Listed buildings

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Cornwall is fortunate in having a rich heritage of buildings. They are important from a historical point of view with many architectural features. To lose them would be to lose a vital part of Cornish character and cultural heritage.

There are 12,664 Listed Buildings in Cornwall. The greatest concentration in the north east of the county. Buildings are listed to give them protection from:

  • unsympathetic alteration and
  • demolition.

This does not mean that they can't be altered. Legislation ensures full and proper consideration of any proposed work.

What is a listed building

A listed building is a:

  • building
  • object or
  • structure

judged to be of national historical or architectural interest. This includes objects and structures attached to the building or in its grounds.

A 'statutory list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest' is managed by Historic England. Historic England are a government agency.

Listed buildings are graded to show their relative importance. This does not mean that a Grade I building is more worthy of preservation than a Grade II building. The three grades of listing are:

  • Grade I: Buildings of exceptional interest (only 2% of listed buildings)
  • Grade II*: Grade II buildings of particular importance (4% of listed buildings)
  • Grade II: Buildings of special interest which warrant every effort to preserve them.

Buildings are listed so that their particular qualities can be legally protected. The listing of a building brings to its owner a degree of responsibility for part of the nation's heritage. It has been said that we hold these buildings in trust for those that come after us. Any works to a listed building will need listed building consent for:

  • demolition
  • alteration or
  • extension works, internal or external.

It applies to any work that affects the listed buildings special character.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport compiles the lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Historic England maintains and updates them.  Conservation policies are based on these lists.

How a building is listed

An assessment of buildings and structures defines their significance with the greatest care. Many old buildings, and indeed recent buildings, are interesting. Listing only includes buildings of 'special interest' in the national context. The main criteria used are:

  • Age and rarity:
    • All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition
    • Most buildings from 1700-1840 if they are untouched
    • Between 1840 and 1914, only buildings of definite quality and character
    • Between 1914 and 1939, selected buildings of high quality and/or historic interest
    • Buildings constructed after 1939 of exceptional quality
    • Buildings less than 30 years old only if they are of outstanding quality and under threat
    • Buildings less than 10 years old are not listed
  • Architectural importance - buildings for the interest of their:
    • architectural design
    • decoration
    • craftsmanship
    • particular building types
    • building techniques and
    • significant plan forms.
  • Historic - buildings which illustrate important aspects including the nation's:
    • social
    • economic
    • cultural or
    • military history
    • close historical association with important people and events.
  • Buildings that form part of an important architectural or historic group. They could also be a fine example of planning such as:
    • squares
    • terraces and
    • model villages.

Detailed guidance by English Heritage is available at Historic England - Heritage Protection.

Buildings can be:

  • added through reviews of lists for particular areas
  • added through studies of particular building types
  • ‘spot listed’.

Owners are not consulted before a building is listed. English Heritage does have a consultation procedure however. They use this procedure unless there is a danger of imminent damage to the building. 

The Council is not responsible for listing buildings. If an unlisted building is under threat, it can serve a ‘building preservation notice’. This lists the building:

  • for a period of six months or
  • until it is included on the statutory list.

There is:

  • no right of appeal against a listing or
  • no right to compensation for the loss of redevelopment options.

If you consider a listing is incorrect, you can request a review within 28 days of the date of the decision.

Further details are access using this link: Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

The listing of a building

When a building is first listed:

  • the owners and occupiers are notified by Historic England and Cornwall Council
  • it is entered into the local land charges register.

The listing includes:

  • a short description of your property
  • the important aspects of the building.

The description itself has no legal significance and is not intended to guide any planning decisions. If the building was already listed before you became the owner, the solicitor’s search should have drawn your attention to this fact.

To find out whether your property is listed you can look on:

The listing includes:

  • the whole building or structure, interior and exterior
  • boundary and garden walls
  • railings
  • buildings and other structures within the listed building.
  • historic curtilage if built before 1 July 1948. The curtilage is the land within which the building is set and which belongs (or once belonged) to it, and is (or was) used with it. This can often be difficult to determine. If you are in any doubt about the extent of your building’s curtilage, contact the Council’s Conservation Team who will be able to help.

