A Guide To Listed Buildings


The Law Of... protecting our listed buildings

Known as the site where George Eliot wrote one of literature's classics, Middlemarch, Brookbank Cottage – the author's former abode – recently came on to the market for a staggering £799,950.

The Law Of... protecting our listed buildings

Described by Eliot herself as a "a queer little cottage", she temporarily rented the home with her lover in 1871.

The property was rented from a friend, Anne Gilchrist – writer and member of the London Literary Society – and is deep-rooted in English literary history.

As the cottage is a Grade II listed building, we explore what this will mean for its future tenants as well as why it's so important to protect our listed buildings.

What Is A Listed Building?

Listed buildings are considered to be important and have special architectural interest or significant historic value. They are protected by the government, who place some restrictions on the type of work you can do to the interior and/or exterior of listed buildings, in order to preserve their value.

There are 3 categories of listed buildings:

  • Grade I buildings – these buildings are of exceptional interest, and only 2.5% of listed buildings are currently in this category
  • Grade II * buildings – these are important buildings with more than a special interest – 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II *
  • Grade II buildings – these buildings are of special interest, and 92% of listed buildings belong to this group

The following additions to listed buildings are also protected:

  • Structures and/or fixtures attached to a listed building
  • Extensions to an existing listed building
  • Buildings that are pre-1948 and are on the land attached to the listed building

Can Any Changes Be Made To A Listed Building?

As listed buildings are considered to be part of British heritage, you'll need to apply for listed building consent from your local planning authority if you want to alter, extend, or even demolish any part of your property. Note that you might also need to obtain planning permission – the National Planning Policy Framework for England has more information.

If you carry out any kind of unauthorised work, you can face criminal charges and even prosecution.

If your local authority grants you permission to make specific changes to a listed building, they might suggest that you enter into a heritage partnership agreement.

These agreements specify what type of changes you can make and what part(s) of the building cannot be modified. They can be beneficial for the owners of listed buildings, as they prevent them from having to repeatedly apply for consent to carry out further renovations.

Section 60 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 sets out detailed information about these types of agreements, stating that heritage partnership agreements can:

  1. Specify or describe works that would or would not, in the view of the parties to the agreement, affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest
  2. Make provision about the maintenance and preservation of the listed building
  3. Make provision about the carrying out of specified work, or the doing of any specified thing, in relation to the listed building

Whilst these provisions might seem strict, local planning authorities have a duty to ensure that changes to a listed building do not affect its value.

Lisa Gibbs, Partner and Conveyancing Manager at Simpson Millar, comments:

"There are currently 376,470 listed buildings in the UK – this makes them a niche investment for buyers who are looking for property that's a bit different from an ordinary home."

"Whilst Brookbank Cottage houses some period features, such as the original ground floor fireplaces and stained glass windows, it's a common misconception that buildings are listed only because they have these types of characteristics. Historic value and sentimental worth plays a far more important role in grading listed buildings, as each building is unique and has its own story to tell."

"For this reason, there's no list of specific changes that can and cannot be made to listed properties. Buyers must therefore ensure that they are aware of – and comfortable with – the types of renovations that can be made to a building before they buy it."

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