Many people are put off purchasing a Listed building for fear of the controls over and costs of historic building ownership. Architects Nye Saunders explain that an understanding of what is involved can make sure that you don’t miss out on the opportunity to live in a home of genuine character and authenticity
Conversely some people buy and alter a Listed building without obtaining the necessary permissions and find that they are facing prosecution for carrying out unauthorised works.
The law is strict
This can lead to a criminal conviction and up to two years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Usually this level of fine would only be on the most brazen breaches and where no attempt has been made to engage with Historic England or the local planning authority, but clearly a fine and a criminal conviction is not part of contented home ownership!
You should also note that many structures, outbuildings etc., within the curtilage of the main Listed building may also be considered curtilage Listed and in effect have the same level of control as the main building.
Properties within defined conservation areas can also have some controls over them; e.g. over colour of front doors, although these are usually just to help preserve the overall appearance of the conservation area itself. It is important therefore to understand what controls there are over your home.
Inside and out
One common misconception is that ‘it’s only the outside that is Listed’. This is not so and even the most seemingly minor alteration on any grade of Listed building and whether that be inside or out may require permission.
Like for like repairs can be carried out without consent but where extensive, such works start to become more akin to alterations and the local authority may be entitled to take the view that these require permission.
Unfortunately there is no definitive list of what work may or may not be acceptable – as much because such a list may appear too restrictive to allow for the variety of ways in which issues might be addressed.
Don’t be put off
This may all seem daunting but in practice local authorities have limited resources to police their stock of Listed buildings and common sense has to prevail.
All local authorities will have access to or employ conservation or historic building officers to advise them and you will find that generally these are enthusiasts with a love of historic architecture and a keen wish to help adapt and provide advice on looking after our historic houses.
Indeed Historic England recognise that the best way to encourage the maintenance of Listed Buildings is to keep them relevant and usable in the 21st century.
Work with them
Engaging with the conservation officer is the best way to ensure compliance. For simple works a phone call or email enquiry may suffice and can be a good way to start to build up a relationship of trust.
For more extensive works it may be sensible to ask an experienced conservation professional to advise you, to develop your proposals and to engage with the conservation officer.
The AABC for example maintain a Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation https://www.aabc-register.co.uk/. These professionals will have the necessary experience and will be able to advise you of what can and as importantly what cannot be done. They will also advise on obtaining the necessary permissions.
Permission usually takes the form of a formal Listed Building Consent, or for more minor items a simple telephone conversation or email agreement with the local authority conservation officer may suffice.
The ‘Four Year’ rule
Another common misconception is that there is a four year rule whereby anything not ‘picked up’ by the local authority within that timescale for being carried out can automatically be approved. That may apply in some circumstances on unlisted buildings in terms of planning permission but does not apply on Listed buildings.
This is a point worth considering when purchasing a house because in theory unauthorised alterations by former owners could be required to be regularised and could even lead to prosecutions of those concerned.
A solicitor may well pick up on any such items but cannot be expected to be building historians in establishing what has changed on a house and when.
Again the advice of a conservation professional would be worth seeking to ensure that what should have been someone else’s problem does not become yours.
Help is at hand
If you do find yourself in trouble, there is professional help available to negotiate a way through. At Nye Saunders Ltd, we have recently helped two clients who were the subject of enforcement prosecution.
In both cases we negotiated with the local authority conservation officers and agreed a scheme of appropriate reinstatement works, and obtained the appropriate planning and listed building consents for further alterations.
The end results preserved the historic buildings for future generations and gave our clients attractive and authentic homes that they can be proud of.
Nye Saunders is located at 3 Church Street, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1EQ
Tel: 01483 418600
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