As heritage consultants, we work a lot with listed buildings – from Grade II listed farmhouses all the way through to nationally significant Grade I listed cathedrals. As part of a late 20th century drive to protect the UK’s built heritage, these buildings which vary in age, form, design, character, function, and location, have all been considered to hold enough special architectural or historic interest so as to be included in the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) and be classed as a ‘listed building’. However, over time perhaps due to neglect or disasters beyond our control, from fires to adverse weather, the special significance which merited listing in the first place is eroded so as to call its listing into question. One of the most common questions we have on site from clients is ‘how can I delist my building’ or ‘what are the chances of getting our house delisted’?
In all honesty, the answer is usually no, with 9 in 10 de-listing applications resulting in a dismissal. That said, it is possible – we should know, we’ve handled our fair share! But in order to understand the circumstances in which a building can be de-listed and what the process of removing a building from the list entails, it is first important to look at the criteria for listing.
Why Might a Building be Removed from the List?
When it comes to determining whether a building is listable, it must be considered whether the building holds sufficient special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Principles of Selection for Listed Buildings (DCMS 2018). In addition, reference should also be made to the Historic England Listing Selection Guides, which further expand upon the former and offer a thematically arranged set of criteria for specific building types, dates, etc.
In an application for de-listing, this same set of criteria would need to be consulted so as to determine whether sufficient architectural and historic interest remains. Reasons why a building might be de-listed include the discovery of new evidence, a material change of circumstances, such as fire or weather damage, and – unfortunately – neglect or extensive modernisation. In our experience, only those buildings with extensive damage to the point that like-for-like repairs would not reinstate the significance which has been lost are successful in applications for de-listing.
In terms of why someone would want to de-list a building, applicants often have different motivations, and the process should not be undertaken lightly as it can be a long and costly exercise – one you are not guaranteed to win. Some applicants seek to take advantage of reduced insurance premiums and the freedom that comes with not having to apply for Listed Building Consent for minor alterations and repairs, while others are genuinely trying to remove a building which is no longer of listable quality. Whatever your reasons, the application must be grounded in fact (not just because you don't want your building to be listed anymore!) we explore the process of de-listing below.
How Can I Apply to De-List My Building?
The process for de-listing is an involved one and while the process is managed by Historic England and they provide overall recommendations, the decision ultimately lies with the Secretary of State who will take into account representations from Historic England and the applicant. De-listing should not be seen as a first port of call but if after professional advice it is deemed appropriate, then the process is as follows:
An application must be submitted to Historic England. This can be made under the free service or under the Fast-Track charged-for Enhanced Advisory Service (EAS), with the latter having significantly quicker timescales for processing. The application is available online.
It is crucial at this stage to engage a qualified heritage professional to help pull together the supporting evidence, which will usually comprise a site survey and assessment of the building against the listing criteria outlined above. The aim of any representations is to demonstrate with concrete evidence why the building is believed to no longer hold sufficient special architectural or historic interest.
If the case is to be taken ahead, then the owner – if they are not the applicant – will be notified of the procedure.
Owners and local planning authorities will be given the opportunity to make representations.
Historic England will undertake an independent assessment, taking into account the various representations and undertaking their own research, as well as – in most cases – a site inspection, but only with the owner’s permission.
Historic England will then draft a consultation report which will be sent to the owner, applicant, and local planning authority so that they may make comments. It is important to note this is not the formal recommendation, but rather a factual assessment of the building, its history, development, and condition which will form the basis for the formal recommendation.
Consultees have 21 days to respond from the date of the consultation letter; however, representations must be based on fact as opposed to opinion so if the assessment is factually correct, then there is no need to make a representation.
Finally, Historic England will consider all representations made to this point and finalise their recommendation to DCMS, with the final decision being taken by the Secretary of State. Once a decision is reached, the owner, applicant, and local authority will be notified, as well as receive a letter detailing the reasons for the decision.
What Happens if My Building is De-Listed?
In those cases where applications to remove a building from the List are successful, then it is most likely that the building will automatically be classed as a non-designated heritage asset, although it is always best to double check with the local planning authority. This is a separate and somewhat material category applied to buildings which have heritage significance, but not sufficiently so as to merit listing. Despite not being formally listed, these buildings are afforded a reduced level of protection in both national and local policy, so it is not suddenly a free for all when it comes to making alterations.
When it comes to de-listing a building, it pays to have specialist advice along the way. If a client broaches the subject of de-listing and we do not feel the case has merit, then we would always advise against initiating the process, saving the client time, money, and hassle. Instead, work with your heritage consultant to consider the alternative routes, from extensive repair to sensitive alterations, all of which are possible – even with a listed building. That said, we are always willing to take on cases where a building has demonstrably lost its special architectural and historic interest, and in those cases where we are successful in de-listing a building, the result is always bittersweet.
At Blue Willow Heritage, we provide expert advice on planning, the historic environment and conservation works to historic buildings. If you need support managing your restoration projects or heritage assets, then Blue Willow Heritage can help. If you would like to discuss your project or simply need some impartial, no-obligation advice, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.