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Cancel listed buildings restrictions on residential buildings

5 Comments 12th February 2015

At the moment there are a lot of restrictions as to what the owner of a listed building can do to their property.

 

An Englishman's (or a Scotsman…) home is his castle and owners of listed buildings should be just as entitled as any house owner to make modifications to their house.

 

If the house is primarily used as a dwelling then it should have no more restrictions on it than a 'normal' house.

Why does this matter?

A person should not have restrictions placed upon them because of the type of house they live in.

 

Apart from that civil liberties issue these listed buildings regulations also restrict a lot of beneficial work (eg energy reduction/insulation) from going ahead.

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5 Responses to Cancel listed buildings restrictions on residential buildings

  1. Michael Dickinson says:

    After 25 years of living in a Grade II listed building our experience has been that the definition and application of Grade II listing of private residential buildings is: unfair and contravenes human rights; unnecessarily restricting and expensive; subjective and opinionated; arbitrary and inconsistent. Its outcome is environmentally unfriendly, criminalising and counter-productive. THIS HAS TO BE CHANGED!
    The general consensus in the UK is that historic buildings should be preserved by means of a listing process. However, buildings are listed for a variety of different reasons, which necessitate different approaches rather than the single, most rigorous approach that currently prevails. In March 2010, there were approximately 374,000 list entries of which (92%) were Grade II (buildings of special interest), (5.5%) were Grade II* (particularly important buildings of more than special interest) and (2.5%) were Grade I (buildings of exceptional interest). Most residential Grade II buildings are not of particular historical value. Many were altered to a considerable extent in the last century. A very large number were then listed in the 70’s and 80’s without any thought for owners living in them.
    There was formerly a non-statutory Grade III for buildings which, whilst not qualifying for the statutory list, were nevertheless considered to be of ‘some significance’; this was abolished in 1970
    THE PROPOSITION
    1) Downgrade all Grade II buildings that are used primarily as private dwellings to a reinstated and redefined Grade III (some significance), following consultation on human rights, environmental and legal issues, etc. The aim of this would be to ensure that Private owners of residential, currently grade III listed buildings have the same right to optimise the use of their homes, as any other home owner.
    2) The only listed buildings restrictions that might reasonably be placed upon a Grade III listed building would be for alterations to the external appearance seen by the public, or the fabric of the building itself, thus protecting it from reconstruction or demolition. Limited private residential listed building control could still be obtained through this downgrading from ‘special interest’ to ‘some significance’. This would entail appropriate redefinition, following consultation on human rights, environmental and legal issues, etc.
    3) Grade III listed building consent would NOT be needed for anything within the dwelling, interior, fixtures, fittings, nor for objects within the curtilage of the building, the enclosed area occupied by the building, grounds, and outbuildings, i.e. modern extensions, sheds, greenhouses, walls, etc.
    4) The remaining minority of non-residential Grade II buildings would be subject to the same listed building consent regulations that currently apply. Concerned conservationists would have to make a case for upgrading any Grade III (some significance) listed properties they considered to be of special interest.
    5) The provision of grants and VAT exemption both for maintenance and development would have to be available to the owners, where necessary, before any listed building control restrictions and obligations could be imposed on Grade III properties (see 7, 8 & 9 below).
    Private owners of residential GRADE II listed buildings already expect to have to pay their own costs of maintenance and alterations of external frontages and fabric. Grants at that grade are rare and therefore not assumed. What they do NOT expect to pay for is the additional cost of work demanded by Local Authority Historic Buildings Officers, including the extra VAT.
    6) TREAT PEOPLE AS RESPONSIBLE ADULTS by decriminalising the law relating to Grade III listed buildings (some significance), thus reducing the power of listed building officers and causing less associated bureaucracy. Consider using contractual law where owners, as customers, agree to conform to negotiated maintenance and development requirements and costs, in return for Local Authorities, as suppliers, agreeing to advise (impartially and objectively) and administer any funding and VAT exemption.
    7) Historic building specialists, appointed by the Local Authorities/English Heritage, would provide authentic and impartial advice (like that given on TV restoration programmes and including the appropriate use of modern materials, or not).
    8) Consultation and discussion to be freely available in cases where maintenance involves significant alterations or development that needs to be sympathetic to the external appearance of the original building.
    9) Obtain a negotiated agreement between both parties, in which specific materials and work by craftsmen are defined and affordable, (this could be supported by grants where necessary; it would be up to those demanding any enhancements beyond that agreement to pay for them).
    10) Make energy efficiency targets apply to listed buildings – help owners to obtain energy performance certificates. At the moment they are a hindrance!
    11) Provide Opportunities for Local Government savings. Nearly 400,000 properties in Britain could be downgraded to Grade III allowing appreciable savings for local authorities on historic building planning officers, technical input, personnel time, administration, defending appeals, etc.

