List It!

How to get a Building Listed

Neil Burton

A row of late georgian house in Sun Street, Hackney, c1815-20, which the Georgian Group beliaves ought to be listed. The proposal was rejected on the grounds that the terrace, which includes the 'Flying Horse', is 'too altered'.

Anyone can request the Government to list any building, but not all proposals are successful. Getting a building listed is partly a matter of getting the right information to the right person.

A 'listed building' is one which is included on the statutory List of buildings of special architectural interest. Buildings are added to the list as a result of surveys initiated by the authorities or they may be 'spot listed' individually as a result of a request usually made when there is a threat. Once added to the list, a building is protected by law, and its demolition or alteration without consent is a criminal offence.

The general criteria for including a building in the statutory lists is fairly clear: in England and Wales all buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are normally eligible, as are most such examples of about 1700 to 1840. Progressively stricter selection requirements apply to buildings erected after 1840. In Scotland all buildings erected before 1840, 'the character of which remains substantially unimpaired' are also included. No specific dates apply for listings in Northern Ireland, but the draft Planning Policy Statement proposes similar requirements for buildings constructed before the early 19th century. Only 'selected' buildings after 1914 are normally listed and in England the '30-year rule' means that anything built within the last 30 years can only be considered if it is both at risk and of such quality that it merits listing at Grade I or II*.

In the legislation the term 'building' is defined quite broadly and can include boundary walls, fountains, sundials, statues, bridges, bandstands and telephone boxes for example.

In all assessments age is obviously a major factor, supplemented by 'importance' and 'rarity'. Both the latter are subjective standards but there are some rules of thumb to follow. Importance means both architectural and historic importance. If it is known who designed it, the building can be measured against other works by the same architect. Even if the architect is not known it may be possible to show that a building is a good example of a particular style; this may be particularly relevant if the style is characteristic of a town or district. Architectural importance includes technology and both materials and the method of construction may contribute very much to a building's interest and special character. Historic importance can consist in association with historical events or figures or in being an early example of a particular type. Rarity may be more difficult to establish although the computerised database of listed buildings held at the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments can be helpful on this point.

It is important to remember that in order to be listed a building must be of intrinsic interest. Although many statutory lists contain buildings shown to be listed 'mainly for group value', contribution to the character of an area - as in a landmark building like a church or a spire, for example - is not on its own sufficient grounds for listing.

All suggestions for listing are channelled through the appropriate Government department to the inspectors in the Listing Branch at English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland or the DoE Northern Ireland. The inspectors will make an initial appraisal based on the photographs and information supplied. Many buildings are rejected at this stage. If the building seems a good candidate, the inspectors will make a site inspection which may be followed by a recommendation that the building be listed. All recommendations must be confirmed, or not, by the relevant Secretary of State.

A proposal for listing should be supported by a location map, a brief description of the building with the building date (if known) and any other historical or architectural information which makes the building special. The written material should be supplemented by photographs of the building, both external elevations and internal details if possible. Good clear photographs help enormously because they form the basis of the initial sift. If the inspector decides that the building is worth a site visit it will help him or her to have a name and telephone number to contact for access.

Since most applications for spot listing are made because of a particular threat to the building it is important to spell out the nature of the threat and the timescale involved.

If a building has already been rejected for listing in the past few years, the case will only be reconsidered if 'new information' is provided.

Listing suggestions and supporting material should be sent to the following addresses:


England  Listing Branch, Department for Culture Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH

Northern Ireland  Department of the Environment Northern Ireland, Environment and Heritage Service, 5/33 Hill Street, Belfast BT1 2LA

Scotland  Listing Section, Historic Scotland, Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SH

Wales  Designations Section, Cadw, Plas Carew, Unit 5/7, Cefn Coed, Parc Nantgarw CF15 7QQ

This article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 1999


NEIL BURTON is Secretary of The Georgian Group.

Further information


Legislation and guidance

see also:
Online information resources for statutory lists of listed buildings


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