The UK is home to around 400,000 listed buildings and many of these buildings are privately owned. However, owning a listed building doesn’t mean that you can automatically do what you wish to it. While a listing identifies and celebrates the building’s special historical and architectural interest, it also falls under the planning system. However, you can still extend and alter a listed building and, if necessary, even demolish it if government planning guidance approves it. Your local authority will use listed building consent to enable a balance between the structure’s historic significance against specific issues such as its condition, viability or function.

Listed Building Restoration Window Painting

While there may be certain restrictions on what adaptations you can make to a listed building, what changes can you make without the need to seek planning permission?

What is a listed building?

Listed buildings are structures of national importance in terms of historic or architectural interest. These buildings feature on the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. The list is compiled by the Department for Culture, Media and Sports under the provisions of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and covers various structures, including cathedrals, castles, village pumps, milestones and private dwellings.

Listed buildings come under three grades:

  • Grade I: Buildings considered of national importance and outstanding architectural or historic interest
  • Grade II*: Buildings that have some special merit, such as an exceptional interior
  • Grade II: Buildings of particular interest

The whole building is listed, including the inside, outside, and any attached structure or object and land surrounding it. Listed is also any structure on surrounding land that pre-dates 1st July 1948, such as boundary walls, gates, railings and sometimes even garden features.

Alterations to a listed building without permission

Most listed buildings in the UK fall into the Grade II listing classification, which is less strict than a Grade I listing. As a rule, you can maintain your listed property using traditional methods and like-for-like materials without needing prior consent. This could include replacing appliances in the kitchen or repairing a sash window. However, you still need to tread carefully. Those Victorian bathroom fittings you have, for example, could be included in the listing. While you can refresh the paintwork, make sure you don’t remove any historic layers underneath. The same goes for the garden. That dilapidated old lean-to or wonky garden wall may be part of the building’s listing, and you will need special building consent to repair, alter or remove it.

When will you need formal or written consent?

If you are thinking of making changes to your Grade II or Grade I listed property, it’s a good idea to understand when you will need to obtain building consent.


If you plan to make repairs that will affect the property’s character, you’ll likely need to obtain written consent before beginning the work. However, you may be able to avoid this if you are using like-for-like materials. Speak to your local authority for advice to be on the safe side.

Internal alterations

The listed building status covers the whole property. Plan to make any changes to the building layout, remove walls, install double glazing, expose brickwork or timber, or rebuild or remove internal features such as fireplaces or panelling? You must have written consent first.

Renovations and extensions

While it’s understandable that you may want to add your unique style to your home, you will need to get planning permission from all the relevant authorities before you begin any Grade II listed building renovation. Each element of the renovation and extension project will need to have written consent before work can start.


Any alterations you make to windows, including replacing or removing historical glass panes, changing the timber or window detailing, can significantly transform the building’s character. Therefore, all these changes are subject to listed building regulations. Even replacing a broken window could considerably alter the way your property looks. Before you begin making any alterations to the windows, get written consent first.

Unauthorised works on a listed building

Failure to obtain written building consent before making any alterations to your listed building is a criminal offence, and you could face severe penalties. Making alterations will mean you are liable to receive a listed building enforcement notice. This notice enables authorities to either lessen or reverse the alternations carried out. You will have to pay the bill for these works, and you may also face a hefty fine and even a prison sentence.

If you are in any doubt about which listed building alterations can and cannot be carried out, make sure you get professional advice and consult your local authority before doing anything. Historic England has a free Listed Property Owners Guide at, where you can find more information.

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