How does conserving historic structures effect the environment around them?
At the start of 1882, Britain lagged behind most other European countries when it came to offering protection to its historical and culturally important buildings, despite (or perhaps because of) the technologically pioneering period it found itself in. This changed, however, on the 18th of August when Baron John Lubbock, influenced by the French revolutionary leader, priest, and ardent conservator of cultural objects, Henri Grégoire, finally passed the Ancient Monuments Protections Act after decades of struggle. The act saw 68 pre-historic sites across Britain and Ireland chosen for government protection by the Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Augustus Pitt Rivers, whose name was given to the archaeological museum at Oxford University.
A number of new acts were passed shortly after the turn of the century to expand the scope of the original legislation and what determined a ‘monument’, so by 1931 there were just over 3,000 safeguarded by law. Amendments continued to be made that also preserved the surrounding landscape and improved public access.
It was the bombs of the Second World War, though, that gave us the listing system we have today. Following the Blitz, three hundred members of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings were assigned to assess the damage caused to the country’s most important structures, compiling a list of those that should be repaired after the war based on their historical and architectural significance. This salvage list and the statutory ‘listings’ were consolidated in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947.
Today the list stands at around 500,000, with rules for what constitutes a structure of importance expanding and contracting over time, and successful arguments always being made for why new ones should be listed (and some even losing their status). Practically all buildings built before 1700, and almost all built before 1840 are listed granted they are in a condition close to when they were originally constructed. Those built between 1840 and 1914 are selected based on their ability to demonstrate technological advances or if they were designed by a specific big-name architect like Lutyens or Mackintosh. Those built from 1914 onwards are assessed along the lines of the regulations of the day, with “particularly careful selection” applied to those built after 1945.
Current legislation means that a building is listed when it is designated to be of special architectural or historic interest, considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting. The list is decided by a team of experts but ultimately the decision falls upon the Secretary of State, whom, at this time, is Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
As the term implies, a listed building is one which is registered on the National Heritage List for England. This register captures whether a building is listed and if so, what grade it is. Listed buildings come in three categories of 'significance': Grade I for buildings of the highest significance; Grade II* for structures of particular importance; and Grade II for buildings of special interest. Most listed building owners are likely to live in a Grade II building as these make up 92% of all listed buildings.
To paraphrase Historic England, the special interest is determined by the contribution the building makes to the architectural or historic interest of any group of buildings of which it is a part. To be listed a building must be of special interest such as in craftmanship or design, the site of an important historical event or have ties to a significant individual or individuals. It may also be a unique or one of the few remaining examples of an object, style or technique.
As an example of how these criteria apply to unique buildings, Historic England has included a cattery in its hallowed list of protected structures, but with good reason; Whittington Lodge at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is the first purpose-built cattery in Britain. This idiosyncratic Italianate building was designed by Clough William-Ellis in 1907, and was given Grade II listing 2014.
But beyond the preservation of significant historical and architectural structures, which is an important endeavour in itself, what effect does this popular practice have upon the country’s environment.
Having an understanding of what listed buildings are and their importance culturally should be of interest to all those living and spending time in London as residents’ tax money helps maintain public listed buildings, monuments and structures. Therefore, an increased awareness of where they are situated and their significance not only provides a window to the past, but their aesthetic qualities mean they are pleasant and stimulating places to pass time, constituting an amenity value in and of themselves. We also know that some of our users and readers live and work in listed properties, and the designations have a significant impact on the way these buildings can be altered and used.
Owners or tenants of a listed building will be aware that there will be restrictions over the changes you can make to the building's interior and exterior and potentially restrictions over changes you can make to: other attached structures and fixtures; later extensions or additions; and where relevant, any pre-1948 buildings on land attached to the building. Owners will need to apply for listed building consent from their Local Authority for most types of work that affect the 'special architectural or historic interest' of their home and as a result may consider the listing system a barrier to urban change. This can also prove a challenge to developers or Local Authorities who wish to construct housing or other amenities.
In areas with the highest proportion of listed buildings, buyers should expect to pay almost 26 per cent more than the county and regional average. This is however lower than rural areas with the highest concentrations of listed buildings which can command prices which are more than 50 per cent above the country and regional average.
What residential inhabitants may find less obvious about the impact of having more or fewer listed buildings in their neighbourhood is that the more listed buildings there are in an area, the more likely residents are to report feelings of general happiness and contentment in where they live. Studies indicate that this is driven by the higher degree of commonality amongst community members than found in other neighbourhoods. This is as a result of a shared appreciation for the unique character of the locality and often a shared appreciation of certain aesthetic values and architecture. There is even evidence to suggest a greater instance of shared values generally, in these neighbourhoods, such as political and social leanings. Secondly, an increased sense of pride and protectiveness over these areas creates increased opportunities for community cohesion, for example during local fund raising to restore listed churches.
Commercial inhabitants may think only of the restrictions imposed on them if they live in or are adjunct to a listed building, but studies show that they actually present commercial owners and tenants with a number of opportunities to differentiate their business offering and leverage the unique character of their area to gain an edge over competitors. For example, the more successful chain stores or restaurants such as Wetherspoons are known to make their services sympathetic to the historic surrounds to great commercial effect.
Such sympathetically designed and tailored outlets are said to provide customers with a more unique experience, cancelling out some of the negative associations with chain stores which can be viewed as homogeneous and failing to reflect their surroundings. Such outlets are some of the most successful in London, not only because of the increased footfall these historic buildings tend to generate. Conversely, areas with listed buildings also tend to have a high proportion of independent businesses which thrive under the patronage of locals, as well as visitors to the historic buildings.
Areas with a higher proportion of listed buildings are also more likely to have a sense of being a remarkable destination in and of themselves, or as urban economists and architects might say, they have a sense of place. Whilst walking around London you might find a gathering of listed buildings around a little square or fountain with a bench and might feel more compelled to pass time here than your average street junction. This is because such an area has a number of objective qualities that amount to a subjective feeling of a sense of place. Commercial developers and architects spend much time and money trying to find sites with a sense of place when buying up or designing new developments, so it is of important to these sorts of businesses to know where in London these areas exist.
Listed buildings are not only interesting and important cultural artefacts preserved for the benefit of architectural historians, but as we can see they also impact residents, communities and commercial inhabitants in genuine material ways. It is therefore crucial that knowledge of them and their effects are widely known, which is why the Listed Buildings metric has been included in our WaInsight app, showing where and how much of an impact these structures have on specific areas. To find out more check out wa-insight.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information!