Working with listed buildings.

Working with listed buildings

Listed Buildings are those that are considered to have special architectural and historic interest. They are afforded a higher level of protection and scrutiny in law and by the planning system to protect them for future generations. Working with listed buildings can therefore present more of a challenge, but can also prove to incredibly rewarding.

As a ‘rule of thumb’, all buildings built pre-1700 (in good original condition) and the majority of buildings constructed between 1700 and 1850 are likely to be listed.

There are three levels of listing, defined by Historic England as follows:

  • Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest (2.5% of listed buildings)
  • Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest; (5.8% of listed buildings)
  • Grade II buildings are of special interest (91.7% of all listed buildings)

Historic buildings are a non-renewable resource, and living in one can be a great source of pride and enjoyment. For their owners, however, the desire to change, adapt and extend can be no different to any other property. The good news is that a listed status does not prevent change.

An application for listed building consent will be required to ensure that any works proposed are approved by the relevant local authority. Whether you are aiming to create additional living space, improve or maintain the existing fabric or enhance your home’s appearance, it is essential that the change is justified and the consequences evaluated. The local authority will make decisions that balance the historic significance of the property against other issues, such as function, condition or viability.

An architect with experience of listed buildings can help you to understand and negotiate the sometimes convoluted process of obtaining consent. Compared to a ‘standard’ planning application, the listed building process and requirement for supplementary information often means that a higher fee, and additional consultants/specialists are required.

The process of discovering why your property is significant will help you and your architect to evaluate any changes. Understanding the building through its development, materials, construction methods, finishes, setting and connections to historical events or characters can make for fascinating research that will help inform what works are possible.

Preliminary discussion with your local authority via a pre-application submission is advised and allows a Conservation Officer to respond to your proposals, comment on the likely success of any application and offer guidance on any necessary adjustments. Early engagement with the relevant officer also helps to build a good relationship – which can be a significant advantage over the course of a project.

The use of traditional building materials and methods when dealing with historic properties is recommended. Modern building techniques and materials can often be resisted by Conservation Officers and may even result in the long-term deterioration of the existing building. Expert guidance is advised to ensure compatibility and best practice. Inevitably, this approach can sometimes be a little more expensive, but will ultimately help protect the character of your home.

It is estimated that around 14% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions are from energy use in domestic properties. Unsurprisingly, architects are increasingly being asked to consider measures to improve the energy efficiency of historic properties. While the Building Regulations offer listed buildings exemption from some requirements to meet current standards, there is an acceptance that the performance of our existing building stock – more than half of which was built before the introduction of thermal insulation requirements – should be addressed. As with any changes to historic buildings, the need to understand not only the impact of any proposals on the character of the property but how the fabric may be affected is essential.

Tonic Architecture is a RIBA registered firm with extensive experience of working with listed buildings – Grade I, II* and II. Contact us to discuss your ideas and plans.

See some examples of our listed building projects here.

Historic England has more information about the listing process here and advice on energy efficiency in historic properties here.

Images from one of our past listed building projects – click here for more.