Urgent Works to Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas

There is no statutory obligation upon the owner of a listed building to keep their property in a good state of repair, although it is usually in their interest to do so. However, local authorities can take action to secure the repair of a listed building when concerned about its continued conservation.

An urgent works notice is a direct way of securing repairs urgently necessary for the preservation of a building.

This is distinct from a repairs notice which is concerned with long-term conservation and is a pre-cursor to possible compulsory acquisition.

Urgent works notices

An urgent works notice may be served where works are urgently necessary for the preservation of a listed building. It is advisable for the local authority to notify the owner that it is considering serving an urgent works notice. The owner may then decide to undertake the necessary works. If the owner declines to do so or is otherwise unresponsive then the law allows the local authority (and Historic England in Greater London) to execute any works which appear to them to be urgently necessary for the preservation of any listed building within their area (ref. 1). The Secretary of State may also authorise Historic England to carry out such works elsewhere in England.

The owner must be given a minimum of seven days written notice of the local authority’s intention to carry out the works and the notice must describe the proposed works. If the building is occupied the works may be carried out only to those parts not in use. (ref. 1)

An urgent works notice should generally be restricted to urgent repairs to keep a building wind and weather-proof and safe from collapse, or action to prevent vandalism or theft. The steps taken should be consistent with achieving this objective.

The cost of carrying out the works may be recovered by the local authority or Historic England (as appropriate) from the owner. Such cost may include the continuing expense of providing temporary support or shelter of the building.

The owner may challenge the cost (ref. 2) claimed by writing to the Secretary of State. The grounds of challenge may be that:

  1. Some or all of the works were unnecessary for the preservation of the building
  2. Temporary support and shelter measures have continued for an unreasonable length of time
  3. The amount reclaimed is unreasonable
  4. Recovery of the amount claimed would cause the owner hardship

The Secretary of State will determine to what extent the representations are justified when determining the amount recoverable. 

Listed building consent is not required for works carried out by the local authority or the owner pursuant to a valid notice provided the notice is followed. Any different or additional works may require listed building consent and the usual rules will apply. 

More information about urgent works notices including examples of the sort of works which may be included in an urgent works notice is given in the Historic England publication 'Stopping the Rot' (ref. 3).


Urgent works notices cannot be served in relation to:

  1. Land owned by the Crown although they can be served in relation to any non-Crown interest in the land (in other words, upon a leaseholder)
  2. Buildings subject to the ecclesiastical exemption (ref. 4)
  3. Listed buildings which are also scheduled monuments (separate legislation (ref. 5) provides for urgent works to secure repairs to scheduled monuments). This can be found in Section 5 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

Conservation areas

The Secretary of State has the power (ref. 6) to direct that the urgent works provisions also apply to an unlisted building in a conservation area if the preservation of the building is important for maintaining the character or appearance of the conservation area.

This power is usually exercised in response to a request from a local authority to enable it to serve an urgent works notice. The Secretary of State will consult Historic England before making his decision.