What is a Listed Building & How are they chosen?
As outlined in the Government’s Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act, a ‘listed building’ or ‘listed structure’ refers to a property that has been recognised as a building of special architectural or historical interest.
Despite the term, the definition of what constitutes a ‘building’ is rather wide. The Planning Act states that a building can refer to “any structure or erection, and any part of a building, as so defined”. As a result, listed ‘buildings’ can range from anything from major London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral, to even a sewer gas lamp in Sheffield.
Each nation of the United Kingdom has their own listed building list, with England’s chosen by the Secretary of State who compiles and approves lists from the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England.
Meanwhile the Historic Environment Scotland and the Historic Environment Division of the Department for Communities are responsible for Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. Wales meanwhile has the ‘Cadw’ – Derived from the Welsh verbal noun for preservation, the Cadw is an historic environment service of the Welsh Government that works to protect historic buildings and other significant structures/landmarks.
Buildings can be nominated by anyone, not just the rightful owner of the structure. However, as mentioned above, to become a listed building the structure will have to meet one of two categories.
Typically, listed buildings are older buildings that were originally built centuries ago (circa 1700 -1900’s) and have either survived or been restored to closely match their original condition. However, on rare occasions, modern buildings have also been accepted as listed buildings, especially if they’re particularly unique.
To be considered under the ‘special architectural interest’ criteria a building must be of significant importance in its architectural design.
Buildings must display a truly unique or noteworthy decoration or craftsmanship and have been at the forefront of technology for the time of its original development. A good example of a fairly modern building under this category is the Lloyd’s Building in London’s Lime Street.
Completed in 1986, the Grade I- listed Lloyd’s Building (pictured right) is one of the most recently constructed buildings to have obtained a listed status in England. The eye-catching office which is the home of Lloyd’s of London stands out from the myriad of other financial offices due to the unique design of the building.
Unlike regular offices which feature a relatively blank glass or brick exterior, the Lloyd’s building made the list as it was considered innovative for having its staircases, water pipes and even its 12 glass lifts on the outside of the property.
The criteria for buildings of ‘special historic interest’ is a bit more straightforward than those considered under the special architectural interest’ criteria as typically most buildings built centuries ago naturally tend to have more historic relevance attached to them.
To be considered a structure of historic interest a building must be (or previously have been) important to the nation’s history; this can be either social, economic, cultural, or military.
In some cases, an older building can be granted special historic status due to being the birthplace or associated in another way with a nationally important person, such as Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford Upon Avon in the West Midlands.
Please refer to the Principles of Selection for Listed Buildings by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to learn more about how listed buildings are chosen.
Making the Grade
England & Wales
Listed buildings in England & Wales are classified into three individual statutory ‘grades’ to determine their listed status.
Prior to 1970, there were four grades of classification. However, the former fourth grade, ‘Grade III’, was considered non-statutory and abolished in 1970. Buildings in Grade III were considered to be of some importance; however, many of these buildings were later added to the remaining three statutory grades.
The following rankings cover the grades of listed buildings in England & Wales.
Grade I – Buildings that are of exceptional interest
Grade I listed buildings are considered as the most prestigious category and are only given to sites that are considered to be of exceptional national, architectural or historical importance.
Due to a greater emphasis being placed on the importance of the building as either national or historically important, many Grade I buildings are typically internationally recognised structures such as London’s Palace of Westminster or the Houses of Parliament as it is more commonly known.
Grade II* – Buildings that are particularly important and deemed to be of more than a special interest.
Similar to a Grade I building, this category is rarely given to many buildings in England and Wales, with well under 10% of the total listed buildings across both countries receiving a Grade II* status.
What separates a Grade II* building from a Grade I is that while buildings or structures in this category may hold some architectural, national or historical significance, they aren’t deemed to be of the same level of importance as their more prestigious Grade I counterparts.
Grade II – Buildings that are of a special architectural or historic interest.
