Historic buildings contribute greatly to the unique character and atmosphere of British towns and villages. The most treasured of these buildings are therefore categorised as ‘listed’ – and are protected from unsightly alteration and demolition. If you own, or hope to own, one of the 500,000 listed properties in the UK, you’ll need to be aware of the rules, regulations and protocol that surround them.

Listed building grades

Listed properties are graded according to their importance, with only buildings of ‘exceptional interest’ listed as a Grade I. Grade II buildings are ‘of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them‘, while Grade II* buildings are ‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest’.

More than 90% of the listed buildings in the UK are either Grade II or II*. You will need consent from local authorities to work on any kind of listed building, though it will naturally be more difficult to gain approval for work on a Grade 1 property.

Consulting the authorities

If you wish to undertake renovation work on a listed building, you will first need to contact your local council. They will advise you as to whether you can carry out the intended work or not. In extreme cases, they may defer a decision to English Heritage, who have been in charge of the listing process since 2005.

As a general rule, alterations to a listed building will be permitted provided they do not affect its character, or lessen the building’s interest.

Inside and outside listed buildings

Be aware that the listing of a building applies to the inside of a property as well as the outside, so internal changes require permission in exactly the same way as superficial alterations. Outbuildings and associated lands are also usually listed along with the property.

The installation of doors and windows, alteration of fireplaces and removal of surfaces are all examples of internal work which will require prior consent. You’ll even need permission for common installations such as burglar alarms and television aerials.

Check first

It often takes more than a couple of months for councils to consider and decide on planning applications, so it can be tempting to proceed without permission - especially in the case of smaller renovation tasks. However, undertaking unauthorised work on a listed building is a criminal offence, and at best you’ll be made to undo all your work. It may not seem like it, but waiting patiently for the necessary permissions can actually save you time and money in the long run.