Living in a listed building

Unique character property, or planning quagmire, a listed building can be great, or a historic headache. Roger Bowdler, head of designation for the south at English Heritage, explains the ins and outs

  • What is a listed building?

    ‘Properties are listed by the government in order to identify the most architecturally or historically important buildings in the country and protect them by making sure their special interest is taken fully into account in the future. They can be listed because of their age, rarity, architectural merit or other criteria such as method of construction, decorative quality or historical importance. All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840. Thereafter, more discretion is needed, because of higher survival rates. Particular care is taken when assessing post-war buildings. There are three grades: Grade I and Grade II* cover buildings considered to be of exceptional importance, like Buckingham Palace; Grade II buildings possess special interest.’

    What buyers need to know

    ‘Ninety two per cent of listed buildings are in the Grade II class, so it is the most likely category for homeowners. Owners of a Grade II-listed property who wish to alter or extend it in a way that affects its architectural or historic character must first apply for listed building consent (and planning permission) from their local planning authority. English Heritage is only really involved if the property falls in the Grade I and Grade II* categories.’

    What you can and can’t do

    ‘Most buildings evolve over time. The fact that a building is listed does not mean that it can never change. Listing is intended to protect the special interest of the building, and to ensure that care will be taken over the decisions that affect its future. Each building is different and so there are no sweeping rules for what you can or can’t do without consent – the test is whether the character of the building is protected. Nor is it just the front that is protected. Works requiring listed building consent might include extensions, replacements of windows or doors, or altering the internal layout. The best thing to do is to take the advice of the conservation officer at your local authority well before you start to draw up any plans. Local authorities in England receive 32,000 applications a year for listed building consent, and 90 per cent are approved. But if you perform alterations without permission, a planning authority can insist that they are reversed; owners can even be prosecuted.’On the plus side… ‘Alterations to some listed buildings can qualify for reduced VAT. English Heritage may offer grants for structural repairs to listed buildings of outstanding historical or architectural interest (usually buildings listed Grades I or II*). Local authorities, and some charities, may also give grants for the preservation and upkeep of listed buildings.’
    For more information visit or contact your local council

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