Everyone keeps telling me I won't get approval for works to my listed house, is this true?

I know the scenario well, you have moved to the most beautiful Grade II listed cottage with stone walls and tiny windows, set in an idyllic country garden and there is even an old well in the paddock. You have visions of reading under the apple tree and eating dainty homemade cakes on the rustic picnic bench. It’s all very Enid Blyton. However, you have also found that the plumbing is from the 70's, the electrics turn themselves on and, when they feel like it, off again. The beautiful tiny windows barely allow in enough light to read the newspaper and the kitchen was designed purely for swinging cats and nothing more. You need to make some changes but everyone keeps telling you that you don't have any chance of getting approval to do the works you need.

Well firstly, I am very pleased to say, that is simply not the case. It is important to realise the reason your home has been listed is because it has been deemed a significant asset to the heritage of our country, and that is something to take a little pride in. The Listed Building Act 1990 is in place to prevent significant and unrecoverable damage to heritage assets, it doesn't not stop you doing work to the property.

So can I extend?

This is largely dependent on the property in question. It's age, form and position in the community, will all factor on if, and how much, you can extend your listed building. It also depends on the Historic Building Advisor (HBA) and their view on extensions. I have extended more listed buildings than I can care to remember, but it can be a long painstaking process. The image above is actually a design which has been through the pre-application advice process twice, has taken over 5 months to achieve but the result is a happy HBA and a very happy client. My advice is to make sure the Architect you appoint has experience in working with heritage assets so that they can explain to you the areas that may cause concern and can ease your worries when things are taking a little longer than hoped. These things do take time.

What about knocking through rooms?

Again this depends on the individual property but in my experience, and rather bizarrely, this is less likely to receive approval. The reason being is the form of the building, the layout of the rooms and their historical purpose tell the tale of the asset. If you try to knock through into the room next door then you are changing the historical layout and this will more likely gain objection from the LPA ( Local Planning Authority) than an extension. That does not mean to say it won’t gain approval but you ( or your Architect) will need to demonstrate that it will enhance the listed building and be for the benefit of the public, which is harder to do for a internal change.

Can I change the windows to double glazed?

This is a well argued area within the industry and sadly largely comes down to the county you are in. I have tried and failed on a number of occasions to secure double glazing in certain counties, but others have promoted it's use, understanding the important of sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint of our homes. I will always try for double glazing in the first instance but advise my clients to expect a refusal if we are in a particular location. On a side note, there are some really great window companies out there, who specifically design slimline heritage windows so it’s always worth speaking to them to see what precedence they may have in your area.

Can I change the flooring and wall coverings?

This is always an interesting one as the Act dictates that all fixtures attached to the fabric of the listed building are by default protected by the listing. However there is some common sense required here. If you have wallpaper on the walls, then I think its fairly safe to say, unless the wallpaper is a William Morris original and has been protected in it's own right then you can take it off. Floor coverings such as carpets, Lino & tiles etc. can also be removed without requiring consent. If you are looking to remove existing floor boards ( ie attached to the floor joists) then this should have approval as its part of the fabric. Same goes for taking the plaster off the walls.

That’s great but what about changing bathroom suites or kitchen units, surely they are classed as fixed?

Oddly not. If you want to change your bathroom suite or kitchen cabinets then you are able to do this without applying for consent. Which is great news for all those people with pea green loos!

So ultimately you can ignore all the doom makers out there and feel assured that there is plenty that you can do to make your listed building more of a home. My advise is always to appoint a heritage professional, whether they carry the official title of Conservation Architect, or are like myself, and have being handling these kind of projects for nearly a decade, because trying to figure this out on your own will only tie you in knots. There are so many more details that are required to be supplied when you are working with listed buildings and your architect will know the how’s and when’s to submit them, making the whole journey considerably less painful for yourself.

If you have a listed property and not sure where to start then get in touch at enquiries@lmarchitecture.co.uk

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