  2. Michael Dickinson says:

    OUR SITUATION is like tens of thousands of others
    We bought our thatched cottage in October 1980 and it continues to be a lovely family home (NOT A MUSEUM) in a pleasant village environment. The only particular feature of the building is its thatch. Our cottage was not listed when we bought it and we had no idea that it was likely to be so. On 16th September 1986, we received notification of listing, the decision having been made by English Heritage on 11th April 1986. We have never been told why we were listed, nor asked whether we wanted to be listed, what the benefits were, what our responsibilities were, what our rights were, e.g. to appeal and obtain delisting, nor our obligations, e.g. what we can and cannot do to the building and its environment. We have never been given any information about the historical importance or significant architectural features of the building; no one in authority has ever expressed any interest.
    Most residential Grade II listed buildings are owned by people like us, of modest means – ordinary people, pensioners even, living in houses of ‘some significance’ but not of ‘special interest’ – a large proportion of whom, like us, bought their property before it was listed. Listing causes us to be considered in the same way as wealthy people or institutions who can perhaps more easily afford the privilege and responsibility of owning a listed building. For people like us it’s no longer a privilege, it’s a liability!
    Reading the frustrations and disillusionment of people owning Grade II dwellings on ‘GOV YOU’ made me realise that we are far from alone in the way we feel about this situation. This has inspired me to contribute my views and experiences. I really do hope that someone in authority, i.e. Government, who really cares, will listen and act swiftly on our behalf to change the law.
    HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION
    It is against the law for a public organisation (like a government department, council or the police) to ignore human rights; for example:
    • You have the right to enjoy the things you own
    • Public organisations cannot interfere with things you own or the way you use them
    • You have the right to respect for your private and family life, your home
    • You have the right to be treated fairly – like everyone else
    All UK law should fit with the Human Rights Convention. If not, Parliament must decide what to do
    THE REQUIREMENT FOR LISTED BUILDING CONSENT
    Currently, Listed Building Consent is required for ALL GRADES of listed buildings before any of the following works being undertaken:
    • Alterations (other than a minor ‘like for like’ repair) both inside and out (including any structure within the curtilage, such as walls, outbuildings even if not fixed to the building) which affect the character of a Listed Building.
    o Painting over brickwork
    o Removing external surfaces
    o Adding dormer windows or roof lights
    o Changing roofing material
    o Putting up aerials or satellite dishes
    o Removing internal walls
    o Altering fireplaces, panelling or staircases
    • Extensions, Double glazing panels, Heat pumps, etc.
    • Demolitions and Partial Demolitions
    (Planning Permission and/or Building Regulation Approval may be needed for any of these as well)
    NOTE: Grade II listing applies not just to the exterior fabric of the building itself, but also to the interior, fixtures, fittings, and objects within the curtilage of the building, even if they are not fixed, i.e. modern extensions, sheds, greenhouses, summer houses, etc.
    Currently, by making even minor alterations to a listed property, no matter what Grade, without permission, THE OWNER is committing, not a civil but a CRIMINAL offence.
    New owners cannot be prosecuted for someone else’s shoddy work, or failure to acquire Listed Building Consent. However, they need to avoid being forced into rectifying the previous owner’s ‘mistakes’ at their own expense; this may necessitate employing a solicitor &/or surveyor.
    Astonishingly, by law, Local planning authorities can gain entry to listed buildings by force where the owner has refused permission.
    Another issue is the VAT anomaly: ‘sympathetic’ alterations to listed buildings that have received Listed Building Consent are VAT exempt. Maintenance however, i.e. real conservation, replacing ‘like with like’ using expensive authentic materials and crafts, requires full VAT payment.
    And if you think that there is money to be made out of all that, think again! Although listing legislation is currently applied as ‘one size fits all grades’, any sort of grant for work on a Grade II listed building would be extremely unlikely. Money available from English Heritage will be for Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings only.
    ALL OF THE ABOVE IS VERIFIABLE (people may say, yes but surely ‘they’ would never apply the extremes of the law? ‘They’ use it as a threat, and if not, why does the law exist?)
    WHY PRIVATE DWELLINGS SHOULD BE TREATED DIFFERENTLY
    Private dwellings need to be treated differently because they are family homes; people live in them. Access by the public is restricted to those who are invited in by the owners. External views of the property are the only way in which its significance can be viewed by the general public. The internal aspects and curtilages are of no consequence to the community. The community does not want its scarce resources to be used unnecessarily for costly maintenance or sympathetic alterations that only the owner can appreciate or benefit from directly.
    Grades I and II* non-residential listed buildings are usually open to the public, they are likely to be of National Importance and their conservation and protection need to be paid for by the Nation or Local Community for their enjoyment (perhaps because no one else, apart from private or commercial benefactors, is prepared to provide the money)
    You only have to watch TV programmes about restoration of old buildings to understand how debilitating owning a listed building can be. The liabilities have created a stigma that deters buyers and has inevitably reduced the market value of such buildings.
    GRADE II LISTING INCLUDES STRUCTURES WITHIN THE CURTILAGE (see earlier)
    Commonly, the listing statement, like ours, is only a description of the building without saying in specific terms why the building was listed, other than ‘of historical or architectural interest’.
    CURTILAGES Local councils don’t just focus on the listed building itself (the reason it was listed), they insist on controlling garden buildings, sheds, sectional greenhouses, fruitages, summerhouses and fences even modern extensions.
    A few years after listing had been imposed upon us, having obtained planning permission to alter a 1960’s flat roofed extension, we asked whether we could incorporate an additional window. We were told that this would be permissible, as long as we used a casement window! I was astounded by this, since all the existing windows in the extension were modern hinged types. More importantly, this extension is not part of the old building, which probably had no windows originally!
