If you’ve just purchased or are considering moving into a listed building – questions about what you can and can’t change are likely to be a top priority.
Listed buildings make up some of the UK’s most beautiful, significant and oldest homes. They are wonderful spaces to live in, full of unique character and history from all architectural periods.
Because of their significant interest, the process of obtaining consent for any changes (as well as understanding what you can renovate) can be tricky. You might be confused about issues like whether it’s just the façade that’s listed, whether you can re-paint or what permissions you need. What about changing internal fixtures and fittings – or windows, doors and external buildings?
To help you better understand making changes to a listed building, here are some of the most common questions – and our expert insights into navigating this occasionally complex but always rewarding process…
Why are buildings listed?
Listings are given to buildings in order to mark historical and architectural interest, and to protect buildings from any inappropriate alterations.
Generally speaking, the older a building is – the more likely it is to be listed. All buildings constructed before 1700 (surviving near to their original condition) are listed, as well as most buildings constructed before 1840.
For modern buildings, listings are only given for particularly remarkable architectural or cultural significance.
What is a listed building?
If a building has listed status, it receives additional legal protection within the planning system.
There are at least 500,000 listed buildings in England. Sometimes a single listing may cover an entire row of houses however, so it is difficult to state the exact number with precision.
Listed buildings come in all manner of sizes and shapes. They range from simple terraced houses to idyllic country cottages, the grandest of stately homes or even London underground stations!
There are three main categories:
- Grade I – the most stringent rating for buildings of exceptional interest. Only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
- Grade II* – buildings of more than special interest. 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II.
- Grade II – buildings of special interest, making up the majority (92%) of all listed homes in England.
How can I find out if my home is listed?
When purchasing a property, your solicitors should advise on whether your home is listed or not. If there’s any confusion or queries on the listing, you should consult your local authority planning department.
You can also search the National Heritage List for England for a complete list of all protected buildings in England (and the reasons for the listing). As well as homes, this also includes monuments, wrecks, parks, gardens and historic battlefields.
What renovation work can I do on a listed building?
Every listed property is unique and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Whilst renovation work is possible for listed buildings, seek planning advice at the earliest stages.
Contrary to popular preconceptions, extensions are viable on listed buildings. Sometimes, planning officers might request a “visual contrast” with the existing building to accurately reflect old and new elements. In other cases, you might have to precisely match finishes and materials.
Collaborating with specialist construction professionals (including architects accredited in conservation) is essential for listed buildings. Even seemingly small details such as the type of cement pointing can significantly impact the structural integrity and breathability of older buildings.
Whilst interior decorative finishes are generally fine to replace if they’re new – you’ll need consent for removing older fitted furniture, paint or light fittings. Don’t forget your listing can also extend to outbuildings, attached structures and boundary walls.
For more information, Historic England has a guide for owners of listed buildings, including what changes you can and can’t make to kitchens, bathrooms, windows, extensions, dealing with damp, saving energy and more.
Do I need authorisation for changes?
Most buildings fall into a Grade II listing. As a rule, you can maintain your listed property utilising like-for-like materials and traditional methods (for instance repairing a sash window) without prior consent.
Despite this, tread carefully. Whilst refreshing the paintwork might be fine, you can’t remove historic layers underneath. Even that wonky ivy-clad garden wall may require special building consent to repair, alter or remove.
You should generally apply for prior listed building consent for any work that involves altering, extending or demolishing your home where it could impact the building’s special architectural or historic interest.
Establishing what work requires consent can be complex, so it’s vital to consult expert advice from local authorities, heritage bodies or statutory consultees such as the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
Of course, any authorisation would be granted alongside the usual planning permissions and building regulations that apply to all homes in the UK.
Is it an offence to complete work without authorisation?
In short, yes.
Unauthorised alterations to listed buildings can be subject to enforcement action or criminal prosecution. Your local council conservation officer acts as the guardian of the nation’s built heritage and carries significant responsibility.
With an enforcement notice, planning authorities can request all work (undertaken without consent) is reversed. If this isn’t possible, criminal prosecutions are possible.
You may also struggle selling a property without listed building consent for any changes – as the lack of permission will arise during legal searches.
Further considerations for renovating listed buildings.
If you’re considering making changes to your listed building, consult local authority experts and specialist architectural teams from the very first stages of the project.
Once you’ve submitted your planning application, you’ll usually receive a decision within two months from your local planning authority.
To help with the process, Historic England offers services such as the Listing Enhancement Service which clearly explains what’s protected as part of your listing. They also offer other enhanced advisory services such as fast track listing, extended pre-application advice and screening for potential listings.
Of course, as with any older building, it’s wise to be realistic about costs (as the use of cheap modern materials often isn’t possible) and prepare a contingency fund for any surprises along the way.
Listed buildings and older properties require consistent care, thought and attention. Owning a listed home is a significant undertaking, but one that allows you to participate in our country’s unique architectural heritage.
Considering changes to your listed building?
Get in touch with our expert team at EV Architects today. We’ll help you navigate the process and create something spectacular!