Many buildings of particular architectural or historic interest are ‘listed,’ that is to say, included on a list of protected buildings drawn up by English Heritage. There are three grades of listing, Grade I, Grade II*, and Grade II. The vast majority of listed buildings fall within Grade II, with only a few exceptional buildings (think Buckingham Palace) in Grade I. In Wales this is done by Cadw (part of the National Assembly of Wales). In Scotland the system goes from Grade A at the top end to C(S) for buildings of local importance, and is administered by Historic Scotland.
Special rules apply to building works that affect listed buildings, which can restrict potential for change and add cost to any project. So, if you’re contemplating a scheme that involves a listed building, ensure you understand what you’re taking on.
Listed building consent
All listed buildings are subject to strict regulations aimed at preserving their historic structure and character both inside and out. Works to such a property require listed building consent. Unauthorised works are illegal and could result in you being fined. You can find out whether a building is listed via English Heritage or your local council’s planning department. Listing covers not only the building itself but any outbuildings attached or adjoining.
Where listed building consent is needed, it’s usually applied for in parallel with a planning application. Note that you’re likely to have to submit more detailed drawings for a listed building consent application than you would for a planning one – such as for joinery and window details. This will add to your application costs, although mercifully there’s no additional fee to pay the council.
Finally, you now need to submit a ‘Heritage Asset Statement’ with your application, to demonstrate you’ve taken proper account of the ‘historic asset’ and any impact your project might have on it.
From rural barns to urban industrial and warehouse buildings, numerous listed properties have been successfully converted to residential use. Very careful attention must be paid to preserving as much of the existing building and its character as possible, including internal features such as fireplaces, stairways and even decorative finishes and old plasterwork. It’s vital to work with a building designer with experience of listed buildings and who, ideally, has a good rapport with the council’s conservation officer.
The approach of these officers varies – some keen to preserve the original building, others happy to see the building evolve over the years. However, the latter approach can result in you being obliged to keep some unhappy additions or features from the 50s, 60s or 70s which you’d prefer to remove.
The same planning considerations apply to converting listed buildings as to non-listed buildings, although in some cases the fact the building is listed can help you to justify conversion to a dwelling as opposed to some other, probably commercial-type use. This is because the cost of converting a listed building is generally higher than that of a comparable non-listed building.
It’s possible to extend listed buildings, and perhaps surprisingly there are permitted development rights to do so, but listed building consent is always required alongside standard approval, regardless of whether that’s a planning application or permitted development.
Particular care is needed to ensure the extension is sympathetic in design, scale, detailing and materials. ‘Sympathetic’ is open to wide interpretation, from ‘the same’ to ‘completely different’. Some conservation officers prefer shamelessly modern extensions to historic buildings so there’s no confusion as to where the original ends and the new begins. Others like new additions to be quite bland and low-key, so the original character of the building still predominates. Buildings with a significant facade facing a street might be suitable for extension to the rear, out of public view, whereas the public face of the building is likely to remain sacrosanct.
Alterations and outbuildings
Internal alterations and refurbishment of listed buildings can be a bit of a minefield. The problem is that it’s not always clear what is simply maintenance or repair, which doesn’t need listed building consent, and what is an alteration, which does. Since undertaking works that need listed building consent without permission is a criminal offence, it’s vital to stay on the right side of the law. So, before you start either take advice from a suitably qualified and experienced building designer or speak to the council’s conservation officer.
As a general rule, repairs and maintenance carried out using the original materials and techniques, which don’t compromise the integrity of the historic structure, don’t need listed building consent. Areas where problems often arise are replacement windows, re-pointing of brickwork, replacement of internal finishes (such as old stairways and fireplaces) and integrating modern kitchen and bathroom fixtures into an old building. In an unlisted property any internal work can be done without planning permission and on your own terms. With a listed building expect every detail of what you’re proposing to be carefully scrutinised by the council.
Photos Carl Pendle