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How Do Buildings Become Listed?

Anyone can suggest a building to Historic England for listing. We examine the case and make a recommendation, but the decision on whether to list is taken by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The Secretary of State may also take the advice of other experts before making the final decision. When buildings are listed they are placed on the statutory list of buildings of 'special architectural or historic interest'. These are compiled or approved by the Secretary of State under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

Bow Police Station, Tower Hamlets, London. Built in 1903 to designs by John Dixon Butler, listed Grade II.
Bow Police Station, Tower Hamlets, London. Built in 1903 to designs by John Dixon Butler, listed Grade II.

How are buildings chosen?

Buildings and structures are assessed to define their significance with the greatest care.  Many old buildings, and indeed recent buildings, are interesting, but listing identifies only those which are of national 'special interest'.  The main criteria used are:

  • Age and rarity: all buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840
  • Architectural interest: buildings which are nationally important for the interest of their architectural design, decoration and craftsmanship; also important examples of particular building types and techniques
  • Historic interest: this includes buildings which illustrate important aspects of the nation's social, economic, cultural or military history
  • Close historical association with nationally important people or events
  • Group value, especially where buildings are part of an important architectural or historic group or are a fine example of planning (such as squares, terraces and model villages)

The criteria become tighter with time, so that buildings built within the last 30 years have to be exceptionally important to be listed, and under threat too. A building has to be over 10 years old to be eligible for listing.

The published Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are available to download in PDF format and provide much more information on our approach to assessing buildings and structures.

Exterior view of the Meare Fish House, Somerset, the only surviving monastic fishery building in England.
Exterior view of the Meare Fish House, Somerset, the only surviving monastic fishery building in England.

Can I recommend something for listing?

Members of the public, local authorities, amenity and historical societies have an important role in bringing buildings to our attention. You can suggest a building for listing by filling out our online application form.

What if a building is under threat?

The earlier on a building is assessed for listing the better. If it is under threat we will strive to assess it as quickly as possible. Threat such as demolition or change to a building is not a reason for listing, however: a building still needs to have special architectural or historical interest.

What happens when a building is proposed?

The key stages of the listing process are set out below but please refer to our Listing FAQs page for more detailed information about the process.

Model village with stream, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire
A model of the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water village, to 1:9 scale, constructed between 1936-40. Listed at Grade II

Application

Before we can take forward an application, we need a certain level of information, both about where the building is, and why it is of special interest. Please see our Selection Criteria pages for more information. We may be unable to process incomplete applications.

Exterior detail of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. Grade II*.
Exterior detail of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. Grade II*.

Assessment

This is carried out by us and happens in three stages:

  • An initial assessment is carried out based on the information provided to determine whether or not the building may have enough special interest to merit further investigation.
  • If it does, we will take the application to full assessment, at which point we will carry out further research, potentially including a site visit, to find out more about the building. This information will then be put into an initial report for consultation with the owner, local planning authority and applicant. They will be invited to respond within 21 days on the facts we have laid out.
  • All the information and representations will then be considered, and we will produce a final recommendation for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Decision

The Secretary of State makes the decision whether or not to accept the recommendation. We will then contact the owner, applicant and the local planning authority letting them know the outcome.

What happens once a building is listed?

Once a building is listed it brings it under the consideration of the planning system which will ensure that some careful thought will be taken about its future. You can find out more about the role of the planning system from our planning advice pages.

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