Heritage Protection in the UK

Jonathan Taylor


  The clocktower and main facade of the Palace Hotel with its distinctive terracotta facing
  The tower of the Palace Hotel, Manchester: this Grade II* listed building was the offices of Refuge Assurance, designed by the famous Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse in the late 19th century. The tower was added by his son Paul Waterhouse in 1910-12 and the building was successfully converted to hotel use in 1996, retaining its magnificent terracotta work, inside and out.

Although the controls affecting the protection of the historic environment differ in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the essence of the system remains the same, as outlined here. The principal mechanisms that protect listed buildings in each of the four home nations are outlined on the following pages.


Scheduled monuments and buildings which are listed or in conservation areas are protected by law throughout the United Kingdom, and it is a criminal offence to carry out certain works to them without the necessary consent. A conviction can lead to fines and even imprisonment. It is therefore essential that owners, their contractors and consultants have at least a general grasp of what can and cannot be done without consent, and when it is necessary to seek specialist advice.

Applications are made to the local planning authority. Some applications are then referred to the statutory authority (English Heritage, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, Historic Scotland or Cadw).

Ecclesiastical exemption
There is one general exception to the above: alterations to churches and other places of worship usually fall outside this system as most denominations have their own internal systems of control and are exempt from the secular system of heritage protection. However, this only applies where the building is still in use as a place of worship, and demolition still requires secular listed building consent as the building is no longer in use at the point of demolition.


Listed buildings in the UK are protected under the primary legislation shown in the second table below. All three acts state that LBC 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’ (1990 Act Section 7, ’97 Act Section 6 respectively, and 2011 Act Article 85 – the wording is identical). Repairs may also require consent as even like-for-like repairs usually 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). Listed buildings are graded according to a variety of factors such as rarity and completeness, with grades I and A being the most important, but all listed buildings are equally protected, inside and out.

Unlisted buildings in conservation areas are protected under the same primary legislation except in England (see below). All three acts share almost identical wording, simply stating that a building in a conservation area ‘shall not be demolished’ without the consent of the appropriate authority. The criterion by which development affecting a conservation area is assessed is ‘the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of that 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.

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. (Elsewhere 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’. Details are given in the Addendum to Planning Policy Statement 6, published in 2005.

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. 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).

Further guidance on SMC can be found in Robin Kent's article 'Scheduled Monument Consent', which was published in the 2013 edition of The Building Conservation Directory.

Designation Works requiring consent Consent required
Scheduled monument All works including demolition, alterations and repairs Scheduled monument
consent (SMC
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 grounds built before 1948 or, in Northern Ireland, 1973. Listed building consent (LBC)
Unlisted building in a conservation area Demolition only (‘substantial’ not partial demolition) Conservation area consent (CAC) or, in England, planning permission
Some external alterations to houses, which elsewhere would be permitted by right, may require consent under an Article 4 direction Planning permission
In addition to the above consents, development affecting the exterior of a heritage  asset may also require planning permission
  Primary legislation Government policy and guidance
England Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 The National Planning Policy Framework
Wales Planning Policy Wales, Government Circulars 61/96 and 1/98 Planning and the Historic Environment, and Technical Advice Notes
Scotland Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 Scottish Historic Environment Policy and the guidance notes in the Managing Change in the Historic Environment series
Northern Ireland Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 and Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 Planning Policy Statement 6 (PPS6): Planning, Archaeology and the Built Heritage
  Grade/category (and proportion in each)
England Grade I (2.5%) Grade II* (5.5%) Grade II (92%)
Wales Grade I (2%) Grade II* (6%) Grade II (92%)
Scotland Category A (8%) Category B (50%) Category C (42%)
Northern Ireland Grade A (2.5%) Grade B+ (6.5%) Grade B1/B2 (91%)



English Heritage, a government agency, is responsible to the Secretary of State (DCMS) for national designations in England.

