Robbie Kerr
Listed buildings - headache or the jewel they advertise to be?
30 April 2018

The listed status of approximately half a million buildings across England and Wales, nearly 70,000 in Scotland and 8,500 in Northern Ireland, provide us with some of the most beautiful and fascinating homes. However, those homes often have aspects that do not quite work for modern family life. The dining room might be in the wrong place, the kitchen too dark, and the days of servants having a significant part in the home has faded.

A dilemma for owners is the perception that because of the listing, it is impossible to change their home and may be a future burden. As one Conservation Officer informed me recently, my clients were not the owners of the house but custodians for the nation.

The prospect of purchasing a dream home, that happens to come with the recognition that it is of such quality as to be listed, should not immediately fill owners with fear. Indeed, those who have lived with, or inherited, such properties should not necessarily feel straightjacketed. Working with listed buildings can be frustrating and you may not be able to get exactly what you want but the listing should not, de facto, stop you from doing what you might want to do. The listing does add a burden of responsibility. It is, for example, a criminal offence to alter, remove or demolish any part of or fixing to a listed building.

When faced with the thorny challenge presented by a client, or prospective client, to discuss their new vision for a home, it is essential to build a clear picture of what outcomes the family wants to achieve. There may be ways to think laterally around the apparent problem within the fabric of the building. It is then essential to develop a thorough understanding of what is significant about the building. Significance and the balance of harm to that significance is the buzz phrase used throughout the process; it is this point of principle that defines whether a proposed alteration can be seen to be acceptable.

Working to understand how the building has evolved, when wings were built by previous owners, understanding where the special features that justify the status as a listed building lie, is essential before seeking alterations. The robust approach should provide the team with more understanding about the building than the Conservation Officers, and to ensure that any harm to the evidential, historic, aesthetic and communal values that define the significance are out weighted by benefits of revealing or improving the perception of these values.

Early engagement with Conservation Officers can be beneficial, especially if there are elements of repair works. Building relationships of trust can go a long way to making the process a more enjoyable and less adversarial process.

Robert Kerr is a Director of ADAM Architecture



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