Listed buildings are buildings or other structures “of special architectural or historic interest” graded I, II* or II by English Heritage; and listed on the National Heritage List for England. These buildings are protected from demolition, as well as any “prejudicial alteration”, under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
Although most listed buildings are hundreds of years old, recently constructed buildings can also gain listed status. This can happen when they are of “exceptional interest”, such as being the first or last building designed by a particular architect, or because of their particular historic association.
Grade I, II, and II* listed building status
Grade I buildings are those of “exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important”; just 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I. Examples include Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.
Grade II* buildings are “particularly important buildings of more than special interest”; 5.8% of listed buildings are Grade II*. An example is the Tower of London.
Grade II buildings are those “nationally important and of special interest”; 91.7% of all listed buildings are Grade II. All houses older than 1700 which survive in reasonable condition are listed, unless they have been “comprehensively remodelled” in which case only the exterior is usually listed.
Listed building designation does not apply to archaeological sites, battlefields, canals, parks and gardens, shipwrecks or scheduled monuments. In England there are about 400,000 listed buildings, most of which are Grade II.
Renovating a listed building
Listed buildings are known to be troublesome to renovate. This is because some listed building statuses protect not only the exterior of a building, but also all of its internal features. This means that any changes to these features, no matter how small, may need to be approved by the local planning authority. An example might be an authority refusing permission to use sandstone flooring where limestone would have been originally used.
Although you might assume that only interesting aspects of a building are listed, this isn’t true. When a building is listed, it is done in its current state. That means that several listed buildings have pebble dashing which is protected as a side effect of the process.
Applying for permission to renovate a listed building can be a long process, taking months or even years. During this time, the building owner is usually not allowed to carry out any work which might affect its listed status. This includes anything which would alter the appearance of the building from the outside, as well as most internal changes.
Listed buildings can be a hassle to renovate, but the process is worth it to preserve our national heritage. These buildings are some of the most interesting and important in the country, and by taking the time to protect them we ensure that future generations can enjoy them as well.