The National Heritage List for England provides details of all nationally designated ‘heritage assets’ and can be found on English Heritage’s website (www.english-heritage.org.uk). The National Heritage List for England does not include conservation areas as these are designated by local planning authorities. However, World Heritage Sites are recorded on the list, despite these sites being separately inscribed by UNESCO.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) replaced all previous government policy on heritage protection in England in March 2012, including PPS5, and it is supported by the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) on the application of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. In essence the Act defines the extent of protection, while the NPPF gives government policy on how applications for consent should be dealt with and the information required of the applicant. The guidance in the NPPG and the PPS5 Practice Guide (discussed below) may help clarify the criteria for assessing an application.

Applications for consent (or ‘authorisation’) generally involve photos and drawings showing the location and general layout and more detailed before and after drawings showing the impact of the proposal. A statement of significance is required, although this could range from as little as a paragraph in a covering letter to a substantial document: ‘The level of detail should be proportionate to the assets’ importance and no more than is sufficient to understand the potential impact of the proposal on their significance’ (NPPF128).

The use of the word ‘assets’ here relates to the relatively new concept of ‘heritage asset’ which is defined in the NPPF glossary as a ‘building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest. Heritage asset includes designated heritage assets and assets identified by the local planning authority (including local listing).’ A ‘designated’ heritage asset may be a world heritage site, scheduled monument, listed building, protected wreck site, registered park or garden, registered battlefield or conservation area.

One of the ‘core principles’ (NPPF 17) is to ‘conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations’. Conservation is defined in the glossary as ‘the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains and, where appropriate, enhances its significance’, while ‘significance’ is defined as ‘the value of a heritage asset to this and future generations because of its [archaeological, architectural, artistic or historic] interest’.

For new work, whether an alteration to an existing building or a new structure in a historic context, NPPF section 60 gives blunt advice on design approaches. ‘Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes and they should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles. It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness.’ This approach places great emphasis on the need for requirements to be substantiated by the conservation officer or planner, and on the need for each case to be treated individually.

PPS5 (Planning Policy Statement 5) Practice Guide gives further useful advice. Section 178 mentions some of the criteria that need to be considered when designing additions to heritage assets, including new development in conservation areas. These include height, massing, bulk and scale, use of materials, use of the building or component, its alignment and relationship with adjacent heritage assets, and the treatment of its setting. The section also gives further advice on the choice of style.

New guidance to replace the PPS5 Practice Guide is expected in 2014, but in the meantime the PPS5 Practice Guide ‘remains a valid and government endorsed document’. English Heritage and the Historic Environment Forum are also developing sector guidance to expand on the NPPG.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 included various measures to simplify the listed building consent regime which are expected to come into force in April 2014. As summarised in the NPPG, once these changes come into effect:

  • ‘local planning authorities will be able to enter into a statutory Heritage Partnership Agreement with the owner of a listed building. Such an agreement may include the grant of listed building consent for specified works for the alteration or extension (but not demolition) of the building
  • ‘the Secretary of State and local planning authorities will be able to grant a general listed building consent for works for the alteration or extension (but not demolition) of listed buildings by making either national consent orders (in the case of the Secretary of State) or local listed building consent orders (in the case of local planning authorities)
  • ‘owners of listed buildings will be able to apply for a certificate of lawfulness to obtain formal confirmation from the local planning authority that the works for the alteration or extension (but not demolition) they are proposing do not require listed building consent’.


Responsibility for listing, scheduling and designating lies with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, a government body within Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment (DoE NI). The Historic Monuments Council advises the department on the scheduling of monuments, conservation of monuments in state care, maritime archaeology, industrial and defence heritage and areas of significant archaeological interest. Copies of the various lists can be viewed in the Northern Ireland Monuments and Buildings Record in Waterman House, Belfast as well as in the offices of local authorities. The addresses of listed and other historic buildings can be found online on the Northern Ireland Buildings Database, but list descriptions are only included for more recent listings.

Unlike the rest of the UK there are four grades of listed buildings, not three. The top nine per cent of listed buildings are graded A or B+. The rest are grade B1 or B2. Generally, B1 is chosen for buildings that qualify for listing by virtue of a relatively wide selection of attributes, and B2 for those that qualify by virtue of only a few. Buildings in the former grade C, now known as ‘locally listed’, do not enjoy statutory protection as listed buildings.

