What is a Listed Building? Can You Change, Develop or Adapt a Listed Building?

We look into the types of listed building across the UK and explain the dos and don’ts of adapting or changing a listed property.

Article By: Francesca Burke
Last Update: September 2019

What is a Listed Building?

Listed buildings have slightly different categories depending on where you live in the UK. Nevertheless, each authority broadly agrees on the definition of a listed building: a building of special architectural or historical interest. As a rule of thumb, the older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed. According to Historic England, ‘all buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed’. Generally a building has to be over 30 years old to be eligible for listing.

England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all have different listing systems. England and Wales define buildings as Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II. Scotland uses A, B and C while Northern Ireland uses A, B+ and B. It’s worth noting that the categories aren’t necessarily interchangeable – a Grade II* listed building in England might not meet the specifications for a Grade B+ building in Northern Ireland.

Can You Carry Out Renovations or Alterations on a Listed Building?

If a property is listed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t live there, decorate or renovate it. In the event that you make any changes that could impact the property’s ‘special interest’,  you’ll just have to have to apply for consent from your local authority. As Historic England’s useful web page explains, you should check with your local Conservation Officer and carry out a bit of research before you start planning any major changes. The government’s planning portal supplies more detailed information for buildings in England.

Because every listed building is unique, it’s important to do as much research about your particular property as you can before you even apply for planning permission. When planning out any changes, make sure you employ a registered architect and have your property surveyed professionally (we can help with that!). Don’t rush into anything… and prepare yourself for a lot of back and forward with your local authority!

Here’s a helpful video from Historic England about listed building consent:

How Many Listed Buildings Are There?

According to British Listed Buildings, there are around 500,000 listed buildings across the UK.

You’ll find a vibrant mix of listed buildings across the UK. Because the definition of ‘listed’ is so broad, listed buildings are in almost every town and city. Furthermore, they might not be the buildings you’d expect.

The BT Tower, for example, is listed, and so is the Balfron Tower tower block in east London. Not as pretty as Westminster Abbey, perhaps, but a stunning example of Brutalist architecture. Moreover, buildings aren’t necessarily synonymous with popular buildings; Preston Bus Station, which has been branded an ‘eyesore’, was awarded listed status in 2013.

Balfron Tower. Photograph by Joe Roberts for East End Review.

Famous Listed Buildings

You’re definitely familiar with listed buildings, even if you don’t know it! As well as frequently being the site of historic events, listed buildings are often chosen as locations for film or TV because they provide stunning backdrops. The Glenfinnan Viaduct in Inverness-shire, Scotland, for example, will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the Harry Potter films. Similarly, Castle Ward in County Down, Northern Ireland, will be instantly recognisable to Games of Thrones fans as Winterfell.

Some listed buildings are more obviously ‘iconic’ than others. Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire is often seen in television or films and is also the famous for being the setting of the Profumo Affair in the 1960s. In Wales, on the other hand, you’ll see a spectacular Grade I listed building if you happen to drive from Gloucestershire into Chepstow over… the Severn Bridge!

Residents of our native Southend will know the Kuursal – which is Grade II listed!

If you’re in England and Wales, read the listed selection guides here. If you’re in Scotland, find out about listed buildings here. For Nothern Ireland, click here. Each site has a directory for you to search for listed buildings – why not look up the listed buildings in your town?

Listed Building: Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland

Glenfinnan Viaduct, from visitscotland.com

Hopefully, this explains the ins and outs of listed buildings in the UK. If you have any questions or queries we can help with then please let us know in the comments section!

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