What is a listed building?


A listed building in the UK is a building placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. There are just under 500,000 listed buildings in the UK.

The criteria

For a building to be added to this list, it must be a man-made structure that still survives today in something at least approaching its original state. Most structures on this list are buildings, but other structures including bridges, monuments, war memorials and even milestones or mileposts may be listed. Ancient or unmaintained structures such as Stonehenge are generally classified as Scheduled Ancient Monuments as opposed to listed buildings.

All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most built between 1700 and 1840. For buildings built post-1945, the criteria is somewhat more stringent. Today, a building must be exceptionally important to be listed and must usually be built over 30 years ago.

Types of listed buildings

In England and Wales, there are three types of listed buildings;

  • Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest, often considered to be of international importance. Just 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
  • Grade II* buildings are of more than special interest and are considered particularly important buildings. Around 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*.
  • Grade II buildings are of special interest are considered nationally important buildings. 92% of all listed buildings are in this class, the most likely grade of listing for a private residential building.

Scotland currently uses categories A, B and C as opposed to grades. The assessment criteria for the categories differs slightly from the England and Wales system, so a category B building in Scotland is not necessarily equivalent to a Grade II* building in England.

Significance of listed buildings

If a building is listed, it cannot be demolished, extended or altered without special permission from the local planning authority, who will typically consult the relevant central government agency, especially for significant alterations to notable buildings. Some church buildings in current use for worship can be exempt from this ruling, although the church organisation often operates its own permissions procedure.


In some cases, owners of listed buildings are compelled to repair and maintain them and can face criminal prosecution if they do not, or if they perform unauthorised alterations. When alterations are permitted, or when buildings need to be repaired or maintained, owners are often compelled to use specific materials or techniques, too, which can be expensive.

Due to this, the cost of insuring a listed building can be significant. As listing also limits the options available for expansion or improvement, owners have a legal right to object to a listing and, in some cases, buildings may be removed from the listing altogether, though this is rare.

The history of the list

The creation of the statutory list was prompted by damage to buildings in World War II. Previously, only major ancient monuments had either state recognition or statutory protection. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 codified the ad-hoc processes developed during the war and created the first formal list of listed buildings.

Following public outcry at the demolition of the Art Deco Firestone Factory in 1980, the government began a major re-survey of buildings to ensure nothing which merited preservation had been missed off the original list. The mid- to late-80s saw the largest number of buildings added to the list, with over 36,000 being added in 1987 alone. By 1989, the process was largely complete.

Following the completion of the 1980s review, the new procedures were included in The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, which now governs the principles by which buildings are added to the lists.

Listed buildings today

Since, much fewer buildings were added. In 2013, only 420 buildings were added to the list, the fewest annual total since The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 can into force. Numbers have steadily increased in more recent years and there were 1,156 added in 2016, largely war memorials associated with the centenary of WWI taking place between 2014 and 2018.

Newer buildings continue to be added which have not previously been old enough or unique enough to be listed, or which have recently acquired a place in popular culture as opposed to architectural merit.

With such architectural merit and historical significance comes great responsibility for the owner and, even in the past year, there have been a good deal of fire claims relating to listed buildings. Click here to read about the fire claims throughout 2018.