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Renovating in a conservation area – a guide

04 November 2023

With around 10,000 conservation areas in England, knowing what you can and cannot do when installing a new external staircase, balcony or railing on properties located in these areas is the best way to avoid potential problems.

Conservation areas can be:

  • Old town or city centres
  • Historical hamlets, villages or towns
  • Old suburbs of cities or towns
  • Historic and significant landmarks
  • Country estates

Many conservation areas also have listed buildings – if your building is also listed, then as well as addressing the regulations in a conservation area, you will also need to apply for listed building consent.

This designation of a conservation area is usually up to local planning authorities, and each area will have individual regulations controlled by Article 4 directions. In some cases, local authorities carry out a Conservation Area Appraisal which can be consulted to find out more information, but it’s also a good idea to get building control involved as early as possible.

Getting Building Control involved

Consider using a local private company rather than the local authority building controls as they tend to be much quicker and have much more experienced staff.

There are a few misconceptions of building control, namely:

  1. The involvement of building control will prevent you from achieving the design you would like​.
  2. The involvement of building control will result in an escalation of construction costs​.

However, we find that the earlier building control is used, the more delays tend to be avoided whilst also keeping costs down. As well as this, the involvement of building control creates awareness of a particular building’s, or area’s, constraints, whilst expanding on local and historical knowledge. This can help to identify what materials and designs you should use for your project.

If you’re working on a property in a conservation area which requires a staircase, railing or balcony, it’s also a great idea to get in touch with us at the earliest possible stage. We can help you with all of the design and planning steps and explore all the design and material options. This can help to streamline the process and avoid unnecessary planning delays or costs.

wrought iron railings

All planning officers will be looking for high quality design, materials and finish as well as appropriate scale, size, height etc. of the proposed design. For some conservation areas, the choice or design and materials may be determined by the specific planning restrictions in place – but this depends heavily on the local officers. Some original railings, staircases and balconies have historic and architectural value, meaning the same design or material need to be used if they are replaced. Being aware of this early on will help you consider how it will affect costs, project timescales, finishes and design. But in some cases, conservation areas can still enable a flexibility in the type of material specified, so long as it conserves the character of the area – so it may be possible to use cast aluminium to replace cast iron, which can help lower overall costs.

It may also be possible to specify a design based on one from the catalogue of cast iron castings we already have available, as opposed to specifically recreating the original pattern used for a project. This means we don’t need to create a custom pattern mould, which can save on both costs and lead times.

But in the case that the design of the piece needs to match a pre-existing design, there are a few options to consider:

  • If possible, we can take a cutting from another part of the property and create a mould from this. If this isn’t possible, we can see if there are any railings or balustrades in the surrounding area that are similar and take photographs of these.
  • Alternatively, you may also be able to find archival images of the street scene online, which can be used to replicate the design. For example, councils will often house collections of local archival images.

When it comes to creating pattern moulds from samples, we start by removing all the paint by shot blasting or chemical dipping, and then we cast from that and produce as many new pieces as the project requires.

For some projects, designs may need to be adapted to meet the building regulations or requirements. At British Spirals & Castings, our Victorian and LCC tread patterns are based on the original designs and patterns, but the front fascia has been adapted for regulatory compliance.

Get in touch

If you are interested in having a bespoke spiral staircase, balcony or railing designed and installed in a conservation area, visit our gallery to view some of the options and submit a quote or get in touch via phone or email.


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