Read on for our complete guide to listed buildings, listed building planning consent and what you can and can’t change.
Introducing ‘the list’
Listed buildings are buildings that are considered architecturally or historically important. They are listed on the National Heritage List for England. But who decides what goes on the list? Applications have to be made to the Historic England organisation, who investigate the submission for its merits. If they find the application to be worthy of listing, they make a recommendation to the current Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
But what exactly makes a building ‘worthy’?
While a number of buildings are generally interesting either for architecture or history, to make the list buildings need to have a “special interest” in either of these areas:
For a building to be classified as specially interesting in architecture, its craftsmanship, decoration, design or plan have to hold particular importance. Buildings are also considered if they demonstrate innovative techniques for building or even technological innovation.
Buildings of historic interest are best defined as those that exhibit some form of national historical significance either socially, culturally or economically. Military-related buildings may also be listed as historically special, as well as those with close links to people of national importance.
This historic significance usually has to be accompanied, however, by some form of physical quality to the building. This is simply to justify the requirement for listing. If a building was home to Winston Churchill but has no unique qualities, there is no real need to list, protect and preserve it.
In some cases, buildings can also be removed from the list. Extensive damage from a fire may completely diminish its value. There may also be a new discovery that goes against the original reasons for entry. This could be new evidence regarding the property’s construction or could even relate to the person the property has been linked to.
Different categories of listed buildings
The historic and architectural requirements aren’t necessarily categories. A lot of buildings that are listed can’t be placed under either historic or architectural. As an obvious example, Westminster Abbey is hugely significant both historically and architecturally – as well as having links to people of national importance.
There are some ways the buildings are categorised though. Based on Historic England’s 2016 figures, there are currently 376,470 listed buildings in England, and they are split into three grades:
- Grade II – Making up over 90% of the list, Grade II listed buildings are “of special interest” and must be protected and preserved as such.
- Grade II* – These are classed as buildings “of more than special interest”. They make up 5.5% of the list.
- Grade I – Buildings of “exceptional interest”. These particularly special buildings make up just 2.5% of the list.
As well as grading, the list has a number of categories for structure type. There are 20 building types, 17 types of archaeological sites, four for designed landscapes and one each for battlefields and ships.
What is protected on a listed building?
As we have established, not all buildings are listed for the same reason. On each building’s list entry there will be a description of what is protected. Usually, the whole of the entry’s principal building is protected – including its interior.
Sometimes attached fixtures may be included in the listing, as well as extensions added at a later date. Also protected is the building’s curtilage. This is any structure that is part of the property’s land and has been since before 1948.
This protection is great in some ways. It ensures the true character of the building will be preserved, and its historical and architectural significance retained. But for owners of listed buildings, it creates a few complications. Having your property listed means you can’t make changes freely as you would with other buildings. Owners have to apply for listed building planning permission before any big – or even small – changes.
How do I apply for listed building planning permission?
Homeowners looking to extend or alter a listed building need to first apply for Listed Building Consent. This includes any changes that affect the building’s appearance or character in relation to its original list entry – which also includes demolition. Generally speaking, any changes to the home’s façade, doors, windows, interior walls, floors and ceilings are prohibited without listed planning consent.
Listed buildings are monitored by conservation officers within each local authority. You should contact your local conservation officer to make the initial enquiry for your listed planning consent. They will be able to advise you on whether or not you need consent and could even suggest small changes to make your application more approvable.
To apply, you will need to fill in an application form either from your local authorities or their website. There is currently no fee to apply for listed building planning consent. For smaller applications, the return is estimated within eight weeks, while larger proposals will take around thirteen weeks. In some cases – involving Grade I, Grade II*, demolition or other complexities – the process can take a bit longer. This is because it requires English Heritage expertise.
What is likely to be approved?
At this point, you might be wondering what kind of changes – if any – you are allowed to make. Remember, the list entry is protecting the building’s historical heritage. It hasn’t been made to prevent it being improved. When reviewing your application, listed building planning authorities simply have to consider whether it will affect the special interest of the building.
If a classic Georgian building has been listed because it reflects the architecture and structure of buildings in the eighteenth century, then any changes that will diminish this appeal are unlikely to be accepted. Often, list entries include a specific description of the building’s defining features. Searching for your property on the list can give you a good idea of exactly what needs to be retained.
But retaining and improving aren’t mutually exclusive. Features like doors and windows can be renovated without damaging their heritage. Listed building double-glazing or draught-proofing is likely to be accepted as long as it doesn’t interfere with the original window frames. Similarly, restoring your wooden windows will not affect the original timber, but will ensure the frames are protected from decay and damage in the future.
As well as those which don’t affect heritage, there are some changes which are accepted simply because they are necessary. Repair to parts of the property that have become non-functional or even damaging to the home itself are thought of favourably.
Authorities are more likely compromise on changes if there is a clear benefit to the property in the long term. Renovation of a small feature like windows might be rejected alone, but if it can be shown to protect the property from water ingress, damp and decay in the long term it will become desirable.
This is also the case for periodic renewal. Bigger changes such as roof recovering aren’t required as often as general maintenance. But the impact of not replacing them is usually far bigger than the impact of the change. Providing every attempt is made to match the original both physically and visually, these changes should be given planning permission for listed buildings.
If you are given planning consent, you need to adhere to the specific conditions outlined in your application. Failure to do so could invalidate your consent. And if you apply but get consent refused, you have six months to amend your plans and re-apply. It’s advisable to speak to an experienced professional when applying and re-applying to increase your chances of approval.
Am I entitled to listed property funds?
As well as regulating the list of protected buildings, Historic England offer a range of financial grants to assist with repair and/or preservation. Their grants are offered to people who own historic sites in need of repair as well as local authorities for looking after their sites and buildings. If applicable, it’s worth checking your grant entitlement before your work begins.
What if I don’t apply for listed building planning consent?
While some might see this as a trivial matter, it is actually a criminal offence. Whether your application is rejected or you choose to pursue work without applying for consent, unauthorised work is against the law. Unauthorised changes are also problematic when it comes to selling your property. You will struggle to sell a listed property that has had unauthorised work carried out and if you do sell it will be at significantly less value.
Restoring beauty, retaining heritage
Fortis & Hooke are specialists in restoring wooden windows and doors while retaining their heritage and original style. With experience of projects on listed properties and conservation areas, we can help you through the process of renovating your listed home. We are passionate about restoring and repairing your windows without damaging the original timber. Contact us online for your free survey and quote.