Planning permission in France: renovating property in a conservation area

Planning permission in France: renovating property in a conservation area

If you buy a property in the centre of an historic French town or village you may need special permission to alter windows, doors or other elements of the façade, says architect Andrew Allen

So you’ve bought (or are thinking of buying) a French property in an historic town or village. The church is quite close by and you have been told that you may require special permissions if you want to alter the exterior of the property. Is this correct?

Well, yes, in all likelihood. If a property is within 500m of an historic monument and you want to alter the outside in some way – even the garden wall – then the project comes under the separate legislation of historic monuments and the Architectes des bâtiments de France(ABF). Your church may well be considered an historic monument. You can find this out by asking at the mairie.


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If a property is more than 500m from a historic monument, but still falls within an historic centre defined by the local authorities plan, a conservation area or a national park, then the project can comply with all the technical standards of the local planning office but receive a rejection on architectural grounds by the Architectes des bâtiments de France.

For this reason if a project comes under the jurisdiction of the ABF then it is imperative to arrange a meeting with them at an early stage to discuss the project. The Architectes des Bâtiments de France is a government organisation of qualified architects that have taken further study in restoration and conservation. They protect all the historic buildings and listed monuments within their geographical department. They have six months to consider any permis de construire (planning permission) and you should expect restrictions on the architecture and materials used.

Once the ABF have made their decision there is no appeal process. The architectural judgment of the Architectes des bâtiments de France is seen as law.

Andrew Allen runs Brittany-based company Allen Architects and is registered with France’s Ordre des Architectes

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