Successfully adapting a historic building to new uses is challenging and rewarding. It requires an understanding of what is special about it and how it was built. And it involves negotiation with planning officers and conservation specialists about the best ways of restoring the building while retaining its character.
It makes sound economic sense to understand the condition of a property and its potential for change before buying it. By paying the right price right at the start, there is less risk of having to go for an unreasonably ambitious planning consent in order to achieve a viable return on investment, which could lead to conflict, delays and loss of profit.
Finding out about a listed property
Information about all 400,000 listed buildings in England can be accessed online through the National Heritage List for England, while you can access historic environment records (HERs) across the country via Heritage Gateway.
Our website also provides a comprehensive guide to how the designation system works and our Planning Charter explains the process for obtaining consent to make changes to listed buildings.
In the case of buildings at risk, more detailed information about condition and ownership can be accessed either via Heritage at Risk or the specially prepared downloadable information pack about each of our regional 'top ten' building at risk rescue opportunities.
Before preparing detailed plans for the development of an historic building it is essential to carry out further research into its history, significance and structural condition. Historic records and photographs relating to hundreds of thousands of different building can be accessed through the National Monuments Record, English Heritage's publicly accessible archive.
As well as appointing architects and engineers who specialise in the repair and conversion of historic buildings you may also need to commission a detailed historical and architectural survey of the building and its surroundings in advance of applying for planning permission, listed building consent and any historic building grants for which your property may be eligible. Our section on finding professional help has lots of useful information.
To help people understand how English Heritage thinks about historic buildings we have published our 'Conservation Principles'. This is a carefully worded booklet examining the subject in depth. These principles guide our advice on how historic buildings can be changed successfully.
If you are developing a Grade I or II* building, English Heritage would expect to have an early pre-application discussion about the potential of the building to accommodate change. Our advice is supported by a wealth of expertise and practical experience of working with developers of historic buildings all over the country.
Talking to English Heritage before you invest in costly development plans can save you money. We are happy to record the outcome of pre-application discussions in writing to give you greater certainty.
If you are investing in a Grade II building, it is important first to consult the local authority planning and conservation departments. They can also help you avoid abortive costs by giving you advice about what might and might not be possible.
Providing relevant information to English Heritage or the local planning authority at all stages of the planning process saves time and money because it avoids a delay in responses.
Although many aspects of the current English planning system are being overhauled as part of the Localism Bill and its accompanying National Planning Policy Framework, the current system of protection for listed buildings and other designated heritage assets is expected to remain largely intact.
As we explain in our Planning Charter, any significant alteration to or re-development of a listed building requires listed building consent as well as planning permission. Listed building consent is granted by the same local authority that awards planning permission, but in the case of Grade I and II* buildings English Heritage also has to be consulted.
In 2010-11, English Heritage responded to:
- 97% of 14,437 valid Planning and Listed Building consent application consultations within 21 days or an agreed time.
- 91% of 720 formal pre-application consultations for Planning and Listed Buildings consent cases within the deadline.
Technical advice and guidance
As well as the site-specific advice that may be available from our local teams, English Heritage has developed an extensive portfolio of written guidance for the benefit of the owners, managers and developers of the historic environment. This invaluable resource can be accessed either through the Advice section of our website or through the guidance and case study libraries on the HELM website.
There is a wide range of professionals who can help you plan and carry out work to an old building from architects and building surveyors to structural engineers and quantity surveyors and builders. Their advice is invaluable - going it alone to save money often proves to be a false economy.
First aid for vacant historic buildings
If a significant amount of time is likely to elapse between buying a disused building and the start of a restoration project it is vitally important to protect it from the elements. A programme of routine inspection and basic maintenance is also likely to more than cover its costs.
'Vacant Historic Buildings: An Owner's Guide to Temporary Uses, Maintenance and Mothballing' is a new English Heritage publication that describes some of the more specific steps to be taken to protect the fabric of temporarily unoccupied buildings.
Vacant Historic Buildings
19 Oct 2011
An owner’s guide to temporary uses, maintenance and mothballing. Guidance to help owners to reduce the risks facing empty buildings, by undertaking a range of precautionary measures and adopting an active management approach.