There is no such thing as a listed façade. Interior features cannot be listed on their own. Modern elements of a building such as later alterations and additions are included. Fixtures that form a permanent and integral part of the building such as:

  • fireplaces and
  • doors

are also included in the listing. Most fixtures and fittings will be listed.

The setting of a listed building is an important factor when new developments or extensions are being considered by the Council. List descriptions are intended for identification purposes. They are not a definitive list of important features.

De-listing a building

Historic England maintains the listing system. For further information and an application forms please visit the Historic England website or contact Historic England at: southwest@historicengland.org.uk

Requests for de-listing will not be considered when:

  • there is a current application for listed building consent relating to the building
  • there is an appeal against refusal of consent
  • if any legal action is being taken by the Local Authority

Owners are not consulted before a building is listed. Yet if an inspector is aware of a specific threat, they will contact the owner or leave a visiting card. There is:

  • no right of appeal against a listing and
  • no right to compensation for loss of redevelopment opportunities.

Listed building consent

You must apply for Listed building consent from Cornwall Council if you want to:

  • demolish a listed building
  • alter or extend a listed building that affects its character as a building

The works may also need planning permission or building regulations approval.

Listed building application forms are available using this link: make a planning application. There is no fee to apply for listed building consent.

When considering an application, the Council will presume in favour of preserving the character of the listed building. We only give consent for partial or full demolition of a listed building in exceptional circumstances.

It is a criminal offence to:

  • demolish
  • alter or
  • extend a listed building without obtaining listed building consent.

The penalties for this can be a large fine and/or imprisonment. This includes if you:

  • carry out works without consent or
  • order them to be done.

Listed status covers a whole building, inside and out. It may also apply to buildings in the curtilage.

Each building is different. There are no sweeping rules for what you can or can't do without consent. Demolitions or extensions will need consent. Other common works could include:

  • the replacement of windows or doors
  • alterations to openings
  • knocking down or altering chimneys
  • internal walls
  • floors or ceilings
  • altering or removing fireplaces or other internal features (cupboards, panelling, staircases etc.)
  • painting or rendering walls
  • changing roof materials
  • inserting dormers
  • attaching signs, lights, satellite dishes and so on.

This is not a full list and is guidance only. Please check with the Council first using these links: householder guidance or Do I need planning consent or building regulations.

By submitting a "Do I need" enquiry you can check the need for:

  • planning permission
  • listed building or conservation area consent
  • Building Regulations.

This is an informal response. You can get a formal response by submitting a Certificate of Lawfulness of Proposed Use or Development.

There is a charge for the planning, listed building or conservation area consent check. The Building Regulation check is free. You should receive your response within 10 working days.

The form and further information are available via the links above.

Old buildings require special attention when they are being:

  • repaired
  • renovated or
  • altered.

Features that are demolished cannot be replaced. There is a presumption in favour of appropriate repair. Repair can also be cheaper and more sustainable than replacement.

The repair or alteration of listed buildings requires a high standard of craftsmanship and professional skill. We advise owners to appoint a specialist architect or surveyor, experienced in historic building work.

We advise to seek the services of a specialist before submitting an application. An architect, surveyor or consultant with a particular knowledge or historic buildings will be able to advise on:

  • listed building consent requirements and 
  • other consents needed.

We can provide advice on works to historic buildings. You can email us at planning@cornwall.gov.uk. Traditional craftsmen and materials are also available.  Please seek advice before the submission of your application.  This can help identify potential problems at the earliest possible stage. By exploring different options mistakes can be avoided. Standards of work are also ensured to protect the historic environment. Further information is available on the Pre-application planning and building control advice pages.

