Heritage Works for Housing: "Buying" the Historic Building

For the purpose of this section, "buying" will be given the same meaning as having an options agreement on the asset. This is because there are very similar considerations in the context of this document.


Crucial to the success of reusing a historic building is undertaking feasibility testing from the outset. Taking time to understand potential risks, costs and design options will help to reduce risk at all stages of the development process.

It will be particularly important at this early stage to establish if a residential use will be acceptable in principle; the building’s ability to accommodate change; and the condition of the building. All of these factors will also help ensure an appropriate price is being paid for the building.

Establish if residential use is acceptable

It is first important to establish if national and local planning policy and guidance would support a residential use in the building and / or whether particular policy tests have to be met or exceptional justification made. In the case of non-designated heritage assets there may be an option to use permitted development (PD) rights. Where a historic building may already have an established residential use, planning permission and listed building consent may still be required to sub-divide the historic building into additional homes; to provide complementary uses; or to undertake refurbishment works. At this stage it is useful to engage a qualified town planner and undertake early discussions with the Local Planning Authority to establish opinions on the principle of use.

It is also important to assess if the geometry of the building lends itself to a residential use and whether adjustments to the floorplan can accommodate daylight and sunlight; layout; space requirements; and floor-to-ceiling heights to meet guidance and regulatory requirements, as well as market expectations.

Understand the special interest and significance

It is essential to establish what the areas of significance are and why the historic building is considered to be of special interest early on. A heritage consultant can undertake this assessment and will help form an understanding of the building’s capacity for change, and thereby inform its value.

Understand the condition of the building

To help ensure that an appropriate price is paid for the building, it is important to understand the condition of the building and the cost for repairs and necessary interventions. Section 8 of Historic England’s Vacant Buildings guidance sets out suggested survey areas to consider when assessing a building.

Understand any previous history on the site.

It can be helpful to understand the development history of the building. This could be through a review of previous planning applications and speaking to previous owners and the Local Planning Authority.

Financial viability

Prior to purchasing the historic building, there should be an understanding of what would be required to deliver the project. This may involve a high-level development appraisal and an exploration of potential funding streams and delivery models. Section 3.4 of Heritage Works 2017 provides further detail.

Initial specialist advisor input

Initial specialist advice should be sought e.g. architect, planner, heritage consultant and quantity surveyor, to inform this early feasibility thinking.

Site assembly

Once the historic building and land has been acquired, consideration may be given to combining further land parcels into a larger development site. Heritage Works 2017 provides guidance on the site acquisition and site assembly process. This is particularly relevant if additional land is required to accommodate a new build element that helps make the overall project viable (see Heritage Works for Housing: The Interface of New and Old for further detail).

Following these stages, the first project milestone will have been achieved – completing the purchase of the historic building.

Case study: Centre Point

Developer Almacantar
Date of Completion 2018
Typology Industrial and Commercial
Era 1960s
Designation Grade II listed building
Number of homes 95 (including 13 in new build)
Location Camden, London

Centre Point was a high-profile project by Almacantar that involved repurposing the Grade II listed London landmark from a not fit-for-purpose office block with narrow floorplates into 82 new homes. The proposals took a holistic view of the site and surroundings, making significant improvements to the public realm and helping to transform the building and surrounding area into a high-quality residential destination.

Prior to purchasing the site, a feasibility review of the potential uses and layouts was undertaken to establish that residential use could be acceptable in principle whilst also being sensitive to the heritage significance. This helped to inform Almacantar’s vision for the building and onwards market and sales strategy.

To deliver a successful development, there's no point entering into something with a blind hope that you're going to actually secure a value without knowing what the costs are and everything else…

James Waite Almacantar

Navigating the planning and listed building consenting regime and the building control process was complex, partly because of the prominence of the building and its iconic status. Where there were tensions between heritage conservation and building control, an iterative process was undertaken to bring the stakeholders along on the journey to reach an acceptable solution and secure the long-term future of the building.

Heritage Works for Housing: Process

Previous: Stakeholder Engagement

Current: "Buying" the Historic Building

Next: Project Concept and Development

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 an 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
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.