Heritage assets

There are a number of designated heritage assets in the UK. These include:

Other designated heritage assets in England include scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and World Heritage Sites. There are also other heritage assets that do not meet the criteria for designation, but that local authorities may consider important and include in their Historic Environment Records.

Devolved administrations

For further information about heritage assets in the devolved administrations, see:

Planning rules for heritage assets

The government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provides the framework against which local planning authorities (LPAs) in England draw up their local plans and determine applications for planning permission. This includes policies for the historic environment; the NPPF states that heritage assets “should be conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance”.

Energy efficiency of heritage assets

Many improvement works that can make a home more energy efficient, for example by insulation or solar panels, are covered by permitted development rights (PDRs). These allow homeowners to carry out works without planning permission from the LPA.

However, some PDRs do not apply to listed buildings and can be restricted in conservation areas. LPAs can also withdraw PDRs by issuing an article 4 direction if they believe it is necessary to protect heritage assets in an area.

This does not mean, however, that it is not possible to undertake works on heritage assets to improve their energy efficiency. Instead, it means that a planning application is required for the works to go ahead.

This gives the LPA the opportunity to scrutinise the details of a proposal and make a decision based on the particular circumstances of a heritage asset. The Commons Library constituency casework note on Planning permission in Conservation Areas and listed buildings in England (February 2022) provides further information about how LPAs will decide a planning application.

For works that may affect a listed building’s character, listed building consent from the LPA (in addition to planning permission) may also be required.

LPAs are required to consult or notify Historic England and others, for example National Amenity Societies, on certain applications.

Local listed building consent orders (LBCOs)

LPAs can use a local listed building consent order (LBCOs) to grant listed building consent for particular works to certain listed buildings in their area.

For example, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea introduced a local LBCO for the installation of solar panels on certain listed buildings in its area in July 2022. This means neither listed buildings consent nor a full planning application is required to install solar panels on the roofs of residential listed buildings, subject to conditions set out in the local LBCO.  

Proposals for change

In its Energy Security Strategy (April 2022), the government said it would review “planning barriers that households can face when installing energy efficiency measures”, including in conservation areas and listed buildings. The Government said this review would be completed by the end of 2022.

In its December 2022 consultation on reforms to national planning policy, the government proposed amending the NPPF to clarify that “significant weight should be given to the importance of energy efficiency through adaptation of buildings, whilst ensuring that local amenity and heritage continues to be protected” (chapter 8, paragraph 9).

In a February 2023 consultation on PDRs and renewable energy, the government proposed to extending PDRs to allow solar panels to be installed on roofs of domestic and non-domestic buildings in conservation areas. Currently PDRS are restricted for roofs in conservation areas that front a highway. The consultation did not propose any changes to extend PDRs to listed buildings.

Devolved administrations

Planning is a devolved matter. For further information about the situation in the devolved administration, see:

Role of Historic England

Historic England is an arm’s length body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with the purpose of helping “people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment”. It released its Climate Change Strategy in 2022 that sets out Historic England’s “response to the climate, energy and biodiversity crisis”.

The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, the official name for Historic England, was established by the National Heritage Act 1983. Section 33(1) of the 1983 Act set out the organisation’s duties:

(a)to secure the preservation of ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England,

(b)to promote the preservation and enhancement of the character and appearance of conservation areas situated in England, and

(c)to promote the public’s enjoyment of, and advance their knowledge of, ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England and their preservation

Historic England fulfils these duties in various ways. For instance, grant distribution, offering advice to Government, and acting as a statutory consultee for certain planning and listed building consent applications.

Climate Change Strategy

Released in March 2022, the document describes Historic England’s response to the climate crisis. It also explains how the organisation will work with partners in the heritage sector and stakeholders in Government. There are three strands that guide this programme:

Mitigating: achieving net zero

The aim of this strand is to “proactively remove sources of emissions to achieve net zero for Historic England by 2040”. To this end, in March 2022 the organisation published its carbon footprint and a reduction plan (PDF). 

Historic England alongside Peabody, Grosvenor, The National Trust and The Crown Estate commissioned research that explored “reforms of the planning system and the skills gap in the construction sector”. Heritage and Carbon: Addressing the skills gap (PDF), published in 2022, found that the UK would need 205,000 builders to focus solely on retrofitting historic buildings every year from 2022 to 2050 to achieve the UK’s net zero targets. “More than double” the number of workers the report estimated currently had the necessary skills. Amongst the report’s recommendations was the creation of a National Retrofit Strategy that would bring together “skills, training, funding, standards and advice”.

The organisation also aims to produce retrofitting guidance and training on retrofitting heritage buildings by 2024.

Managing risks: understanding the threats of climate change

This component of the strategy aims to “identify, understand, and respond to threats to heritage from a changing climate”.

Amongst the actions for this strand are to work with climate scientists to understand climate-related risks to the heritage sector; develop ways to quantify this risk; and map climate-related hazards.

Adaptation: preparing for a changing climate

Historic England aims to “engage and equip people to take action in support of the places they care about”.

This includes commitments to publish a “consultation draft” Historic England Advice Note on climate change in 2022, and to develop a toolkit for coping with the unavoidable loss of heritage assets by 2025. It also aims to “identify ways to adapt heritage to future climate threats” and publish annual summaries of these by 2023.

Devolved administrations

For further information about the responses of public bodies responsible for the historical environment in the other constituent parts of the UK, see:

Further reading

Commons Library, Q&A: Energy efficiency in old houses, July 2022

Commons Library, Planning permission in Conservation Areas and listed buildings in England, February 2022

Historic England, Climate Change: Mitigation, Adaptation and Energy Measures, last updated 6 March 2023

Historic England, Energy Efficiency Research, last updated June 2022

Historic England, Carbon in the Built Historic Environment, February 2020

Historic England, Heritage and the Environment, 2020

The Conversation, Heritage building preservation vs sustainability? Conflict isn’t inevitable, November 2017

The Conversation, Sustainable re-use and recycling work for heritage buildings and places too, November 2017

UNESCO, World Heritage and Sustainable Development (accessed 16 June 2023) 

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