Works not requiring listed building consent

It is always best to check first. But some minor works may not need consent if the main fabric of the building is not affected. Examples of some minor works are:

  • internal redecoration
  • renewal of furnishings
  • replacement of internal fittings such as lights or radiators

There are exceptions if the special character of the building is affected. Examples when this could apply are:

  • stripping internal joinery of its traditional paintwork finish, or
  • removing rare original wallpaper.

Normal maintenance and appropriate repairs carried out by expert craftsmen using original material are usually exempt.

The Conservation team can give advice on individual cases. You can:

Emergency works to a listed building

Please contact the Conservation team for advice before carrying out emergency works. If this is not possible, you can only do emergency works without prior consent if you can prove:

a) works to the building is in the interests of:

  • safety or
  • health or
  • for the preservation of the building and

b) it was not practicable to secure:

  • safety
  • health or
  • the preservation of the building

by repair or giving temporary support or shelter, and

c) works carried out were limited to the minimum measures immediately necessary and

d) notice in writing justifying in detail the works carried out. This should be given to the local planning authority as soon as practicable.

Please note that Building Control can advise on the minimum measures needed. These can often be less than you think.

Failure to prove all these mitigating circumstances may lead to prosecution for carrying out unauthorised works.

Listed Building consent decisions

Works must start within 3 years from the date of the consent. Consent may have conditions attached. This might be an approval of sample materials before works begin or start. Any conditions attached to the consent must be addressed. Builders must work from and in accordance with approved drawings.

The listed building consent will not be valid unless all the conditions on the decision notice are met. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with any condition. It is vital that conditions are discharged before work relating to the conditions start.

You may appeal if:

  • consent is refused or
  • granted subject to conditions which are considered unacceptable.

You must apppeal within six months of the decision date. Full details of this process are supplied with decision notices.

Work carried out without consent

It is a criminal offence for anyone to:

  • demolish a listed building
  • alter it or
  • extend it in any manner which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest

without obtaining listed building consent. This applies to those who:

  • carry out the works 
  • order them to be done.

This offence which can result in a large fine and/or imprisonment.

If works are carried out without consent, we may take enforcement action. This can be to

  • restore the building to its original state or
  • comply with conditions attached to a listed building consent.

There is no time limit for taking listed building enforcement action.

Failure to obtain consent often comes to light during the sale of a property. It can make the building difficult to sell until unauthorised works are remedied. If you buy a property with unauthorised works you may become liable for any listed building enforcement action in connection with them.

Applying for listed building consent

Application forms are available from the make a planning application page. There is no fee for a listed building consent application. Full guidance notes are provided to help applicants.

We can provide advice on works to historic buildings. Please seek advice before submitting your application.

Pre-application advice can:

  • raise the standard of works
  • protect the historic environment.

It's important the team understand what you wish to achieve. They can help explore any different options and identify potential problems or conflicts. Recognising problems at the earliest possible stage can avoid abortive work. For further information visit the Pre-application planning and building control advice pages.

Your application needs to include detailed drawings. These must include:

  • the existing building and
  • details of the proposed alterations.

A Listed Building design and access statement is also needed. Drawings have to be accurate and will often have to include large scale details. It is helpful to include photographs.

Return your completed application to the Planning Section. They will advertise your application in the local press and by a notice on site. Members of the public may comment during the 3 week publicity period.

The Council should issue a decision within 8 weeks from the receipt of a valid application. Sometimes this is not always possible. If a decision is not issued within 8 weeks, there is a right to appeal against non-determination.

For some applications affecting Grade I or II* listed buildings, the Council must notify the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) if it intends to grant consent. This can add up to 28 days to the process. The Secretary of State can say that they wish to extend this period. If this happens, there is no time limit. The Council can refuse an application in these categories without referral to DCLG.

To avoid time delays we suggest:

  • pre-application discussions and
  • detailed application information.

You will receive a decision notice. The notice will list any conditions placed on the proposed works. If the application is refused the decision notice will set out the reasons why.

The importance of appraisal and evaluation

The potential impact of any proposal must be clear.  A proposal with insufficient or inaccurate information can be delayed, such as:

  • an inadequate survey and assessment
  • timetables and
  • budgets.

