Clampdown on alterations to period homes: Days of pebble dash and concrete could be over. Will Bennett reports

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The Independent Online
The days when an owner of a Victorian terraced house could have the outside pebble dashed and the front garden concreted over while a neighbour installed plastic windows and mock Tudor beams, will soon be over.

The Government announced yesterday that local authorities will be able to clamp down on home owners with a poor grasp of history or an inability to repel double- glazing salesmen and DIY renovators with more enthusiasm than taste.

Some of England's most historic towns and cities have suffered because of the lack of planning controls over unlisted properties in conservation areas. Councils have been unable to prevent owners from making wildly inappropriate alterations to period homes.

Two years ago a report by the English Historic Towns Forum, which represents 49 local authorities, said: 'There are in fact more planning controls over the appearance of an inner-city tower block than a house in a conservation area.'

Yesterday David Curry, the planning minister, said that local authorities will be allowed to withdraw permitted development rights, which enable home owners to make alterations without getting planning permission.

Councils will be able to withdraw rights for certain types of development in conservation areas which will give them greater control over the doors, windows, roofs and frontages that people install in their homes.

Mr Curry said: 'We accept that conservation areas merit protection from harmful change. We aim to achieve this objective without unreasonable restrictions on house owners.

'We have concluded that each planning authority should be enabled to identify conservation areas which merit additional protection and to introduce stricter control in these areas.'

Councils will have to publicise their proposals in advance and take the views of local people into account. The Government will discuss the details of the plan with them before it becomes law.

The proposals were welcomed by conservationists and planners yesterday, although there are some fears that allowing councils to select the districts to be controlled could create a two-tier system of conservation areas.

It was the forum's report in 1992 which highlighted the full extent of the problem. It estimated that nearly 1 million buildings did not have listed status in 8,000 conservation areas regarded as being of special architectural or historic interest.

It found mock Georgian doors in Edwardian buildings, imitation Tudor beams in homes built during the reign of Victoria not Elizabeth I and glossy plastic signs in traditional high street shopping areas.