Applying for Listed Building Consent

The process of Listed Building Consent is administered by your local authority planning department, and overseen by their Conservation Officer.  Unfortunately the coalition Government have clearly demonstrated a lack of commitment to conservation, with the result that there are now nearly 75% fewer Conservation Officers than 5 years ago.  The result:  Its hard to get advice from them, they are swamped with work, and many people are opting to 'do the work and hope they dont see it'.  Remember this - if you ask to see your local CO, he or she is likely to be stressed, overworked, and underpaid!

You can get an application form from your local authority's web site or in paper form. Advice and guidance can also be obtained by visiting the government's planning portal web site. There is currently no fee, but be warned that local government is now trying to introduce a fee structure for anything to do with Listed Building work.

How long does it take?

Local authorities aim to return a decision on smaller schemes within eight weeks, allowing up to thirteen weeks for major proposals. This includes a statutory 21 day consultation period where neighbours, local amenity societies and interested relevant parties will be consulted.  You should try to make a pre-application enquiry first, so you dont waste time applying and being knocked back.

If the application involves a Grade I or Grade II* listed building, demolition, or is particularly complicated, the case will be forwarded to English Heritage for expert advice. In London, certain categories of work to Grade II listed buildings. EH will return their advice to the local authority within 21 days or to an agreed timetable.  This process can get complicated, so beware - you need to know the exact background and history of the property so you can help make relevant arguments about what constitutes 'relevant historic fabric'... 

What can or can't be done?

Each building is different.  There are no specific rules for what can or can't be done without consent. This of course introduces a nightmarish situation whereby individual Conservation Officers can have widely differing opinions as to what you can do.  

When a Council considers whether to grant or to refuse an application it must have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building, its setting and any features that make it special. You should give consideration to these things when planning proposed changes - which means understanding the building and its history very well. Do your research - this is going to be needed for the 'Design and Access' statement which accompanies the application.

Listed status covers the Inside and Outside of a building. It is a common misconception that only the ouside is covered.  Things needing consent might include the replacement of windows or doors, moving or removing internal walls, painting brickwork or stone, or changing fireplaces.

The Planning Charter published by English Heritage gives advice on what to provide with an application for consent.

Pre-application discussions

It is a good idea to have a pre-application discussion with your Conservation Officer to see if consent is required.  You will get an idea of what might be acceptable and find out whether ideas need to be changed to make them likely to succeed.  Note that this process is now being made into a money making exercise by local authorities - they have realised that it can be called 'consultation' - and have introduced fees for providing their Conservation Officers as consultants.  I think this is a move purely aimed at making money.  First they charge you a fee for consulting on an application - then in some cases they knock it back.  I'm waiting for the first of my clients to take a local authority to court on the basis that their consulting advice was wrong!  

Unfortunately the Pre Application process which was designed to make things simple, and ensure that your application had the best chance of succeeding - is now being treated as a money making process by government and may cost you a lot of money - you might be better to employ specialist external consultants to vet and assist with the application.

In exceptional cases, grants are available from English Heritage for repairs to listed buildings. English Heritage grants are usually only available for Grade I or Grade II* listed buildings (although in London certain categories of Grade II listed buildings can be considered) but all applications are considered on their individual merits. Local authorities also have powers to give grants to owners of listed buildings - but there are virtually none on offer at the moment.

What happens if consent is refused?

If consent is refused you have six months in which you can appeal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), or you can amend your plans, based on the written advice provided, and re-apply.  Note that much of the advice you will be given is written in government legalese - which in many cases is virtually unintelligible.  Again, you may need expert help to work out why they are refusing an application.  A good consultant will understand planning law better than the Conservation Officer making the case, so you need to make sure you have all your guns loaded.  Its a fact of life that with government cutbacks, most experienced and savvy CO's have taken early retirement, and there is a new breed of what I call Pretty Young Things, fresh out of college, with absolutely NO experience or knowledge of old buildings - making decisions about the place you live in.  The only way to beat them is to know their job a lot better than they do.

What happens if work is done without consent?

Carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building is a criminal offence and you could be prosecuted.  

A planning authority can insist that all work undertaken without consent is reversed. Listed Building Consent can be applied for retrospectively but there is no guarantee that consent will be given and prosecution may still take place.

An owner will have trouble selling a property which has not been granted Listed Building Consent for work undertaken. I frequently undertake building surveys where it is obvious that illegal works have taken place.  The new owner inherits responsibility for these.

Note that many councils don't have funding for complex legal cases, and I know of a number of cases where prosecutions SHOULD have taken place that didnt, because legal funds were not available.  This doesnt mean you'll get away with murder - but bear in mind that council resources are stretched to the limit.  I can't endorse anything illegal  - but there is a fine balance between councils deliberately setting out to make money out of you via complex application processes, and you just getting on with it.  I think we live in a world where reason went out of the door long ago, and local government has largely gone mad.  The most important thing in this whole argument is the building.  It is vital that our historic buildings are looked after properly - and I think the government should be helping homeowners to do this, without placing hurdles in their way.. I shall say no more on the subject unless prompted!

Who is the overseeing body for Conservation?

Although English Heritage is supposedly the main authority, it is now a Government quango - and trying to get any sense out of them is well nigh impossible.  In layman's terms, they've lot the plot.  

The shining star of Conservation is the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) which used to be the Conservation Officer's Club.  These days, membership is from all related disciplines, and IHBC performs a valuable monitoring and advisory role to the Government - recent consultations have advised on new Planning legislation, and in particular, on the negative impact of the Green Deal on old buildings.


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