Buildings built before 1700, like this Wealden hall house in Sussex, are usually listed

Castles, cathedrals, bridges, terraces, manor houses, cottages and even milestones, lampposts and village pumps all have one thing in common: they may be listed. Listing means that they’re included on a national register or ‘list’ and that they’re judged to be ‘of special architectural or historic interest’.

The listing process aims to identify and protect our built heritage, and the older the building the more likely it is to be listed. Today there are some half a million listed structures. All buildings built before 1700, which survive in anything like their original condition, are listed, along with most dating from between 1700 to 1840. Only the best examples of later buildings are registered and only certain buildings after 1914. When properties are less that than 30 years old they’re generally only listed if particularly outstanding and under threat.

Listing categories

The listing categories vary across the UK. England and Wales have three main Grades: I, II* and II.

  • Most listed buildings (92 per cent) are Grade II, considered of special interest.
  • Five per cent are Grade II*, and are particularly significant buildings of more than special interest
  • Buildings of outstanding or national architectural or historic interest make up the three per cent listed as Grade I.
  • The categories in Scotland are A, B and C, while in Northern Ireland they’re A, B+, B1 and B2.

Period ironwork; A protected medieval timber-frame house
Ironwork within a house’s curtilage may be included in the listing; Listing has helped protect many old buildings, such as this medieval timber-frame house

What listing means

Most owners are pleased that their home is listed; it can add value and prestige, but listing does bring limitations and legal responsibilities. Contrary to popular belief, buildings are listed in their entirety, inside and out, even though some parts may be more important than others. Your local planning authority should be able to supply a copy of the list description (listings for England are found at english-heritage.org.uk). The amount of detail in the list description varies and just because a particular feature isn’t mentioned, doesn’t mean it is not legally protected. Other structures within the surrounding land or ‘curtilage’ of the building may also be included, such as garden walls and even paving.

Listing doesn’t mean that changes can’t be made to a building. The aim of listing is to note that the building is special and to enable a thorough assessment of the impact of any proposed changes to be made before they are approved. This is generally done by a conservation officer within the local authority planning department.

There is no statutory obligation upon the owner of a listed building to keep their property in a good state of repair, although it is usually in their interest to do so. However, local authorities can take action to secure the repair of a listed building if they see fit. Generally any work you do must match both the existing detail and materials originally employed. This has implications when insuring the building since rebuilding and repair costs can be much higher than with an unlisted building.

Houses along the Grade I listed Circus in Bath; Grade I listed mansion
ABOVE (left-right): Houses along the Grade I listed Circus in Bath; This Grade I listed mansion dates from about 1640 – repairs to the brickwork have been carried out sensitively to match both the existing detail and materials.

Making changes

You must apply for listed building consent for ‘works for the demolition of a listed building or for its alteration or extension in any manner which would affect its character as a building of special architectural and historic interest’. This consent will be required along with any planning permission or Building Control approvals. These are administered by different people within the planning department of your local authority.

What constitutes a proposal that will affect the character of a listed building can vary from place to place, depending on the local authority and the conservation officer involved. Where the building is of particular importance (Grade I or II*), applications may be assessed by English Heritage or, in other parts of the UK, an equivalent relevant body. It is worth remembering that most listed building applications are approved, particularly when they are carefully thought through.

What to do if you want to make changes to a listed building

  • Enlist the help of a local conservation officer who can explain what your local authority will allow
  • If using an architect, choose someone who has worked with listed buildings before
  • Apply for listed building consent for works (consent is on top of planning permission and Building Control approvals)
  • Do not start any work until you have approval – no matter how small the job seems, always check first

Find our more: listed building dos and don’ts

Consent can be required for such things as cleaning brickwork, painting, or even replacing recent additions including modern unsympathetic windows; so, if you are in doubt, check before work starts or you may find you have committed a criminal offence leading to prosecution. Unauthorised work can be stopped and you may be forced to undertake expensive remedial works, or be required to seek retrospective consent.

Before making a formal application for listed building consent, try to talk to your local conservation officer about what you want to achieve and also establish what is likely to be acceptable. They can be flexible and helpful with advice, especially if you are prepared to be open to their input from the start.

More information

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