Heritage Protection

Jonathan Taylor


Planning permission is required mainly for the construction of new buildings and extensions, but it offers little control over many of the other alterations that shape the places where we live. The UK’s heritage protection system therefore extends the need for permission to cover a wider range of works. For a historic building the two main forms of protection are as a listed building or as a building in a conservation area. In addition, a historic structure which is uninhabitable, such as the ruins of a castle, may be designated as a scheduled monument.

It is a criminal offence to carry out works to a listed building or a scheduled monument without the appropriate consent, so it is important to know what consent is required from the outset. Equally, once work has started it is important that the contractor sticks to the work agreed and approved, as anyone responsible for unauthorised work could be liable to fines, a criminal record and even imprisonment, including the contractor.

Listed buildings are designated by the national government as buildings of ‘special architectural or historic interest’, and there are around 460,000 of them in the UK. Although the relative importance of the asset is reflected in the grade or category of the listing (see table), all listed buildings are equally protected. Listed building consent (LBC) is needed for alterations which may affect its character as a listed building.

This includes not just the exterior of the building and its interior, but also everything within the curtilage of the property, including boundary walls and any ancillary buildings constructed before 1948 in Britain or 1973 in Northern Ireland.

Conservation areas are designated by the local authority and usually relate to urban areas and villages which retain a high proportion of historic buildings. Conservation area consent (CAC) is required for the demolition of an unlisted building in a conservation area, and planning permission may be required for more types of work than usual, particularly if the local authority has introduced an Article 4 Direction.

Article 4s are often introduced to control undesirable alterations which would otherwise be permitted automatically, such as the replacement of windows and doors, or the installation of satellite antennae. All trees above a certain size are also protected by the requirement to notify the local authority at least six weeks before significant work starts, such as lopping or felling. This gives the council time to consider whether a tree preservation order is required.

Scheduled monuments are protected in Britain under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and in Northern Ireland under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. There are around 35,000 monuments on the schedules maintained by the governments of the four home nations. It is the most restrictive category of heritage protection, since the requirement for scheduled monument consent (SMC) extends to include all works, including repairs.

Other forms of protection offered by primary legislation may affect the setting of historic buildings and their immediate surroundings. These include designation of a place as a world heritage site, such as the city of Bath, and the inclusion of a garden or landscape in a national register of parks and gardens (or ‘parks, gardens and demesnes’ – the name varies nationally) of special historic interest. In both cases the status does not bring any additional controls, but any application for planning permission, CAC or LBC should take the additional status of the property into account.

Wherever a heritage consent is required it is best to employ the services of a professional consultant (usually an architect or surveyor) who specialises in conservation work, not only because they are more likely to be able to negotiate a scheme that suits both the owner and the heritage asset, but also because non specialists are often unaware just how susceptible historic fabric is to damage from modern construction technology and materials. Mistakes can be a disaster – both financially and for the heritage.



The Building Conservation Directory, 2021


Jonathan Taylor MSc, IHBC is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory.

Further information


Conservation, Restoration and Legislation

Listed Building Consent

Applying for Listed Building Consent

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