The burden of listed buildings

The dream of owning a picturesque period house in the Suffolk countryside can be alluring but the reality is often very different. Many of our historic buildings and houses are “listed” for their architectural or historic merit to ensure that their important features are not damaged or destroyed.

Owning a listed building can be burdensome. The biggest problem is that alterations to the internal or external structure will usually require listed building consent in addition to planning permission and building regulation approval. Altering a listed building without obtaining listed building consent is a criminal offence and can result in enforcement action by the local authority at any time, even if the alterations had been made many years earlier. A particular problem for anyone buying a listed building is to identify any structural changes that have been made to ensure that appropriate consents have been obtained. There is often reluctance on the part of the local authority to assist with this process.

Listed building consent is only required if the proposed structural changes affect the listed building’s character as a building of special interest. Interpreting this is a matter of individual judgement and often leads to disputes between owners and the local authority.

The government appears to have recognised that the listing building regime is too bureaucratic and has published a consultation on reducing the regulatory burden of the current listed building process. The consultation seeks views on four possible options for changing the current system:

  • A system of prior notification. The owner of the listed building would notify the local authority of proposed works and the local authority could require the owner to make a full listed building consent application. If no such request is made, the local authority would be deemed to have granted consent in respect of the notified works.
  • A system of class consents. This would allow local authorities to issue a general consent for a particular class or classes of works that could be carried out in an area or to a particular type of property without the need for a separate listed building consent application.
  • The power to grant a certificate of lawful works for alterations that have already been made without a listed building consent. This would help to alleviate the risk of enforcement action for earlier changes made without listed building consent.
  • A system which allows local authorities to appoint accredited agents to make technical recommendations to the local authority with the authority still taking the final decision.

Any changes to the current system will need to strike a fair balance between preserving the important features of historic buildings and giving owners more certainty about what they can and cannot alter.


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