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Listed buildings


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.

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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 is in place so full and proper consideration is carried out on the proposed work.

Guidance leaflets are available from Council offices.  Here are answers to some common questions.

A listed building is a building, object or structure judged to be of national historical or architectural interest. This include objects and structures attached to the building or in its grounds.

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

An assessment of buildings and structures defines their significance with the greatest care. Many old buildings, and indeed many recent buildings, are interesting. Listings identifies only those which are 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 are listed 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 tend to be listed 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 and craftsmanship.  Important examples of particular building types and techniques and significant plan forms.
  • Historic - buildings which illustrate important aspects. These include 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. Examples might include squares, terraces and model villages.

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

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 as follows:

Grade I: Buildings of exceptional interest (only 2% of listed buildings)

Grade II*: Grade II buildings but are 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 protected by legal safeguards. 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. This includes demolition, alteration or extension. Work might be internal or external. It applies to any work that affects the listed buildings special character.

It is the job of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to compile lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Historic England is responsible to maintain and update these lists on behalf of the Secretary of State. Conservation policies are based on these lists.

Buildings are added through periodic re-surveys or reviews of lists for particular areas. Studies of particular building types highlight relative merit of individual buildings under threat. Buildings can also be ‘spot listed’.

Although owners are not consulted before a building is listed, English Heritage has introduced a consultation procedure. This procedure is followed unless there is a danger of imminent damage to the building. Full details of this procedure is available on the Historic England website.

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 of the review process or to request a review visit the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) website.

When a building is first listed the owners and occupiers are notified by Historic England and Cornwall Council. The listing is also entered into the local land charges register. This will include a short description of your property. It identifies 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 Historic England's National Heritage List for England website.

The whole building or structure, including both its interior and exterior. Boundary walls, railings, buildings and other structures within the listed building. Its historic curtilage may also be included 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. It should be assumed that most fixtures and fittings are listed.

Garden walls, buildings and/or railings if attached to the listed building are also protected.

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.

Historic England administers of the listing system. For further information and an application forms please visit the Historic England website or contact Historic England at:

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

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 on the  application forms for planning with guidance web page. 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. Consent for partial or full demolition of a listed building will only be given in exceptional circumstances. Where appropriate Historic England and specialist amenity groups are consulted before the Council grants consent.

It is a criminal offence to demolish, alter or extend a listed building without obtaining listed building consent. The penalties for this are usually a large fine and / or imprisonment.

If you wish to carry out work on a listed building, you must first get Listed Building Consent from the Council. It is a criminal offence for anyone to carry out works without consent, or to order them to be done. Listed status covers a whole building, inside and out. It may also apply to buildings in the curtilage of the listed building.

Each building is different. There are no sweeping rules for what you can or can't do without consent. In general terms demolitions or extensions will need consent. Other common works that might also need consent could include:

  • the replacement of windows or doors and/or 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 or inserting dormers
  • attaching signs, lights, satellite dishes and so-on.

This is not a comprehensive list and is for guidance purposes only. It is always better to check with the Council first to avoid an expensive mistake.  Please contact the planning householder team or view the Do I need planning consent or building regulations webpage.

By submitting a Do I need planning consent or building regulations you will be requesting a check about the need for planning permission, listed building or conservation area consent and/or Building Regulations. With regard to planning, this will constitute an informal response. A definitive response can only be obtained through the submission of 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 within this question and at the main planning offices.

Old buildings require special attention when they are being repaired, renovated or altered. Features that are demolished cannot be replaced, and there is a strong 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.

While it is always best to check first, 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 also usually exempt.

If in doubt contact the Conservation Team. They can give advice on individual cases. Contact details are on this page or view Do I need planning consent or building regulations webpage.

You are advised to contact the Conservation Team for advice before carrying out emergency works. On the very rare occasions this may not be possible. If this is the case, emergency works can only be carried out without prior consent providing you can prove all the following:

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 by given to the local planning authority as soon as practicable.

Note that it can be useful to ask Building Control Officers for advice about the minimum measures needed. These can often be less than you think.

