Posted on 5th July 2013

Ensure Listed Building Planning Changes Run Smoothly

By Martin Williamson, Head of Residential Property, Latimer Hinks Solicitors

It is a great source of pride for many people that the property they live in is a listed building. Their home has been judged to be of national importance, in terms of architecture or historic interest, and it is often the case that the occupier has worked very hard to be able to own such a property.

Not surprisingly, when most people achieve this goal, they want to stay in that property for a long time, so it is natural that, at some point, changes or repairs will be desirable or necessary. When such a time comes, there really is no need to worry about the fact that the property is listed.

While not an exhaustive list, external changes which require planning approval include extensions, alterations, rebuilding, stonework, rendering and the removal or addition of features such as railings. Internally, this can include alterations to layout, such as floor levels and internal partitions, or changes to features of interest or value.

It is important to note that carrying out unauthorised work to a listed building is a criminal offence, which can lead to prosecution, and a local authority can insist on the reversal of all work. However, as with any other planning procedure, taking time to prepare in advance, be fully informed, and handle things correctly can make things run as smoothly, and as legally, as possible.

In England, there are more than 374,000 listed buildings, so it is no surprise that local authorities have conservation officers in place to help guide the process. Before making an application, it is wise to talk with these experts about your goals, get an outline of what is acceptable and any adaptations to proposals which might be required. This could not only speed up the application process, by making the first application more likely to be approved, but it will also save the cost of re-drafts and re-submissions.

It also helps to be aware of why the property is listed. This in itself can give a strong indication of what might or might not be acceptable. For example, if the property in question is listed because it has the only chimney of its kind in the world, the idea to knock it out and replace it with an Aga can be scrapped completely before any time or money has been wasted.

Most important of all, due to the legal repercussions of unauthorised work, people should take the correct advice and get the relevant permissions even for repairs at the earliest stage possible. By doing things "by the book, the process of making changes to a listed building need not be hugely complex or any more stressful than for a non-listed property. Owning such a home is something which should be enjoyable, not a reason for concern.