  Wilmont House with red-brick facade and ashlar quoins
  Wilmont House, Belfast: this Grade B1 listed building was designed by the Victorian architect Thomas Jackson c1859 and was used most recently as a residential home by Belfast City Council. It has now been derelict for several years and is listed on the Buildings at Risk Northern Ireland (BARNI) register. (Photo: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society)

Ecclesiastical exemption from the need for LBC and CAC applies to ‘an ecclesiastical building which is for the time being used for ecclesiastical purposes or would be so used but for the works’.

Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning, Archaeology and the Built Heritage (PPS6) provides the principal source of guidance on the protection of listed buildings under the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 and the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

LBC is required for the demolition of a listed building and for any works of alteration or extension which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. As there is ‘a general presumption in favour of the preservation of listed buildings’, applications for LBC must be supported by full information to ‘justify the proposal’ and to ‘enable assessment of the likely impact of proposals on the special architectural or historic interest of the building and on its setting’.

The guidance recognises the need for historic buildings to accommodate change and that there is usually room for ‘some degree of thoughtful alteration or extension’. Policy BH8 lists the criteria that must be met as follows:

a) ‘the essential character of the building and its setting are retained and its features of special interest remain intact and unimpaired;

b) ‘the works proposed make use of traditional and/or sympathetic building materials and techniques which match or are in keeping with those found on the building; and

c) ‘the architectural details (eg doors, gutters, windows) match or are in keeping with the building.’

Apart from the impact on the special architectural or historic interest of the building, the authorities may also take into consideration ‘the extent to which the proposed works would bring substantial benefits for the community, in particular by contributing to the economic regeneration of the area or the enhancement of its environment (including other listed buildings)’ (Para 6.5).

Under the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 increased fines are now in effect and relate to offences committed on or after 04 May 2011. In each case the maximum fine on summary conviction is raised from £30,000 to £100,000.


Historic Scotland is the government body responsible for the conservation of the built heritage in Scotland. It advises Scottish ministers on wide-ranging historic building matters and has a statutory role in determining applications affecting the demolition of buildings which are listed or in conservation areas, and the alteration of the most important (Category A) listed buildings.

The Pastmap website of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland provides details of scheduled ancient monuments, listed buildings and registered gardens or designed landscapes, as well as information held by local authorities in historic environment records. However, it is not always up to date, and it is best to check with the local authority whether a building is protected.

  Mountains loom behind Eilean Donan Castle, built on an island in Loch Duich  
  Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich in the Western Highlands: the castle was burnt down by English frigates in 1719 in response to the Jacobite rebellions. According to Historic Scotland’s list description, the present castle is listed category A and is a reconstruction of 1912-32 ‘in a later medieval manner and a free interpretation of the former castle on the 13th-century site, incorporating some remains of the keep and enclosing walls. Architect; George Mackie Watson of Edinburgh.’ (Photo: Charles Strang)  

The Scottish Historic Environment Policy (SHEP) is the principal source of guidance on policies for the scheduling, listing and designations and for their management through the consent system. It was updated in 2011 and is a substantial document with over 90 pages (compared to just two pages in England’s NPPF).

Under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997, any work which affects the character of a listed building will require LBC. SHEP gives two examples of work that might not require consent: a like-for-like repair such as pointing a wall; and ‘altering part of a building which does not contribute to the overall special interest’ (SHEP 3.31-3.32). Nevertheless, the decision of whether an LBC application is required rests with the local planning authority.

LBC applications must demonstrate an understanding of the importance of the building and those features which contribute to its special interest. ‘In general the more extensive the intervention which is proposed, the more supporting information applications should provide.’ A statement which justifies the intervention would be required if the building’s special interest is adversely affected, and it should demonstrate that the benefits of the scheme could not be achieved without the intervention (SHEP 3.42-3.43).

