Listed buildings and conservation areas

Listed buildings, and those buildings which stand within a conservation area, are covered by protective legislation.

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Listed buildings, and those buildings which stand within a conservation area, are covered by protective legislation. The law stipulates that before certain works or alterations are carried out on any such building, it is necessary to obtain the appropriate consent; failure to do this constitutes a criminal offence.

This factsheet provides general information and guidance on the principles of listed buildings and conservation areas; please note that although similar in most respects, legislation and planning laws are subject to variations across the different areas of the UK.

The classification system

Listed buildings

Listed buildings are those properties which are included on a Government list of buildings designated as being of special architectural or historic interest. Factors which may influence the listing of a building might include its age, rarity, architectural merit, method of construction, and whether it has played a significant role in a historical event or in the life of a key figure.

Properties are graded according to the following categories (note that the grades are replaced by alphabetical references in Scotland and Northern Ireland):

  • Grade I: this refers to buildings of exceptional interest, many of which are major stately homes or other key historic buildings
  • Grade II*: these are designated as buildings of more than special interest
  • Grade II: these are classed as buildings of special interest, and account for the vast majority of listed buildings

As a general rule, all buildings which were built before 1700 and which maintain elements of their original condition are automatically listed, and buildings constructed between 1700 and 1840 are also likely to be listed.

Consent must be obtained for alterations to any listed buildings, regardless of their grading, and the listing covers the interior (including in some cases fixtures and fittings), as well as the exterior features of the building.

Conservation areas

Conservation areas are those areas which are designated as being of special architectural or historical significance. The nature of conservation areas can vary considerably, from town and city centres, to small mining villages, industrial buildings, country houses and canals.

Conservation areas are designated by local authorities, with the key aim of preserving or enhancing the special character or appearance of an area, with reference to both local and regional criteria. Within a designated conservation area, the following actions are restricted by law:

  • Demolition
  • Minor developments
  • Felling, topping or lopping trees

Applying for consent

Applications for consent should be made to the local planning authority, who will then inform any relevant officers or organisations (such as English Heritage, Historic Scotland, or Cadw), as appropriate. The application form will set out any accompanying information which is required. This will usually include a site plan, a description of the works, and a set of scale drawings.

It is important to note that the actual designation of a listed building or conservation area cannot generally be contested. However, you do have the right to appeal against a refusal to grant listed building consent, or against the conditions which may be attached to a consent.

As a general guide, the different types of consent which may be required for alteration or demolition works (and in some cases repairs and maintenance, or a change of use) are as follows:

  • Scheduled monument consent - this covers any works affecting a scheduled ancient monument or the grounds surrounding the monument.

  • Listed building consent - this applies to any demolition, alteration or extension works carried out to a listed building, any ancillary buildings or structures, and any objects or structures within its curtilage which have formed part of the land since before 1 July 1948; this might include garden features such as dovecotes and garden walls. Both listed building consent and planning permission may be required for any new buildings erected on a listed building site, and for some alterations to a listed building which would normally require planning permission.

  • Conservation area consent - this governs the demolition or substantial demolition of a building located within a conservation area. The designation of a conservation area also covers trees, whether or not they are protected by a tree preservation order (TPO). A TPO makes it an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, intentionally damage or destroy a protected tree or group of trees without seeking the appropriate permission from the local authority.

  • Planning permission may also be required for building works and alterations to buildings which stand within a conservation area. The 'permitted development rights', which automatically give permission for certain minor alterations to 'single family houses' which are outside a conservation area, may be more restricted for those properties within a conservation area.

Should any alteration or demolition works be carried out without the appropriate permission, and these works affect the character of a listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest (internally or externally), or that of a building in a conservation area, the owner, developer and contractor are liable to be prosecuted, and could face a fine and even imprisonment.

It is also worth noting that owners of listed buildings are responsible for maintaining that building and action can be taken against them, should they fail to do so. At the same time, they must ensure that they obtain the appropriate consent for carrying out maintenance and repair work.

The rules governing listed buildings and conservation areas can be complex. It is also important to ascertain whether a property or area of land which may not currently be listed or fall within a conservation area could be subject to the legislation in the future, particularly if the property or land abuts an existing conservation area. It is therefore advisable to seek assistance from a legal professional before beginning any building works or alterations to a property which may be affected by the legislation.

How We Can Help

We can offer advice and assistance regarding listed buildings and conservation areas, and help to ensure that you comply with the necessary legislation. Please contact us for further information.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

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