A listed building in the United Kingdom is a building which has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. There are just under 500,000 buildings in the UK to which this applies.
A listed building may not be demolished, extended or altered without special permission from the local planning authority (who typically consult the relevant central government agency, particularly for significant alterations to the more notable listed buildings). Exemption is provided for some churches in current use for worship, although in such cases the church organisation operates its own permissions procedure.
For a building to be included on the list, it must be a man-made structure that survives in something at least approaching its original state. Most structures on the list are buildings, but other structures such as bridges, monuments, sculptures, war memorials, and even milestones and mileposts may also be listed. Ancient uninhabited or unmaintained sructures, such as Stonehenge, are generally classified as Scheduled Ancient Monuments rather than Listed Buildings.
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. The criteria become tighter with time, so that post-1945 buildings have to be exceptionally important to be listed. A building has normally to be over 30 years old to be eligible for listing.
In England and Wales, listed buildings are classified in three grades:
Scotland currently uses categories A, B and C rather than grades. The assessment criteria for the categories differs slightly from the English and Welsh system, so a category B building in Scotland is not necessarily equivalent to a grade II* building in England.
Some church buildings in England are still also classified as A, B or C rather than the current designation.
Owners of listed buildings are, in some circumstances, compelled to repair and maintain them and can face criminal prosecution if they fail to do so or if they perform unauthorised alterations. When alterations are permitted, or when listed buildings are repaired or maintained, the owners are often compelled to use specific (and potentially expensive) materials or techniques. This, in turn, increases the cost of insuring the building. Listing can also limit the options available for significant expansion or improvement. For these reasons, the law allows owners of listed buildings to object to the listing, and in some cases buildings may be removed from the listing altogether (although this is rare).
The creation of the statutory list was prompted by damage to buildings in World War II. Previously, only major ancient monuments had either state recognition or statutory protection. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 codified the adhoc processes developed during the war and created the first formal list of listed buildings.
Following a major public outcry at the demolition of the art deco Firestone Factory in 1980, the government instituted a major resurvey of buildings to ensure that nothing which merited preservation had been missed off the original lists. The mid to late 80s saw the largest number of buildings added to the list, with over 36,000 being added in 1987 alone. By 1989 the process was largely complete, and subsequent years have seen much fewer buildings added. In 2009, the most recent full year (at time of writing) the number added was just 632. Following the completion of the 1980s review, the new procedures were included in The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 which now governs the principles by which buildings are added to the lists.
Buildings continue to be added to the lists as they are identified and become eligible. The majority of recent listings are of newer buildings which had not previously been old enough or unique to be listed, or which have acquired a place in popular culture as a result of their use rather than purely on their architectural merit. An example of the latter is the recently listed Abbey Road Studios.
Your local council is the official body responsible for listed buildings in their area, so that should normally be your first point of contact if you have any queries related to a specific listed building that you own. If you get in touch via their main telephone number or email address then they will be able to pass your query on to the relevent department.
You can find out which local authority is responsible for your property at www.gov.uk/find-local-council.