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Many of the properties Atkey and Company works on are listed. This means that everyone connected with the project – contractors such as ourselves, the architects, interior designers and the property owner – are required to adhere to a strict legal framework which prevents the building (and in many cases any other buildings within its curtilage) from being demolished or having alterations made to them without suitable permission being given.

Before embarking on a renovation of a listed building, however small or insignificant you might consider the project, it is worth knowing where you stand and what factors might have a bearing on your project, its legality and any later ramifications. Here are our Top 10 ‘things you must know:’

1. What exactly is a listed building?

A ‘listed building’ in the UK is legally protected, and is deemed to be “of special architectural or historic interest considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting” [source: www.historicengland.org.uk]. This description encompasses many historic landmarks and monuments, castles, cathedrals, churches and suchlike, but it also includes a broad collection of less obvious structures such as bridges, factories, piers, and even pigsties, telephone boxes and road signs.

2. Who oversees the listing of buildings?

The Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882 was the precursor of today’s List, and it originally granted protection to 50 prehistoric monuments in Great Britain. Subsequent amendments to this Act increased the levels of protection and added more monuments to the List, until in 1948 the Town and Country Planning Act created the first ‘listed buildings’ and set out the process for adding properties to the List.

Today, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (more commonly known as Historic England) curates the National Heritage List for England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Of the 600,000 or so listings included, it is estimated that around half a million are privately owned. The List also includes scheduled monuments, registered landscapes and battlefields, and protected wrecks.

3. Why might a particular building be listed?

There are slightly different criteria that apply to buildings in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the principles are similar and are largely borne out of post-war Britain when decisions needed to be made concerning the relative merits of rebuilding (or not) those properties damaged by German bombing in order to save and protect the country’s heritage.

The specific criteria for England and Wales include:

Age and rarity – The older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed. All buildings erected before 1700 that contain a significant proportion of their original fabric will be listed. Most buildings built between 1700 and 1840 are listed. After 1840 more selection is exercised and particularly careful selection is applied after 1945. Buildings less than 30 years old are rarely listed unless they are of outstanding quality and under threat.

Aesthetic merits – The appearance of a building can be grounds for it being listed. However, buildings that have little visual appeal may be listed on grounds of representing particular aspects of social or economic history.

Selectivity – Where a large number of buildings of a similar type survive, the policy is only to list the most representative or significant examples.

National interest – Significant or distinctive regional buildings may be listed, such as those that represent a nationally important but localised industry.

The state of repair of a building is not deemed to be a relevant consideration for listing, so it is not uncommon to see dilapidated and even ruined buildings on the List.

Additionally:

  • Any buildings or structures constructed before 1 July 1948 that fall within the curtilage of a listed building are treated as part of the listed building.
  • The effect of a proposed development on the setting of a listed building is a material consideration in determining a planning application. Setting is defined as “the surroundings in which a heritage is experienced”.

Although the decision to list a building may be made based on the architectural or historic interest of one small part of the building, the listing protection nevertheless applies to the whole building. Listing applies not just to the exterior fabric of the building itself, but also to the interior, fixtures, fittings, and objects within the curtilage of the building even if they are not fixed.

4. What are the different categories of listings?

Historic England lists buildings in England and Wales under three grades of ‘significance’:

Grade I – buildings of exceptional interest

Grade II* – particularly important buildings of more than special interest

Grade II – buildings that are of special interest

There was formerly a non-statutory Grade III, which was abolished in 1970.

The vast majority of listed buildings in England and Wales are Grade II (around 92% of the total). About 5.5% are Grade II*, and 2.5% are Grade I.

5. What should I consider before purchasing a listed building?

If you don’t already own a listed building and are considering purchasing one, you should bear in mind that ownership of any listed building comes with a duty of care by which the owner must preserve the special character that led to the building being listed. The responsibility that comes with owning a listed building can include the upkeep of both the exterior and interior of the property, as well as the surrounding area, and this can often be an expensive exercise.

