high. Successful designations reduce properties’ permitted developments rights. It was added that an alternative option for any areas which were deemed not to meet the conservation area threshold would be to have a local area designation status instead.
Prior to opening the discussion, the Chair acknowledged the significant historic and architectural interest in some parts of Harrow and the need to preserve its suburban character. She reminded Members of the high threshold required for conservation area status and that there was no guarantee that all assessed areas would quality, adding that a further classification – “locally listed area of special character” –could be introduced which would not take away permitted development rights but would give areas statutory protection and could be used as grounds for refusal in certain context.
In the discussion which ensued Members raised a number of comments and questions which were responded to as follows:
1) The precise boundaries of the areas set out in the report were selected based on officers’ rough assessment of their architectural merit, following receipt of proposals for particular streets to be considered for conservation area designation from a Councillor. The areas could be expanded but consideration should be given on how this would affect the area’s potential appropriateness for designation as a conservation area.
The Chair stressed that conservation area status would not be imposed on any area if there was insufficient public demand.
2) Conservation areas are defined under national legislation as areas of special architectural or historic interest the appearance of which it is desirable to preserve and enhance. There is local designation criteria contained in Harrow’s adopted four Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) that cover the borough’s existing conservation areas. A difference between a conservation area and the suggested locally listed area of special character would relate to permitted developments rights, with residents of the former being limited in making changes to their properties. A locally listed special character area would not restrict residents’ development rights but would be a material consideration in planning applications.
3) Although requests for conservation area status were currently relatively limited, a process would need to be considered on what qualifies as warranting consideration should the number of requests increase.
4) The sphere of influence of conservation areas is not limited to the specific area that is designated. It also affects their setting in that proposals for planning permission in the setting need to preserve whatever it is in the setting helps to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the conservation area itself.
Additional information on the impact of conservation areas could be included, should the Council decide to proceed with consultation on the areas set out in the officer report.
5) In response to a suggestion on providing residents with comprehensive information on differences between a conservation area and the potential locally listed area of special character designation, the Panel was advised that this would need to be given further consideration as the current proposals were still at the early assessment stage.
6) In response to a suggestion made on a borough wide assessment of which areas could qualify for conservation, the Panel was advised that this may not be feasible and if done without regard to national and local criteria, would undermine the protected status of currently designated areas.
By way of concluding this item, the Chair thanked officers for their presentation and emphasised that there were no specific proposals to go to consultation on the areas set out in the officer report and, whilst the overall aim was to protect the suburban character of Harrow, new Conservation Areas would not be imposed if there are many objections to them.
RESOLVED: That the report and presentation be noted.