Conservation, Restoration and Legislation

Jonathan Taylor

  The original railworks of Roundhouse Campus, Derby College are now used as a library.  
  Derby College Library in the Grade II* listed railworks of the Roundhouse Campus (Maber Associates, 2009): conservation is the management of change, here retaining as much of the original as possible while enabling a new use.  

The historic built environment includes buildings and monuments, streets and spaces, townscapes and landscapes shaped by human activity, and myriads of component parts. Surveys by successive governments have consistently shown that historic places are highly valued by the public, and that our heritage contributes to economic prosperity. However, conflicts can arise between the renovation requirements of some owners and the heritage values of their properties. As the accumulation of even minor changes over the years can have a substantial impact on the quality and significance of the historic environment, these heritage assets are therefore protected to varying degrees through the planning system, and governments of all political persuasions have generally done their best to ensure that protection is effective. There are some variations between the four home nations in the way protection works, but the general principles are the same.

Conservation is the term at the heart of all heritage legislation and policy. It is defined as the process of managing change in a way that sustains the component’s historic interest and significance. The term therefore encompasses not only maintenance and repair work, but also a wide range of alterations which may be necessary simply to keep the thing going. Minor changes such as the renewal of old and deteriorated fabric are often essential elements of conservation work, but far more substantial alterations can be too, for example where necessary to ensure that a building can be used, or brought back into use. However, all alterations and other interventions which impact on the historic fabric must be kept to the minimum necessary to ensure that the historic interest and significance of the building and its fabric is protected or, where appropriate, enhanced.




Scheduled monument

All works including demolition, destruction, damage, removal, repairs, alterations, additions etc

Scheduled monument consent

Listed building

All demolition work and alterations which affect its character as a listed building – this includes works to the interior, objects and structures fixed to the building, and objects and structures within its curtilage built before 1948 or, in Northern Ireland, 1973, unless specifically excluded from protection Listed building consent

Unlisted building in a conservation area

Demolition work – generally ‘substantial’, not partial demolition

Conservation area consent: planning permission in England
Some external alterations to houses, which elsewhere would be permitted by right, may require consent under an Article 4 direction Planning permission


Planning permission may also be required for:

• development affecting the exterior of a heritage asset in England
• demolition work affecting an unlisted building in a designated Area of Townscape / Village Character in Northern Ireland


Restoration is a term often confused with conservation, but it is the process of restoring a building or component to its condition at a previous point in its history, and it is fraught with ethical concerns. The UK’s conservation movement found its feet in the 19th century challenging the medievalisation of ancient churches in particular, which involved stripping away later work and then recreating missing components in a gothic style of the architect’s choice. These days, any loss of fabric is restricted by the need for special consent under the planning system (see table), and making new work to fake the past is generally resisted. However, where there is clear evidence of an original or earlier design, and no significant fabric is to be lost, careful restoration can often be justified by the need to make the surviving fabric structurally sound. Where there is a need to make an original design more visually complete and legible, restoration is more controversial, and it is generally preferable to find alternative means of enhancing its legibility, so that it is clear which elements are most significant historically, and which are new.

Although some fundamentalists argue that heritage can never be enhanced, current legislation and guidance adopts a more holistic approach. A conservation area for example is defined as ‘an area of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance’, and Historic England’s current definition of conservation includes the concept of enhancement ‘where appropriate’. Where recently added fabric, for example, conflicts with the character or significance of the original, its removal would generally be considered an enhancement, and therefore permissible in conservation terms.


Listed buildings are graded according to a variety of factors such as significance, rarity and completeness, with Grade I or (in Scotland) category A being the most important. While the degree of alteration permissible may vary with grade/category and the significance of the fabric affected, all listed buildings are equally protected in law, inside and out. All three planning acts listed in the table state that consent (often referred to as listed building consent) is required for ‘any works for the demolition of a listed building or for its alteration or extension in any manner which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest’ (England and Wales, 1990 Act Section 7; Scotland, 2011 Act Article 85; NI, 1997 Act Section 6 – the wording is identical in each). Repairs may also require consent as even like-for-like repairs often effect a degree of alteration. The criterion for approval is ‘the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses’ (Sections 16 and 14 respectively and Article 85).