As mentioned above Grade II status is awarded to any building that has a special architectural or historical interest yet doesn’t have enough importance to be classified as Grade II* or above.
Due to its broader acceptance criteria, many listed structures throughout England and Wales fall into this category.
In Scotland, however, the listing system is similar but sticks to a more straightforward A, B & C categorisation, making it easier to comprehend.
According to the Historic Environment Scotland, the classifications for each category are as follows:
Category A – “Buildings of special architectural or historical interest which are outstanding examples of a particular period, style or building type.”
Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s most iconic Category A buildings, along with Glasgow’s oldest building and mainland Scotland’s oldest cathedral, Glasgow Cathedral.
Category B – “Buildings of special architectural or historic interest which are major examples of a particular period, style or building type.”
Category B consists of buildings and structures that are still immensely important from either an architectural, cultural or historical perspective and are deemed to be not as exemplary as their Category B counterparts.
Category C – “Buildings of special architectural or historic interest which are representative examples of a period, style or building type.”
Similarly to Category B, when compared to Category A, Category C status is given to buildings that retain a lot of the qualifying attributes of Category B but are deemed to be either less well preserved or be of lesser importance.
A complete list of listed buildings in Scotland can be found here.
The listing process in Northern Ireland began in 1974. As outlined in the Planning Act 2011, the Department of the Environment is responsible for the classification of listed buildings in Northern Ireland.
Listed buildings in Northern Ireland are divided into four grades, and like the rest of the UK, a similarly wide range of special architectural or historical interest criteria is used to rank structures.
The Northern Ireland Grade A category refers to buildings that are of the most importance to Northern Ireland. Many of the Grade A structures in the country are those that feature outstanding architectural design and are often nationally recognised monuments or tourist attractions.
This category is given to high-quality buildings that have exceptional features, interiors or environmental qualities.
Typically, Grade B+ buildings will feature much of the same qualities as a Grade A building. However, these Grade A buildings are deemed to have had ‘detracting features’ or alterations to their original design, thereby ranking them as a slightly lower grade.
Buildings under this category are classified as being “good examples” of a particular period or style. However, compared to Grade B+, these buildings may have a degree of alteration or imperfection of design.
This category is seen as the ‘entry-level’ status for listed buildings in Northern Ireland. Buildings that are marked as Grade B2 are typically buildings that meet the special architectural or historic interest tests of higher grades. However, unlike the structures in GradeB1 or above, they only show a few of the desired attributes.
An online database of listed buildings in Northern Ireland can be viewed via the Department for Communities website.
The Legal Implications
Unlike regular properties, listed buildings and heritage assets throughout all of the UK have strict rules and regulations on what can and can’t be altered. As all of the governing bodies in the UK recognise the exterior, interior and the surrounding land as being a part of a listed building, you must adhere to the rules on what can be done to restore or modernise the premises.
Should you wish to demolish part of a listed building or carry out any alteration or extension works you must first gain written permission from the local authority responsible for the building. This process is known as planning permission and applies to all significant development work carried out across the country.
Regardless of whether you’re aiming for something ambitious such as turning a former castle and listed building into a hotel, or simply building a pub on unused land, you need planning permission before building can (legally) begin.
Once you have gained permission to develop your project, you must adhere to the design you submitted to the local authority, as any unauthorised alterations to the project could see you be faced with a listed building enforcement notice.
Depending on the importance of the structure, and what you are aiming to do, you might also need to gain listed buildings consent from the Secretary of State as well.
Failure to gain planning permission prior to carrying out any work on the structure is a criminal offense and depending on the grade of the building and the severity of the crime, you could face imprisonment.
In the event that you have received an enforcement notice you could find that the financing as well as the future sale of the property could be in jeopardy. Should you receive an enforcement notice it’s imperative that you adhere to the warning and stop work on the building immediately.
Should you decide to ignore the notice and continue working on the property, you might be liable for an unlimited fine and even a two year prison sentence.
To learn more about Heritage Protection, please see the brilliant in depth Heritage Protection Guide by Historic England.