Guide to listed buildings

General guidance about carrying out works to listed buildings

What is a listed building?

A listed building is a building of special architectural or historic interest that is considered important enough to protect. Once identified, these buildings are recommended to be included in a statutory list, which is compiled by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Most people will be familiar with listed houses and churches, but a great variety of other buildings and structures can be protected through listing, including barns, milestones, bridges and railway stations.

Why are buildings listed?

Buildings are listed so that all of our architectural heritage can be protected, from a large stately home to a humble cottage. This is achieved through the planning process. If anyone wants to alter, extend or demolish a listed building, they must first seek Listed Building Consent. Listing a building does not mean it has to be preserved for all time as it is, but the Listed Building Consent process does mean all proposed changes can be scrutinised carefully to make sure they respect the character and special interest of the building.

When are buildings listed?

When considering a building for listing, the criteria are:

  • Architectural Interest – where the building is important because of its architectural design, decoration or craftsmanship, or is a good example of a building type or technique, or it has a significant plan form
  • Historic Interest – where the building illustrates important aspects of the nation’s social, economic, cultural or military history, or it has close associations with nationally important people
  • Group Value – where taken together, a group of buildings make up an important architectural or historic whole, eg. terraces, squares, model villages)

Age and rarity are also important considerations. All buildings built before 1700, and contain a significant proportion of their original fabric, are listed. Most buildings built between 1700 and 1840, that have not been drastically altered, are listed. Only buildings constructed after 1840 that have a definite character and quality are listed. Buildings less than 30 years old are listed only if they are of outstanding quality and under threat.

Grades of listed buildings

Listed buildings are graded to reflect their relative architectural and historic interest as follows:

  • Grade I buildings are of national interest
  • Grade II* buildings are of more than regional interest
  • Grade II buildings are of special regional interest, warranting every effort to preserve them

In practice, about 95% of listed buildings are Grade II.

How much of the building is listed?

When a building is listed, the listed status always covers the whole building, inside and outside. This includes any fixtures or fittings attached to the building, for example fireplaces and staircases, machinery and millwheels.

This means, if an extension is added, it automatically becomes part of the listed building, even if it is modern.

It also includes any building in the ‘curtilage’ / grounds built before 1948 for a purpose supporting the main dwelling and in the same ownership at the date of listing - this would usually include barns, stables, old garden walls and gates.

What is Listed Building Consent?

If you wish to demolish, alter or extend all or part of a listed building in a way that affects its character, you must first apply to North Devon Council for ‘Listed Building Consent’. Depending on the type of work you wish to do, you may also need separate Planning Permission and Building Regulations approval. There is no fee for Listed Building Consent, but there will be for the other types of permission. To find out more or get advice, please contact us. It is important to remember that it is a criminal offence to alter, extend or demolish a listed building without consent, and the penalties can be heavy.

What type of work needs Listed Building Consent?

We list buildings to protect the historic and architectural significance of them. This means any work impacting the character of the building, such as the below, must usually have ‘Listed Building Consent’ before the works start (and sometimes planning permission too):

  • changing the materials of walls, wall coverings (plaster and render, not wallpaper), rainwater goods and roofs (including the type of thatch)
  • any extensions or demolitions
  • rebuilding of any chimney stacks
  • replacement of any windows or doors
  • alterations to staircases, fireplaces, doors, architraves, historic panelling and cupboards, historic floor surfaces, wall and ceiling finishes, ceiling beams, floorboards, roof structures, cornices, ceiling roses and historic decorative plasterwork and joinery features
  • the complete removal of thatch
  • alterations to certain fixtures and fittings (including: water pumps, machinery, mill wheels, fly wheels, columns, steps, railings, balconies)

It is a criminal offence to undertake works without this consent and we can prosecute the perpetrator, and / or take enforcement action to the current owner to make good any harm caused (so, if purchasing a listed building, it is sensible to check whether any unauthorised works have been carried out).

There are some changes do not generally need this consent, such as:

  • decorating and repairs in like materials, such as repointing, rendering or plastering in lime
  • plumbing and electrical work
  • fitting carpets or other modern flooring, kitchen and bathroom furniture
  • secondary glazing
  • re-thatching
  • re-slating a roof provided the slates match in colour, size, pattern of laying and method of fixing (not slate hooks)
  • joinery repairs or fitting carpets
  • spraying for woodworm and beetle

Small like-for-like repairs in general do not require consent and it is wise to ensure that listed buildings are well maintained. As a rule, it is preferable to repair features rather than replace them, particularly windows, as that way, more of the historic fabric is retained.

The repair or alteration of listed buildings requires a high standard of craftsmanship and professional skill. The appointment of a specialist architect or advisor is recommended. National bodies such as English Heritage and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) can give you general advice.

As the aim of our granting Listed Building Consent is to maintain the historic character and significance of a building, we are likely to grant permission for:

  • essential works
  • carefully considered alterations
  • repair and retention of historic features, particularly windows and doors

We are equally unlikely to grant permission for proposals which:

  • remove or alter historic features
  • alter the historic plan form of a building
  • change its character and size to any great degree
  • use inappropriate modern materials, such as PVCu windows / doors, cement mortars / plasters or waterproof coatings

We encourage everyone to have a pre-application discussion with our Conservation Officer, which is free if the works are purely for repairs. We make a small charge for alteration pre-application enquiries, as these would also need planning permission.

Otherwise, please see our application for Listed Building Consent  and our local list, as this gives you information about what we need to support any application(s). There is also a lot of advice available on other websites, you may find helpful, including:

Apply for listed building consent

What if a listed building deteriorates?

Sadly, a minority of listed buildings do fall into a serious state of decay and we do have powers under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to take action. This can include serving an Urgent Works Notice, which requires the building to be made wind and weatherproof, or a full Repairs Notice. If the latter does not lead to the building being repaired, the council does have powers of Compulsory Purchase.

Is financial help available?

For Grade I and II* listed buildings, English Heritage may be able to assist, and for buildings with a public function, the Heritage Lottery Fund can be a useful source. For historic farm buildings, grants may be available through the Stewardship scheme. We are no longer able to offer Historic Building grants.

Windows in Listed Buildings

On listed buildings, historic windows form part of the character and significance, so wherever possible they should be repaired and retained.


  • Decay - usually the sills or the bottom rails of the windows decay and a skilled joiner can replace them, using hardwood (as softwood does not last as long). Making sure windows are well maintained will prolong their life-span, indeed, many Georgian buildings contain windows which are nearly 200 years old and still function well
  • Draughts – if draughty, or difficult to open, windows can be eased, draught-proofed and re-hung. Secondary glazing is a discreet means of improving thermal performance and reducing condensation and can be installed without needing Listed Building Consent. Original or new shutters are also very effective in preventing heat loss and reducing external noise


For windows or doors beyond repair, we can approve replacement through Listed Building Consent. Most historic windows are wood or metal and we would expect replacement using original materials. If windows are not historic or not of an appropriate design, we will consider the use of slim line double glazing (if the design is made more appropriate and historically accurate), which would NOT include:

  • incorporate top-hung opening lights
  • casements which are have external storm proofing and are not flush fitting
  • duplex units with applied glazing bars

For more information or helpful advice, Historic England have recently published advice on dealing with windows in listed buildings, and buildings in Conservation Areas. You may also find details on the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings website useful.

Contact us

We are happy to provide advice on general listed building and conservation matters. If you have any questions, please contact us. In person: Lynton House, Commercial Road, Barnstaple EX31 1DG Telephone: 01271 388288 Website:

Other useful contacts: