Historic buildings provide unique character that is unrivalled, they contribute greatly to the atmosphere of British towns and villages and are our heritage. The most treasured and cherished of these buildings are categorised as being ‘listed’. A property that is listed means that it is protected from unsightly alterations and ultimately destruction. If you own, or are looking to buy a listed property in the UK then there are plenty of rules and regulations that you need to know about.
A listed property is graded according to their importance. Whilst initially it may seem an exciting prospect to own a protected building, if not understood and managed correctly it can end up in disaster. Below is a basic breakdown of the three different types of listings that a building can have:
Grade I – these buildings provide ‘exceptional interest’.
Grade II* – are buildings which are ‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest.’
Grade II – are buildings are of ‘special interest’ and therefore must be preserved.
There are over 370,000 buildings currently protected by listing in the UK, and of those, by far the majority (over 92%) are Grade II. However, just because a building is listed, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be altered or extended. The local council and English Heritage do have more control over what changes can be made though and they may refuse permission for alterations if they don’t feel it is appropriate. While some home improvements, such as redecoration can usually be done without consent, many others, such as removing integral features, knocking down walls and building extensions, require your local council’s consent. The English Heritage website offer lots of information on the renovation of listed buildings and whether you will need to consult your local council. If in doubt, check online first, it may save you time and money. Even if your building is not listed, you may still live in a conservation area, protected in its look and feel by the planning process.
Consulting the Authorities
According to the Planning Act 1990, if you wish to undertake renovation work on a listed building, you will first need to contact your local council for listed building consent. They will advise you as to whether you can carry out the intended work or not. In some cases, they may even defer the decision to English Heritage, who have been in charge of the listing building process since 2005 and will decide whether the renovation you wish to do will damage the property. As a general rule of thumb, renovations to a listed building will be permitted provided they do not affect the character of the property, or lessen the buildings interest or worth.
If you ignore the Planning Act, the penalty could be a 12 month prison sentence or a fine to an unlimited amount – or worse, both! You will then also be expected to carry out, at your own expense, the removal of any work that you have completed that was un-authorised.
Inside and Outside Listed Buildings
Many aren’t aware that the listing of a building not only applies to the inside of the property but the outside too. Therefore if you are intent on making external changes as well as internal then it is important that you acquire permission in the same way. Be aware that all outbuildings and associated lands are also usually listed along with the property, so be careful that this doesn’t catch you out. It’s also worth remembering that trees are under special protection in conservation areas. If you’re proposing any work on a tree, you’re required to inform your local council six weeks before you intend to start work, to obtain their approval.
If you decide you want to carry out any type of renovation project on your listed property then it’s important that you leave plenty of time to seek permission, as most councils have an eight week timescale for a decision to be made. Although it may be tempting to proceed without permission, especially in the case of smaller renovation projects, undertaking any type of work without permission on a listed building is a criminal offence and you could be forced to undo all of your work. It may not seem like it, but waiting patiently for the necessary permissions can actually save you time and money in the long run.
Arranging insurance can be a real headache, especially getting cover for unoccupied properties during renovation. Listed properties and barn conversations cause a particular problem under most homebuilder policies. If you are thinking about undertaking a large renovation project, then it is certainly worth taking out renovation insurance. Although many online companies offer this service, some insurers actually only provide fire cover. Seeking out an independent renovation insurance broker can give you peace of mind; to breakdown the different types of cover you are likely to require and why. After all, if you are spending a large sum of money renovating your listed building, it is key that your house is properly safeguarded, especially if you have a mortgage as your lender may stipulate a certain level of insurance within the terms of the arrangement.
You will need to notify the renovation under the Party wall Act 1997 more than two, but less than 12 months before you start work. You can settle the nerves of your neighbours by instructing a Party Wall surveyor and by taking out specific Party Wall insurance. It may be that you also need to provide for minor works to your neighbour’s property as a result of the works so get proper advice and don’t presume that it won’t happen to you.