    The internal aspects and curtilages of private dwellings are of no consequence to the community. Why should the tax payer pay for their repair and ‘sympathetic’ alteration? In that case, why should the law?
    WHY INSIST ON LIKE FOR LIKE?
    Strictly speaking, ‘like for like’ repairs do not require listed building consent; but there is no precise definition and so interpretations vary. Historic buildings planning officers apply personal interpretations of UK wide rules and these vary from council to council.
    Local Authority Planners dealing with listed buildings are told to ensure that any work done on a listed building conforms to whatever building materials, standards and styles were evident at the time of listing. This attitude takes no account of what the original builders would have done today, faced with this new situation today. Buildings are living entities; they change with changing circumstances and improved technologies; some modern materials are lighter, more flexible, cheaper, easier to obtain, longer lasting, resistant to infestation, fire, corrosion, damp, they ‘breath’, insulate and, sometimes, look better.
    OUR THATCHED ROOF – THE SITUATION IN WHICH WE FIND OURSELVES
    There are three commonly used thatching materials: Water Reed (also known as Norfolk Reed), Combed Wheat Reed and Long Straw. Water Reed is the most durable thatching material and will last 60 to 70 years. Long Straw has the shortest life expectancy and will last from 20 to 30 years. Both types will require re-ridging at about 15 year intervals. Before farmers began using shorter strains of straw for combine harvesting, Norfolk Reed cost twice as much as Long Straw. (The general public would not be able to see the difference). Today, long straw has to be specially grown; hence material costs are much the same. Our Local Authority (South Cambs) insists on us re-thatching ‘like with like’. Unfortunately our property was thatched with Long Straw when it was listed in 1986! Ironically, a lot of long straw now has to be imported from Eastern Europe (hardly indigenous). We live 5 miles away from an East Anglian Fen where reed used to grow in abundance; it still does a little further away.
    We are near the Suffolk border. Our thatcher has told us that had we lived 5 miles further East there would be no local authority objection to changing to Norfolk Reed. No matter which material, a complete re-roof would probably cost £35,000 and a re-ridge £2,500 at today’s prices. This means that, on a per annum basis, we are paying more than twice as much for re-roofing as we would if we were allowed to use Norfolk Reed. Those who wish to check the mathematics are welcome to do so. We are not wealthy people; in the past we have had to increase our mortgage in order to pay for the re-thatching! Such unnecessary costs are too big a burden for most owners of listed buildings.
    TAXING PEOPLE ON OTHERS EXPENSIVE SOLUTIONS! THE RIDICULOUS VAT ANOMALY
    Owners of GRADE II listed buildings are currently entitled to VAT relief on any expenditure that relates to material alterations to their properties – but anything they spend on maintenance, or on replacement of ‘like with like’, is still subject to VAT.
    HIGHER INSURANCE PREMIUMS
    Our insurance premiums are four times more expensive than normal. Part of this is due to the greater damage caused by thatch fires. However, that is further inflated by Grade II ‘like-for-like’ repair costs using the most expensive traditional methods and skilled craftsmen.
    THE ANTI-ENVIRONMENTAL NATURE OF GRADE II LISTING OF PRIVATE DWELLINGS
    Old buildings were not built to modern energy efficiency standards. Improving our environment by producing less pollution should have the highest priority in conserving our heritage. We are keen to make use of renewable energy, to reduce our carbon footprint, rather than remain dependent upon burning fossil fuels. The Energy Savings Trust has said that potential savings in the UK from using Heat Pumps, within well designed systems, are very good. We are in the throes of applying for permission to install such a system. Just to make life difficult, our application requires a full set of professional scale drawings and a Design, Access and Heritage statement. Ironically, this heritage statement requires us to say why the building was listed; it seems those who imposed the listing on us don’t know that either!
    It is well known among Grade II listed home owners that improving the Energy Performance of such buildings will be challenging unless current restrictions on insulation, solar panels, double glazing, etc. are removed. As someone else put it, “we are all in this together”; or are we?
    THE CRIMINALISING EFFECTS OF GRADE II LISTING ON HOMEOWNERSHIP
    Carrying out unauthorised works to any listed building is currently a criminal offence and owners can be prosecuted. A planning authority can insist that all work undertaken without consent is reversed.
    Is it any surprise that historic buildings planning officers have the reputation of behaving as though they have the right to bully people in their own homes?
    I have little confidence in the impartiality of Planners in offering realistic and appropriate alternative solutions. I might prejudice my position if I asked for their advice which would adversely influence the course and cost of the action I might be obliged to take.
    Also, I feel disinclined to seek advice from my Local Authority for fear of jeopardising (endangering) my situation because of alterations that I, or my predecessors, may have made to the building or its curtilage in the past, unwittingly perhaps.
    Listed building consent can be applied for retrospectively but there is a risk that it will be rejected for reasons that might have been resolved at an early stage. An owner will have trouble selling a property where work has been undertaken without listed building consent.
    There have been many times when we feel that our house is not our own!
    THE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE EFFECT OF LISTING
    We live in hard economic times. Increasingly, people will not want to take on the restrictions and increased costs (including extra VAT) of living in these old houses and they will fall into disrepair. Downgrading to Grade III (some significance), as described, would reduce the burden for such home owners, whilst continuing to provide the encouragement and support for the buildings themselves.
    In view of the relatively small number of private, Grade II listed, home owners who might be aware of the potential for legislative change, numbers of supporters of downgrading are unlikely to be anywhere near 100,000, although this discriminatory legislation should be of major concern in a democratic society like ours. If a survey were to be performed the majority would want change!

