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  • Writer's pictureAlexis

What is a listed building?

​What is a listed building and why do I care?

A building is listed to recognise its importance and to ensure that careful consideration is given to its future. It is protected so that it can be enjoyed for future generations. It should be seen as a marker on how buildings used to be built and decorated, but that does not mean it needs to be locked in the past. But it does mean that respect needs to be given along with a fully considered approach (and approval) before you make any interior design or structural changes to your property.

Generally speaking the older the building, the greater the likelihood is of it being listed.

  • All buildings built before 1700 that are considered to be a close likeness to its original condition will be listed.

  • The majority of properties built between 1700 and 1840 are also likely to be listed.

  • Buildings post-1945 need to be considered of exceptional importance to be listed and also, as a rule, be over 30 years old. That does not mean “new builds” are not considered and designated listed and taste does not always come into it.

When a building is listed it is graded based on the perceived historical interest/association or special architectural interest. Listing could therefore be given because of the architect involved, someone deemed important who resided in the property or visiting the property or purely because of the amount of architectural/interior detailing.

The following grading system is used in England and Wales:

  • Grade I: Buildings that are of exceptional interest, and sometimes considered to be internationally important.

  • Grade II: Buildings that are particularly important and have more than a special interest.

  • Grade II*: Buildings that are of special interest and are nationally important.

Scotland adopt the categories of A, B and C. Northern Ireland categorise based on A, B+, B1 and B2.

The listing of a building is carried out by the Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport with advice from Historic England. The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) produces national standards for listings which includes information on determining whether a building has architectural and/or historical interest or associations with nationally important people or events. In addition to these factors the age and rarity of the building are deemed significant.

When a listing it is given it does not necessarily have to be a building. It could for example apply to railings, lampposts, telephone boxes, gravestones, etc. Where it does apply to a building, irrespective of the listing, it applies to both the inside and outside, not just the façade.

The extent of the listing is a complex matter as it could extend beyond the walls of the building to include ancillary buildings and may also apply to internal features deemed as fixed by the courts. This could be a statue, piece of artwork etc. This is where it can get complicated, but not impossible, when you want to make a changes to your property.

By listing a building it ensures that any changes are reviewed in line with the planning system. There are specific criteria that must be satisfied to ensure the integrity and longevity of the building. The higher the grading could result in more bodies needing to be involved in the design making. This could include, in addition to your local Council, Historic England and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

If you undertake any work and it does not have the correct authorisation then your Council can take action against you. In more serious cases this could be in the form of them applying to the courts and you being fined or imprisonment. There is no time limit on which they can take enforcement for listed buildings. At a minimum, they can stop work on your development and forcibly request that the you return the building to its previous state. All outcomes are not only stressful but also costly so please ensure you have the correct levels of approval before embarking on your project. If you are not sure about anything, I would encourage you to discuss your proposed changes with your local planning office to rule out anything rather than assume it is all fine only to find out that approval was needed when it is too late.

Putting things into context

Whilst you may find yourself the custodian of a listed property and are currently wishing it was not listed so that you could do what you like with it. Firstly, I would question why you have purchased such a property when a newer build might have been a more appropriate option for you. Secondly, if it were not for these listings we would soon not have anything tangible to remember the past. Following Henry VIII and Cromwell’s destruction orders and the Great Fire of London the need to protect such structures was truly realised.

By the middle of the 18th century The Society of Antiquaries was making records of historic buildings but it was not until the 19th century that a real interest in the history of Europe took hold.

Attempts were made from the late 19th century to World War Two to use legislation as a means to reinforce the protection of historic buildings and ancient monuments. Lists were created with contributions from local authorities, leading architects of that period and private societies which resulted in the establishment of the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments in 1908. We may have lost countless buildings and relics but we must continue this good work to ensure no more buildings are lost.

The ‘special architectural or historic interest’ element of listed buildings was introduced by Town and Country Planning Acts of 1944 and 1947. The Historic Building Council was established as result of the extensive damage brought about by World War Two and a report that looked at the preservation and maintenance of historic buildings. They had the authority to offer grants to assist with repairs.

Support is there if you need it

The Country House Scheme was introduced by the National Trust in 1937 allowing ownership to be transferred from the owner to the National Trust. This enabled the owner to remain in residence with certain conditions applied such as permitting public access, but the care of the property was no longer their responsibility. Whilst the idea of not being a true homer owner might not appeal to everyone it does help reduce the financial and logistical burden of maintaining a property.

Local trusts were introduced to support the Civic Trust, which was introduced in 1957, encouraging restoration schemes to protect and improve historic town centres. The momentum grew and the Civic Trust Awards Scheme is seen as the longest serving awards scheme across Europe.

The 1968 Town and Country Planning Act introduced the listed building control system and saw the start of the Listed Building Consent application process.

If you are currently embarking on a project and are feeling overwhelmed or are in the early stages of considering what you can do with your building or are thinking about purchasing a property help is out there. Your local planning office will be able to advice you on what changes can be made and if planning approval is required. There are also specialists such as myself, Heritage Interior Designers, who are passionate about respecting the past but understand they do not always suit modern living and can work with you. If you would like more information visit


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