Historic shop building on corner
Grade II* listed historic shop building in use by a major high street retailer, Nos.2a & 2b High Street, Nottingham © Historic England Archive DP236601
Grade II* listed historic shop building in use by a major high street retailer, Nos.2a & 2b High Street, Nottingham © Historic England Archive DP236601

Listed Building Business Occupiers Survey 2018

By Marwa Ahmed, Government Advice Research Officer, Historic England

Historic England, in conjunction with specialist insurers Ecclesiastical Insurance, commissioned a survey of businesses occupying listed properties in 2018. This research was part of a wider study of heritage in commercial use conducted for our Heritage Counts 2018 research.

This third survey in a series on the contemporary ownership and use of listed buildings aimed to:

  • Identify the benefits and issues or challenges of working in and occupying a historic building
  • Investigate experiences and opinions of the Listed Building Consent process
  • Establish perceptions on business risks and insurance choices
  • Add to the existing evidence base from previous research

The researchers interviewed 509 commercial owners in autumn 2018. They surveyed businesses in sectors including retail, hotels, food and drink, as well as professional, technology and administration. The survey sample spanned those who own and rent premises, and chains as well as independent businesses.

The researchers then followed up with 15 in-depth telephone interviews. They spoke with a cross-section of the businesses that had completed the quantitative survey in order to elicit further qualitative insight.

For a more detailed assessment of the results, selected cross-tabulations were undertaken against the collected data by intensity of heritage buildings, geographical region, Standard Industry Classification, legal status, chain/independent and owner/renter.

The survey found high overall satisfaction with listed business premises: 86% of occupiers expressed satisfaction with where they work. They told our researchers that the external appearance of the listed building - which gives a positive first impression to clients and customers - is a top benefit of trading from a historic building, as is the building’s local context.

The survey also identified that 62% feel their historic building enhances their business. Only a relatively small 3% feel the historic nature of their building detracted from the operation of their business. This is supported by the qualitative research which suggests that historic buildings can give a competitive advantage and add value as an important part of the experience. Respondents highlighted the importance of the beauty and atmosphere of their premises.

Responses to the survey demonstrate that owners and occupiers understand the valuable role their own individual building plays as part of the wider environment, and was seen as a ‘great benefit’ by 72% of businesses. Businesses appreciate that a historic streetscape with a unique local character can attract customers and boost footfall, especially for retail, food and drink. The occupiers generally recognised the importance of being part of a bigger heritage offer, and the sense of community that comes with this. They rated the collective impact of historic buildings on the surrounding area highly, and acknowledged that their businesses benefit from the appeal of the historic area to visitors.

Other benefits identified include the charm and character of historic buildings, and that some business’ buildings are landmarks in their own right.

The benefits of a central location were also clearly expressed by respondents. Many listed buildings are often centrally located within a town or city. The businesses operating in these historical buildings profit from associated benefits such as good transport links, a concentration of other businesses, high footfall, and good access for staff, customers and visitors. This, alongside the appeal of historic areas, attracts a lot of tourists, which has a direct commercial benefit for the relevant types of businesses.

The survey also highlights challenges for business occupiers of listed buildings. 42% of the sample identified restrictions on extending their property as a major issue. 30% of the sample had sought listed building consent. Of these, 55% felt the process helped them make changes and avoid damaging the significance of the building and 43% reported that the process helped them understand the importance of the building. These businesses also stated that they would value more help from local authorities, as well as clear language and consistent advice.

Occupiers also highlighted their concerns around disabled access. 40% identified poor disabled access as a major issue, although less of an issue for retail (33%). Many expressed a desire to facilitate better access but found the nature of their building, or planning restrictions, a frustration. Many have found solutions with portable ramps or separate entrances, and working with neighbours to provide the access and facilities they need.

The expense of maintenance was a concern for many, with plumbing and leaks a particular issue. Landlord relationships are seen as vital, however, some appear to be reneging on their perceived responsibilities.

Access and parking restrictions, relating to operating in city or town centre locations, were also highlighted as additional difficulties faced by respondents.

The 2018 survey indicates that while business occupiers and owners have encountered challenges in operating out of listed properties, for most, the positives outweigh the negatives.

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