Based in the World Heritage City of Bath, we regularly get enquiries from clients wishing to make alterations to a Listed building in order to make them meet the requirements of modern family living. From internal structural changes such as removing walls to open up the living space or converting the vaults to create additional living space to adding a large extension to allow re-organisation of the communal living spaces.
The way in which people occupy their homes today varies quite considerably from Georgian times. Most wish to live in a warm, dry house without damp, the past subdivision of a house into separate kitchen, dining and living room spaces is quite different to the open plan living we crave today and many wish to re-purpose what would have been servants quarters into a home office or guest room to suite modern family living.
Each of these seemingly simple building alterations require Listed Building Consent in order to transform a listed building into a modern family home and in some situations approval by the Local Authority Conservation team is resisted. Heritage England, the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate our beloved historic environment, has a useful guide to listed building consent here.
It is a common misunderstanding that only the features included in the Listing Notice or the primary elevation are Listed. This is not the case. Be aware that it is a criminal offence to undertake works without the proper approval. Designscape have the in house expertise to help with this. Associate Alex Sykes can be found on the Riba’s list of Conservation Architects here.
Historic England summarise what is Listed as follows: If an object is fixed to the principal building in such a way that it would be considered a fixture in the usual land-law sense (i.e. would be conveyed with the property on sale unless expressly excluded), it would be protected by the listing. This would even include that once fashionable avocado bathroom suite!
The good news is that once you make a Listed Building application, it is unlikely that work that took place in the C20th will be protected, but you must obtain approval to remove it. Work that affects the character of a Listed building will always require approval and will generally be resisted by the conservation team unless justified by diligent research and investigation. Interestingly, it is generally much easier to justify a distinctly modern extension than seemingly minor internal alterations.
Many conservation officers have little truck with arguments such as: ‘But this is the kind of space required for modern family living!’ and are likely to respond with variations of: ‘This historic building has functioned as a house for 200 years, if you don’t like it move.’ This stance can seem pretty unreasonable, when you have spent a vast amount of money on your Listed property and want to deal with the water pouring through the basement vault, or want to knock two small rooms into one. There is no simple answer. Every day there are instances of unapproved work taking place within Listed Buildings in Bath, which can result in prosecution.
The responsible approach is to seek expert advice to guide you through the process of obtaining Listed building consent. But do bear in mind that you may need to modify your ambitions. As architects, we are creative problem solvers. We create beautiful spaces and buildings of quality and longevity. As professionals we are required to act with integrity and within the confines of statutory regulation and the law. Sometimes we need to give our clients advice that they do not want in order to protect them from their aspirations, but in all cases we are looking for solutions and ways in which we can justify Listed building planning approval for them.
But any such ‘tension’ can often culminate in better outcomes and has in the past led to some notable award winning projects.
While the alteration of a Listed building or historic homes rarely comes without its challenges by working with a skilled architect, you can successfully transform your properties into a modern, comfortable family home best suited to contemporary living.
If you have an historic building which you would like to improve, re-purpose or alter please get in touch.