Heritage Works for Housing: Managing Change

This section aims to help potential developers navigate through specific technical challenges that are common when reusing historic buildings for housing.

Key Design Development Considerations

Whilst each building is unique, there are some typical interventions that are usually required to make it suitable for residential use. Listing Building Consent Advice Note 16 sets out that the instances where Listed Building Consent is likely to be required for these works. All items relating to building regulations should be discussed and agreed with both the Local Planning Authority’s building control officer and the conservation officer.

In recognition of their national significance, listed buildings are exempt from meeting certain building regulations. However, any new build element would be subject to current building regulations. Therefore design development should robustly ensure that all necessary regulations can be met.

This is not an exhaustive list, and should always be informed by an appointed technical team.

It is likely that MEP upgrades will be required. This can also improve the building's operational carbon and running costs. It is best practice to minimise intervention in the building by making use of existing openings and risers where possible, or routing the MEP through any new build elements. These also need to include practical considerations for the end users, such as location of radiators or ventilation extract locations.

If there is a desire or need to meet certain sustainability targets, then this will need to be balanced against the potential heritage harm of interventions.

This is a particular consideration for investors who may have specific mandatory energy targets. When reviewing these targets, it is important to take a whole building approach to deliver maximum benefits.

Embodied and operational carbon should be understood together to ensure decisions are being made that will have the maximum effect with the least impact on the special interest of the building. For example the return on carbon savings may not be justified by fabric interventions (e.g. roof, floor, walls, windows) due to their high embodied carbon, including construction impacts, and therefore higher carbon savings may be achieved through a focus on operational carbon, noting the target for "zero carbon by 2050".

Historic England's Guidance Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings sets out further advice on specific interventions.

The performance of windows affects both the energy efficiency of a building and the ventilation strategy.

As part of a holistic review of the building’s energy performance, options that may be considered include the use of secondary glazing or replacement of the glass within the original window frames. Given the prominence of windows on the appearance of a building, these are often areas of high significance.

Where historic windows, whether original or later insertions, make a positive contribution to the significance of a listed building they should be retained and repaired where possible.

Historic England’s Guidance Modifying Historic Windows as Part of Retrofitting Energy-Saving Measures sets out further advice on specific interventions.

It is important that the homes are places where people will want to live. It is necessary to consider how the building will be ventilated in the summer and what other overheating mitigation may be required.

There may be a need to mitigate sound transfer either between units or uses – or from the outside. This acoustic assessment will need to balance necessary acoustic attenuation and the concealing of areas of significance within the building. 

Some historic buildings may have non-typical floor-to-ceiling heights. If floor-to-ceiling heights are too low, significant intervention may be required such as the removal of every other floor. If floor-to-ceiling heights are too high, then the building may be less energy efficient. However, high floor-to-ceiling heights provide opportunity for the introduction of mezzanines and duplex apartments.

How the building is sub-divided into multiple homes needs to be carefully considered. This should balance a consideration of the original planform and where the special interest of the building lies alongside market expectation, regulations, policy and guidance.

Unless there is a robust justification, all residential developments are expected to comply with Nationally Described Space Standards, including those created through PD Rights.

Particularly where a building is sub-divided there may be a need for different or new forms of circulation space within the building and potentially new entrances and fire exits and staircases. It may also be that new openings are required to introduce lifts, or existing lifts are required to be modernised, potentially with new car lift systems within existing lift shafts.

Guidance on balancing the importance of creating accessible places for all and increasing access to the building, with potential impacts on the significance of the building is provided by Historic England in Improving Access to Historic Buildings and Landscapes.

There can be an expectation or requirement from planning policy for on-site car provision (including Blue Badge parking). Agreeing the proportion of car parking and its location is important. This is particularly the case where there may be limited surrounding developable land, extensive structural intervention required, or new structures required. In addition, it may be that the building is rurally located, in which case consideration will need to be given to how the proposals will encourage sustainable travel.

Proposals will need to provide adequate bin stores and servicing arrangements, which can be trickier to accommodate within a historic building.

Where planning applications for a residential use do not comply with affordable housing policy, they will be required to submit a viability statement as required under local planning policy and the NPPF. Viability can be constrained on heritage projects and therefore it is often demonstrated that it is not viable to include affordable housing. Additionally, there may be complexities around a Registered Provider occupying the building due to the potentially unusual layouts and long-term maintenance costs. Conversely, through working collaboratively with Registered Providers there are circumstances where grant funding may enable challenging historic buildings to be restored and secure their long-term viable use as affordable housing.

There can be a tension between fire safety and heritage matters. These may be fire break locations, treatment to existing fabric, and door upgrades. It is important to consider how this can be addressed at an early stage and understand any bespoke solutions that may be required.

Can be less ornate but are often examples of innovation through construction and materiality (e.g. asbestos), which can result in poor energy performance. They therefore may require more investigation and bespoke technical solutions.

The historic building will likely require some areas of repair, of lesser or greater degree depending on the condition of the building. Like-for-like repairs should be considered in the first instance and do not typically require consent.

The historic building will likely require some areas of repair, of lesser or greater degree depending on the condition of the building. Like-for-like repairs should be considered in the first instance and do not typically require consent.

Historic buildings often require sensitive cleaning of the façade and interiors which may need to be agreed with the local planning authority.

Generally archaeology is required only for below ground works. For reuse of a historic building this may also include where lift pits are required.

