Who Pays For Preservation Of Listed Buildings?
Guardians Of The Historic Environment
Owners of listed buildings act as guardians of a valuable part of our historic environment, maintaining them for the long term benefit of the whole community. But apart from the joy of owning a piece of history there needs to be flexibility to allow for lifestyles.
There are a very large number of listed buildings that are private homes, not public buildings, and their owners priorities are split between the needs of modern family living and the need to preserve the building's historic value. Balancing these two often conflicting requirements can be difficult and the judgement often subjective.
Current planning law prioritises the preservation of the heritage value of a listed building but does it give sufficient weight to the high cost of maintaining these buildings for the long term benefit of the community?
How is that cost to be met? After all the preservation of listed private homes depends almost exclusively on wealthy owners who can afford the upkeep of house and often extensive grounds, all paid with no help from the government or tax relief.
What Is A Listed Building
Heritage England define a listed building on their website as “Listing is the term given to the practice of listing buildings, scheduling monuments, registering parks, gardens and battlefields, and protecting wreck sites. Listing allows us to highlight what is significant about a building or site, and helps to make sure that any future changes to it do not result in the loss of its significance.”
How many listed buildings are there? About 500,000
Do You a Really Want To Buy A Listed Building?
Before you buy a listed building, make sure you are prepared for the considerable commitment it brings. The ongoing maintenance is more expensive than a standard home and the improvements and changes you may want to make are restricted by the need to obtain consent for most changes inside and out. See this useful article that sets out things to consider.
Owning A Listed Building
Every part of a listed building is included no matter how old. The outbuildings, gardens and boundary walls and fences are all included. Get professional advice before you change things. See this useful guide from Heritage England.
The Case For Allowing Extensions To Listed Buildings
You might ask why further extension of a property that many would view is already perfectly adequate as a family home is needed. Although listed building owners appreciate their building’s history and features, they also want a modern living environment that gives them open plan family, kitchen, living and leisure spaces that do not form part of the traditional plans of old houses. Providing these facilities is therefore an important factor in enabling the long term life of family homes that are also listed buildings.
Ultimately it’s about ensuring the long term use and maintenance. Listed buildings, their gardens, outbuildings and land around them are expensive to maintain and need owners to meet those costs on behalf of the community. Many of our clients are prepared to take on the long term costs, but they also want to have the opportunity to enlarge the house to suit their lifestyle and that usually means adding more floor area..
That immediately sets up a conflict related to the notion of the “setting” of the listed building. Any proposal that harms the setting of a listed building is resisted strongly by the planning authority. But if enlargement is restricted too much, the wealthy owners on whom these properties rely for long term preservation are put off and may sell, perhaps to someone else who may not aspire to the same lifestyle but also may not have the money to fund the long term preservation that the buildings need.
Constant Change and Evolution
In the past listed buildings have evolved to reflect the change in circumstance of owners and the social changes that time brings. So it does not make sense to stop change in its tracks and prevent any further Listed buildings need to evolve to meet the needs of modern life and will need to do so again in the future, otherwise they cease to be relevant and fall into lack of use.
The challenge is to design in a way that maintains the attractiveness of the house for future buyers so funding for term preservation of the property is maintained whilst at the same time preserving the critical historic fabric and social history that make the building worthy of preservation.
Architectural Design Philosophy
We like to add to listed buildings in a style that is obviously of today, but using massing that does not compromise the core of the historic building. Our approach combines contemporary design that respects the character of the existing building with changes that maximise the opportunities for contemporary living. Our designs are restrained enough to avoid harming the setting of the listed building but are also clearly of their time so that the history of the building remains readable.
The aim is to create a complementary addition that takes elements of the existing building as cues, but without pastiche copying. We combine this with the technique of deferential contrast where the new elements form a self-effacing backdrop to the old.
It is usually possible to track the different styles of architecture and the associated building techniques and materials to enable a detailed analysis of the massing and learn how that has been created over time. That analysis should point to where the opportunities are to continue the historic sequence in a sympathetic and logical way. That creates a kind of architectural readability, the detail of which is not always obvious to casual observers, but strongly reinforces the “rightness” of the design. It just “feels” right when you look at it.
When examining listed buildings, the craftsmanship and detailing is usually very interesting and can be of a very high standard. Previous owners usually wanted the best that was available at the time, and were prepared to pay the cost.
We think it's important that modern craftsmanship and detailing equals that, but it does not need to be traditional. Beautifully executed modern details using contemporary materials will with luck be viewed in the same light by future generations. Again a commitment to that level of craftsmanship involves extra cost, but it's needed to match the quality of the new work to the original.
Selection of the right materials is also crucial. A first reaction might be to match the existing, and in some cases where alterations are integral to the existing design, that is the right approach. However it's important to avoid pastiche by making new parts of old buildings “look old”. That blurs the historic dividing lines and reduces the architectural readability of the historical sequence. Instead the use of new materials that are sympathetic to the existing in terms of colour, texture and scale, but are subtlety different and obviously new is a better approach.