Planning Policy and the Historic Interior
Legislation enabling the protection of the historic environment
has a long pedigree stretching back to the last quarter of the 19th
century. Having recognised society's concerns over the loss of the
finite resource of historic buildings, legislation grew to protect
them. In time this was developed by compiling a register of
buildings of architectural and historic interest (the Statutory
List), and then by developing a series of controls over their demolition
or alteration. The listed building owner or agent of today needs
to be aware of not just the acts, circulars or planning policy guidance
relating to the built heritage, but also how that law operates in
practice and how it is interpreted by the administrators and the
The statutory background for the protection of the interiors of
listed buildings is exactly the same as that for the exteriors.
In England, the relevant act which provides the controls is the
Planning [Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas] Act 1990 (referred
to as 'the Act'). The principal consolidation Act is the Town and
Country Planning Act 1990, and further provisions are set out in
the Planning [Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas] Regulations
1990, and Directions. Acts and Orders set out the framework for
control while the Directions and Regulations describe the administrative
steps in the process.
1 (5) of the Act defines that a listed building is one that is included
in the statutory list and includes, inter alia, 'any object
or structure fixed to the building'. From Section 7 we learn
that works of demolition or alteration or extension 'in any
manner which affects the subject's character as a building of special
architectural or historic interest' must be authorised by the
local planning authority (LPA) or the Secretary of State.
16 (2) of the Act describes the key responsibility for the LPA or
Secretary of State in considering whether to grant listed building
consent for proposed works submitted as a listed building consent
application: 'Special regard' is required 'to the
desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any feature
of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses'.
role of Circulars and Planning Policy Guidance (PPGs) is to give
the Government's current policy guidance on particular subject areas.
This advice shapes the interpretation and weight given to aspects
of the legislation by the courts. So, in coming to a decision, the
LPA needs to pay special attention to the relevant guidance, which
in England is PPG 15 - Planning and the Historic Environment.
respect of interiors, Paragraph 3.2 of PPG 15 makes it explicit
that controls apply to 'all works, both external and internal,
that would affect a building's special interest, whether or not
the particular feature is specifically mentioned in the list description'.
It also states that repairs that constitute alterations require
consent, but the consideration of whether the works are alteration
or demolition is 'a matter of fact or degree'.
importantly, despite extensive critical lobbying, paragraph 3.3
emphasises that there should be 'a general presumption in favour
of the preservation of listed buildings, except where a convincing
case can be made out against the criteria set out in this section'
(paras. 3.5 - 3.19) 'for alteration or demolition'. Indeed
PPG 15 states that protecting the listed building from unnecessary
demolition and unacceptable alteration should be the prime consideration
for the LPA in determining such applications.
in considering alterations to the interiors of listed buildings,
the PPG assessment criteria include: the importance of the interior
in terms of its intrinsic architectural and historic interest and
rarity in national and local terms, (further explanation of which
is contained in paras. 6.10 - 6.13); the particular features (including
plan form) that justify its listed status; and the extent to which
the proposed works might bring substantial benefits to the community
by subsequent associated economic regeneration.
15 stresses the benefits of economically viable uses for buildings
which may require a degree of adaptation of the building. The test
for the LPA is succinctly summarised as identifying the optimum,
but not necessarily the most profitable, viable use compatible with
the fabric and interior of the building.
3.12 is worthy of particular note as it emphasises not only the
importance of the obvious visual features of staircases and decorative
plasterwork, but also the spaces and layout of the building, including
the archaeological or technological interest of the surviving structure
and services. It underlines that these elements may count just as
much in simple, functional, vernacular properties as in the grander
cumulative accretion of minor works is warned against because of
the risk of an incremental lessening of the building's historic
value. Yet the PPG also acknowledges that a degree of sensitive
alteration may sustain and contribute to that same evolving history.
A strong warning is given in paragraph. 3.15 against the unacceptability
of adopting a 'gut and stuff' or facadist approach for
most listed buildings, again reinforcing the care to be taken over
the consideration of interior works.
