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Outbuildings and Heritage Issues

The Cambridge dictionary defines an outbuilding as 'a usually small building near to and on the same piece of land as a larger building'.

Although outbuildings are often assumed to be small structures with relatively low heritage significance, this is a misinterpretation of the way significance is assessed at historic sites. Just because a building is small and may have fallen out of use does not mean it does not hold heritage significance. Although outbuildings representing unique functions or architectural designs may hold significance in their own right, their significance may more often than not be attributed to their joint significance with the main building on the plot. Where the main building is subject to listed building protection, the outbuildings on the same site may also be considered to be curtilage listed.

What is Curtilage Listing?

National advice on curtilage listing has been produced by Historic England (2018) in their report titled: 'Listed Buildings and Curtilage: Historic England Advice Note 10'. They state that:

The law provides that buildings and other structures that pre-date July 1948 and are within the curtilage of a listed building are to be treated as part of the listed building.

However, it can often be difficult to concretely establish which buildings fall within this curtilage listing. As such, this process - although guided by Historic England's criteria - can sometimes become subjective. This is where employment of a heritage consultant often becomes necessary. Read more about curtilage listing in our previous blog post dedicated to this topic.

Why are Outbuildings Significant?

Various outbuildings explored by our team

Even if not considered to be curtilage listed, outbuildings might also be subject to other heritage constraints. This may concern how the outbuilding relates to a listed building or non-designated heritage asset within the plot. For example, the outbuilding may make a positive contribution to a nearby heritage asset and therefore, must be adapted sensitively in order to maintain this contribution to the asset's character and significance. This is particularly where the outbuilding shares similar construction materials or bore a connected function to the main property. It may also share similar construction dates to the main structure on the plot. Even where this is not the case, outbuildings may contribute to our knowledge of the evolution of the plot over time, including what later construction projects can inform about economic and social change. Furthermore, outbuildings may gain special protection and contribute to our wider impression of the local vernacular if placed within a Conservation Area.

Heritage Issues

Ultimately, it is clear that the demolition of historic outbuildings may not be possible in many cases, and therefore, may be refused planning consent on heritage grounds. It also means that additional hurdles may be present when considering the extension or alteration of such structures. Extensions and alterations might have to work to maintain the character of the outbuilding itself, or alternatively, the character of another heritage asset within the plot. It may also be required to remain in-keeping with the local vernacular if situated within a Conservation Area. Common issues with extensions of historic outbuildings include the obscurement of the host dwelling, alongside any associated impacts on historic buildings within the plot when introducing modern materials like uPVC windows. These extensions must also remain subservient to the host dwelling, which means that only a limited additional footprint might be permitted on your particular plot.

Introducing Positive Impacts

Examples of outbuildings which contained unsympathetic later alterations

On the other hand, there are a series of interventions a developer might take to introduce positive impacts to a development scheme affecting or involving a historic outbuilding. For instance, it is always possible that the outbuilding may make some form of negative contribution to the historic plot. This is something which modern interventions can help correct or improve - for example, by replacing non-sympathetic render, windows, or roof materials. On the other hand, bringing a neglected outbuilding back into use can also result in an overall conservation gain for the structure, even where modern partitions and other alterations are required to bring the building back to life. Adaptive reuse solutions have often involved the introduction of garages, garden offices, gyms, storage units or other such creative uses of historic outbuildings.


Demolition of a historic building
Monitored demolition by Blue Willow Heritage

Outbuildings that have fallen into severe disrepair are also recognised to detract from the aesthetic character of historic plots. Where such buildings make a strongly negative visual impact to the setting of a heritage asset or Conservation Area, demolition might also be considered. On the one hand, the act of demolition itself is unlikely to result in a positive impact on any designated heritage assets or Conservation Areas. This is because it results in the total loss of historic fabric which, in the case of a designated or curtilage listed outbuilding, would constitute substantial harm to the heritage asset. However, if it can be demonstrated that the removal of the derelict outbuilding will make a positive contribution to views of the plot and thereby encourage the surrounding heritage assets to remain in use, this harm may be offset to a negligible / neutral overall impact. This is only the case where the structure is unfeasible for maintenance and repair - something which must be justified by a structural survey.

Such schemes have been achieved by Blue Willow Heritage through the preparation of detailed Heritage Impact Assessments demonstrating that the majority of the significance of the historic fabric has already been lost due to severe levels of decay. This has also been accompanied by the compilation of Historic Building Recordings to mitigate the harm caused by the loss of such structures. This effectively means that, where the building cannot be preserved in situ due to severe structural decay, it will remain preserved for future generations within the written and photographic archaeological record. Such archaeological works may even enhance understandings of the asset - another major positive element to any demolition and building recording scheme.

Orthophoto of a historic building
Orthophoto produced by Blue Willow Heritage during a building recording of a demolished historic orangery

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 heritage assets - including your historic outbuildings - 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.


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