  3. Ray Perry says:

    Excellent idea. I am working through issues of personal desire to improve a grade 2 listed property vs limitations placed upon me. If the alterations are entirely internal, why is it right to restrict the owners (yes OWNER in law must mean something, or are we just renting from the government for these houses)from changing their home to suit themselves. Externally, i would accept that some justification should be made for a significant, permanent change to the property. This would exclude however items that do not permanently change the property (eg installation of an oil storage tank for central heating).

  4. Julie Avery says:

    The law needs to be changed for privately owned grade 11 houses. Most people would respect the changes they made to a historic house anyway but having some over opinionated person from the local authority dictating some most unreasonable demands is definitely against human rights. Most people pay a great cost to preserve their buildings yet I fear I will soon feel trapped in ours as less and less people will want to buy a listed building with the restrictions imposed.

  5. G.Squire. says:

    If the law is relaxed some people will put tip-our plastic windows in a historic Georgian terraced house or put in a hideous loft extension or paint a house red or turn a front garden into a car park.

    I believe that most councils act very reasonably and permit what is reasonable. e.g. in-keeping traditional conservatries, in-obtrusive garden sheds , black or dark green garden swings, but what may be needed is a simple appeal system for grade 2 house on owners who feel that they have been treated unreasonably with the looser paying the modest cots of the appeal

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