Continuing the series in which our Clinic experts provide a guide to those thorny issues that can trip up the unwary. This week, John Winter on living in a listed house We have just moved into an 18th-century cottage which is Grade II-listed. What does that mean? A listed building is a structure of special architectural or historic interest or which forms part of a significant group of buildings, which has been included on the list approved by the Secretary of State. The list is continually being added to and, at present, the legal framework for listing is under review. Legislation is before parliament that will see listing being handled by English Heritage rather than the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. So does listing make life difficult for the homeowner? Not necessarily. Once a structure has been listed, alterations require Listed Building Consent, which follows the same procedure as a normal planning application, except that no fee is payable. “Like for like” repairs do not require consent. It is important to understand that “listing” is not intended to prohibit change, merely to ensure that it is carried out thoughtfully. It is not the intention of the legislation to freeze old buildings. Is there any financial benefit to being listed? Changes to listed buildings are exempt from VAT. Repairs are not. The situation is the cause of much controversy, as it could be seen to encourage owners to change their properties. However, as most listed buildings need upgrading (particularly in energy terms) and as looking after a listed building is usually expensive, I think that listed building owners should be thankful for any financial help that they can get.
Buildings are listed Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II. Grade I buildings are the most likely to attract grants. These are available from English Heritage and the relevant local authority, but funds are short and Grade II buildings rarely qualify for financial help. But is there a downside to getting a grant? Building work is likely to bring the local authority’s conservation officer to see the work. This can be good for the owner, as most conservation officers know a lot about how to look after an old building. But the conservation officer is likely to require standards of repair that may be expensive. In my experience, conservation officers are frightened of change, so if you wish to make sensible alterations, you may find yourself thwarted. Fortunately, you can appeal against an unreasonable decision as in an ordinary application.
John Winter runs his own architectural practice.