Government Historic Estates Unit

This page introduces the Government Historic Estates Unit (GHEU) and its work advising government departments and other public bodies about how to look after the historic buildings in their care.

The government owns and looks after a large estate of historic listed buildings and scheduled monuments across the country, which includes some of our most important and treasured historic sites.

The buildings and places within the government’s estate range from the Palace of Westminster in London to buried archaeology in forests and rural areas. It also includes places protected as conservation areas, registered parks and gardens, battlefields, wreck sites and World Heritage Sites.

On this page:

Image of someone doing some maintenance work to the clock face of Big Ben
Maintenance work being done to the clock face of Elizabeth Tower, colloquially known as Big Ben

Who we are and what we do

The Government Historic Estates Unit (GHEU) is a small, dedicated team which helps government departments and other public bodies, such as the Royal Household, to look after the historic buildings and structures in their care.

Many of these sites are working offices and palaces, which require constant maintenance and attention, but also need to meet modern working and living standards.

Image of the Locarno conference room, part of the Locarno suite at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street SW1. These rooms were restored to their original appearance in 1990, having been subdivided and used by the cyphering branch of the communications department during the Second World War. Ref: DP134276
The Locarno conference room, part of the Locarno suite at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street SW1. These rooms were restored to their original appearance in 1990, having been subdivided and used by the cyphering branch of the communications department during the Second World War. Ref: DP134276 © Historic England/Derek Kendall

Planning advice

We advise on planning cases for specific listed buildings and scheduled monuments owned by the government in London and Windsor.

These include the Occupied Royal Palaces, from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle, and certain government buildings in London, such as the Palace of Westminster, the Foreign Office and the Royal Courts of Justice.

We work collaboratively with government departments, offering expert advice at all stages of the planning process in order to help look after and enhance the historic buildings in their care.

As a team, we:

  • Give detailed informal advice at an early stage on proposals to develop or change government-owned historic buildings and maintain active discussions throughout the application process
  • Advise on proposals where there are issues of national security
  • Give technical advice on repair and conservation projects, including on selecting specialist conservation consultants and drafting conservation management plans- a key tool in understanding and conserving historic estates
  • Monitor the condition of heritage at risk and work with departments to find solutions for our most precious heritage
Image of The Houses of Parliament, 1835 – 1860 by Charles Barry with interiors by AWN Pugin. Archival image as seen from Westminster bridge.
The Houses of Parliament, 1835 – 1860 by Charles Barry with interiors by AWN Pugin. Archival image as seen from Westminster bridge. Photographed by John Gay, 1962. Ref: aa077762 © Historic England Archive

Information and guidance

We also monitor the condition of the government’s historic estate and produce conservation guidance for government departments and other public bodies.

Our guidance and reports:

  • The Biennial Conservation Report looks at the condition of the government’s historic estate on a bi-yearly basis in order to monitor its management record. The report considers outstanding conservation projects as well as some challenges. See also the 2013-2015 report and the 2011-2013 report.
  • The Protocol for the Care of the Government Historic Estate guidance explains the government’s commitment to setting a good example in caring for its historic buildings and sets out how departments should put this into practice.
  • Our guidance The Disposal of Heritage Assets advises on how best to ensure that heritage values are properly accounted for when government bodies are disposing of surplus land.
  • Whilst many local authorities are taking a close look at the property they own with a view to making savings, legislative changes mean that communities are able to take a much more active role in their local area. Pillars of the Community: The Transfer of Local Authority Heritage Assets focusses on how these two principles come together and how historic buildings can be transferred from public to community ownership. 
Image of the famous front door at Number 10 Downing Street, the official home of the First Lord of the Treasury.
The famous front door at number 10 Downing Street, the official home of the First Lord of the Treasury. Ref: DP133029 © Derek Kendall/Historic England

Next Steps

Learn more about our planning teams

Learn more about maintenance, repair and Conservation Management Plans

Learn more about listed buildings and search The List

 

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Government Historic Estates Unit

Planning Department