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Planning restrictions on Grade II listed properties & climate change

13 Comments 9th May 2015

Remove any restrictions around solar panels and solar collectors on the roofs of Grade II listed properties.

Why does this matter?

Are we going to stop owners of Grade II listed properties from doing their bit for carbon reduction? Should Grade II listed buildings be excluded from any government targets? If the answer is 'no' to either fo these, then the rules will need to be changed, and we will need ot look at how we marry our heritage with our future.

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13 Responses to Planning restrictions on Grade II listed properties & climate change

  1. paul nash says:

    Grade II building owners should be entitled to insulate the buildings to be more environmentally friendly and to install solar panels where these do not detract from the overall asthetic appeal of the building eg on a flat roof

  2. Joanne Bosonnet says:

    It is usually these old buildings that by their very nature are the least eco friendly to run. AS long as it does not detract from the aesthetics they should be allowed, encouraged, even obligated to use every reknewable option available to them.

  3. 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
    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.

    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.
    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
    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?)
    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.
    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?
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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?
    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!
    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!

    • Kevin Patrick says:

      I whole heartedly agree with all of the above. People buy what they can afford and in 99.9% of cases care for their homes and do their best on available funds to maintain their homes. It is a basic human right to be able to insulate your home and make reasonable alterations to the inside of the building without fear of recriminations from local council officials who quote honestly are clueless.
      A change in the Law is long over due the time to act is now.

  4. James Wilson says:

    I have just put an offer in to buy a Grade11 listed building in Suffolk. After reading this article I am withdrawing my offer. There is NO way that I am going to pay 695,000 pounds and have some faceless civil sevant tel me what I can and can not do inside or out. The property I was going to buy has a wooden building attached (really its just a Shed)that is falling down and it needs to be demolished, from what I read here it will have to be put right at my expense……….they can forget it.

  5. James Wilson says:

    Excellent Idea

    • Al Nooman says:

      We were reading your post and cannot tell you how sorry we felt for you. What right do the English Heritage have to go around with their clipboard, spot a nice house and decide to list it without a by your leave of the owners! You have categorically explained all the anomalies and we fully support all your recommendations. We do not live in a listed property, thank goodness. As a matter of fact, I think I shall henceforth make sure I will not buy a property older than 30 years. The English Heritage should be thankful that there are old properties that are occupied and looked after and kept warm. Needless to say, once some contractors know it is listed, they hike the price of the repairs expecting the council to foot the bill.Not all are honest and sincere as the one who has sent a posting. Whereas, without this promise of funds, the job would have been done cheaper for us.

  6. We live in a Grade II listed building, which is listed purely for the Georgian frontage which harmonises with four other buildings in the row. The back of the building is invisible from the street as it backs directly onto another building. Nothing that we do at the back of the building could constitute an eyesore, and there is a flat roof outside the second floor which covers what was once a garden (built over in 1924) which is south-facing and ideal for solar panels, which we are not allowed to install. Camden Council has already forced us to remove one of our air-conditioners (not the other two for some odd reason), threatening us with a £10,000 fine if we didn’t do so. The restrictions on these low-level listed buildings are an utter disgrace.

  7. Yusuf Hassan says:

    Absolutely agree; it is a nonsense that a private dwelling has historic value as a grade 2 listed building when in all cases no one is allowed on them; except the owner and these building are under-used.
    they should be available for re-use as a dwelling house ( I have a grain store that cannot be used for anything!) or at a minimum for some useful function. In addition I agree we are an ENERGY BANKRUPT society; so we should be allowed to enable solar or sustainable energy use as part of a common sense government policy.

  8. N D says:

    Listed Buildings should be protected.

  9. Debbie Clement says:

    I live in a semi detached grade 2 listed building and my neighbour wants to put in wooden double glazing on her half of the building. We have original windows with secondary glazing.

    Will my neighbour need planning position? Also, they will look different to ours – is that allowed?

    Hope you can help.

    best wishes
    D Clement

  10. elizabeth leonard says:

    I live in a gradeII listed building and am so angry at the idea that i cannot fit double glazing. this building when we had it finished rebuilding was found to have a demolition order on it which we knew nothing about but now we cannot add double glazing in wooden windows. when we bought the house or mess of a house there was white painted soft wood windows in it. we were forced to fit old oak windows cut from old beams of the same age as the oak in house. i believe i would be allow to add secondary glazing which is so ugly and expensive and makes no sense to me. i cannot write as i can feel the anger. i am into being environmentally friendly, recycle, compost, use environmentally suitable products and have to pay extra in heating or live in the cold house. i am not a rich person but i love my home as we rebuild it from nothing. i am so pleased with the comments on human rights and the attitudes of these inspectors and their bullying behaviour. windows in my house leak in and are useless. these rules need to change. when these houses were build in the 16th17th century there was probably no windows in them. i could rant on but thanks to Michael Dickenson for his comments and i wonder if there is anything we could do to further the changes needed for modern warmer and environmentally friendly houses.

  11. Carole Robb says:

    My house is grade 2 listed at the front only. I was told when I bought it in 1992that there were no restrictions at the back of the property and I had free reign there. Am I right then in thinking I can install solar panels on the rear roof? I can’t afford to heat it properly on my pension.

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