PPG offers particular advice for circumstances and events that frequently
impact on proposals for internal alteration. Paragraph. 3.24 recommends
the use of conditions to ensure the retention or recording of suspected
hidden features, or the use of controlled, exploratory opening up
before commitment to particular proposals. Similarly, the various
needs of Building and Fire Regulations should be made explicit and
consequently considered prior to the determination of listed building
consent. Flexible approaches on structural matters are emphasised
to ensure minimal damage to the existing fabric. A brief but useful
mention of fixtures in paragraphs 3.30 - 3.33 acts as a reminder
as to why wall panelling, chimney pieces or painted and plastered
ceilings are construed as part of the building.
ON GOOD PRACTICE
and LPAs will find helpful guidance in Annex B.3 of PPG 15 which
lists the type and level of detail required to validate a listed
building application, including the potential to require interior
C, PPG 15 is of particular value as it summarises the general principles
of good practice in relation to alterations to listed buildings.
It moves from the general to the specific: from the need to understand
the structure and characteristics of distinct types of buildings,
and the need to research and understand the buildings development,
alteration and addition over time, to examples of features which
are important. C 58 to 69 describes various internal works, maintaining
that 'interior plans and individual features of interest should
be respected and left unaltered as far as possible'. The paragraphs
which follow make specific reference to walls, plasterwork, chimneypieces
and chimney breasts, staircases, interior plasterwork and decoration,
and floor surfaces. Guidance on floor strengthening, elimination
of dry rot and the introduction of services in reversible, low impact
and non-damaging ways complete the advice.
building consent is required for a wide range of works to a typical
listed building. For residential buildings a common application
might include the installation of an en-suite bathroom or fitted
kitchen or double glazing. For commercial properties a common application
might include floor strengthening, opening up between rooms and
compartmentation of fire lobbies.
questions for the LPA should always be the same when considering
a proposal: do the works require consent? Do the works materially
affect the character of the listed building? If the works are damaging
and are the only solution, are there mitigating circumstances such
as other policy benefits that outweigh their disadvantages? Is the
alteration 'reversible', allowing the fabric to be returned to its
original state in the future?
importance of retaining floor plans and their features is now well
established, and inspectors have supported LPAs at appeal on alterations
such as the sub-division of large spaces; the installation of suspended
ceilings; lateral conversions to amalgamate two properties; and
the removal of all or part of staircases. On the other hand, viability
and reversibility have featured in certain cases where the inspector
has been persuaded by the risk to an otherwise vacant property,
or by the low impact of a proposal. For example, an inspector might
allow an appeal for a lateral conversion on the condition that connecting
doors are inconspicuously detailed as jib doors, blending with the
wall when closed.
remain over some aspects of the care of historic interiors. For
example it may be difficult for LPAs to persuade some institutions
that floor loading requirements cannot be achieved in all instances,
or to persuade applicants of the good sense in employing expert
structural and architectural advice. Problems may arise between
the requirements of building control, environmental health, and
planning within the same LPA, as each operates under different legislation,
often with little co-ordination. Applicants expecting sound and
expert judgement on proposals may also find inconsistencies between
various LPAs. Even monitoring the level of unauthorised alteration
inside a building can defeat some LPAs as access is rarely sought
or obtained without triggering receipt of a listed building consent
is a lobby to reduce the level of control over the interiors of
Grade II buildings. There are various justifications put forward
including the suggestion that Conservation Area legislation provides
sufficient protection for their external appearance, wherein lies
their chief interest. However most buildings on the statutory list
were included without the benefit of internal access, and the quality
of the majority of their interiors remains undocumented.
national and local amenity societies are fiercely protective of
the 95 per cent of the listed buildings of Grade II status. They
oppose de-regulation in this sphere and point to the fact that over
90 per cent of applications for alterations are allowed through
normally after amendments have been negotiated. They see an added
potential and actual bonus in the administering of such applications,
as the procedures invariably include on-site inspections by the
LPA / EH, with the accompanying opportunity for monitoring, dissemination
of advice and best practice, allowing a partnership approach to
the care of the heritage. They consider that a facade-only approach
would result in a superficial heritage that is only skin-deep, thereby
lacking in veracity. These matters are likely to be debated in 1996
following the publication of the expected Heritage Green Paper.