Britain is a country rich in historical architecture with some neolithic buildings dating back over 5000 years to 3500BC and beyond. To help organise, conserve and protect significant buildings of all kinds, the UK uses the listed building system enshrined in statutory law.
Listed buildings are buildings of historical and architectural significance that are protected under the Planning Act 1990, specifically the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
The Planning Act provides crucial details on listing purpose, criteria and if and how listed buildings can be modified and to what extent.
Typically, if permission is granted:
- Listed buildings can only be modified in strict keeping with the building’s historical architectural style and local provenance in order to preserve its historical characteristics.
Listed buildings come with an obvious attraction to those who enjoy the idea of living in a historical building with a quirky and unique character. Not every listed building is old but very few were built beyond World War 2 (WW2) and virtually none are newer than 30 or so years old, though this will change with time. There are currently around 500,000 listed buildings in the UK today.
Listed Building Criteria
Listed buildings are judged under 4 specific criteria following a qualitative analysis of the building by local and regional officials. Local authorities or owners can apply for a building to be listed if they believe it would meet listing criteria.
The Age and Rarity of the Building
- Older buildings are rarer and therefore more likely to be listed.
- Most buildings built between 1700 and 1840 are listed more or less by default so long as they remain relatively true to their original constructed form.
- Anything built before 1700 is automatically listed and protected under separate legislation.
- Past 1840, buildings are screened more intensely whereas anything built post WW2 is very unlikely to be listed unless they are of particular modern architectural significance and require legal protection for the future.
Of the total 500,000 buildings listed across the UK:
- 15% were likely constructed before 1600.
- 20% are post-1700s, 30% are post 18th century.
- 32% post 19th century.
- And just 3% are more modern, built between 1900 and 1944 with a small minority of just 0.2% built beyond 1945.
Tied closely in with the criteria that require buildings to retain a significant portion of their original fabric, buildings must have an aesthetic quality that is worth maintaining, e.g. not be in a significant process of dilapidation. Buildings that embody local cultural provenance or socioeconomic significance, e.g. public baths, or windmills, will readily meet these criteria whereas buildings that are merely old without higher purpose will not.
Some types of older buildings are not uncommon and therefore, only the very best examples can be selected for listing.
Buildings with local or national interest are more likely to be selected, e.g. if they housed important local, regional or national persons, or played an important role in local, regional or national society.
Listed Buildings: A Breakdown
Listed buildings come in 3 forms:
Grade 1 is reserved for buildings of the utmost importance and comes with the highest level of legal protection. Grade 1 represents under 2.5% of listed buildings including castles, e.g. Warwick and Norwich Castle, The Cenotaph, Tower Bridge and Kings College London.
The middle tier Grade II*, covers around 5.5% of listed buildings and are also legally protected to a high level. There is a thin line of separation between many Grade II* listed buildings and Grade I listed buildings, though there are more modern buildings listed as Grade II*.
Grade II accounts for 92% of all listed buildings including many chapels, churches, town halls and residential houses occupied by the general populace. Grade II listed buildings will be very unlikely to be listed unless they are somewhat aged, only very significant modern buildings will be listed.
How Can You Check Whether a Building is Listed?
Historic England is the public body and database for listed buildings in England, Historic Environment Scotland the Scottish equivalent, the CADW for Wales and Department for Communities for Northern Ireland. Each has a tool to help you easily search through listed buildings via area, postcode or map. Also, each tool provides guidance on how to apply for listing or delisting and on the planning, development and maintenance of listed buildings in that region.
If Your Building is Listed
If your building is listed, it is a criminal offence to make changes without gaining proper consent called Listed Building Consent. Changes will be carefully scrutinised to make sure they’re in-keeping with the spirit of the building and its historical characteristics.
Changes that affect listed buildings include alterations to the fabric of the building including:
- Walls & Fittings
- Outhouses / Annexed buildings
If you’re unsure whether any changes you plan fall under these criteria and are unsure whether you need Listed Building Consent, you must find out.
The role of a chartered surveyor here would be to ascertain whether your modifications require consent and then aid in your application if necessary. Specialist chartered surveyors are experts on listed buildings and can help guide your application and advise on whether you could apply for a delisting, thus enabling you to make wider modifications to your home.
Chartered surveyors are also vital when undertaking surveys of listed buildings to assess their structural integrity and any necessary maintenance for the future.