Guest Expert: How to Win Planning Permission on a Listed Building

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Tim Miles is a partner at Montagu Evans, a leading planning consultancy with a specialist team which advises on sensitive conservation area and listed developments. Thanks to his expansive knowledge of historic buildings and trusted reputation with planning departments, he has guided numerous developments in listed buildings towards success.

No type of development has more pitfalls for the unwary and a more delicate planning process than working on a listed building.

The protection of listed buildings and conservation areas (known collectively as ‘designated heritage assets’) from harm is granted very significant and special weight in the planning process.

Decision makers in the planning process have become increasingly conservative in their attitudes towards historic buildings, with planning law emphasising the avoidance of harm to heritage assets. This approach is supported by Planning Inspectors at planning appeals, and even in the High Court.

As DGA’s portfolio shows, you can still achieve remarkable results in a sensitive listed building or in a conservation area context, but you will need to treat the evolution and the application to the planning authority in a particular way.

Understand what you definitely won’t be able to do to a listed building

From time to time, we are asked our advice on projects where clients have already spent money working on designs that are unlikely to achieve consent in a listed building.

We often hear ‘but we thought only the façade is listed!’. In actual fact, the whole building, and everything attached to it, and sometimes also its out-buildings are covered by the listing.

The law requires that any works that affect the special architectural or historic interest of a listed building requires consent. This means inside and out! You must remember that undertaking such works without consent is a criminal offence, so not only can you be forced to return the property to its old state, you can also be prosecuted. The fines are severe and can include a prison term.

If you know the restrictions on listed buildings before you start work, you’ll go into the project with realistic expectations and avoid wasting time and money on designs that are unlikely to be accepted by planning officers.

Some of the issues that home owners frequently run into in listed buildings include:

  • Double glazing is very rarely permitted in listed buildings, and any replacement windows need to accurately reflect the character and period of the building.
  • Knocking through walls is often considered harmful to the building, from the loss of historic fabric.
  • Also, it’s not just the fabric which is protected, floor layouts and ceiling heights may also be considered to be of interest to a building, so never assume you can knock down a wall or raise a ceiling.
  • Planning officers are very protective of historic fabric, and their starting point now is that removal of historic fabric is considered inherently harmful unless it has decayed beyond repair and needs to be replaced.
  • New basement extensions directly beneath Kensington and Chelsea listed buildings are now all but impossible, but are possible in Westminster and Camden if approached in a certain way.

By involving historic building consultants such as myself during the design process, we can develop a scheme that balances your project goals with the maximum chances for approval and negotiate on applicants’ behalf with the planning authority.

Planning negotiations have shifted to BEFORE the application

Tight budgets mean that planning authorities don’t have the resources to negotiate applications after they have been received.

You need to ensure that you present a robust application which answers any questions or concerns they have about your project which, for a historic building, can involve documents from a dizzying array of consultants.

What this means is that if a planning officer doesn’t feel satisfied with the information you have provided, they’re far more likely to simply reject your application then chase you for more details.

It is essential that you set out in the application a clear understanding of what is important about the building, that the design responds to that in a scholarly way, and what the effects of your proposals are on the building – hopefully enhancing it!

Negotiations now occur almost exclusively during the pre-application stage. You may be reluctant to dedicate time and money to your application before making a submission, but it’s far more cost-effective than having to go back to square one after a refusal, or butt heads with the planners and force your application through to an appeal.

While these points apply to almost any projects, these complications are multiplied when making an application for a listed building or within a Conservation Area, due to the additional requirements and approvals you need to comply with.

Demonstrate that you care about the house’s historic character

A careful, scholarly approach to a project in a listed building can get officers excited and create a sense that you are working together for a common purpose.

Therefore, it is critical that the application shows an understanding of the historic and architectural significance of the listed building.

If you repair and restore period features or remove past harmful alterations, planning officers may be more accepting of reasonable changes that you want to make which might otherwise be rejected, especially if you make a case that your changes provide benefits for the usability and longevity of the building, ensuring its long-term future.

For example, you might be permitted to remove a wall to create a more open plan living area if, in the process, you recreate a Georgian or Victorian aesthetic and reinstate the original layout on the other floors, or remove past unsympathetic alterations

Planning departments love it when you strip out non-original features

Many listed buildings have already been altered, poorly, at a time when planning policy was more relaxed, or even before the building was listed.

Sometimes these alterations can be quite harmful and would never secure consent nowadays. The reversal of such alterations provides a great opportunity for doing your own works on a historic building.

Few things make planning and heritage officers happier than seeing ugly renovations and extensions stripped out for more sympathetic period-appropriate replacements. Such an approach can assist massively in the negotiations.

If you make an argument that you are restoring a property to its former glory, it is far more likely that the officers may be flexible on other items that they may not like on their own.

Talk to us if you have any questions about developing a listed house

Montagu Evans has a specialist team that advises homeowners on alterations to their homes and can demonstrate an extensive track record of working with officers to secure consents.

The chance of securing listed building consent is always enhanced if you appoint architects like DGA who are experienced in working in sensitive listed buildings and can meet your brief while respecting the sensitivities of the site.

To get in touch with us, call 02074934002 or email [email protected]