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Caution required when buying a listed building

04 November 2014

While owning a listed building can bring great pleasure, it does bring many obligations.

Before purchasing a listed property or starting renovations consider this guide.

Cheltenham Borough Council recently won an appeal against the owner of a Grade II listed building. The owner was found guilty of carrying out unauthorised works to the property which affected its character as a building of ‘special, architectural or historic interest’ and had to pay the council’s full legal costs within 14 days of the trial.

Following the unsuccessful appeal, the owner resubmitted plans to the council to remove the unauthorised works, which will be replaced with more appropriate designs. A council spokesman said that prosecutions were used by the authority in the most serious cases, usually where a satisfactory resolution cannot be achieved by working with the property’s owner. Its enforcement team works to protect the heritage and beauty of the town for future generations and in particular its large number of listed buildings.

This case acts as an important reminder that it is against the law to carry out works on a protected building and that councils will continue to carry out inspections and respond to complaints about unauthorised changes, using their statutory powers where necessary.

Anyone considering buying a listed building should investigate what changes have been made since the date of listing and whether they were legitimate. Arrange for an expert to check because it is very difficult to obtain insurance to protect you against the risk of unconsented works. Equally, obtaining retrospective listed building consent can be expensive and risky.

In addition to knowing the history of the building when purchasing a listed property, it is also important to understand what can be done in the future and to take account of these restrictions in your plans for development or renovation. Not all works need consent but major works such as demolition, alteration or extensions certainly do.

Most listings cover the whole building including the interior, unless parts of the property are specifically excluded in any description lists. Listing can also cover other items such as garden features and extensions or additions carried out after the date of listing. The Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act recently made amendments to planning law which now allows English Heritage to say definitively whether attached or curtilage structures are protected and to clarify whether a part or feature of a listed building is not of special interest for the purpose of listed consent.

The fact that a building is listed does not mean that it cannot be altered but listed consent must be applied for in order for changes to be made. Listed buildings can be altered but only in consultation with the local council. Consent often requires traditional building methods or materials to be used which can increase the cost of alterations and maintenance.

If anyone wishes to make alterations to a listed building they should first liaise with the council’s listed building officer and only make changes after having obtained consent. Only works in accordance with the terms of the consent should be carried out.

None of this should deter you from buying if you enjoy living in a property full of architectural character, but please ensure that you investigate all the implications, costs and responsibilities that come with it.

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Suzanne O'Riordan
Partner (non-solicitor)
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Suzanne O'Riordan
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