Replacement windows and planning law

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  Introduction

The use of PVC-U windows in modern dwellings is subject to few legal requirements and over the last 20 years the majority of replacement window buyers have chosen to fit replacement PVC-U windows. Despite this, there are cases where PVC-U windows have been fitted in contravention of the Planning Acts for the house or area. This has sometimes resulted in a loss of the common architectural heritage and often substantial cost to the consumer and installer.

Window replacement and general planning law

Windows are important in the expression of the period, image, and regional identity of buildings and are often referred to as the eyes or soul of the house. Incorrect use of styles or products can change the character and style of a house and affect the whole look of the house. This page is only a brief summary of the law regarding the replacement of windows in buildings and for further information it is strongly recommended that consultation with the local Planning Department takes place before window replacement in any sensitive location.

The general Government policy is that the tendency should be in favour of preserving buildings of architectural or historic interest. This policy also recognises that the character of towns and villages is created not only by individually important buildings but also by groups or areas of lesser buildings. The Planning Acts reflect these ideas in the protection they give to both individual buildings and areas.

The responsibility for retaining and enhancing architecturally important buildings and areas is mainly delegated to the relevant local authority and the various Planning Acts give them the appropriate powers.

These Acts control the replacement of windows in both individual buildings and in defined areas and the requirements depend on the type and location of the building and whether it is:

All of these terms are clarified later in this document.

The requirements of the various Planning Acts for replacement windows also depend on the use of the building and whether the replacements are exact copies in every detail or are of a different material and or design that affect a building's external appearance.

Detailed recommendations and guidance on planning are given in the Department of the Environment and National Heritage Policy Planning Guidance Note 15 (Planning and the Historic Environment).

Buildings that are not involved

As a general rule most houses and buildings after 1900 are not affected by the existing regulations. These are the modern estate developments of post-1945 and include a large proportion of the UK housing stock. Not only are these houses not protected but they are also the houses that will accept the styles that are most prevalent in PVC-U windows. They were and are the target market for the PVC-U window industry due to their suitability for the products.

Listed buildings

A listed building is included in a list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest, together with any other object or structure fixed to the building or within its area and which has been so since 1948. The lists give a description of each building but the absence of a feature in the list does not mean that it is not of interest or that it can be removed or altered without consent.

Listed buildings fall into two categories, Grade I for buildings of exceptional interest and Grade II for buildings of special interest with particularly important Grade II buildings may be listed as Grade 11*. The current criteria for listing allow the inclusion of:

Listed buildings should have a special value for architectural, social or economic reasons, show technical innovation, have an association with well known people or events or have a group value as an example of town planning.

There are thought to be about 500,000 listings nationally but this only covers the actual list entries. Bedford Square in London is only one list entry although it includes as many as 52 individual Grade 1 houses. Estimates are that the number of listed buildings is probably nearer one million.

Details of listed buildings can be seen in local authority planning departments, at county councils, at county record offices and at larger public libraries.

It is an offence to demolish, alter or extend a listed building in any way that would affect its special character without 'listed building consent'. This offence is punishable by imprisonment or a fine, or both. Consent is needed for replacement windows in a listed building, unless the replacements are exactly the same as the originals in every detail. Application for listed building consent is via the relevant local authority planning department.

Listed building consent is almost always required. It is essential to check with the local planning authority in every case.

If work is carried out without consent, local authorities can issue a listed building enforcement notice. This may require the building to be brought to its former state, require works to alleviate the effects of the unauthorised works, or require the building to be brought into the state it would have been in if the works had not taken place. Breaches of listed building control are offences of 'strict liability'. Ignorance of the fact that a building is listed, or of laws concerning listed buildings, is no defence. If a builder is involved, both builder and owner are liable.

For unlisted buildings of special interest which are in danger of demolition or substantial alteration, local authorities may serve a 'building preservation notice' on the owner and occupier of the building. This notice gives the building temporary status as a listed building.

Conservation Areas

A Conservation Area is an area of 'special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance'. A group of buildings designated as a Conservation Area is of collective interest, even if they do not merit individual listings. There are about 9,000 Conservation Areas in the UK and this is increasing at the rate of about 150 per year.

