The Extent and Nature of Heritage Protection

There are a number of different designation regimes that identify different categories of heritage asset. Some assets have been given more than one designation.

Designation TypeNumber in England (2017)
World Heritage Sites19
Scheduled Monuments19,854
Listed Buildings376,470 (this is the number of list entries)
Registered Parks and Gardens1,635
Registered Battlefields46
Conservation Areas7,000 (approximatley)
Locally Listed Buildings and SitesUnknown

World Heritage Sites

Sites may be ‘inscribed’ by UNESCO for their Outstanding Universal Value. They greatly vary in size from one building, like the Tower of London, to large tracts of land, like Hadrian’s Wall and the whole of the City of Bath.

The Outstanding Universal Value is likely to encapsulate the cultural heritage values of a site, but may go wider and include natural heritage (such as that of the Dorset and East Devon coasts).

Development in a World Heritage Site, within its buffer zone, if it has one, or affecting its setting, is subject to consideration in planning applications, but no additional consent is required solely as a result of this designation.

World Heritage Sites invariably comprise one or more buildings and sites with their own designations each of which brings additional protection that goes with that designation.

Scheduled monuments

Buildings, structures, earthworks, buried remains and the like can be scheduled as monuments by the Secretary of State (for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) if they are of national importance for their historic, architectural, traditional, artistic or archaeological interest. The designation cannot be applied to a building in use as a dwelling (unless the person living there is employed as a caretaker of the site) or to an ecclesiastical building in ecclesiastical use. Buildings in use for other purposes may be scheduled.

A few buildings are both scheduled and listed. In such a case the scheduled monument statutory regime applies and the listed building regime does not.

Scheduled monument consent is required for works to repair, alter, add to, destroy or damage a scheduled monument, although some limited categories of works that fall within various statutorily defined classes do not require consent. In practice this means that the great majority of any works planned for a scheduled monument, however light-touch, will require consent. It may be a criminal offence to fail to obtain consent when needed.

Scheduled Monument Consent is sought from Historic England, but the ultimate decision is made by the Secretary of State. Local planning authorities do not have a decision-making role.

This protection regime is quite strict and can be onerous. As a consequence there are sites in the country which could be scheduled, given the national importance of the place, but the Secretary of State has exercised discretion and decided to leave their protection to the planning system alone. There are also sites that are known, or may be found, to be of national importance but which are not considered for scheduling as they are adequately protected by the planning system.

The Secretary of State has powers to repair and compulsorily acquire scheduled monuments at risk. Local authorities may be able to exercise their general environmental powers to assist properties in disrepair.

Listed buildings

Buildings and other structures may be listed by the Secretary of State (for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) if they are of special architectural or historic interest. The special interest of the building is judged against published Principles of Selection (1) and Historic England's selection guides (2)

On listing, buildings are graded as I, II* or II. The grading is a general indication of the level of importance of the building, but it does not alter the basic principles of the statutory regime. Grade I and II* buildings make up roughly 2.5% and 5.8% of the total list, respectively. Over 90% are Grade II.

Listed building consent is required for demolition or alteration or extension works that affect the character of the building as a building of special architectural or historic interest. Consent is sought from the local planning authority and procedurally is handled much like a planning application. Anyone carrying out works without proper consent may be required to reverse them and/or face prosecution.

Local planning authorities and the Secretary of State have powers to carry out urgent works to listed buildings at risk and to recover the costs from the owner. They may also compulsorily acquire listed buildings if necessary for their preservation.

Registered parks and gardens

Historic England compiles a register of gardens and other land (i.e Battlefields - see below) that it considers to be of special historic interest. Examples include large designed landscapes surrounding manor houses and gardens of remembrance. They are graded I, II* or II.

Registration identifies the area of land and its significance for consideration in the planning system, but does not trigger any special statutory protection system. The areas registered often contain scheduled monuments or listed buildings that are separately protected.


Historic England  compiles a list of historic battlefields. Registration identifies the area of land and its historic interest for consideration in the planning system, but does not trigger any special statutory protection system.

Conservation areas

Local planning authorities are obliged to consider from time to time whether there are any areas within their locality that have special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. The authority should designate any such areas as conservation areas. The Secretary of State has reserve powers to designate such areas.

There is no restriction on the type of area that might be covered. It could for example be urban, sub-urban, industrial or rural.

Demolition of a building within a conservation area requires planning permission, which is sought from the local planning authority.

Locally listed buildings and sites

Many local planning authorities have formally adopted lists of heritage assets in their area. The desirability of conserving these assets is a material consideration in planning applications.

National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Each of these landscapes will have been shaped by man and will reflect the culture and history of the area. Their historic environment will be considered in planning applications.

Other heritage asssets

There are buildings and sites of heritage interest that have not been designated , yet they hold a significance worthy of consideration in the planning system. Where these are identified by the local planning authority during the course of the planning process the desirability of conserving them will be a material consideration.

Ecclesiastical Exemption from statutory protection

Ecclesiastical buildings in ecclesiastical use can be listed and are often within a conservation area. By law they cannot be scheduled monuments.

Notwithstanding any listed building or conservation area designation, there is no requirement for listed building consent for their alteration or planning permission for relevant demolition if the building is under the control of an exempt denomination. Currently the Church of England, the Church in Wales, the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union and the United Reform Church qualify as exempt denominations. They have their own systems of control of works that are satisfactory to the Secretary of State. This does not affect the requirement for planning permission and the heritage conservation policies that apply to planning applications.


(1)Principles of Selection, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), October 2013 

(2) Historic England Selection Guides