It is possible to modernise a Grade II listed property, but you must play by the rules...
Buildings are listed for a reason. They may have a special historic or architectural interest which it is important to conserve and they may be located in an area that is historically important. As such, there are laws governing what you can and can’t do to a listed building, both internally and externally.
Most homes fall in to the Grade II listing category which is slightly less rigorous than a Grade I listing. As a general rule, you are able to maintain your property using like for like materials and traditional methods without prior consent – for example, careful repairs to a sash window or replacing modern appliances in a kitchen. However, tread carefully – the Victorian fittings in your bathroom may be part of the listing, and while you can refresh modern paint, be careful not to peel away any historic layers. It’s the same in your garden – that old tree that blocks your view, the dilapidated lean-to or the tumbled down garden wall may all be part of the listing and as such, would need special consent to remove, alter or repair.
When it comes to extending a listed building, guidelines have changed somewhat. In the past, the idea was to imitate the original period building so that old and new blended seamlessly. Today, planners are in favour of maintaining a clear divide between old and new – creating the extension out of a modern material that complements the old so that the distinctions are clearly visible.
If you’re unclear about what is permissible or not, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek advice. One of the best sources is the Listed Property Owners’ Club (LPOC), which holds an annual show in London and which was set up to help owners of listed properties understand what works they are and aren’t allowed to do to their properties. Historic England produces the free Listed Property Owners Guide, a guide to what alterations you can and cannot do to listed properties. Visit historicengland.org.uk to download it.
Applying for listed building consent can be a long process but ultimately the planners want you to enjoy your property while maintaining its heritage for the future. There will always be variables to take into account – local authorities can vary greatly in what they deem suitable or not, and if your property is surrounded by similar listed buildings such as those in London, Bath and Cheltenham, you may find your options are limited. However, perseverance is key. Remember Rome was not built in a day – it’s the same with a listed property!