Conservation areas & Listed buildings

If the property for which you are seeking planning permission is a listed building or lies within a conservation area, your proposal is likely to be subject to stricter planning controls.

Conservation areas

Conservation areas are designated by local planning authorities and are defined as ‘areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance’. If you live in a conservation area, it is best to check with the local council before starting work which would not need planning permission elsewhere, otherwise, you may end up facing enforcement action.

Outline planning permission is not normally accepted in conservation areas as it is difficult for councils to evaluate the impact of a proposal without seeing the full details. Living in a designated conservation area has the following effects on planning permission:

  • Applications for planning permission are advertised in the local press and on the site itself.

  • ‘Permitted’ development which does not require planning permission is more restricted than usual

  • New developments must preserve or enhance the area’s character or appearance

  • Unlisted buildings cannot be demolished without planning permission unless they are very minor

  • Satellite dishes cannot be installed on chimney stacks or roof slopes facing the road without consent

Listed buildings

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is the designating body of listed buildings. These are defined by the DCMS as buildings of ‘special architectural or historical interest’. In addition to standard buildings, structures such as bridges, milestones, walls and even telephone boxes can be listed. Whether a building is listed and the grade of the listing can be found online at Historic England’s Listings website.

Those who own or carry out work on a listed building must be especially careful not to adversely impact the integrity of the building. This means there are strict controls on both internal and external alterations to the building, as well as work on certain outbuildings, which cannot be performed without Listed Building Consent from the local council.

Listed buildings are categorised into three grades:

  • Grade I – Grade 1 listed buildings are deemed to be of exceptional interest. Examples of Grade I listed buildings include castles, churches and large country houses.

  • Grade II – This is the most common grade with 86% of listed buildings falling into this category. These buildings are deemed to be of special interest.

  • The special grade Grade II* is awarded to Grade II buildings with some additional merit, e.g. a unique interior, that are not exceptional enough to warrant a Grade I listing.

The legislation surrounding listed buildings is the same no matter what grading the building receives.

What to do

It is recommended to have an informal discussion with conservation specialists at your local council before drawing up detailed plans to alter a listed building or build within a conservation area. Applications for consent to alter a listed building must include scaled drawings of your intended changes. You should also include a completed application form. The process of sending an application is free, and you have the right to appeal to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if your application is refused.

Legal requirements

If work is carried out without the relevant consent you may be given a substantial fine or even imprisoned. For this reason, you must always consult your local authority before carrying out work on a listed building or in a conservation area.

Listed buildings must always be kept wind and watertight, structurally sound and in a reasonable state of repair. If a listed building is neglected by its owner, section 48 of the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990 permits the council to serve a ‘repairs notice’ on the owner outlining the work required to rectify it. If the owner does not apply within a specified timescale, the council can compulsorily acquire the building. If a listed building is either unoccupied or partly occupied, s.54 of the 1990 act allows councils to serve an ‘urgent works notice’ to carry out work on a building and look to recoup costs from the building’s owner.

Historic England

If you are looking to change a historic environment, Historic England offers a range of services to support you. This includes their Charter for Advisory Services which explains how they handle requests for pre- and post-application planning advice.

While Historic England can offer you assistance, the local conservation officer at your local council is best placed to offer you advice on any proposal concerning a listed building or conservation area and should be your first contact.