Project Planner: Listed building consent

Learn more on listed building consent as Michael Holmes explains that properties of historical importance can also be updated and extended.

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If your property is of historical importance, it doesn’t mean you can’t extend or alter it, explains experienced renovator Michael Holmes.

IMAGE ABOVE: The owners of this Grade II listed house in East Sussex successfully applied for planning permission and listed building consent to extend their home, part of which dates back to the 16th century. 


What is a listed building?

One of the most distinctive features of the British Isles is its enormously rich architectural heritage. A principal reason for this remaining intact over the last century, despite such rapid change, is that most historically important buildings and structures are protected by law.

Buildings or structures that are considered worthy of protection as a result of their special architectural or historical interest are recorded in a series of lists, and it is this inclusion that extends legal protection, giving rise to the term ‘listed building’.


What qualifies for listing?

The main criteria for protection are age and rarity, and include:

  • All buildings built before 1700, which survive in anything like their original condition;
  • Most buildings from 1700-1840 if relatively untouched;
  • Between 1840 and 1914, only buildings of definite quality and character;
  • Between 1914 and 1945, selected buildings of high quality and/or historic interest;
  • Buildings of exceptional quality constructed after 1945;
  • Buildings that are less than 30 years old, only if they are of outstanding quality and under threat.

Buildings less than 10 years old are not listed, but buildings can also be listed for their group value – such as if they are part of a square or terrace, even if they are not individually rare. 


Are there different categories of listing?

All listed buildings are afforded the same degree of legal protection, but there are different grades to show their relative importance.

  • Grade I: Buildings of exceptional interest (these make up two per cent of listed buildings)
  • Grade II*: Buildings of particular importance and of more than special interest (these make up four per cent of listed buildings)
  • Grade II: Buildings of special interest that warrant every effort being made to preserve them.

The lists are managed by English Heritage in England, CADW in Wales and by the Environment Agency in Northern Ireland. In Scotland the list is managed by Historic Scotland and classified as Grade A, B and C, which is broadly equivalent to Grade I, II* and II. 


How can I find out if I live in a listed home?

Most people will already be aware if their home is listed or not, as it will have been made clear at the time of purchase, or at the time of listing if relatively recent. It is an important fact about a property that estate agents must make clear in any sales particulars. You can check online (search The National Heritage List for England) or contact your local authority, who will search the local land charges register. Many buildings have a list description, which is commonly misinterpreted as being a list of important features that must be preserved. However, they are not definitive and are primarily for identification purposes. 


Are outbuildings listed too?

It is commonly misunderstood that with Grade II-listed buildings, only the exterior is protected and the inside can be altered, but this is not the case: the whole building or structure is given equal protection, together with any boundary walls, railings, buildings and other structures connected to the building or within its historic curtilage (the land within which the building is, or was once, set) if built before 1 July 1948.


Can I still extend and alter my home?

Listing does not freeze a building in time – it simply means that listed building consent is required in order to make any changes to the building that might affect its special interest.


Does repair and maintenance work require listed building consent?

Minor works that do not affect the character of the building may not need consent. Examples include internal decoration, like-for-like repairs, maintenance and replacement of internal fittings, such as lights and radiators.


What is listed building consent?

The local authority uses listed building consent to make decisions that balance the site’s historic significance against other issues, such as function, condition or viability. It is a criminal offence to carry out demolition, alteration or extension works to a listed building without consent, or to order them to be done. Other works that will typically require consent include: the replacement of windows or doors; alterations to openings; knocking down or altering chimneys, internal walls, floors or ceilings; altering or removing fireplaces or other internal features; painting or rendering walls; changing roof materials or inserting dormers; and engineering operations, such as digging a swimming pool on the grounds. The best way to find out whether permission is required is to make an application.


How do I apply?

Before committing to any fees for drawing work, arrange a pre-application meeting with the local authority conservation officer to discuss proposals and what is likely to be acceptable. With a listed building, the conservation officer has a large degree of individual discretion, deciding what is of historical importance and worthy of protection, and what can be removed or altered.

It is a good idea to engage a team of experienced historic building consultants to work with you, and to prepare a report detailing the building’s history and how it has evolved, identifying the most important aspects. Written carefully, such a report can really strengthen your case and considerably improve your chances of success, provided that your proposals are not unreasonable.

An application for listed building consent has separate forms, but the information required is very similar to that needed for a planning application – which is also likely to be necessary. Planning application fees apply, but there is no fee for listed building consent. You will need to submit scale drawings of the existing building, including elevations and sections, together with the proposals, a location plan and a site plan. A design and access statement will likely be required, and photographs may be necessary.

Where appropriate, English Heritage and specialist amenity groups are consulted before the council grants consent. Once recorded by the local authority, a decision is usually made within eight weeks.


What if I have already done some work?

Unauthorised alterations or extensions to listed buildings can be subject to enforcement action, requiring the building to be returned to its previous state. There is no time limit for taking such action.

Failure to obtain consent may make it difficult to sell the building unless retrospective consent is granted or remedial works are completed. Liability is with the building’s current owners, even if the work was undertaken by former owners. Insurance against this risk is available.


What about converting listed buildings?

Obtaining consent for a change of use of a building, such as a barn or church, into a dwelling may be acceptable, but it must be proven that the current use is redundant. Some local authorities favour conversion to commercial use ahead of residential to bring economic benefits to the area. It may be necessary to prove that this is not viable before consent is granted for conversion into a home.


What if consent is refused?

If listed building consent is refused, or granted subject to conditions that are considered unacceptable, an appeal may be made to the Secretary of State.

Appeals must be made within six months of the date of decision. Full details of this process are supplied with decision notices


Who should undertake the work?

No particular qualifications are required, but it is important to work with someone who understands the conservation regime. A good principle to work to is that of reversibility, i.e. that the alterations can be removed at a later date without permanent loss of character. Additions in a different style to the original building and which do not attempt to blend in are preferred, with extensions to minor rear elevations likely to be approved.


What happens once consent is issued?

Before approved works can start, any planning conditions must be discharged, such as the approval of sample materials, or large- scale detailed drawings of any new joinery. Permission must be started within three years and undertaken in compliance with the approved drawings. Once started, consent lasts in perpetuity.


Further information

As well as designing a scheme sympathetic to the original building, all repairs and alterations to a listed building need to be undertaken sensitively so that the character is not lost. For useful maintenance advice, A Stitch in Time is published by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC)