Listed Building Consents

Jonathan Taylor

18th century converted warehouse
Early 18th century warehouses in Gloucester Docks successfully converted to provide flats, offices and a variety of other uses in a repurposed space; the conservation of our built heritage is a creative process which centres on the protection of cultural significance and the management of change. (All photos: Jonathan Taylor)

  Warehouses at Gloucester Docks

In the UK, planning permission is required for new buildings, for extensions to existing buildings and for some alterations which affect the building’s external appearance.

Where listed buildings are concerned, the range of alterations which require consent increases significantly, and whereas most houses enjoy some degree of relaxation of the rules for small extensions and minor alterations under ‘permitted development’ rights, there are no exceptions here: all alterations which affect the character of the building as a listed building require ‘listed building consent’, inside and out.

The need for consent should not be seen as a moratorium on change any more than planning permission is. New buildings are being constructed with planning permission across the UK all the time.

Planning controls are there to protect us from having our own homes and our surroundings blighted by thoughtless over-development and inappropriate design. They are designed to help local planning departments maintain what is good about the places in which we live, and the heritage protection system is no different.

Listed building legislation is designed to manage that process of change while protecting what is valued. Most listed buildings will need to be adapted to suit new requirements at some point or they will become redundant, and alterations are often needed to protect a structure.

The UK’s heritage protection legislation provides the framework within which change can be managed. Proposals are often put forward by non-specialist architects and designers that entail unnecessary harm to the character and significance of the building’s historic fabric.

With specialist input from heritage professionals it is usually possible to find a solution that achieves most of what the client/owner requires without harming the cultural significance of the building.

Conservation can be a balancing act that involves a degree of alteration with the aim of ensuring the future of the building in the long term. In this resp ect it is not the same as restoration or preservation and it is important to choose our words carefully.

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE is defined in the Burra Charter (Australia ICOMOS 2013) as the aesthetic, historic, scientific or social value for past, present or future generations.

The significance may be embodied in the place itself and its fabric, but it may also lie in its setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects.

This broad concept of what it is that we find significant in our heritage is widely adopted by the UK’s statutory bodies, although older legislation and statutory guidance may refer to specific values of historic buildings which are to be protected, such as their character and appearance.

Regency and early Victorian town houses in Bath: their cultural significance may lie in the individual buildings themselves and their architectural form and detail alone, but often buildings draw significance from many sources and associations, both individually and collectively, and as components of the wider landscape and townscape.

RESTORATION means alterations and repairs designed to return something to its earlier state, or its state as it was at a particular point in the past, by removing later accretions or by repairing the surviving fabric.

Stonemasons tend to use the term to mean a repair which returns masonry to its complete state by repairing and renewing missing components, but others tend to avoid using the term to describe their work because of its association with the speculative restoration work in the Victorian period, in particular with the idealised reconstruction of medieval church architecture where there was no evidence of what was there before.

Cadw, the Welsh statutory government body for conservation, advises that restoration can only be justified when ‘it does not diminish the value of the surviving fabric and leads to the enhancement and sustainability of that asset’ (Conservation Principles, Cadw 2011).

CONSERVATION is defined by Cadw’s English equivalent, Historic England, as ‘the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains and where appropriate enhances its significance’.

It is not an attempt to return an object to an earlier or original state, but repairs which ‘restore’ integrity to the fabric may be part of the conservation process where their purpose is to maintain the significance of the fabric.

PRESERVATION is the process of maintaining something in its existing state and slowing or halting the rate of its deterioration.

Today the term is most commonly used in connection with museum objects and below-ground archaeology and is only used for very specific measures where a building is still in use because it excludes change.

Alterations are often necessary to allow a building to remain functional and in use, and for places to thrive. Interventions designed to improve a building’s performance or to enhance its completeness, appearance or significance are all excluded by the term.

However, the term appears in primary legislation where the criteria for protecting a building is said to be ‘the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest’. In this respect ‘preserving’ has been defined in case law as ‘keeping safe from harm’.

What Listing Means

Listed building grades and categories

Listed buildings primary legislation and policy guidance

Lists of buildings of ‘special architectural or historic interest’ are maintained by each of the four home nations. These ‘listed’ buildings are graded according to a variety of factors such as rarity and completeness, with Grade I and category A being the most important, but all listed buildings are equally protected by the need for consent, whatever the grade/category, inside and out.

It is a criminal offence to materially alter, extend or demolish one without listed building consent (LBC). Applications for listed building consent are made to the local planning authority who will then consult the national statutory body on applications for LBC involving demolition.

Where alterations are proposed, Historic England and Cadw are only consulted on proposals to alter Grades I and II* listed buildings in England and Wales, and Historic Environment Scotland is only consulted on categories A and B in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland the Historic Environment Division of the Department for Communities is consulted on all applications affecting listed buildings.

Buildings of a lower grade or category than those in the table above have no statutory protection, although local planning policy may seek to protect them through the control of development. These are called ‘locally listed’ buildings in England and ‘record only’ in Northern Ireland.

Each of the UK’s four nations operates slightly different planning and heritage protection systems, but the fundamentals are the same, applying protection for historic buildings through primary legislation supplemented by government policy and guidance, as shown in the table below.

These policies and guidance fall into the category of ‘material consideration’ which the local planning authority is required to take into account when considering proposals for listed building consent. Local government heritage protection policies which have been through public consultation will also be considered.

These provide specific guidance tailored to suit, for example, the character and significance of a local area. The primary legislation enables buildings to be listed, makes it a criminal offence to alter one without LBC, and gives the criteria for granting LBC.

So, all three acts state that LBC is required for ‘any works for 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’ (1990 Act Section 7, ’97 Act Section 6 respectively, and 2011 Act Article 85 – the wording is identical).

The criterion for assessing the proposal is ‘the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses’ (Sections 16 and 14 respectively and Article 85).

Applying for Listed Building Consent

  Victoria and Albert museum with modern extension
  Glass separates Amanda Levete Architects’ modern extension from the original fabric of the V&A Museum, allowing the original architecture to be read while minimising the physical intervention.

Like a planning application, an application for listed building consent would be required to include appropriately scaled drawings and photos showing the existing building and comparable drawings showing the proposals.

In addition, the local planning authority may require statements outlining:

  • why the building or component affected is significant in heritage terms
  • how that significance will be affected by the proposal, and
  • how any harm caused to the significance of the building or component can be justified.

This information is usually presented in a heritage statement. For a minor alteration this can be a relatively simple document, but it becomes more complicated where harm needs to be evaluated and justified.

Historic Environment Scotland in its Managing Change guidance on extensions points out that “most historic buildings can sustain some degree of sensitive alteration or extension to accommodate continuing or new uses.

Yet historic buildings vary in the extent to which they can accommodate change without loss to special interest. Some present the opportunity to promote design intervention that would not have been possible without the historic building as a creative spark.

Others are sensitive even to slight alterations.” Harm can often be mitigated by making the alterations reversible. New components such as partitions must be cut around the existing fabric rather than cutting into the original components, and all interventions should always be kept to the minimum.

Works not Requiring Listed Building Consent

Like-for-like repairs do not require consent provided they do not involve any alteration or demolition. This means using materials to match the existing materials (even if the existing materials were used inappropriately), and the repairs must be limited to the area that needs repairing.

All works should be carefully documented with before and after photos and notes detailing what was done. However, most repairs will involve a degree of alteration, so to avoid any misunderstandings the local authority should be notified before the work commences.

Likewise, works which would not affect the building’s ‘character as a building of special architectural or historic interest’ may also be carried out without listed building consent.

Works in both the above categories can also inadvertently lead to incidental alterations, particularly where non-specialist craftspeople are unsupervised.

For all works to historic buildings it is essential to engage the services of professional consultants who specialise in the conservation of historic buildings, both to specify the works and to liaise with the local authority.

Where minor works are unlikely to need LBC, they can present a specification that gives the local authority and the owners the confidence they need to proceed without fear of sagging floors, mouldy roof spaces or criminal prosecution.


The Building Conservation Directory, 2022


Jonathan Taylor MSc, IHBC is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory.

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