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Listed buildings: Pomp and Planning

A building being listed is a celebration of that building’s architectural and cultural value. Listed buildings also come under the protection of the English planning system, so that they may be preserved for future generations. Buying a listed property can bring with it unique challenges and responsibilities that you must be alive to during the conveyancing process and beyond.

A listed building is defined by section 1(5) of the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act (1990) as “a building which is for the time being included in a list compiled by or approved by the Secretary of State”. In this case, the power falls to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. When you own a listed building, you are not just a registered proprietor; you are a custodian of part of this country’s heritage. This is both a privilege and comes with a certain amount of responsibility.

There are three grades of listing, based on a building’s architectural or historic interest:-

  • Grade I: These are buildings of exceptional national importance. Approximately 2.5% of all listed buildings are Grade I listed;
  • Grade II*: These are particularly important buildings of more than special interest and have some national significance. Approximately 5.5% of all listed buildings are Grade II* listed; and
  • Grade II: These are buildings of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them, but tend to be of more local importance.

Once a building has been listed, it will normally require listed building consent before it can be demolished, altered or be extended. This is a separate issue from any planning permission you would normally encounter. Listed building consent may be required in tandem to planning permission or on its own.

Listed building consent is required for either:

  • The total demolition of a listed building; or
  • Any alterations or extensions that would affect the listed building’s character, both inside or out.

It is important to note that not all works will require listed building consent. Listed buildings consent is only required for works, such as internal or external alterations, that affect the character of the building. This can be a matter of individual judgement. As a result there is scope for differences of opinion between the local planning authority, which has the ultimate say so, and the listed building’s owner.

Under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act (1990) if work is carried out that should have had consent, the local planning authority has the power to take one or more of the following actions:-

  • Criminal Prosecution of the people who actually carried out the work in question and the people who allowed the work to be carried out. Prosecution does not require the reversal any unauthorised works to a listed building. Its purpose is to punish the offender and act as a deterrent to others. The punishment can range from an unlimited fine or up to two years imprisonment (or both);
  • Serve a listed building enforcement notice. If works are carried out to a listed building without listed consent, enforcement can require the owner to bring the building back to its former state. Unlike breach of planning permission or building regulations, there is no immunity period for listed building enforcement action; and/or
  • Apply to the court for an injunction. An injunction is the only way the local authority can take action against an anticipated breach of listed building control.

If you are buying a listed building, it’s important that all of the works to the property have been authorised by the relevant people. While the criminal liability we discussed above can only be imposed on the people who carried out the work, enforcement actions can be taken regardless. This can but you in the costly situation of reversing works that the previous owners carried out.

It should be noted that this article only discussed listed properties in England. Listed properties in Wales have their own separate legislation and are outside the scope of this article.

At Bishop & Sewell, we have over 35 years’ experience in conveyancing, and are thoroughly familiar with the process. We know what to expect from other solicitors, but we always treat our clients as individuals with their own particular needs and concerns. We provide you with a dedicated conveyancing lawyer to ensure the best level of service from start to finish.

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Charlie joined Bishop & Sewell following the merger with Fisher Meredith in August 2017. He is currently a solicitor in the property department at Bishop and Sewell, dealing with both residential and commercial properties.

He graduated from the University of London with a degree in philosophy before completing his law conversion and the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law in Guildford. Charlie has a proven track record of providing a “bespoke service” and in offering both practical and tactical advice to our clients.