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What is a listed building?

The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 defines a listed building as one which is considered to be of "special architectural or historic interest". Buildings are assessed for listing by Historic England (HE), formerly known as English Heritage, and approved by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) (other arrangements apply outside England). Other structures than buildings can be listed if they are of special architectural merit or historic importance, for example, milestones, gates, lamps, fences, walls and telephone boxes. Historic England administers all the national designation regimes and has compiled an official and up-to-date database of all listed buildings and other designated heritage assets called National Heritage List for England.  

The Secretary of State uses the following criteria when assessing whether a building is of special interest and therefore should be added to the statutory list:

  • Architectural Interest - To be of special architectural interest a building must be of importance in its architectural design, decoration or craftsmanship; special interest may also apply to nationally important examples of particular building types and techniques (e.g. buildings displaying technological innovation) and significant plan forms;
  • Historic Interest - To be of special historic interest a building must illustrate important aspects of the nation’s social, economic, cultural, or military history and/or have close historical associations with nationally important people. There should normally be some quality of interest in the physical fabric of the building itself to justify the statutory protection afforded by listing.

 Listed Buildings are classified according to their relative importance:

  • Grade I - These are buildings of exceptional interest and merit;
  • Grade II* - These buildings are particularly important, considered to be of more significance than Grade II buildings;
  • Grade II -These buildings are of special interest warranting every effort to preserve them. The majority (94%) of all listed buildings are Grade II.

The protection afforded to a listed building includes the whole building, as well as objects or structures fixed to it (including those within it), and any objects or structures within its curtilage (the curtilage of a building is the land related to it, e.g. the garden attached to a house), provided they were there before 1st July 1948. This could, for example, include walls, outhouses, gatehouses and fountains. The important features of each listed building are typically set out on the list entry which is held by each Local Planning Authority (LPA) and Historic England. Newer listings are more detailed and it is intended, over time, that all listing details will be made more precise.

If a building is not considered of sufficient historical or architectural importance to be listed it can still be included on a local list (sometimes referred to as ‘Local Interest’ buildings). The local list is prepared by the LPA. While the local list does not give any legal protection to buildings it does indicate the desire by the LPA to ensure that non-designated heritage assets are recognised in the planning system. You can find out what buildings are listed or on the local list by contacting your LPA.

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