CAD Divider

Making Alterations to Listed Buildings

Sep 12, 2019

by Sam Mayou PgDip Arch Cons, Director, CAD Heritage

If you are planning to make significant changes to a listed building, then you should seek the advice of a specialist heritage consultancy, one with a qualified conservation consultant who can explain the options open to you and guide you through the process.

Properties are added to the listed buildings register when they are deemed to be ‘of special architectural or historical interest.’ The intention is to preserve their significance in terms of the contribution they make socially, aesthetically and as an archaeological record by protecting the building as a whole and/or specific features and to prevent them being lost or inappropriately modified by their owners, either now or in the future.

If you want to find out if a property is listed, Historic England maintains the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). This is a searchable database and map for all the listed buildings in England, of which there are approximately 500,000 in total. Bear in mind that the property’s name may have changed over the years, so you may need to search using a previous name or street number or postcode.

Listed buildings fall into three categories:

  1. Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest. Only 2.5% of listed buildings fall into this category.
  2. Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest, and 5.8% of listed buildings fall into this category.
  3. Grade II buildings are of special interest. 91.7% of all listed buildings are Grade II, so if you are a home owner with a listed building you are most likely to be in this category.

People often make the mistake of assuming that a listing only affects the exterior of the building. In fact, the listing covers the interior, exterior and everything within the boundary or ‘curtilage’ of the property. This can include internal fixtures such as fireplaces, ornate plasterwork ceilings, wood panelling and the very fabric of the building, walls, roof timbers etc. Within the curtilage features such as outbuildings and even iron railings or boundary walls are protected.

A copy of the listing for your building can be obtained from the local Conservation Officer. The amount of detail that these contain can vary considerably, but over recent years many have been updated to include a fuller description of the listed building’s appearance, history and significance. The “Listing Description” is not a list of the “Listed” features, but purely a description to help identify the building.

While minor repairs to listed buildings may be acceptable, if you are planning any alterations you would be well advised to seek the advice of a conservation architect at a specialist heritage consultancy, before approaching the Local Authority. This is particularly important if you are planning any works that may impact on the buildings significance or the historical detail and design of the building. You will need to apply for Listed Building Consent before you can carry out work that would affect its appearance or special character in any way.

Listed Building Consent is a separate process from Planning Consent. It can be required for changes that some people may consider quite minor, such as cleaning brickwork or painting the exterior in a different colour. The aim of Listed Building Consent is to ensure that any proposed changes are thoroughly assessed, and their impact considered in the context of the buildings significance and context. Early consultation with your conservation architect is essential to ensure your proposals are suitably shaped by such an assessment as mentioned above. It is very important that you demonstrate to the conservation officer, that your proposals were shaped by and designed following a full assessment of the impacts on the heritage asset by way of a Heritage Impact Assessment.

At CAD Heritage, we have a regular dialogue with our local conservation officers, so we have an excellent understanding of the type of assessment work and reporting that is expected. We will sit down with you at an early stage, talk about your objectives and priorities, and advise you on the options that are open to you.

It can take around eight weeks for a Listed Building Consent application to be processed, so it is important for your architect to have the skills and knowledge needed to give your application the best chance of success. Communicating all the aspects of the planned alterations can be a demanding process, and we can supply the local conservation officer with all the detailed plans, drawings, images and reports that are required to help your Listed Building Consent progress smoothly.

Despite being an important process, a listing is not intended to be a preservation order. The planning framework recognises that the ways in which our buildings are used changes markedly over the generations. Therefore, it is vital that listed buildings should be allowed to evolve and adapt if they are to play a meaningful role in our lives, rather than becoming ‘living museums.’ As a result, it is possible for listed buildings to be significantly altered and extended. At CAD Heritage we have worked on many imaginative alterations to listed buildings for residential and commercial clients. These alterations have allowed their owners to use these properties to their full potential while also meeting the required criteria for Listed Building Consent.

Going through this process properly and under the guidance of a conservation architect gives you three important benefits. Firstly, it ensures that the alterations to your listed building are designed around your individual needs, bearing in mind the heritage impacts. Secondly, it avoids a situation where alterations have been done without proper consent, which could lead to expensive remedial works or even prosecution. Thirdly, a listed building has a special status and prestige that can set it apart from other properties. If your improvements and alterations are handled sensitively and professionally, then over the long-term this can substantially increase the value of your property.