Where there is a new build element it is recommended an early archaeological desktop study is undertaken to assess the likelihood of below ground heritage.

It is typical that archaeology works are a recording exercise, often involving trial trenching. Allowing for these investigations and factoring these into the programme can create efficiencies whilst other activities may be occurring on the site, such as an early works.

Proposals will need to be cognisant of the flood zone the building and land is located in. There can be restrictions on uses, including residential at ground floor level. The impact of flood risk elsewhere may also need to be considered, especially for any new build element.

Case study: Ivor House

Developer Muse
Date of Completion 2018
Typology Industrial and Commercial / Institutional
Era 1930s
Designation Non-designated heritage asset
Number of homes 26
Location Lambeth, London

Ivor House is a former department store in Brixton that was converted into a mixed-use development comprising 26 residential apartments and ground floor commercial units. The non-designated heritage asset was last used for a local authority office and was identified for reuse as part of the local authority’s asset consolidation project. The project restored the redundant historic building to form part of a comprehensive place-making strategy as part of the 'Your Town Hall' project.

The retention of the character of Ivor House has resulted in a sought-after residential address that forms part of the ongoing placemaking within the heart of Brixton.

Muse worked collaboratively with the Conservation Officer from the outset to agree the areas of significance and how these could be protected whilst also undertaking appropriate interventions to facilitate the reuse of the building into new homes. This included using secondary glazing and wall linings to improve the energy efficiency, whilst also maintaining the visual appearance of the original art deco windows.

The design also reused existing openings where possible, reducing the need for intervention into historic fabric. A key intervention was the upwards extension which was designed sensitively and discussed early in the design development with the Conservation Officer, resulting in supportive stakeholder engagement throughout.

Overall, the retention of the character of Ivor House has resulted in a sought after residential address that forms part of the ongoing placemaking within the heart of Brixton.

Typology Specific Interventions

Over time, historic buildings may transition through multiple uses. However, certain build typologies have specific considerations for the interventions that are typically required. The typologies referenced below are examples of the opportunities and constraints for different building typologies, however this list is not exhaustive.

Industrial and commercial interventions

For example mills, warehouses, offices and department stores

Common considerations to enable reuse of an industrial or commercial typology to residential use may include:

  • These buildings typically have a regular floorplan which can lead to more straightforward division into residential use.
  • The introduction of a lightwell or atrium to meet the daylight requirements within large floorplates may be required. In some instances, the layout may result in larger apartments than may be typically sought.
  • Generous floor-to-ceiling heights can lend themselves to mezzanine levels or duplex apartments.
  • Given their size a phased delivery approach may be required to meet the market demand; managing viability.
  • Shallow floorplates may be more suited to horizontal subdivision and therefore have additional access requirements.
  • Typically, mill and warehouse interiors are less ornate and have a greater capacity for change.
  • Offices and department stores may have some particularly ornate internal areas, more akin to the institutional characteristics which will often be considered areas of higher heritage significance and therefore less capable of change.

Historic England has dedicated guidance on industrial heritage, Looking After Our Industrial Heritage and on Mill Buildings within Engines of Prosperity.

Institutional interventions

For example hospitals, town halls, schools, chapels and churches

Common considerations to enable reuse of an institutional typology to residential use may include:

  • Potential sensitivities for chapels and churches due to the potential presence of graves or memorials, as well as ecclesiastical designations.
  • Often grand and highly decorative buildings with ornate primary facades and characterful interiors. A proportionate approach needs to be taken, guided by the expert technical team to identify suitable areas for change.
  • Floorplans may be more complex and therefore layouts may require more creativity to create new homes.
  • Often these buildings have a large civic or collective space that is of higher heritage significance that will need to be considered in the design. It may be that this space is suitable for communal or ancillary use.
  • These buildings may have grand staircases that are usually of higher heritage significance and therefore may need to be incorporated into the design.
  • This typology may retain surrounding land which could be used for residential amenity or, where necessary, for car parking.
  • The windows may be unusual in their scale and positioning which will need to be considered in the design development.

Residential interventions

For example 'above the shop', former council housing and large country house.

Common considerations to enable reuse of an existing residential typology may include:

  • If subdividing a large existing residential property, consideration will need to be given to how suitable access and circulation will be achieved within the building, particularly where space may be more limited. This includes fire escapes.
  • Large residential properties are typically situated with surrounding land which could be used for amenity or, where necessary, for car parking, as above.
  • Residential standards are likely to have improved, e.g. accessibility, daylight and sunlight, and this will need to be considered in light of building control /best practise and market expectations.

Advice on works to singular residential dwellings can be found in Historic England's Guidance, Your Home.

Heritage Works for Housing

Historic England aims to support developers in their journey to reusing historic buildings. This guidance highlights how historic buildings can be reused, repurposed and refurbished to provide residential development. It outlines the process from buying a historic building to long-term occupation and management; and the key challenges and approaches to overcome.

These pages provide case studies of successful reuse of historic buildings into new homes, creating sustainable and dynamic places to live. Historic buildings are a tangible opportunity to address ongoing industry challenges, including the housing requirement whilst minimising carbon impacts.

Managing Change (current page)
The Interface of New and Old
Case Study Resources

Historic England engaged Deloitte LLP to assist with the preparation of this Publication / Guidance which uses information provided by Historic England as well as research undertaken by Deloitte to provide guidance on the process for use of historic buildings for residential purposes. Any views, conclusions, insights, and/or recommendations within this Publication / Guidance are Historic England's alone.