The Planning Acts permit some alterations or extensions to a house in a Conservation Area as 'permitted development rights'. These 'permitted development rights' are restricted but allow the replacement of windows and other minor works, although local interpretations may vary.

'Conservation area consent' is required for demolition or substantial change to an unlisted building in a conservation area. It is not always needed for small extensions under 50 m3 in volume.

The planning requirements are not clear for the replacement of windows which are not 'like for like' in unlisted buildings in Conservation Areas. Window replacement within existing openings is sometimes considered to be an alteration but sometimes the removal of the old window is considered to be a small-scale demolition. Government guidance is that: '...routine works of repair, maintenance or replacement, including work involving such items as doors or windows would not in the Secretary of State's view normally constitute demolition requiring conservation area consent.' (PPG 15 para 4.28) but the local interpretation of this guidance varies throughout the UK.

Applications for consent and appeal decisions against refusal of consent are frequently judged on individual merits on the basis of visual impact and the effect on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.

Irrespective of the window material to be used an application for Conservation Area consent may be needed. Check with the local planning authority in every case.

Article IV directions

The Planning Acts allow some alterations to a dwelling house as permitted development. Alteration of windows falls within the scope of these permitted developments in Conservation Areas. However, a planning authority can apply for permission to impose an Article IV direction to restrict permitted development rights if a Conservation Area can be shown to be under threat of developments that will substantially change the character of the area. An Article IV direction removes the permitted development rights for an area and once granted all works to houses in the area require both Planning Approval and Conservation Area consent.

An Article IV direction is not automatic for a Conservation Area and permission is given reluctantly. The planning authority needs to show that a direction would assist a positive policy to enhance the character or appearance of the area. Where an authority seeks an Article IV direction, the other main factors taken into account are the overall quality of the area, clear identification of its special character, and evidence of threat, actual or potential, to the character or appearance of the area. For example, an Article IV direction may be granted to prevent permitted developments that would be unsympathetic to a programme or scheme of conservation work currently underway. Article IV directions may be rejected if the area has already lost its "historical or architectural integrity".

Under an Article IV direction the replacement of any windows requires Planning Approval and may also require Conservation Area consent. Check with the local planning authority in every case.

Information on designated Conservation Areas and those covered by Article IV directions is available from the local authority planning department.

The legislation

A flow chart for the relevant legislation is given below:

The legislation is clear for the replacement of windows in listed buildings but local variations can sometimes arise for Conservation Areas.

Government guidance is that demolition of any building in a Conservation Area needs Conservation Area Consent but works of extension or alteration do not. The distinction between demolition and alteration is often unclear to the layman.

Each local authority has developed an approach based on the Government guidance. This local policy and approach may consider that demolition is a separate operation involving the removal of the historic fabric and therefore that Conservation Area consent is required.

In Conservation Areas the permitted development rights are withdrawn for various defined architectural features but not specifically for the replacement of windows in unlisted buildings. However, unless the replacement windows are 'like for like', Conservation Area consent could be required and possibly refused on the basis that the change was damaging to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.

Owners and developers should check with the local Planning Department before starting any work.

The withdrawal of permitted development rights in Conservation Areas (An Article IV direction) is generally regarded as a last resort and local planning authorities are encouraged to achieve their conservation aims by education and providing information on the architectural or historic value of the area.

Appeal decisions

Applicants who are refused planning permission or consent may appeal to the Secretary of State. An inquiry is held and a judgement taken on the basis of the interpretation of the current law. Appeal decisions are based on the Secretary of State's interpretation of the law, the merits of the application and the published government advice.

Appeals regarding replacement windows in listed buildings are highly likely to be rejected and appeals regarding replacement windows in unlisted buildings (in Conservation Areas) are more likely to be rejected than allowed.

The replacement of windows in houses covered by any of the Planning Acts without the correct approvals is strongly discouraged.

Applicants who are refused planning permission may appeal. Note, however, that appeals concerning replacement windows in listed buildings are three times as likely to be dismissed as allowed while appeals concerning replacement windows in unlisted buildings are more likely to be dismissed than allowed.

Essential Points

Some guidelines to sensitive development

Last edited: 11/03/10

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