A Portsmouth buy-to-let landlord thought he would take advantage of the renovation efforts on his Victorian house in Southsea to meet the government’s projected minimum EPC rating targeted for 2030.

The local council thought otherwise. It is now demanding that the new triple-glazed windows he has installed be replaced at a possible cost of £10,000. It will mean getting custom made-to-measure sliding sash front windows fitted and scrapping the new windows at the four-storey rental property.

Landlord Mike West has replaced his single-glazed sliding sash windows with modern UPVC triple-glazed ones whilst carrying out his renovation works, which perhaps understandably he thought would future proof the Victorian property and meet the projected band C rating.

However, this thought clashed with the council’s thinking as the property is in a conservation area, subject to the many restrictions that implies when it comes to alternations, windows being one of the controlled elements.

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What is a conservation area?

These are designated areas of historic and architectural interest, areas in which there are legal restrictions on what changes can be made to buildings, gardens and street furniture in order to preserve the unique character of the place. 

There are now around 10,000 conservation areas in the UK since they were introduced into the planning system in 1967 comprising housing estates, parks, canals, historic town centres and some entire villages.

Local conservation restrictions vary depending on the local authority’s vision. Examples might include things like the prevention of changes to railings, street lighting, trees, windows, extensions, and even including such things as the colour of paint that can be used on front doors and windows.

Always consult before you buy

Most local councils have their own Conservation Officer. This person should always be consulted before carrying out any renovation work or changes to properties in conservation areas. A site visit should be arranged at an early stage in the process of planning your changes, to establish exactly what is and is not acceptable to the council.

The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) came into force in England and Wales on 1 April 2018 and applies to private rented residential and non-domestic property. It is aimed improving the energy efficiency of rental properties by legally restricting the granting and continuation of existing tenancies where the property has an Energy Performance Certificate Rating of F and G. Currently the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard Rating is E and above.

However, the government recently stated that it wants to upgrade as many private rented sector homes as possible to EPC Band C by 2030 at this it would seem motivated Mr West to go for the ultimate in windows energy efficiency, with modern triple blazing. 

Unfortunately, standard design UPC windows rarely meet the requirements in a conservation area, and because older sliding sash windows are rarely made in standard sizes, their replacement means having them specially made at considerably higher cost than normal.

Mr West has learned about conservation restrictions the hard way as Portsmouth Council has ordered him to remove his triple glazed windows and replace them with windows more in keeping with the style of the originals, as the authority says, to prevent any further “erosion” of the area’s heritage.

Mr West had had comented:

“We put in triple glazing. It’s very energy efficient and also very comfortable for the tenants.

“We’re not conservation cowboys… anybody walking casually up and down the street would not notice the difference.”

However, Mr West’s view was not upheld when it came to his appeal. The Planning Inspectorate upheld the council’s decision.

A spokesperson for Portsmouth City Council said: 

“Unfortunately, there are other UPVC windows on the street. We can’t do anything about these, because we didn’t know about the changes at the time, and legally too much time has passed for us to take action.”

The lesson here perhaps is that with planning matters it rarely pays to make assumptions, especially when it comes to conservation areas and listed buildings. The fact that other properties in the area do not meet the requirements, it does not necessarily follow that any new alterations will – always start off any project by consulting your local authority.

Of course, there are other ways of improving the energy efficiency of traditional sliding sash windows without drastic changes to the outside appearance, possibly with secondary glazing or by fitting double or triple glazing into the wood frames.

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