You cannot amend a listed building consent. You need a completely new application to make a change after consent received. It is important in the first stage to undertake a thorough appraisal and evaluation.

For more information visit the Council’s planning advice and guidance page.

The best use for an historic building will usually be that for which it was designed. It will be essential when a building is redundant to find a use that is:

  • appropriate
  • viable and
  • consistent with its conservation.

A proposed conversion scheme should pay attention to:

  • the original plan form and
  • features such as:
    • staircases
    • fireplaces
    • ornamental plasterwork
    • panelled doors.
  • the character of the internal spaces may restrict subdivision or opening up of space
  • bathrooms and kitchens should by located to minimise the effects of new pipe-work and other services
  • provide details of sympathetic means of upgrading for:
    • fire separation
    • insulation and
    • ventilation where appropriate.

Could the proposed conversion harm the historic significance of the building? You may have to show that there are no viable alternative uses or other potential owners/users

If a building falls into disrepair

Most owners maintain their buildings in a sound state of repair. If the building falls into disrepair, the Council has various powers to seek its preservation.

If the building is empty or partly empty the Council can serve an urgent works notice. This type of notice specifies the basic repairs needed to make the building safe and secure. If these are not carried out within a reasonable period, the Council can:

  • do the works itself and
  • recover the costs from the owner.

The Council can also serve a repairs notice requiring that an occupied building is put in good order. If the necessary repairs are not done the Council can make a compulsory purchase order (CPO).

Not all listed buildings are cared for by their owners. In cases of:

  • deliberate neglect or
  • long-term vacancy

a listed building is put on a register of Buildings at Risk. Historic England have a register for Grades I and II* listed buildings. 

Report a building at risk

If you are aware of an historic building which is:

  • derelict or
  • not being preserved

you can contact the Council’s Conservation Service on planning@cornwall.gov.uk. They will:

  • inspect the building and
  • let you know what action they intend to take.

Financial help if you own a listed building

Owners of Grade I and II* properties may be eligible for grants from Historic England. The Funds for Historic Buildings website is a guide to funding. It is for anyone seeking to:

  • repair
  • restore or
  • convert for a new use:
    • any listed historic building
    • scheduled buildings or
    • those in a conservation area and of acknowledged historic merit.

It includes details of:

  • funding sources for historic buildings
  • a variety of regeneration programmes providing funding for historic building projects within a wider remit.

New works to listed buildings which have received listed building consent may be eligible for zero VAT rating. But:

  • maintenance or
  • repair

are not eligible to be zero rated. Further information is available from HM Revenue and Customs advice web pages, or their advice line: 0845 010 9000 (find out about call charges).

Simple advice on listed buildings

You can save time and money in maintaining and repairing a listed building if the right methods and materials are used.

A good understanding of traditional building methods and techniques is vital. Regular maintenance can:

  • remove the need for radical change
  • avoid long-term structural defects.

Repair is almost always preferred to restoration. It is often the:

  • soft contours
  • variety of textures and
  • unevenness of the walls and roofline that give a building character.

Details such as tool marks on stone, ripples in crown glass and patina on ancient surfaces can disappear with inappropriate restoration. Every year historic features are needlessly destroyed during renovation works, often as a result of lack of sympathy or knowledge.

Useful advice on maintenance is accessed on this link: 'Stitch in time'.

Think before you buy. The special character of a building can be obliterated by the ill advised and hasty action of a new purchaser. Think, is this building right for you?

  • If you prefer vast uncluttered spaces don’t buy a cramped Cornish cottage with low ceilings, small rooms and few windows
  • Don’t assume you will get consent for large extensions
  • Don’t buy an old building unless you are prepared to accept its individual character
  • If you want straight walls, razor sharp corners and level floors – think about buying a modern house!

Please view these guidelines on buying an old building: 'Look before you Leap'.

For further information please contact the Conservation team by emailing planning@cornwall.gov.uk or visit:

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