What you can and can’t do to a listed building – by Hugh Petter

May 15, 2020

Buildings can be listed because of age, rarity, architectural merit, and method of construction. Occasionally English Heritage selects a building because the building has played a part in the life of a famous person, or as the scene for an important event. An interesting group of buildings - such as a model village or a square - may also be listed.

The older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed. All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most built between 1700 and 1840. After that date, the criteria become tighter with time, so that post-1945 buildings have to be exceptionally important to be listed.

There are about 500,000 buildings in England and Wales which are listed. They are graded to show their relative architectural or historic interest:

Grade I: the top 2% of listed buildings which are of exceptional interest. English Heritage will be consulted on any proposed alteration work.

Grade II*: 4% of listed buildings which are particularly important. Applications for alteration work are processed by the local authority but they have discretion to involve English Heritage.

Grade II: 94% of listed buildings which are of special interest. Applications for alteration works are dealt with by the conservation officer at the local authority.

Grade I and II* buildings may be eligible for English Heritage grants for urgent major repairs. You are extremely unlikely to get any sort of grant for a Grade II listed building.

Every aspect of the building and its setting are listed. Buildings within the grounds of a listed building may also be curtilage listed buildings: the latter are treated the same way as listed buildings. Whilst “like for like” repairs can be undertaken by specialist contractors without consent, it is a criminal offence to alter a listed building or its setting without listed building consent: this liability passes from owner to owner.

Whereas planning policies deal with matters of fact, the policies concerning listed buildings rely upon opinion. With this in mind, it is obviously vital to make sure that you understand why the building was listed, how it has evolved and that you have assessed the relative importance each element within the areas that you would like to undertake work. It is best to get this work undertaken by a specialist consultant such as ADAM Architecture who can then help you to develop a scheme which stands a good chance of securing consent.

Policies require an overview to be taken to all the works proposed by the owner so one large application may stand a better chance of securing consent than several smaller ones if some elements of the scheme are controversial. Weight is given too to committed long-term ownership.

The original use of a listed building is preferable. Any proposal to change the use will need to be accompanied by evidence of why the original use can not be maintained, and an assessment too of the relative impact of other use options.

ADAM Architecture have extensive expertise in researching the history of buildings which can help to guide proposals for altering and extending historic buildings, with an in-house experienced historic buildings team and an Architectural Historian Dr Helen Lawrence-BeatonRead more about our historic building work.

By Hugh Petter, Director at ADAM Architecture