One thousand of the UK's 9,800 conservation areas are in London, and there are plans to create many more as residents and councils learn to work together to protect and regenerate our heritage and streetscapes.
For house buyers, the best of both worlds would be to buy a new-build home in a conservation area. This way you reap the benefit of an attractive and established residential area and the convenience of an energy-efficient, freshly designed new home with structural guarantees. Also, resale prices are safeguarded by a location in a sought-after area of architectural and historical interest.
Usually, there is a strong sense of neighbourhood and community in protected areas, while new-build projects in conservation areas are subject to extra scrutiny — from local planners, residents and amenity groups — which often results in a better-quality build and sympathetic architecture.
This week, after years of lobbying by the Peckham Society and collaboration between residents and the local council, Peckham's Rye Lane and High Street received their conservation area special status.
Trinity Village in Southwark has had its conservation status for years but is still one of the capital's best-kept secrets — a Georgian gem of 300 homes set around two historic garden squares and a listed church. The streetscape could be a film set for a Charles Dickens story. Just to be launched there is a new development of 10 houses and 22 apartments. It is a worthy addition to the surrounding period architecture.
The conservation area is one of the few neighbourhoods in this part of Southwark (postcode SE1) that survived the Blitz relatively unscathed. It is a tranquil, traffic-free enclave within a 15-minute walk of the South Bank, Tate Modern and Borough Market. Dominating one of the squares is the splendid Holy Trinity Church, a recording studio and rehearsal space for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
For decades, the homes, a mixture of elegant four-storey houses and apartments, have been occupied by prosperous in-the-know locals such as Guy's surgeons, barristers and City bankers. Most of the properties are owned by Corporation of Trinity House, a maritime charity whose policy has been to encourage families rather than split the houses for short-term sharers. Over the years, a number of homes have been released for sale, all snapped up.
Trinity Church Terrace, the new scheme, occupies a long strip of land, where a Victorian pickling factory once stood, between the two squares. Developer London Realty ditched a proposal to build modern townhouses and instead set about replicating the original architecture but determined to avoid it looking pastiche. It has succeeded: in a few years time, passers-by may not even notice the join.
Generously sized four-storey houses (up to 4,000sq ft) have traditional railings, recessed arched windows, brick-matched façades and Mansard roofs with authentic slate tiles. A stand-out feature is a double garage, accessed via an underground car park, that connects directly to a basement-level utility room and study, with stairs up to the main living areas. An imposing reception has conservatory-style windows linking to a walled rear garden. Houses cost from £2.35 million.
Apartments range from £525,000 to £1.3 million and are larger than average, with high ceilings and separate laundry rooms. "You turn off busy Borough High Street and take a sharp intake of breath when the handsome terraces and garden squares come into view," says Tom Hawkins of estate agent Hamptons International. "It's unexpectedly tranquil and you can even hear the sound of woodpeckers." Call 020 7407 3173.
An undervalued area: Telegraph Hill
Telegraph Hill, on the Brockley/New Cross border, is a Victorian conservation area with two refurbished parks, a church, community centre, café and a highly rated state secondary school — Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College. A semaphore signalling station once stood at the summit of the hill, from where there are amazing views of London. Local estate agents' claims that the area is undervalued ring true.
The neighbourhood has quick (six-minute) rail links to London Bridge and is on the East London Tube line. Young north London families searching for better value south of the river are scouting the area, as are Canary Wharf workers priced out of Greenwich and Blackheath.
Developer St James is building nine new houses on a former Thames Water reservoir at the top of the slope. The traditional-style houses slot nicely into the streetscape after modern design elements were modified to please the local conservation society.
The homes have up to 2,254sq ft of space, gated off-street parking behind a perimeter wall, and big gardens with allotments and rear terraces. Separate access to the ground-floor living area means the space can be used as a self-contained flat. Called St Catherine's Place, prices range between £1.05 million and £1.095 million. Call 020 3326 1550.
Not all conservation area new-builds are traditional-looking. Chiswick Lodge, a former hospital site close to delightful Chiswick Mall, has nine contemporary townhouses with integral garages, priced from £780,000, while three bigger new-build houses at Riverside Lodge have gardens fronting the Thames promenade. These are priced at £4.5 million each. Call Savills on 020 8987 5550.
Keeping up appearances
One-in-five conservation areas in London are in danger of losing their special character because of "neglect, decay or damaging change", according to English Heritage. Plastic doors and windows are the biggest threat — these so-called home improvements are allowed unless specifically outlawed by the local council.
Hampstead Garden Suburb in north London is singled out as a "textbook example" of a flourishing, well-controlled conservation area, while Islington council is praised for its redevelopment of the King's Cross area in keeping with Grade I-listed St Pancras train station.
© Graham Hussey
Regent Quarter, once the station's engineering complex, is a six-acre conservation area in its own right with an intricate network of alleyways, passages, mews and courtyards where the former industrial premises have been turned into characterful loftstyle homes, work studios and retail outlets. Apartments are priced from £420,000. Call Savills on 020 7409 8756.
Making a spectacular new home out of a redundant Kew church
Tucked away in a charming pocket of the river-hugging Kew conservation area is a disused Victorian church, soon to be turned into a spectacular home by a man who lived locally as a child. John Wriglesworth, 55, moved there in the Seventies, when his architect father bought the redundant chapel for £4,000. John never returned after university but recently inherited the now semi-derelict building on Cambridge Road and plans to convert it into a splendid one-off home.
"My father was a little eccentric and used the church as a salvage yard for memorabilia and odd bits and pieces," says John, managing director of a PR consultancy (firstname.lastname@example.org). "He had a magnificent train set and also repaired abandoned old bicycles — we found 67."
The church has typical ecclesiastical features — stained-glass windows, pews, a communion table and rail, even an original harmonium. The conversion plans include turning the main double-height chapel space into a huge open-plan area with vaulted ceiling, reinstating an original extension and opening up a "secret garden" area and stables.