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Consent and planning requirements on listed buildings

This article was first published in the July edition of BuildingProducts. 

Ashfords takes a wider look at listed building status, examining the consent and planning requirements that developers need to be aware of when working on Historic England-protected structures.

The UK's heritage is, of course, an enormous asset and therefore it is interesting to hear that there remains no shortage of buildings that Historic England (previously English Heritage) is prepared to list as being of architectural or historic interest. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) compiles the register of listed buildings for England taking advice from Historic England. In the last year alone 510 buildings and monuments have been granted listed status by Historic England and have been added to the list. 

A listed building is defined as "a building of special architectural or historic interest". Listed buildings primarily include houses, farm buildings, churches, castles etc. however tombstones, monuments and many other types of structure are also covered. 

Some of those buildings that have recently been listed are definitely on the more 'quirky' side, including:

  • The former wing headquarters, Greenham Common, Berkshire - the United States Air Force base at Greenham Common which was the command centre for the cruise missiles ready to launch against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 
  • A former hairdresser's shop, Scarborough - originally a 1930s hairdresser, Francis Tea Rooms in Scarborough provides an insight into the upper end of 1930s society. It was divided up into a number of discrete, timber-panelled booths designed to give privacy to ladies having their hair dressed. It was converted into a tea room in 2004 but is remarkably unaltered. 
  • A 1960s play sculpture, Birmingham - created by John Bridgeman in 1960 as part of a series of semi-abstract sculptures he designed for post-War housing estates. He wanted to provide children with sculpture that could be tactile, stimulating and robust rather than roped-off, "do not touch" art. 
  • The Cauliflower Hotel in Ilford, Essex, a Victorian gin palace. The lavish interior fittings survive, including cut and etched glass, brass fittings, panelling and tiling. 
  • Concrete house at 78 South Hill Park, Camden, London - Finished in 1965, the house is supported by reinforced concrete ground beams. The house has a very simple interior and has untreated board-marked concrete ceilings and exposed services snaking through the spaces. 
  • A sewer gas destructor lamp, Sheffield - The aim of these lamps was to deal safely with the build-up of methane and stagnant gases in urban sewers, which was a common issue in Victorian Britain.

Grading system

There are three grades of listed building. Grade 1 is the most important. These are buildings of exceptional interest and comprise around only 2% of all listed buildings. Grade 2* are particularly important buildings with around 4% of buildings falling into this category. The remainder fall within Grade 2.

Buildings are usually listed following either a periodic re-survey of an area or in response to a request for a building to be listed. Anyone can propose a case to the Historic England for a building to be listed. Owners are normally consulted prior to listings being confirmed but if a building is under threat it can be spot listed. All pre 1700 buildings in original or near original condition will qualify for listing along with most buildings from 1700 to 1840, buildings of character and quality dating from 1840 onwards and the very highest quality post 1914 buildings.

Only selected buildings from the period after 1914 are normally listed. Buildings which are less than 30 years old are normally listed only if they are of outstanding quality and are under threat. Buildings which are less than ten years old are not listed.

There are several different reasons why a building may be listed. The main criteria are set out below.

  • Architectural interest: the lists are meant to include all buildings which are of importance to the nation for the interest of their architectural design, decoration and craftsmanship; also important examples of particular building types and techniques (e.g. buildings displaying technological innovation or virtuosity) and significant plan forms.
  • Historic interest: this includes buildings which illustrate important aspects of the nation's social, economic, cultural or military history.
  • Close historical associations with nationally important people or events.
  • Group value, especially where buildings comprise an important architectural or historic unity or a fine example of planning (e.g. squares, terraces or model villages).

Working with listed

Once a building has been listed, any internal or external works of alteration, extension or demolition which affect the character of a listed building will require listed building consent - usually from the local planning authority but occasionally from the Department. This can extend to painting of the exterior and will certainly include replacement of windows, unless this is merely repair and maintenance work being carried out on a like for like basis (in both materials and design). It is safest to assume that only the most minor like for like repairs will not require listed building consent. As the extent of the listing protection extends to certain buildings within the curtilage of the listed building (those which are either attached to the main building or which pre-date 1948) listed building consent will also be required for works or demolition to such curtilage listed buildings or structures.

Carrying out works to a listed building without consent is a criminal offence, with significant penalties.

If a listed building falls into disrepair or is allowed to become derelict, the local planning authority have powers to carry out works urgently necessary for the preservation of the building and can recover their costs from the owner. The authority can also serve something called a repairs notice, requiring works to be carried out and the sanction for non-compliance is for the authority to compulsorily purchase the building. 

The granting of listing status to a building may give it kudos, but it also comes with a range of obligations and the need to comply with some quite onerous duties when carrying works to the building.