Listing grade – The grading of a listed building will determine how much renovation work you are permitted to carry out. You can generally find out a listed property’s grading on the planning section of your local authority’s website.

Insurance – A standard home insurance policy might not be adequate for a listed building, principally because the cost of rebuilding a listed building is likely to be higher than for a standard property. You should therefore seek advice from a specialist insurance broker before committing to purchase your property.

Cost of specialist artisans – If you intend to make renovations to your listed property, you will need to seek Listed Building Consent and your proposals are likely to be approved only if they are going to be carried out by appropriately skilled craftsmen. The cost of employing a skilled specialist can be a good deal higher than employing a general builder or handyman.

Obtain specialist legal advice – Make sure your conveyancing lawyer is familiar with the relevant laws surrounding listing buildings protection. What sorts of renovation do and do not require permission or consent is a matter of considerable complexity, and there are several Acts of Parliament that deal with the legislation. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is the primary legislation, but any decisions relating to listed buildings and their settings and conservation areas must also address the statutory considerations of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as well as satisfying the relevant policies within the National Planning Policy Framework and the Local Plan.

Previous alterations – Owners of listed buildings may also be liable for any unauthorised work that was done on the listed building before they actually owned it. Not only can this be costly, but it can also make listed buildings more difficult to sell on.

6. Do I need Listed Building Consent to renovate a listed building?

The short answer is probably yes. There is a general principle that listed buildings should be put to ‘appropriate and viable use’, and there is therefore a recognition that this may involve the re-use and modification of a building. However, Listed Building Consent is required for all works of demolition, alteration (interior or exterior) and extension to a listed building, or any other works which will affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. This requirement extends to all parts of the building covered by the list description, possibly including curtilage buildings or other structures.

Listed Building Consent is obtained by applying to one’s local planning authority, which typically consults the relevant central government agency. Although it curates the List on behalf of the DCMS, Historic England is not responsible for approving alterations to listed buildings. Instead, the management of listed buildings is overseen by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.

7. Is Listed Building Consent just a part of ‘Planning Permission’?

No, they are two separate things. Where works are proposed to the exterior of a listed building, Listed Building Consent will certainly be required but there may also be a requirement for planning permission.

8. Can I renovate a listed building without Listed Building Consent?

No, it is a criminal offence not to seek consent and to undertake works without the required consent, and owners can be prosecuted. Ignorance of a building’s listed status is not a defence to any criminal proceedings, nor is it a defence to claim that works would have been permitted had they been applied for. A planning authority can also insist that all work undertaken without consent be reversed at the owner’s expense, up to and including the demolition of new structures and rebuilding of old ones.

9. Can I apply to have a building delisted?

Yes, you can. In England, to have a building considered for listing or delisting, the process is to apply to the Secretary of State by submitting an application form online via Historic England (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/apply-for-listing – the same form is used for applying to list a property or to delist one). The applicant does not need to be the owner of the building to apply for it to be listed or delisted.

10. How can Atkey and Company help you?

Atkey and Company designs and manufactures period-perfect timber doors, architraves, skirting and other mouldings. When working with listed buildings, we are often asked to survey the current state of properties, provide advice and prepare design proposals at the preparatory stage of a project, and these can then be used as part of an architect’s or owner’s submission to their local authority for Listed Building Consent. In order to improve one’s chances of success when applying for Listed Building Consent, we recommend that our clients involve us at the earliest possible opportunity: we find that local authorities gain a degree of confidence about proposals when they see that specialists such as ourselves are involved.

For further information about Atkey and Company and our experience working with listed buildings, please contact Michael Costello, MD, at michael@atkeyandco.com.

Please note: Atkey and Company are not lawyers, and although every effort has been made to ensure the information in this article is accurate, we do not guarantee its accuracy nor do we wish to imply it is complete. We recommend you seek appropriate professional legal advice before renovating a listed building.