Listed Buildings and Conservation Area Legislation

Jonathan Taylor

Buildings which are listed or which lie within a conservation area are protected by law. This does not mean that one can never alter or demolish one, but carrying out relevant work such as this without the appropriate consent is a criminal offence. Unfortunately building contractors and even some architects who do not specialise in historic building work are often unaware of the alterations, which require consent, leaving them and their client liable to criminal prosecution.

In England, Scotland and Wales statutory planning control is effected by three different sources of requirements. Primary legislation is provided in England and Wales by the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 and the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. In Scotland the legislation is currently set out in several Acts, the principal one of which is the Town & Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972. It is expected that these various Acts will be consolidated in a single Act during 1997. These Acts set out the legal requirements for the control of development and alterations which affect buildings, including those which are listed or in conservation areas, and the framework by which control is maintained.

Secondly, 'guidance' on Government policy on the application of the Acts of Parliament to specific issues is provided by the Departments of the Environment and of National Heritage, by the Scottish Office and by the Welsh Office. In England guidance is given in Planning Policy Guidance. Planning and the Historic Environment (or 'PPG15' as it is more usually known) which was issued in September 1994. In Scotland, similar advice is given in the Memorandum of Guidance on Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas, the most recent edition of which was issued in 1993. The Memorandum is currently being revised to take into account the consolidation of the primary legislation and will be re-issued in 1997. In Wales the main source of guidance is the new Welsh Office circular, Historic Buildings and Conservation Areas, and Planning, (Circular/96) which incorporates the 1 technical advice note' originally proposed as a separate document. The Welsh Office Circular should be read in conjunction with Planning Guidance (Wales): Planning Policy.

Thirdly and finally, at a more local level, developers and historic building owners need to take account of the policy of the local authority. Policies contained in their 'development plans' and in conservation area 'proposals' take account of local development requirements and pressure, the character of the area, public opinion, and other local issues of relevance.

This three-tiered approach allows some variation in the application of legislation to take account of regional and local differences. In practice, the essential requirements for conserving historic buildings are essentially the same throughout mainland Britain, and this is reflected in both legislation and in Government policy. For example Section 7 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 details the restrictions on works affecting listed buildings in England and Wales in a single paragraph; 'Subject to the following provisions of this Act, no person shall execute or cause to be executed any works or the demolition of a listed building or for its alteration or extension in any manner which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest, unless the works are authorised. 'The provisions which follow this paragraph essentially define what is meant by 'authorised', and no details are given as to what works are considered to affect the 'character' of the building. PPG 15, however, gives further 'guidance', detailing specific examples of features and elements of a building in England which may be considered to be important to its 'character' and the alterations which may be considered harmful, as well as other aspects which should be taken into consideration by the statutory authorities when considering an application for consent.

In Wales, where the same primary legislation applies, similar guidance is given by the Welsh Office circular. In Scotland, primary legislation controls the alteration and demolition of a listed building in exactly the same manner, with further details given in the Memorandum.

In all cases applications are made to the local planning authority (the district, borough or unitary council depending on the area). The council will automatically notify all the other relevant bodies concerned, including either Cadw, English Heritage or Historic Scotland, on matters affecting a listed building or the demolition of a building in a conservation area.

The development of a new building and most external alterations and extensions to an existing building require planning permission. However certain small extensions and other alterations can be made without planning permission under 'Permitted Development Rights', where they affect a house which is occupied as a 'single family' dwelling - that is a house which is lived in by one family only. (Therefore flats do not have permitted development rights, but a semi-detached or terraced house does.). These rights may be withdrawn by the local authority under an Article IV direction where a building lies within a conservation area.

No separate application is required where an unlisted building lies within a conservation area, but the policies of the council should be carefully noted as the local authority is required to pay special attention to 'the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of that area' when considering an application for planning permission. Conservation area policy statements published by a council carry considerable weight in planning appeals.

The demolition of a building or of any part of a building which lies within a conservation area requires conservation area consent. This includes the demolition of key features of a building which may be considered to affect the character or appearance of the conservation area.

This consent is required for all alterations to listed buildings and their interiors, as well as to any object or structure which lies within its curtilage and which was constructed before 1 July 1948. This may be taken to include garden walls, sundials, dovecotes and other such objects and structures as well as buildings which are ancillary to the principal building, not separated from it, and were so at the time of listing. It is important to note that alterations to a listed building without consent is a criminal offence.

Ecclesiastical exemption from listed building and conservation area controls for churches in use has now been restricted to denominations in England and Wales which operate an acceptable internal system of control. Arrangements in Scotland are currently under review.

Alterations to parks and gardens generally do not require statutory consent unless they affect planning requirements designed to protect buildings and some trees. However, local planning authorities are encouraged to include policies in their development plans for the protection of designed landscapes and in England they are required to protect parks and gardens included in English Heritage's Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. In Scotland the Secretary of State may require a planning authority considering an application which affects a park or garden included in Historic Scotland's Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland to notify him of its decision before the decision is issued and, following notification, may call in the application for his own decision.

The consent of the local planning authority is required to cut down, top, or lop a tree which is protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). The principal exception to this is where a tree is dying, dead or dangerous. In which case at least five day's notice should be given to the local authority, except in an emergency. Within a conservation area anyone proposing to cut down, top or lop a tree is also required to give the local planning authority six week's notice, giving the authority the opportunity to consider whether a TPO should be made.

General historic building issues

  • Mynors, Charles; Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas and Monuments, Sweet and Maxwell, 3rd edition, 1999
  • England: Planning Policy Guidance Note 15: Planning and the Historic Environment
  • Wales: 61/96 Planning and the Historic Environment: Historic Buildings and Conservation Areas 1/98 Planning and the Historic Environment: Directions by the Secretary of State for Wales
  • Scotland: Memorandum of Guidance on Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas
This article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 1997


JONATHAN TAYLOR is the Editor of The Building Conservation Directory

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