An Introduction to Listed Buildings.

Original Article
February 10th, 2020


When carrying out pre purchase surveys and valuations, the law of averages suggests you are likely to encounter historic buildings at some stage, some of which may well be listed. It’s important to consider what to look out for and what considerations are important when advising your client.

What is a listed building?
‘Listing’ is the term given to the practice of listing buildings, scheduling monuments, registering parks, gardens and battlefields, and protecting wreck sites. Listing allows us to highlight what is significant about a building or site and helps to make sure that any future changes to it do not result in the loss of its significance.

A listing is not a preservation order preventing change. It does not freeze a building in time, it simply means that listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to that building which might affect its special interest. 

Why are buildings listed?
Buildings are listed to help protect the physical evidence of our past, including buildings which are valued and protected as a central part of our cultural heritage and our sense of identity. Historic buildings also add to the quality of our lives, being an important aspect of the character and appearance of our towns, villages and countryside.

Tower Hill House is a Grade II* listed building built in 1630. An account from Dr J. Wells, who bought the property in 1920, describes how it was covered with a layer of ‘greyish stucco’ when he bought it and one winter it began to deteriorate and uncover two beams. Dr Wells then employed a bricklayer to strip the stucco revealing the black beams and plastered oak laths we see today. Renovations were required to restore some of the beams though, which had become rotten underneath the stucco.[1]

Figure 1 and 2 – Tower Hill House, Bromyard and Winslow, Herefordshire

Is it listed?
To confirm if a building is listed, the first point of reference for any homeowner, legal advisor, agent or surveyor will be ‘The National Heritage List’ which is compiled and managed by English Heritage, a public body set up to help care for, enjoy and manage England’s historic environment. It’s the only official, up-to-date register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England, including listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens, and even battlefields.

It’s believed there are over 500,000 listed buildings, monuments and sites around the UK, accounting for approximately 2% of the UK’s building stock.

Types of listing
Listed buildings will typically be split into three categories listed according to their historic significance and interest. Some people often believe that the grading system is the key to understanding how much of the building is listed but this is a common misunderstanding. A Grade II Listed property is no less significant or less protected than a Grade I!

Grade I – Buildings are of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be

internationally important; only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade 1.

Grade II* – Buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest; 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*

Grade II –Buildings are nationally important and of special interest; 92% of all listed buildings are in this class and it is the most common grade of listing for a homeowner.

What’s the criteria for making a building listed?
The Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) uses the following criteria to decide which buildings to include on the list of protected buildings:

• architectural interest: buildings of importance because of their design, decoration and craftsmanship

• historic interest: buildings which illustrate an aspect of the nation’s social, economic, cultural or military history

• historic association: buildings that demonstrate close historical association with nationally important people or events

• group value: buildings that form part of an architectural ensemble, such as squares, terraces or model villages

In broad terms, buildings that are eligible for listed status are as follows:

• all buildings built before 1700 that survive in anything like their original condition

• most buildings of 1700-1840, although selection is necessary

• between 1840 and 1914 only buildings of definite quality and character; the selection is designed to include the major works of principal architects

• between 1914 and 1939 selected buildings of high quality or historic interest

• a limited number of outstanding buildings after 1939, but at least ten years old, and usually more than 30 years old

Figure 3 and 4 – 3 Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton

Born in the 19th Century, the Macdonald Sisters were four sisters notable for their marriages to well-known men including painter Edward Burne-Jones, who worked with William Morris. Louisa’s son was UK prime minister Stanley Baldwin and Alice’s son was Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book. The house is part of a terrace of three, all of which are Grade 2 listed and were built c1850. 

Locally listed buildings
Many councils, for example, Birmingham City Council, maintain a list of locally listed buildings as separate to the statutory list (and in addition to it). There is no statutory protection of a building or object on the local list, but many receive a degree of protection from loss through being in a conservation area or through planning policy. Councils hope that owners will recognise the merits of their properties and keep them unaltered if possible.

These grades are used by Birmingham:

•          Grade A: This is of statutory list quality. To be the subject of notification to Historic England or the serving of a Building Preservation Notice if imminently threatened.

•          Grade B: Important in the citywide architectural or local street scene context, warranting positive efforts to ensure retention.

•          Grade C: Of significance in the local historical/vernacular context, including industrial archaeological features, and worthy of retention.

Works undertaken without listed building consent
One of the main challenges for surveyors when dealing and advising on listed buildings can be identifying past works that might contravene the building’s listing status.

It is a well-publicised fact that carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building is considered a criminal offence and it’s not unusual to have seen individuals being prosecuted in the past.

A planning authority has the power to insist that all works undertaken without consent are reversed, although sometimes the damage seen has been irreversible, sadly.

The owner of a listed building without the proper consents in place may well have difficulties in selling a property which has not been granted Listed Building Consent for past works undertaken.

