Friday, 11 November 2011

Listed Buildings

What is a Listed Building?
Listing means the building is included on a national register as a property of architectural or historical importance. It means that its style and character must be maintained and owners have a responsibility and duty to ensure its upkeep. Contrary to popular belief listing protects the complete building both inside and out, the area immediately surrounding and includes any extensions previously added. It may also include garden walls, courtyards and even statuary within the garden. The register includes the address of the property, the date first listed, the grade of the listing, a map reference and a brief description of the property.

You can find copies of all listed building details by searching the English Heritage website at

How are Listed Buildings Chosen?
All buildings built before 1700 which have survived in anything like their original condition are listed. Buildings dating from between 1700 and 1840 are listed, although some selectivity is applied, while buildings from 1840 to 1914 are selected on the basis of their demonstrating technological advances, being the work of notable architects, or possessing some notable feature. More recent post-war buildings are now being considered for listing, and the very wide definition of ‘building’ in The Town and Country Planning Act (1990) – ‘Any structure or erection, and any part of  a building, as so defined’ – allows any man-made structure, from barns to bridges and telephone boxes to grave stones, to be included on the list.

There are three categories of Listed Building in England and Wales:


Buildings of outstanding or national architectural or historic interest.


Particularly significant buildings of more than local interest.


Buildings of special architectural or historic interest.

The Role of the Local Authority
The Local Authority’s Conservation Officer will be one of your most important points of contact. Their role is to ensure the character of the building remains intact. He is the officer who will advise the local authority on whether to grant or deny permission to make changes to your home. He may even dictate the materials and techniques that you should use to make these changes. These controls are called “Listed Building Consent”. They are similar to Planning Permission although no fees are involved; there is no time limit to their enforcement and it is vital that all work other than simple repair and maintenance has been granted LBC. Planning permission and building regulations may also be required for some work.

Unauthorised Work
If you are about to purchase a listed building it is vital to ensure that any alterations by the previous owners had Listed Building Consent. It doesn’t matter who did the work, or how long ago, it will become the new owner’s responsibility. If you go ahead with the purchase you may be liable to correct any additions or alterations that do not meet the conservation officer’s conditions and standards.

Extensions and Alterations
If you are planning to extend or alter a listed building it is vital that you involve your conservation officer at the earliest stage possible. The role of the conservation officer is to ensure the character of the house remains intact, but they do understand owners will need to adapt their properties to modern day living with up-to-date bathrooms, kitchens etc. In some situations they will approve extensions and major changes, but each case will be considered individually. In some situations the officer may demand any extension is built with bricks, tiles windows etc that exactly match the original building, in other situations they will demand that you extend with modern materials to ensure a noticeable change from the old to new.

What if I let my Listed Building Deteriorate?
For a variety of reasons some Listed Buildings fall into serious disrepair and the Local Authority has powers which it uses in such cases. These are called Repairs Notices and their effect is to require certain repairs to be carried out on the building concerned, within a given time. If the owner does not do the work the Local Authority can carry them out itself and recover the costs, through the Courts if necessary, from the owner. Local Authorities use these powers reluctantly, but are prepared to do so if necessary to ensure the long term survival of any Listed Building in its area.

Damp is one of the most common problems encountered in historic buildings but be assured it is rarely a problem and can usually be easily remedied. Check the obvious i.e. overflows, blocked gutters and drainpipes etc and then consider “rising damp”. It is important to understand how historic buildings were constructed to appreciate why inexperienced surveyors often detect what they consider as “rising damp”. Modern buildings are constructed with a waterproof membrane over the complete site and use cement mortar and two skins of brickwork to create a cavity across which water cannot pass. Older buildings used solid walls and lime mortar. Unlike cement, lime allows moisture to pass through which then evaporates into the atmosphere. This is called “breathing”. In the vast majority of cases “perceived damp” has been caused by the introduction of cement or other non-breathable materials, which prevents the natural breathing of the construction. Inexperienced surveyors may suggest that artificial materials are injected into the walls to “cure” damp, but generally speaking this is an unnecessary expense and the removal of inappropriate cement is all that is needed to encourage the building to breathe naturally.

It is unusual to be able to introduce double glazing into the narrow glazing bars of period windows and for this reason double glazing is difficult however there would be no restriction on using secondary glazing and this is the method normally recommended. The use of very slim double-glazing units set within the original glazing bars may be acceptable although some conservation officers reject them due to the unsightly reflection.

The insurance of a listed building is very different to a modern building. Should disaster strike, the cost of repairing, using traditional methods and material will be greater than a “normal” house and your conservation officer will seek to ensure you reinstate “like for like”. Specialist insurers are available and you should always tell your proposed insurer that your building is Listed.

The government’s method of providing financial help to listed property owners is by means of VAT relief on certain works. Alterations to the fabric of the building that have been granted Listed Building Consent and are undertaken by a VAT registered contractors should not attract VAT. However, this is a very complicated segment of tax law. Sometimes it will depend on the wording that you use to describe the work as to whether or not you should pay the VAT.

Unfortunately grants are very few and far between for listed property owners. Some local authorities provide small discretionary grants, and it is best to contact them directly about availability. Grade I and II* listed building owners may also contact English Heritage.

Many owners have been asked by their lenders to make alterations to their listed building before funds can be released including damp-proof courses, underpinning etc. It is very important that you do not proceed on the recommendation of your mortgage company before seeking specialist advice.

More Information
There is a wealth of information available for owners of Listed Buildings including many useful books and technical papers. A good source of information is SPAB (The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings). Members have access to a host of publications, seminars and individual advice and there is a useful quarterly magazine. You can find out more at

The above notes are prepared for your general information and guidance only. Please check all matters carefully before making a legal commitment to purchase your Listed Building. Great Western Surveys can accept no responsibility for subsequent changes in legislation which may affect the planning process and your responsibilities as a Listed Building owner. Always take professional advice.

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