Heritage Works for Housing: Project Concept and Development

This section sets out the process that may be undertaken to progress a project. In reality the following elements will likely happen in parallel. It may be that not all elements are required for every project or can be resolved at the time indicated in the process diagram.

If taking the project through "Project Concept and Development", it is assumed that that the Optimum Viable Use has largely been established as residential at the "Buying the Asset" stage. Notwithstanding this, planning policy will require only planning and listed building consent applications to demonstrate proposals secures public benefits where they are causing any harm to a historic building. It may also be necessary to demonstrate that residential is the optimum viable use , this includes evidencing why other uses are not optimum.

Defining the project

Setting a clear client brief

Developing a clear client brief for the project team is crucial in articulating the vision and the project objectives. It should include any known constraints or opportunities associated with the historic building. For example, these could include legal or regulatory requirements (such as Building Regulations); access limitations; sustainability targets or aspirations; and programme requirements.

Assemble the project team

In bringing forward the Project Concept it is beneficial to have a "core" team of experts embedded in the project from the outset. Key team members are likely to include: a heritage consultant; an architect; a structural engineer; a town planner; project manager; a development manager; a valuation surveyor; a quantity surveyor; and a Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (‘MEP’) engineer. There can be efficiencies in using the same team as per the early feasibility study work.

Project strategy and action plan

Set a programme

Utilising the expert team, a realistic and robust programme allowing for an appropriate contingency should be set out. For example, a project involving a historic building will likely require more design work prior to submission of any application and an allowance for this should be made in the programme.

Consider early works

The project strategy should consider where it may be beneficial to undertake early site works, for example to establish condition of the building and understand how repairs could be undertaken; or to undertake urgent works that will safeguard the building. These intrusive investigations can reduce unforeseen costs and uncertainty through providing in-depth insight into elements of the historic building, such as structural integrity. The information gathered can be used to guide design development. At this stage it can also be beneficial to consider if any archaeological works will be required, typically in the form of written scheme of investigation and archaeological trenching which could be programmed to occur with other investigations or ground works to maximise efficiencies. It may be that these investigations need be agreed with the Local Planning Authority. See Early Works for further details.

These works can be agreed with the Local Planning Authority either through an exchange of correspondence or a standalone listed building consent application. Further information can be found in Historic England’s Consents for works to listed buildings.

Each site is different. Each site is unique.

Richard Lawrence PJ Livesey, St James’ Hospital

Finance and funding

Consideration should be given to the residential product that is likely to be successful in the local market (see Marketing and Sales Strategy). This will be essential in refining the development appraisal and funding strategy.

As part of the development appraisal it can be beneficial to consider if any long-term financial requirements need to be considered, for example to cover general or abnormal maintenance items. Heritage Works 2017 contains guidance on navigating funding and grants. If available, grant funding can be vital in intervening in poor market conditions and to "kick start" a scheme.

Consider construction contract route

Understanding the construction contract type and procurement routes can be beneficial and support the level of risk management to be undertaken throughout the project development stages. Early procurement testing can mitigate against future construction programme delays through developing an understanding of the construction appetite for the project and therefore the type of contract likely to be agreed. Using an Employer’s Agent who is familiar with historic buildings and residential uses can be beneficial in this process. Further detail is set out in Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Appropriate Contract Selection.

For example a cost-plus contract incentivises both the contractor and developer to manage project costs and is generally considered lower risk for the contractor. However, it is higher risk for the developer as the project's cost is unknown. Conversely, lump-sum contracts have lower risk for the developer, but negative incentives for contractor’s outturn where costs will cut into their profit.

Design development and consenting process

Develop understanding of the historic building

A key part of the successful reuse of historic buildings for residential use is taking the time to understand the building. The more the building is understood, the less risky the development process it is likely to be.

It can be pivotal to establish the areas of highest historic and architectural significance and use this information to guide design development. This heritage appraisal should build upon an initial assessment made at the time of purchase. Engagement with Historic England and the Local Planning Authority can be useful at this stage to agree and understand these areas of highest heritage significance.