I’ve spotted some illegal works on a property I’m surveying – what now?
Where illegal alteration and/or works have been identified as part of the survey inspection, the current owner will usually end up having to indemnify the purchaser against any potential infringements if insufficient evidence can be produced of compliance.

At the risk of scaring everyone into never proceeding with the purchase of a historic listed building, it is worth pointing out that even though a prison term can be imposed on the property owner, this is for extreme cases only and has never been given to a person taking on the building (i.e. a potential client looking to purchase the property).

In this regard, it is always worth advising your client to engage with the Local Conservation Officer at their earliest opportunity. I will always encourage clients to try and arrange a mutual pre-application site visit if they are planning any significant changes to the building and grounds so as to identify and agree principal works at the outset to avoid later disappointment.

To provide a bit of practical guidance and context of what can and can’t be done with Listed Building Consent, let’s take a common building element such as windows as an example.
Permission might not necessarily be required for a ‘like-for-like’ repair to the windows BUT different materials or a different finish to the joinery (i.e. change of paint colour) will require consent.

Further, a window replacement will need consent, even if the new window is to be of the exact same design, material and finish! It’s also worth noting that a Conservation Officer may be willing to consider double glazing to some areas of the property as a strong case can be made that it will not detract from the character of the building.

Also, if an emergency repair was required because of storm damage or a stray football through the window, for example, consent may not be necessary provided the repair is like-for-like. Again, it’s advisable to notify the Conservation Officer as soon as possible to ensure they are aware of works.  

There are many examples and considerations that will play a part for the ongoing repair and upkeep of a listed building, but if in doubt consult with the Conservation Officer.

Although not residential, we couldn’t resist including the Feathers Hotel in Ludlow which dates back to 1619 and was converted to an inn in 1670. Named ‘The Most Handsome Inn in the World’ by the New York Times, this charming Grade 1 listed building still boasts the original plank front door and bays that are moulded with curved mullions and transoms, as well as cast diamond glazing.[2]

Figure 5 and 6 – Feathers Hotel, Ludlow

Top tips when surveying listed buildings
Take a wholistic approach
 – As a surveyor surveying or valuing the property, I will always treat and consider ALL of the building as being listed (including the internal elements, external elements and external grounds – including any outbuildings and boundary walls).

Do your research – Preliminary desktop research prior to the inspection is essential and I will always carry out as much internet research as possible. This will include reviewing the property listing on the English Heritage list, taking note of the listing description details and downloading a copy of the free OS map for reference on site.

Maps – Reviewing old OS maps to build up a historical overview of the property and immediate surrounding areas can be a great means of not only dating buildings but also to consider and date extensions.

Planning portals – Reviewing the local planning authority website for past applications can often be an invaluable resource in terms of historical records and reports attached to past planning applications. These could include archaeological surveys, bat surveys, feasibility studies, historic recording reports etc., all of which may provide additional context for the building and surrounding local environment.

Vendor interview – Wherever possible, I always like to meet the homeowner on site in order to discuss their time of ownership. Often, owners of listed buildings are rather proud of their stewardship of a part of British history and will often spend hours discussing all the research they have carried out. There is no better resource than the knowledge of the property owner at times!

Alterations to the building – Always look to identify and consider what changes have been made to the original fabric of the building (irrespective of the current owners’ comments). It is always worth noting the historic changes, whether they be extensions, re-roofing works or repairs, replacement windows and doors, internal layout changes etc. Once identified and considered you can flag these matters to your client and their legal advisor for further clarification. It is also worth pointing out to the client that it is the current owner that can be held liable and accountable for any infringements of previous owners. The liability remains with the homeowner, whether they’ve only just moved in or owned the property for many years!

Listed Building Consent – Notwithstanding the note above, it is possible to carry out alterations and changes to the building fabric BUT only with Listed Building Consent being sought and granted.

Listing information – It is also worth noting that the description of the property as shown on the Heritage Register is NOT a list of what is listed, rather, it is a general description of the property following a review as part of consideration of the listing status.

Ongoing maintenance & skilled trades – I cannot stress this one enough! Nowadays there are some fantastic skilled trades around and steering a client in the right direction is key to ensuring they are well placed to carry out any ongoing repair and maintenance works. Using traditional lime-based plasters and mortars, for instance, are essential to maintaining the eco systems within a historic building. All too often we still come across inappropriate use of modern materials such as cement and non-breathable paints. Referring the client to the right trades and professions is key.

Further information
English Heritage

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Institute of Historic Building Conservation

National Trust

About Ian Bullock Bsc (Hons) MRICS MEWI, Carpenter Surveyors
Ian Bullock is Managing Director of Carpenter Surveyors, a Midlands based Chartered Surveying practice established for over 30 years,  specialising in the provision of Residential Survey and Valuation services to both private individuals and financial institutions.