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In the spirit of “New Year – New Me” many homeowners are turning their minds to carrying out improvements on their homes. However those who live in listed buildings need to exercise caution as even minor home improvements can prove controversial due to the listing.

It is estimated that there are around 500,000 listed buildings in England and Wales. About two-thirds of these are residential dwellings. Properties are listed if they are of special architectural and/or historic interest. The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) contains details of all listed buildings in England. Two and a half percent of listed buildings are Grade I being of exceptional interest. About six percent of listed buildings are Grade II*, being particularly important buildings of more than special interest. The remaining buildings are Grade II being of special interest. This is the most likely grade of listing for a homeowner.

If you live in a home that is a listed building then standard home improvements may well require listed building consent before they are carried out. Examples of such improvements would include adding a bathroom, replacing old floorboards or rotten window frames, installing air-conditioning or re-rendering a wall.

Whether listed building consent is required depends on whether the works to the listed property would “affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest”. This is a subjective test and so advice from an expert should be obtained, and you should consider instructing a builder who specialises and is highly experienced in carrying out works on listed buildings.

Applications for listed building consent need to be made to the local authority who will have a listed building officer. Applications often need to be supported by an expert report which will consider the impact of the proposed works on the historic or architectural significance of the building. This will help the listed building officer to determine whether listed building consent should be granted.

Each year many owners of homes that are listed buildings carry out improvements to their homes ignorant of the fact that listed building consent may be required. There are a number of misconceptions as to whether listed building consent is required.

Some owners believe that the listing only applies to just part of the property when in fact the whole building will be listed both inside and out. This will also extend to outbuildings and also to additions to the building which may appear to be of no historical or architectural interest. For example that rickety 1970’s lean-to conservatory that you want to remove will still form part of the listing. Both the removal and any replacement need to be approved by the listed building officer.

Furthermore some believe that only a particular fixture may be listed such a fireplace and therefore other features could be removed or replaced or repaired in a way that is not consistent with it being an architectural historical feature of the building.

The fact that the building is only Grade II listed does not mean that the building has less protection as the same tests that are applied to considering applications for consent are applied for Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings. Grade II buildings are treated no differently.

The consequences of carrying out works without the requisite listed building consent can be serious and the owner who has had the work carried out can be prosecuted by the local authority. The offence is punishable with a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or an unlimited fine – although such prosecutions are very rare.

The more usual course of action is for the local authority to serve a listed building enforcement notice requiring the carrying out of remedial works. Clearly this is an expensive repercussion of carrying out the works without consent. There is a right of appeal against the notice but usually the facts of the matter will speak for themselves.

The time limits for enforcement that apply for breach of planning consent do not apply for breaches of listed building consent. There is no immunity period for works done without the necessary listed building consent or where there is a breach of the conditions set out in a consent. Therefore there is potential for the local authority to take enforcement action in relation to unauthorised works despite the passage of time.

Whilst the current owner may be oblivious to a breach, it is likely that it will come to light when he comes to sell the property. Purchasers of listed buildings are always strongly recommended to have a survey carried out and this will identify possible breaches of an existing consent or works that were carried out since the building was listed that required consent. This will raise concerns for the buyer who may be reluctant to purchase a property where there is a risk of enforcement action.

If your home is listed and you wish to carry out improvements to it, then advice should be sought from the local authority’s listed building officer to see whether consent should be obtained. The work should be carried out by a contractor who is experienced in carrying out such improvements on listed buildings to ensure that there are no breaches of any consent that is granted or that work is carried out in a way which would have required a further consent to be obtained.

For further information regarding this topic, please contact Rosie McCormick Paice or any member the Edwin Coe Property team.

Edwin Coe LLP is a Limited Liability Partnership, registered in England & Wales (No.OC326366). The Firm is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. A list of members of the LLP is available for inspection at our registered office address: 2 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3TH. “Partner” denotes a member of the LLP or an employee or consultant with the equivalent standing.

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