Proposals which involve the alteration or adaptation of a listed building will usually be accepted where the use of the building will be sustained or enhanced, provided that its special interest is not adversely affected (SHEP 3.48). If its special interest is adversely affected, key considerations are:

a) the relative importance of the special interest of the building

b) the scale of the impact of the proposals on that special interest

c) whether there are other options which would ensure a continuing beneficial use for the building with less impact on its special interest

d) whether there are significant benefits for economic growth or the wider community which justify a departure from the presumption in favour (SHEP 3.49).

Ecclesiastical exemption from the need for LBC applies to any building used for ‘ecclesiastical purposes’ in Scotland. However, most churches have agreed under a voluntary arrangement to accept secular requirements controlling works to the exterior.

Managing Change in the Historic Environment is a series of concise guidance notes published by Historic Scotland to support and expand on the policies outlined in SHEP. For example, the edition on windows provides useful guidance on repairs, alterations and improvements, including when double glazing might be accepted. Others in the series include Accessibility, Battlefields, Boundaries, Demolition, Doorways, Engineering Structures, External Fixtures, External Walls, Extensions, Interiors, Microrenewables, Roofs, Setting, Shopfronts, and Works on Scheduled Monuments.


Cadw, which means to keep or protect, is the Welsh Government’s historic environment service and is part of the Welsh Government’s Culture and Sport Department.

Lists can be found on the Historic Wales portal, which provides access via a map to details of listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments as well as information held in historic environment records and Coflein, the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales.

  View of Corwen with wooded hillside rising in the background
  Corwen, Denbighshire from the churchyard of St Mael and St Sulien (Grade II*): the bell tower in the centre belongs to a former workhouse of 1837 (Corwen Manor), which is listed Grade II*. Otherwise the visible townscape is protected only by its inclusion in the conservation area.

The nation shares primary legislation with England (Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990) and the principal government policy and guidance on its application is contained in Chapter 6 of the Welsh Government’s Planning Policy Wales and Circular 61/96: Planning and the Historic Environment. However, the heritage protection system operating in Wales is currently under review and a heritage bill is scheduled for introduction to the National Assembly for Wales in 2015.

Ecclesiastical exemption from the need for LBC and CAC in Wales applies only to those denominations which have internal systems of control approved by the Welsh Ministers. The Church of England, the Church in Wales, the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Baptist Union of Wales and the United Reformed Church are all exempt. Each exempt denomination will invite Cadw and the local planning authority to comment on proposed works to churches under the ecclesiastical exemption arrangements.

In most other cases applications for LBC are made to the local authority, and Cadw is notified of applications to which an authority is minded to approve so that the Welsh Ministers can consider if a particular application should be called in for their determination. An application made by a local planning authority for a listed building in its area is determined by the Welsh Ministers.

Circular 61/96 gives advice on the level of information required to support an application for LBC: applicants ‘must provide the local planning authority with full information to enable them to assess the likely impact of their proposals on the special architectural or historic interest of the building and on its setting’ (Section 69). It explains that ‘achieving a proper balance between the specialist interest of a listed building and proposals for alterations or extensions is demanding and should always be based on specialist expertise’ (Section 97).

Repairs are unlikely to require LBC unless they involve a degree of alteration which would affect the character of the listed building. However, Circular 61/96 points out that ‘Whether proposed works constitute alterations or demolition is a matter of fact and degree which must be determined in each case’ (Section 67).

An appendix to Annex D contains succinct advice on many typical features and details which contribute to the character of historic buildings or which affect their performance. For example, it explains why lime mortars and renders are important and why modern cement-based alternatives are so damaging. Features such as roofs, windows and doors are each given long entries. Under roofs for example it explains that ‘Details such as swept valleys should always be retained, as should regional construction traditions such as grouted slate roofs of the western coast.’ The result may not deal with every possible detail, but in practice it provides non-specialist architects and owners useful advance warning of the sort of issues that a conservation officer will be looking for. It is to be hoped that Cadw finds room for such practical advice in future guidance too, whether in this form or in the form of Historic Scotland’s excellent Managing Change guidance notes.



The Building Conservation Directory, 2014


JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited.

This article was prepared with the help of Matthew Coward (Cadw), Anne Menary (Northern Ireland Environment Agency), Richard Morrice (English Heritage) and Luke Wormald (Historic Scotland).


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