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

Any works granted listed building consent must begin within 3 years from the date of the consent. Consent may be issued with conditions attached. This might by an approval of sample materials before works begin or start. Any conditions attached to the consent must be addressed. Care should be taken to ensure that builders are working 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 attached to the consent. It is vital that conditions are discharged before work relating to the conditions begin or start.

If consent is refused, or granted subject to conditions, which are considered unacceptable, an appeal may be made. Appeals must be made within six months of the date of decision. Full details of this process are supplied with decision notices.

It is a criminal offence for anyone to demolish a listed building. This also includes altering or extending 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 as well as those who order them to be done. Proceedings can be taken for the offence which can result in a large fine and/or imprisonment.

If works are carried out without consent, enforcement action may be taken to restore the building to its original state or to 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.

Before submitting an application, you are advised to seek the services of a specialist. An architect, surveyor or consultant with a particular knowledge or historic buildings will be able to help.

The Council’s Conservation Team provide specialist advice on works to historic buildings. Traditional materials and skilled traditional craftsmen are available.

Conservation Teams and Planning Service welcome and encourage the opportunity to provide advice. Advice is best sought before the submission of your application, by you or your agent. Giving advice early 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.

Application forms are available from the application forms for planning with guidance page. 

There is no fee for a listed building consent application. Full guidance notes are provided to help applicants.

The Conservation Team and Planning Service encourage the opportunity to provide advice. This is best sought before the submission of your application, by you or your agent.

The purpose of pre-application advice can raise the standard of works. It also protects 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 included 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 will sometimes be necessary and always 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.

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

In some circumstances, applications affecting Grade I or II* listed buildings, the Council must notify the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) where 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 CLG.

Pre-application discussions and detailed application information are the best ways to avoid frustration over time delays.

Following determination, the applicant’s agent receives 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 Council advertises a listed building application in the local press. A notice is also posted on site.

There will be a period of three weeks after this when members of the public may comment if they wish.

A proposal with insufficient or inaccurate information can be affected. This could be as a result of an inadequate survey and assessment, timetables and budgets. Central government guidance in Planning Policy Statement 5 stresses the importance of submitting enough information. It must be possible to understand the potential impact of any proposal.

There is no facility to amend a listed building consent. A completely new application might have to be made if change is needed of any consent received. It is important in the first stage to undertake a thorough appraisal and evaluation.

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

To find out more about Listed Building applications view the following websites:

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 an appropriate and viable alternative use that is consistent with its conservation.

A proposed conversion scheme should pay attention to the original plan form. Also to features such as staircases, fireplaces, ornamental plasterwork and 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. It will be necessary to provide details of sympathetic means of upgrading for fire separation or for insulation and ventilation where appropriate.

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

Most owners take reasonable steps to 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 certain cases of deliberate neglect or long-term vacancy, a listed building is put on a register of Buildings at Risk. A register is also drawn up by Historic England for Grades I and II* listed buildings 

If you are aware of an historic building which is either derelict or not being preserved, you can contact the Council’s Conservation Service using the contact details on this page. They will inspect the building and let you know what action they intend to take.

Owners of Grade I and II* properties may be eligible for grants from Historic England. The Funds for Historic Buildings website is a comprehensive guide to funding. It is for anyone seeking to repair, restore or convert for a new use any listed historic building in the United Kingdom. It also relevant to scheduled buildings or those in a conservation area and of acknowledged historic merit.

It includes details of substantive funding sources which specialise in historic buildings. It also details a variety of regeneration programmes providing funding for historic building projects within a wider remit. A wide range of bodies issuing grant aid and it may be worthwhile contacting the Council’s Regeneration Service to check the latest situation about the availability of grants.

New works to listed buildings which have received listed building consent may be eligible for zero rating. Works of 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).

Much time and money can be saved 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. It can also 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 all too often 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 provided in the 'Stitch in time'. A publication published by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).

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!

SPAB have some guidelines on buying an old building in their  'Look before you Leap' document.

For further information please contact the conservation team using the contact details on the right-hand side of this page.

Besides to the information available through Cornwall Council, you can find out more by visiting the following sites: