How to maintain a listed building

Even painting the exterior can require permission. Here is what you need to know

Last month The Times plotted the UK destinations with the most listed buildings. A surprising number of Scottish council areas featured: Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow, Aberdeenshire and Dumfries and Galloway all appeared within the top 15.

At the last count, Scotland was home to more than 47,000 significant structures, ranging from places of worship to private residences and ambitious civic projects. Yet a straw poll of the country’s local planning authorities has shown that the Scots’ predilection for buying listed homes (estate agents rate them as some of the most sought after, especially Georgian properties and city townhouses) does not necessarily translate into knowledge about what work can be undertaken without permission.

This B listed period house in Bearsden, Glasgow, is on sale for £1.15 million through Rettie

A number of councils polled by The Times reported a rise over the past two years in the number of homeowners seeking advice on how to approach changing their listed properties. Amendments to the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Scotland Act 1997, the law that sets out guidelines on listed homes and specifically to tweaks made to the appeals process in 2014, is thought to be behind the increase. Recent movement in prime areas of Scottish cities, such as Edinburgh’s New Town, where much of the property stock is listed, was mooted as another reason.

When it comes to making alterations, Historic Environment Scotland, the body responsible for protecting the country’s built landscape, stresses the importance of contacting your local planning authority in the first instance. Each authority has its own set of policies that must be adhered to, but as long as the desired work does not affect the architectural, cultural or historical feature of the property that has merited its listing, the process should be relatively straightforward.

Pinehurst, a B listed Arts and Crafts property designed by the architect William Hunter McNab, is an example of how the experience can be positive. Built in 1914, the house was bought by Sandro and Anna Giovanazzi 20 years ago. It was designated as a protected building because of the “streamlined form of its design”, so the couple were able to refurbish the kitchen and utility room, formerly a butler’s pantry, without applying for listed building consent because no internal walls were altered. They also upgraded the property’s three bathrooms.

The exterior of Pinehurst, however, required a different approach. The house’s aged rosemary clay roof tiles had to be replaced with an identical style to ensure the aesthetic of the house remained true to its original design.

“We bought a batch and stored them outside so they became weathered,” says Anna. “With an old house like this, you have to look at it on a larger scale. While it will always need maintaining, and permission must be sought for any work on the outside, whatever you do will always be worth it.”

Getting to know their listed property was key to the Giovanazzis’ positive experience. They learnt ways to limit the cost of repairs to doors or windows (Pinehurst has 75 of the latter), which would have required consent and skilled tradespeople to replicate original building techniques and materials.

This C listed house in Aberdour, Fife, is on sale for £580,000 with Strutt & Parker

Other projects, such as St Helen’s, a Victorian villa in Aberdour, Fife, show that more complex work is not out of the question once you get acquainted with the consent process.

When Sally Curtis and her husband decided they wanted to remodel the rear of their C listed home six years ago, they researched the appropriate channels and began an application. Consent was granted to demolish the existing ground-floor area, which dated from the 1930s, and replace it with an open-plan extension. Despite their property’s listing, the Curtises were able to make drastic changes because their plans did not affect the reason why St Helen’s had been protected — the extensive cornicing in the living room.

This Fife home was recently extended

“It had to be what the planners wanted,” says Curtis. “It was all done in the best possible taste. Apart from having to wait for planning meetings, the process did not take too long. The planners seemed most interested in retaining the cornicing and the front of the house, which we did not touch.”

The project took six months. It involved enlisting specialist builders who used local slate to complete the roof. The result is a light-filled extension with an open-plan kitchen that fits nicely with the blueprint of the property.


  • Why is a property designated as listed? Unlike England, where buildings are categorised under the listings I, II or III, Scotland alphabetises its most cherished structures. To secure an A listing, buildings must be of “national or international importance, either architectural or historic, or little-altered examples of a particular period, style or building type”. B listed buildings have “regional or local importance”, some of which have undergone changes, while C listed are “better examples of any period, style or type”, as well as simple, traditional buildings. Key examples include much of Edinburgh’s New Town (Moray Place, Hillside Crescent and Fettes Row are A listed), Glasgow’s Hyndland area and the East Neuk of Fife. Fife is home to 10 per cent of Scotland’s listed buildings.
  • How important is it to get listed planning permission? Essential. It is a criminal offence to change a listed building without seeking approval from the local planning authority. The process works in a similar way to properties within a conservation area. It may also be necessary to apply for planning permission as well as listed building consent. There is no cost for applying for consent.
  • How long will it take? Planning authorities aim to make a decision within eight weeks of an application being received.
  • Is there help available? There are grants that owners of listed properties can apply for. In Scotland these range from funding for thatched cottages to more general costs of procuring the services of tradespeople. The latter is offered in exchange for the public having a degree of access to the property in the future.