Owning a Listed Building

on Apr 05 in Uncategorized by

A building is listed when it is considered to be of special architectural or historic interest at a national level and is therefore worthy of special legal protection in the planning system.

Buildings and structures can be listed Grade I or Grade II* or Grade II, but regardless of the grade, they have the same level of legal protection within the planning system.

92% of listed buildings are Grade II but these are still of national importance and as with all grades of listing they are protected on the inside and the outside, the front and back, (unless the listing description specifically excludes part of the building).

When a building is listed it is included on the national list for England. Historic England – the renamed English Heritage – keep this list. Anyone can check if a building is listed by going to the Historic England website and searching the list. A map based search is best because you can pinpoint a property on a map, which gets around the problem of properties sometimes changing their name or street number. To do a search click here.

When a building is listed, it means listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to the building that might affect its special interest. Works that affect the building’s special architectural or historic interest, inside or outside, front or back, will require listed building consent.

An application for listed building consent is made to the local planning authority (the local council). It’s the conservation officer’s role (or a planning officer is there is no conservation officer) to advise on whether or not listed building consent is needed in the first place and that decision is based on whether or not the proposal affects the appearance and character of the building.

Many councils provide a pre-application service where a conservation officer (or planning officer) will discuss with an owner their proposals, (there might be a fee). It may be the case that ideas need to be adapted to make them more likely to be approved. This simple step of getting pre-application advice can save a lot of time and money.

If works are done before obtaining listed building consent, unlawful works may result in enforcement action being taken to put the damage right. If the damage is not put right then a prosecution may follow because carrying out works to a listed building without the relevant consent is a criminal offence.

When the local planning authority considers whether to grant or refuse an application they have to, by law, give particular attention to the desirability of preserving the building, its setting, and features that make it special. What makes a building special will vary from case to case.

With historic rooms, items like windows, fireplaces, panelling, doors, balustrades, lath and plaster ceilings, old floor boards, skirting, cornices and other decorative mouldings, etc. may all be considered significant. It is protecting features like these that will need to be thought about when changes are proposed.

There are no exemptions when it comes to the need to obtain listed building consent, (except for certain ecclesiastical buildings and the Crown, for whom there are separate procedures). It is not an excuse for the owner of a listed building to claim a Fire Officer or a Building Control Inspector told me to do the work before obtaining listed building consent; unfortunately they will still have committed a criminal offence and may be liable for enforcement action.

There are often creative ways to upgrade listed buildings to meet fire regulations. For example, when it comes to upgrading historic doors, panels might be strengthened, intumescent strips added around doors, and fire resistant paint may be used, but all these measures may require listed building consent.

When it comes to emergency escape lighting, which might be needed in listed buildings open to the public, existing lighting fixtures including chandeliers can often be adapted to accommodate emergency lighting.

The National Trust have been innovative with emergency lighting. At Nunnington Hall near York they used lighting tape under hand rails to provide an acceptable emergency lighting solution that preserved the buildings special interest; details can be seen here.

A word of caution. When owners of listed buildings undertake works without the required consent they may find they cannot sell their property. When legal searches are undertaken by solicitors unlawful works often come to light and problems have to be sorted out before the sale can proceed.

Nick Corbett is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. For his publications click here.



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