Iterative design process

The design development process may include the need to:

  • Robustly discount alternative uses, particularly if they require less intervention and cause less harm to the significance of the building.
  • Test layout options to achieve the required number of homes to make a viable scheme with minimal harm to the significance.
  • Where a new build element is included, test and evidence the quantum required to achieve an appropriate design response; ensure a viable scheme; and minimise harm to the significance of the building as far as possible (see The Interface of New and Old for further details).

The building told us where things should go.

James Stockdale Muse, Ivor House

The design development process should also review potential solutions for key technical aspects. These should be used to demonstrate the most appropriate option is used in the final design. These technical aspects are likely to include:

  • MEP
  • Fire
  • Access
  • Structures

The design development process will also be informed by the Local Planning Authority’s Building Control. Building Control reviews compliance with building regulations to ensure a development proposal considers people’s safety, health and welfare and complies with standards on accessibility, water use, energy use and security.

It is important for solutions to be developed holistically, balancing all opportunities and challenges, to ensure the right outcome is reached for the development as a whole and the historic building specifically.

Managing Change and The Interface of New and Old set out key considerations during the design development process.

Consider heritage balance

As the design develops, it is beneficial to assess the likely level of harm the proposed interventions may result in and, if required, how this harm may be outweighed by the public benefits associated with the scheme. This can be set out in a Heritage Impact Assessment prepared by a heritage consultant and may also be included in a Planning Statement prepared by a charted town planner. This NPPF harm balancing test is at the heart of the decision-making process that involves historic buildings.

Where interventions cause harm to the heritage significance it may be necessary to demonstrate why the interventions are necessary to deliver a long-term viable scheme. To support this, a viability appraisal(s) will need to be submitted with the application that demonstrates that without a certain intervention it is not possible to find a viable use for the building. Any viability appraisal should be prepared by a suitably qualified practitioner and in line with Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Global Standards Guidance (commonly known as the 'Red Book').

Case study: Ancoats Dispensary

Developer Great Places Housing Association (Great Places)
Date of Completion February 2024
Typology Institutional
Era 1870s
Designation Grade II listed building
Number of Homes 39
Location Manchester, North West

Great Places repurposed and refurbished the iconic Ancoats Dispensary building, securing its long-term sustainable future as 39 residential apartments. Built in the Gothic style, Ancoats Dispensary was part of a larger hospital complex built to provide healthcare to the residents Ancoats up until it closed in 1989. Despite several attempts to repurpose the building, it remained vacant until 2024.

It was a complex project due to the building’s very poor condition and the significant viability challenge. Early on in the process, Great Places identified the importance of specialist heritage advisors in successfully navigating the project. Using their team of specialist and trusted advisors, Great Places developed a robust strategy to navigate potential substantial harm to the building balanced against the significant public benefits from securing the long-term future of the building. The substantial harm arose from the very poor condition of the building as a result of its long period of vacancy. The poor condition was to such an extent that it could no longer be fully reused and as such significant demolition was proposed and a façade retention scheme proposed in order to enable the building to be adapted for residential use and secure its long-term future.

Part of the process was undertaking an options analysis that demonstrated that proposals for any use would be unviable without any grant funding. This feasibility process demonstrated that affordable housing was the only use that could pull together different funding schemes and create a viable development.

We've got an opportunity to save a really special building which did have social purpose and meant such a lot to the community. We knew that if we couldn't do it then it would never happen and it would be lost.

Helen Spencer Great Places Housing Association

The programme included a contingency to allow for additional time to procure a contractor and the more complex contract negotiations that can be associated with listed buildings, particularly as Great Places were not familiar with developing listed buildings.

The project has successfully revived the social purpose of the building, by saving a building cherished by the community and providing apartments for social rent.

Heritage Works for Housing: Process

Previous: "Buying" the Historic Building

Current: Project Concept and Development

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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.