The recent Grade II listing of No.1 Poultry in the City, designed by James Stirling of Michael Wildford and Associates in the mid-1980s, provides a timely reminder of the significance of listed buildings and the risks associated with altering them. Described in the FT as one of the last monuments of postmodernism, the building attracted controversy after concerns were raised about proposals to extend and change the principal facades of the building.
Listed buildings are selected on the basis of their age, heritage and historical significance. This status means that the building will be protected by English Heritage for centuries to come, with accompanying restrictions usually covering the whole of the building, including its interior.
The vast majority of listed buildings in the UK were built before 1945. All buildings built prior to 1700 and most built between 1700 and 1840 tend to be listed.
Grade II is the category that most homeowners are likely to come across, with over 90% of listings falling in this category. Grade I and Grade II* are less common and apply to buildings of “exceptional interest”, or ones that are of “more than special interest”.
Whilst often very rewarding, buying a listed building can come with a number of risks and obligations for the owner, especially in relation to major alteration works. Although minor alterations to a listed building may not require consent, any major works will need specific permission from a local authority. Consultations with the relevant local authority’s conservation officer for any demolitions, major alterations or extensions are a prerequisite.
All works must comply with the terms of the consent, which will often require traditional building methods and materials to be used. As carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building is a criminal offence, a planning authority can also insist that any unconsented worked are reversed. Obtaining retrospective consent from a local authority can be difficult and prosecution will remain a possibility.
As a result, buyers of a listed building need to be aware of any unconsented works before a purchase is made. If adequate precautions are not taken, there exists the possibility of a new owner inheriting responsibility for any reversals required by the local authority. This concern can remain for the entirety of an owner’s tenure, as there is no time limit on enforcement action being taken.
Historic England points out that a potential buyer should confirm the status of a building and whether there exist any protected trees associated to the property before purchase. These are questions that can be answered by the relevant local authority.
It is also recommended that a full structural survey is undertaken, carried out by an architect or surveyor familiar with historic buildings. This will help provide valuable information on the condition of the property and what building materials have been used.
In addition, Historic England also recommends taking out specialist listed building insurance.
It is not uncommon for a new property owner to inherit a property where consent for alterations was not sought or granted. At Titlesolv we are able to provide an insurance policy which covers the adverse consequences of local authority enforcement for listed building consent, including diminution in value of the property and the costs of making the building compliant with the regulations.