Can you alter the internal layout of a grade II listed building?

Are you allowed to alter the internal structure of a grade II listed building? Heritage and conservation expert, Anske Bax, explores the answers. 
Can you alter the internal layout of a grade II listed building?

Can You Change Internals In A Grade 2 Listed Building?

The internal layout of residential buildings has changed significantly since the majority of listed buildings were constructed. Over centuries we have swung from single open rooms to smaller more private spaces and, more recently, back to informal open plan living. As heritage architects we are often called to consider bringing enhanced fluidity between the key zones  of the kitchen, living room, and garden. 

Is this new style of living possible with a Grade I or Grade II listed building in England? Old houses can also work with a modern way of life and open plan living can be achieved, but carefully and sympathetically - we explore how.

To modify a listed building, you need listed building consent, this consent is required for internal and external changes as well as within the curtilage of the grounds. Below, conservation expert Anske, runs through common questions about listed building consent for structural alterations.

So, to answer the main question,  can alter the internal layout of of a listed building - yes, but it comes with some limitations. Listed buildings are of historic significance and are protected by UK law. For this reason, alterations which affect the special architectural or historic interest of the building need to be approved by the local planning authority. You will need to apply for listed building consent prior to commencement of works. 

Which Walls Can Be Removed In A Listed Building?

In order to demolish a load-bearing wall, you will of course need professional advice. However, in terms of heritage issues, taking down non-structural walls isn’t straightforward.

Removing a wall can change the historic layout of a listing building and erode its character. Think of walls which feature Mediaeval stone or original timber panelling. There can also be issues with disruption to the decorations and fittings of the rooms you are joining.

In order to gain listed building consent, you will need to justify the removal of the wall. Seek advice from an architect with experience in listed building alterations. They will be able to evaluate both the historic fabric of the building and the structural significance of the wall. If removal is feasible, they will be able to compile an application which describes acceptable reasons for the removal. These include practical advantages, such as better ventilation and improved fluidity, which positively affect the energy efficiency of the building - heat travels better through a bigger room.

Usually, there aren’t practical drawbacks to joining two rooms. What’s crucial is that the historic footprint is retained. The character cannot be changed beyond the scope of what’s acceptable according to national and local policy guidance and Historic England.

The higher the significance of the building, the harder it will be to obtain listed building consent. Later additions from the 1950s onwards are fairly easy to remove, as they’re not original. However, if the rooms you are joining have existing damp issues, you will need to fix these first.

In order to improve your chances of success, at James Clague Architects, we usually recommend applying for removing a portion of a single wall that is about a double-door width maximum. Typically, this doesn’t create any structural problems, nor does it cause any disruption to the decorations of the rooms you are joining.

Can You Move Or Add A Kitchen Or Bathroom To A  Listed Building?

In theory, yes. Rerouting the plumbing and making changes to the boiler system don’t usually pose problems. However, the plan cannot alter the character of the building. For example, building a box bathroom next to a dining room with high status features isn’t possible. 

How do you Creating An Open Plan Living Space In A Listed Building:?

First, create a sketch of your desired layout using Pinterest, Instagram, or a mood-board. Take this to an architect and seek professional advice. They will then need to carry out a site inspection to verify the viability of the project.

It’s a case by case analysis: each building needs to be considered separately, as the historic fabric varies significantly. You might be able to remove a significant portion of a wall, a very small section, or none at all.

At James Clague, Anske, our Built Heritage and Conservation Practitioner, ensures that our projects comply with national legislation and gain listed building consent. He carries out a thorough site inspection, so he can create a report on the architectural features which need to be preserved. Anske uses this to compile a heritage statement and an analysis of the building’s significance, which help him justify the removal of architectural features to the local planning authority.

The consultation process begins with a detailed inspection and survey and is followed by an in-depth report on findings. If removing a wall is not possible, we make a number of alternative suggestions, such as building an extension. 

How Long Does It Take To Get Listed Building Consent?

Overall, about four months. From the date of the site visit to that on which we submit the planning can take anywhere between one and three months. Determination takes up to eight weeks.

How Do You Find Out What Is Possible?

Firstly, this is one of those occasions where you really do need professional advice, there are legal consequences to not obtaining listed building consent. With this in mind you have two options, you can speak directly with your local conservation officer - this is more useful if you know exactly what you want to do and it is minor. Alternatively you need to seek advice from a conservation expert such as Anske from James Clague Architects, there are added benefits to this route.

Anske brings invaluable expertise to explore the options for you. The consultation process begins with a detailed inspection and survey and is followed by an in-depth report on findings. If removing a wall is not possible, we make a number of alternative suggestions, such as building an extension. Listening to your requirements and suggesting feasible options that are most likely to gain listed building consent can save considerable time and expense.

Anske is based in the James Clague offices in Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells, covering Kent, Sussex, Surrey and the south east. To ask for an initial conversation with Anske please fill in this contact him here or call 01227 649073.

Lastly, Historic England have prepared a short video that may be worth reviewing as it outlines information about what may need listed building consent. View here.

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