Over 370,000 buildings now have listed status in the UK, protecting them from development without authorisation. This is a far cry from the situation at the start of the Second World War when very few buildings had that status. The devastation caused by German bombers changed that situation dramatically. The sheer amount of destruction to the historic environment prompted a decision to conserve as much as possible of what remained. A listing of buildings regarded as being of architectural merit was created, and new additions to the list are made regularly.
It is not just buildings such as Westminster Abbey or Beaumaris Castle, which are protected. Listed status can be made on a row of terraced houses, shops and other types of properties. Almost anything can be listed from telephone boxes to castles. Even the zebra crossing made famous by the Beatles on the cover of their Abbey Road album is protected by Grade II listed status.
Heritage protection can take different names, reflecting the appropriate government legislation. Buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral are ‘listed’, ancient monuments like Stonehenge are ‘protected’, wrecks such as Second World naval vessels destroyed in the English Channel are ‘protected’ while battlefields, gardens and parks such as Stowe and Bosworth are ‘registered’. Whatever the name, the same basic protection exists. Nothing can be altered or developed without permission.
Buildings dating back to before 1700 are automatically listed, as are the majority of buildings created between 1700 and 1840. The number of buildings listed relating to the period from 1900 onwards is steadily increasing. In order to be considered for listed status, a building must be at least 30 years old.
As far as buildings are concerned, there are three different levels of status applicable in England and Wales. Scotland has its own grading levels.
Grade One buildings are buildings regarded to be of exceptional interest and include most prominent buildings such as Buckingham Palace.
Grade II* buildings include the Coliseum Theatre London, Capel Manor House Kent and Battersea Power Station. These are buildings that are seen to be important and possessing special historical and architectural interest.
Grade II is by far the most common designation and applies to 92% of all listed buildings. Buildings with this status are deemed to be of special interest and deserve preservation. Among the sites that possess Grade II listing are the Radar Training Station, Fleetwood; St Mary’s Island lighthouse, keepers cottage and surround wall.
Owning a listed building brings with it a special duty of care. Anyone wanting to undertake any alterations or even repairs such as a new roof or windows must contact their local conservation officer to obtain permission to undertake the work. Carrying out unauthorised work can be costly. The conservation officer can order alterations to be removed and replaced where necessary. It can also result in unlimited fines, criminal prosecution or even imprisonment. Listed building status is not taken lightly and maximum care needs to be taken at every stage.