April 6, 2011

Listed building – delight or blight?

The term ‘listed building’ now arises in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and, in short, is simply a building which appears on a list maintained by The Secretary of State as being one of special architectural or historic interest.

What constitutes a building of special architectural or historic interest is not defined within the Act and accordingly requires judgment by The Secretary of State or someone on his behalf. Unfortunately, despite the burden which flows from listing, an owner has no right of appeal against a decision to list their property.

It is often thought that it is only the exterior of a listed building which is protected but this is not the case, the burden of owning a listed building stretches to its interior features also. In addition to this, the listing includes any object or structure fixed to the building and any object or structure built within the curtilage of the building before 1 July 1948. It is therefore important to recognise that whilst the description of the building, on the list maintained by The Secretary of State and usually provided to purchasers by the local planning authority, may make no reference to interior features (e.g. fireplaces), or to freestanding outhouses, both may be part of the listing and therefore protected.

The protection awarded to listed buildings means owners, or indeed occupiers, require Listed Building Consent – the approval of the local planning authority – to execute any works for the demolition of a listed building or for its alteration or extension in any way which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. We all perhaps understand the meaning of the word demolition but just what works affect its character as a building of special architectural interest?

In the majority of cases this question is not easily answered. Yet, undertaking work for which Listed Building Consent is required without first obtaining this consent is a criminal offence punishable with a fine up to £20,000 and in very serious cases can even warrant a jail sentence of up to 2 years.

Whilst the latter is most unlikely except in very rare cases with a high degree of culpability, this does not get away from the fact that the uncertainty and complexity of the law is a potential nightmare for owners of listed buildings. It therefore follows that careful thought and perhaps specialist advice from an expert may be needed to understand the extent of the listing. 

Click for information on Holmes & Hills' Planning Law advice services, provided by the firm's Planning & Development Team. The department is recognised as being one of the leading team's of Planning Law solicitors in the country by Planning Magazine, the leading industry magazine for planning professionals.

Posted 06/04/2011 by:
David Whipps
Consultant in Planning & Development Team

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