Grade I (2.5%)

Grade II* (5.5%) Grade II (92%)

Northern Ireland

Grade A (2.5%)

Grade B+ (6.5%) Grades B, B1 and B2 (91%)


Category A (8%)

Category B (50%) Category C (42%)


Grade I (2%)

Grade II* (6%) Grade II (92%)

Unlisted buildings in conservation areas are protected, but to a lesser extent. All three acts state that a building in a conservation area ‘shall not be demolished’ without the consent of the appropriate authority (conservation area consent), and that when considering a proposal the local authority must take into account ‘the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance’ of the conservation area.

Article 4 directions may be introduced in a conservation area to restrict ‘permitted development rights’ for certain specific alterations. The effect is that certain specified changes (window alterations for example) which would otherwise be permitted by right will require planning permission where visible from the street or other public areas.

  Steps at Powis Castle have worn nosings, still visible after minimalist intervention.  
  Minimal intervention by the National Trust to restore the worn nosings of steps at Powis Castle – a simple example of managing change sympathetically, retaining as much of the original fabric as possible.  

In England alterations to primary legislation introduced under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 mean that planning permission is now required for the demolition of an unlisted building in a conservation area. (In all other home nations the permission required is ‘conservation area consent’.)

In Northern Ireland urban areas which exhibit ‘distinct character and intrinsic qualities, often based on their historic built form or layout’, may be designated as areas of townscape character (ATCs). Planning permission is required for the demolition of unlisted buildings in an ATC, and proposals for development are required to ‘respect the appearance and qualities of each townscape area and maintain or enhance their distinctive character’.

Scheduled monuments are protected in England, Scotland and Wales under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and in Northern Ireland under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Both acts prohibit all kinds of work to a protected monument unless consent has been granted by the relevant authority (in this case scheduled monument consent). This includes works of demolition or destruction, damage, removal, repairs, flooding and tipping (Section 4 and Article 4 respectively). The use of metal detectors on land relating to a scheduled monument in Britain is also prohibited without written consent of the relevant authority (Section 42), while in Northern Ireland the restriction extends to excavating any land in search of archaeological objects or artefacts of archaeological interest without a licence (Section 41).


Most ecclesiastical buildings which are listed and in use as a place of worship are exempt from usual LBC requirements under the ecclesiastical exemption. However, the exemption only applies while the building remains in use as a place of worship: demolition therefore falls under secular listed building control because the building cannot be in use at the point of demolition.





Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 The National Planning Policy Framework
Planning Practice Guidance; Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment


Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011
The Planning (Listed Buildings) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015
The Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) (2015)
Planning Policy Statement 6 (PPS6): Planning, Archaeology and the Built
Heritage (1999)


Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997
Historic Environment Scotland Act 2014
Planning (Listed Building Consent and Conservation Area Consent Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 2015
Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement (2016)
Historic Environment Circular 1
• Guidance notes in the Managing Change in the Historic Environment series


Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990
Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979
The Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and associated regulations

Planning Policy Wales
Government Circulars 61/96, 60/96 and 1/98
• Technical Advice Notes

Further Information

C Mynors, Changing Churches: a practical guide to the faculty system, Bloomsbury, London 2016

C Mynors, Listed Buildings and Other Heritage Assets (5th edition), Sweet & Maxwell, London, 2017

The Building Conservation Directory, 2018


JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited. He studied architectural conservation at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and has a background in architectural design, conservation and urban regeneration.

Further information



Conservation Principles

Restoration Case Studies


Advisory Bodies and Associations

Conservation Planning and Policy Consultants
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