Do I need Listed Building Consent, and will it be granted?

This overview summarises the key considerations on when Listed Building Consent is required and what works are likely to receive approval. These basic tips should help you to understand the process and considerations to minimise any issues in gaining consent.

Advice from Avalon Planning & Heritage’s Heritage Director Nick Bishop.

It’s a privilege to own a listed building, but it can also be daunting for a number of reasons. Repair works can be more expensive due to specialist trades and materials required. Design negotiation and Council approval require additional time a (a statutory minimum of 8 weeks for a Listed Building Consent) and cost. Most importantly, Local Authorities have the power to prosecute and fine anyone found to have carried out work without the necessary approval.

This overview summarises the key considerations on when Listed Building Consent is required and what works are likely to receive approval. These basic tips should help you to understand the process and considerations to minimise any issues in gaining consent.

Do I Need Listed Building Consent?

Under the terms of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 authorisation is required for any works of alteration, extension or demolition which would ‘affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest’.

There is a common misunderstanding that only the exterior of Grade II listed buildings is protected. This is not the case. Listing protects the entirety of the building (interior and exterior) regardless of the Grade. However, at the higher Grades (Grade II* and I), alterations are subject to greater scrutiny and justification, often necessitating consultation with Historic England.

Historic or architectural character has the potential to be affected in a number of ways. Alteration or removal of historic features such as lath and plaster walls, historic timber windows, doors and floors, will almost certainly require Consent. Special interest can also be affected by changes to the plan form, such as the subdivision of key historic spaces like grand domestic rooms in Georgian town houses. Replacement of modern features can also affect a building’s character, for example, the Local Authority might wish to control replacement of modern sash windows to ensure that their replacements are specified to the correct detail.

The protection also applies to historic objects and structures affixed to the building and (pre-1948) structures within the building’s curtilage, known as ‘curtilage listing’. This could include barns, boundary walls, gates and other garden features.  

Historic fixtures such as chimneypieces, staircases and fitted cupboards are also protected where these contribute to the special interest. Special care should also be given to less obvious fixtures and fittings such as historic sanitary ware, technologies (such as early telephones or call systems) and wall finishes (such as early wallpapers or wall paintings) as these can be of considerable importance when they represent rare, unique or early examples of their use or have important associations. 

That said, lighter touch refurbishment schemes often won’t need Consent. Approval is not required for:

Removal of soft-fittings and furnishings – carpets, curtains, light fittings

Removal of modern fittings that were never part of the historic design – for example, bathrooms, kitchens

Removal or replacement of modern services and other modern features provided that they can be removed without harm to the historic fabric

The Act doesn’t comment directly on repairs, but it is generally accepted that any minor ‘like-for-like’ repairs carried out in matching materials will not affect special interest. Unfortunately there are inevitable grey areas where a judgement needs to be made on whether the works do or don’t affect the building’s character. Based on our experience, typical examples are:

Insulation: Some insulation can easily be added to a historic building without affecting special interest, such as insulation within a loft space. However, other types of insulation, such as the creation of floor slabs and internal or external wall insulation, are likely to affect special interest and may therefore require Listed Building Consent.

Repairs: Are the repairs genuinely like-for-like? For example, replacing thatch with a different thatch material affects the special interest, as the material can be regionally specific. Another grey area with repairs is at what point a ‘like-for-like’ repair becomes more than just a repair. For example replacing a few slipped tiles with a matching tile is a clear repair, but replacing large areas of roofing can amount to more than a simple repair. The local authority will want to ensure tiles have been sourced to match the existing ones, any sound original tiles are retained and reused and the fixing method matches the rest of the roof.

The ambiguity is compounded by the fact that different conservation officers in different authorities may hold different views.

Will Listed Building Consent be Granted?

Where Listed Building Consent is required, The Act and the statutory Development Plan places a duty on Local Authorities to consider whether the works would harm the building’s special interest. If there is harm, an application can only be approved if the harm is necessary or otherwise outweighed by any public benefits that the proposals may deliver.

Local authorities will understand the need for works which will support the appeal and longevity of the building to encourage long term repair and maintenance. However, this should always be guided by the need to preserve the elements which contribute towards its special interest. Harm may be acceptable if it will ultimately result in the conservation of a historic asset which would otherwise be redundant, but a use which provides a viable future may not always align with the owner’s intentions. For example, barns may be more suited to a commercial use which preserves its open character and requires minimal external changes, rather than a residential use which requires significant subdivision and the creation of many new openings.

Otherwise harmful alterations may be accepted where they are necessary to deliver ‘public’ benefits. These could be:

Upgrades to comply with Equality Act

Upgrades to comply with fire safety

Upgrades to enhance the thermal efficiency and energy performance of the building.

These interventions should still follow conservation best practice and be the minimum necessary to achieve the requirements. It is also of note that special concession is applied to Listed Buildings in respect of Building Regulation compliance.

The need for thermal and energy performance enhancements is an interesting area. Local authorities must balance the need to contribute towards the national effort to tackle climate change with a potential loss of fabric or character. The issue needs to be addressed both nationally and locally and addressing the historic housing stock has substantial potential to contribute significantly. However, this must be handled sensitively and proportionately on a case by case basis. For example Solar panels are also a common issue, with some authorities accepting solar panels in roof valleys or behind parapets where they won’t be visible, some will accept them on ancillary buildings or ground mounted arrays and some are beginning to accept solar slates in certain circumstances. Insulation, as previously mentioned is also a potentially tricky area. Internal or external wall insulation has the potential to affect the proportions of rooms or the interaction with window or door surrounds, this needs to be carefully balanced against special interest. For example it could be more appropriate to use internal wall insulation in service areas which have no features such as cornice or skirtings and where window reveals are simple and there are no shutters or architrave. However using internal wall insulation in a high status space where it would affect skirting, architraves, window reveals or fireplaces, would almost certainly amount to an unacceptable level of harm.

When considering the removal or upgrade of fabric, it is crucial to understand if it is ‘original’, ‘historic’ or modern reproduction. This will have a bearing on its contribution to the special interest. It is of note that even modern fabric, if it reinforces a historic or original layout for example, may still contribute towards special interest. Common examples are the installation of double-glazed windows. Where the sashes are modern replacements, it may be possible to replace these with slimline double glazed units, in a like for like window style. However, original sashes may not have sufficient depth to glazing bars to retrofit slimline units within or they may contain historic glazing. In these instances secondary glazing is likely the only option to efficiently upgrade their performance. Secondary glazing can achieve a greater thermal improvement over inserting double glazed units and can often be installed without the need for listed building consent.

As pre-application advice from local authorities becomes ever more challenging to obtain, it can leave listed building owners at a distinct disadvantage in knowing what needs consent and if their proposals are likely to receive support from the local authority. Avalon Planning & Heritage’s heritage consultants can help you navigate change to your listed building by establishing the history and significance of your building, to understand its special interest and advise on what works  are likely to achieve consent and suggest ways to improve your chances of a successful outcome while achieving your aims.

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