18th September 2017 | 12:00am
18th September 2017 | 12:00am
I must declare a conflict of interest at the outset, in that I have a fascination for old buildings and architecture and for over 30 years have only lived in Listed Buildings. An affinity with old buildings has lead my firm to have a particular specialism in this area. Many of our competitors have little interest in this sector as they consider the whole process time consuming and problematic and prefer to concentrate on more straightforward cases. Over recent years the quality of service offered by solicitors has improved and combined with a of fear of litigation is revealing more cases where planning problems have been unearthed, primarily due to a failure of owners understanding the rights and responsibilities of owning a Listed Building. Unlike the failure to comply with planning or building regulations which are time limited, failure to obtain listed building consent for an alteration of a Listed Building is not time limited and in the worst cases can lead to a criminal record.
What is a Listing?
The controls for this area of Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act 1990, with buildings being listed for their special architectural or historic interest. There are about 450,000 Listed Buildings, with Grade I having around 9,000, Grade II* Listed 18,000 and Grade II 416,000. For those that are planning to carry out any work it is vital that the proposed works are based on a thorough understanding of the existing buildings, its architectural characteristics and historic significance. Your starting point generally with be with the listing, which can be accessed online. Other sources maybe available with your deeds, local archives (usually kept by the County Council), and published works to include Pevsners The Buildings of England.
It is rule of thumb that only the most minor works on a Listed Building, which do not effect the external of the building will not require Listed Building consent. It is important that you take professional advice or seek the opinion of the Conservation Officer. It is critical that such advice is provided in writing and these records retained. It is a common misconception that the Conservation Officer's will be difficult. My personal and professional experience, particularly with the new generation of planner’s are that they wish to make old homes work for the modern family. Whilst understandably, they may insist on old fireplaces, staircases and the inherent character and materials to be retained, extensions to the property rarely cause an issue if they are of a quality design using quality materials. Interestingly, Conservation Officers do not like a recreation of the existing design and would prefer for the new element to be of distant character, often very modern.
The complexities of construction, complicated legislation and changes to the VAT on prescribed works all add to the confusion. Add to this frustrating delays to what appear to be minor works and you can understand why some owners sometimes take a ‘'view' and hope that they will get away with it.
Regularly we encounter the consequences of this course of action. Invariably these difficulties arise at the last minute and can cause extremely stressful problems for all those parties involved in the chain. My strongest advice for owners of Listed Buildings taking on renovation works or repairs is to take specialist advice and for those intending vendors that all necessary paperwork is up to date and any breaches in planning regularised. If they are in any doubt about how to go about this, a meeting with a suitably qualified lawyer and/or surveyor would be a very good place to start, but I would thoroughly recommend joining the Listed Property Owners Club which has an enormous amount of data and specialist advice available.
To be an owner of a Listed Building, is, in my view, a privilege and a great pleasure. The joys of living in an historic building which are generally situated in some of the best local within the local environment far outweigh the difficulties.