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What is a listed building?

On estate agents’ details, the description “Grade II listed” sounds impressive. The term commands immediate respect and can add value to a property but what does it mean exactly?

A building which has been listed is one that has been placed on a statutory National Heritage list. The aim is to identify the most important buildings in the country and protect them for future generations. “It marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic merit,” say Historic England, the historic buildings and monuments commission.

There are about half a million listed buildings in the UK from cottages to castles and from mills to mansions.

The older a building is the more likely it is to be listed, according to Historic England. All buildings built before 1700 are listed if they survive in something like their original condition as are many period properties built between 1700 and 1840. Subsequently fewer buildings are listed because of higher survival rates.

There are three main categories of listed building in England and Wales

Grade I –exceptional interest or A (Scotland and Northern Ireland)

Grade II* - particularly important of more than special interest or B (Scotland) or B* (N. Ireland)

Grade II –of special interest or C (Scotland) or B1/B2 (N.Ireland)

More than 90 per cent of properties are in the lowest grade II category, 5.5 per cent are Grade II* and just 2.5 per cent Grade I

The listing status applies to the whole property – interior, exterior and ancillary structures, such as walls, gates, barns and stables.

The statutory list of buildings of special architectural and historic interest is maintained in England by English Heritage, in Wales by Cadw, in Scotland by Historic Scotland and in Northern Ireland by Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Listed Buildings
Listed Buildings

Owning a listed building comes with certain responsibilities

How will listing affect me?

In addition to following the normal planning rules you will need to get listed building consent for any work – demolition or alterations - that may affect its special character as a listed building. It is a criminal offence not to do so and can result in a large fine. Listed building enforcement notices can be issued if unauthorised work takes place forcing owners to restore the listed building to its former state. This means there is less opportunity to stamp your identity on a listed building. You are a guardian of history. Planning restrictions are more onerous. Owners have to be prepared to deal with conservation officers who may refuse plans for solar panels on an old cottage or painting the exterior of a Georgian terrace home bright red.

Each building is different and there are no set rules about what you can and can’t do. English Heritage warns it is vital when in doubt to consult your local authority’s conservation officer.  It says up to 90 per cent of listed building consents are approved. When alterations are permitted, owners can in some cases be required to use certain materials and techniques. Typical alterations that need listed building consent include knocking down internal walls and replacing windows and doors. 

What are the challenges with owning a listed building?

Many listed buildings are old and the traditional skills needed to repair or renovate them are likely to be more specialist and expensive than modern homes. For example, if a window or door needs replacing you can’t just pop into your local DIY store as it may have to be individually-made.  Find a surveyor with experience of period properties to advise you before buying a listed property on whether it is in good structural condition and what if any repairs are needed.

You could find yourselves liable for the mistakes of previous owners. If you buy a listed property which had alterations after the date it became listed and the local authority did not approve these changes, it is up to the current owner to put right the work to the satisfaction of the conservation officer even if you were not to blame. To reduce the risk, ask a property solicitor or surveyor to check that any necessary listed building permissions have been granted for alterations before buying.

Is it difficult to extend a listed building?

Listing is not a preservation order, preventing changes, say English Heritage. “It doesn’t freeze a building in time.” But getting planning permission can sometimes be more difficult. If the suitability of a property hinges on being able to remodel or extend, it is crucial to get professional advice before buying and understand the risk that permission may be refused or delayed. It can take time to negotiate with conservation officers to strike a balance between updating for modern life and preservation of a historic building. Grade II listed applications are made in the first instance to the local authority. English Heritage only gets involved in cases of Grade II* and Grade I.

Will I need expert help?

It will significantly increase your chances of success to consult and use local architects and surveyors with experience of working with historic buildings as they are likely to have good working relationships with council planning and conservation officers and expert knowledge of listed building consent. Their fees are not necessarily more expensive and it could save you time and frustration of repeat applications. Ask to see examples of similar listed buildings where they have successfully won approval for major extensions.

Are grants available?

It is possible to obtain grants for the work to listed buildings but they are scarce. See Historic England's website for more details

If you are looking for help with a project for a Listed Building, you may need help from some of the following experts. Clicking on the links below will instantly give you contact details for Experts in your local area: