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How Do You Prove The State Of A Listed Building?


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#1 jsharris

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Posted 01 November 2014 - 07:20 PM

The problem?

My MiL is selling her house, which is Grade II listed. It has bay windows to the front, that were fitted to the house when they purchased it around 20 years ago. Apparently, these bay windows aren't typical for the age of the house (although they are timber, obviously pretty old, with small panes of glass that look to be Victorian to me - just from the distortion visible in the glass).

The vendors have asked for proof that the windows are as in the listing, and not a post-listing addition (for which there is no record). The solicitor says there is no way of proving whether the windows were like this when the building was listed or not. We can prove (from the photographic evidence from the original purchase brochure 20 years ago) that the windows were fitted then, but this doesn't answer the purchaser's question.

So, how do you prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that a listed building matches the external appearance it had when listed?

I had wondered if there was a form of statute of limitations on this, as there is with planning and the equivalent of a CLD, but I can't find anything. This must be a common question raised when selling/buying a listed building, so suspect there must be law covering it (and I suspect the solicitor dealing with it is sloping his shoulders), but does anyone know just how you prove that a listed building has the same external appearance as it was when listed?

#2 ProDave

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Posted 01 November 2014 - 07:32 PM

I would suggest your solicitor looks instead at buying for a small price an indemnity insurance policy that would cover fighting any later claim about the windows.

We did this on the sale of our last house when the purchasers solicitor discovered we were in breach of a covenant (building an extension without seeking permission from covenant holder). Rather than open a can of worms and seek that permission, a £200 insurance policy allowed the sale to proceed.

Alternatively, open that can of worms and ask your local council of the windows are okay. Thought not.

Edited by ProDave, 01 November 2014 - 07:34 PM.


#3 wmacleod

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Posted 01 November 2014 - 08:56 PM

View Postjsharris, on 01 November 2014 - 07:20 PM, said:

but does anyone know just how you prove that a listed building has the same external appearance as it was when listed?

Hi Jeremy,

I grew up in a listed house - Scottish category C which I think will be equivalent. Of the listing record it records the glazing as "Symmetrical fenestration with 12-pane glazing" - well the symmetrical fenestration bit isn't likely to ever change much but the 12 pane glazing is pretty descriptive of the sliding sash windows. Does your MiL have a copy of the actual listing which may help clarify matters, I would expect bays to be detailed, especially if the windows were not common. If they aren't detailed in the listing then I can't see a problem, they weren't deemed significant and I can't see any issues especially if you have photographic proof they have been there for over 20 years. Suspect someones solicitor is after cash, may have been caught out by something like this before. Every letter for a client is extra money in the pocket.

#4 joiner

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Posted 01 November 2014 - 10:56 PM

You can't tell unless there was a detailed schedule done at the time of Listing. I got a few jobs that involved returning the original features to a house, but they were rare if the Conservation Officer was convinced the changes preceded the Listing because that was the way it had to be, regardless of how "out of character" a feature was.

And anything around Victorian vintage was considered to be part of the "history" of the house even if the house dated from the 19th, 18th, 17th, or whatever. But it's late so I'll continue this tomorrow with a few examples.

But I will just say that Conservation Officers might have records, they might even have the original Listing or at least they might be able to get them from English Heritage - if they've got any documentation!

Edited by joiner, 02 November 2014 - 07:56 AM.


#5 Triassic

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 08:10 AM

You can find the official listing records here http://list.english-...ncedsearch.aspx it May help?

Edited by joiner, 02 November 2014 - 08:38 AM.
Typo


#6 joiner

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 08:34 AM

I'd go with Will's suggestion that: "someones solicitor is after cash, may have been caught out by something like this before. Every letter for a client is extra money in the pocket."

I was working on a place in Bridgnorth that was part of the area affected by a fire set by the Royalists to hinder the advance of the Parliamentarians. The young couple who had bought the neighbouring property knocked on the door one day and asked me to give them a quote for "restoring some old beams". Went round for a cup of tea later and was amazed to find a ceiling full of what looked like black-painted, but turned out to be slightly charred stopped-chamfered beams...

http://www.ickleton....?g2_itemId=5835

It was pushing it a bit to suggest that the charring (in the sense of surface-coloration) dated back to that Civil War incident, but nevertheless the situation had a tinge of mystery and mild excitement about it and I suggested they first get the CO in to have a look at the beams, possibly with an eye to getting English Heritage involved.

The beams had been boxed-in and to an inexperienced eye looked like any other bog-standard beam painted the ubiquitous Victorian black. Having put acro-props under them to support the beams whilst the brick walls they were resting on were re-pointed, the boxing had separated slightly, piquing the curiosity of the young couple, who then went poking around with a pointed instrument. Down came the acro-props and in they went with a vengeance. They were as excited as a couple of kids at their find.

I gave them the number of the CO. He came and told them to replace the boarding because it had been there when the building was Listed and told them that if they went around doing any more "indiscriminate ripping out" they could face prosecution.

That was the same CO I've mentioned elsewhere, the one who was ordered off a property at the end of a shotgun because he'd insisted that the lean-to kitchen the owner's grandfather had tacked onto the back of his half-timbered and stone Tudor farmhouse, could only be replaced with block and render and have a corrugated roof to avoid the confusion caused by replicating the construction of the original, using stone quarried from the old quarry on the farm, the one that had supplied the original stone, and second-hand tiles sourced as an identical match to the existing ones that had replaced the original thatch, known from household records to have been changed in the 1700's. It would apparently have been the "history" of the building that would have been "confused".

And as also related elsewhere, it was the same CO another good customer of mine had to be dragged off by two builders as she tried to kill him with her bare hands. Talk to the guys who pulled her off and you'll know I'm not joking.

So to find this sort of rubbish being peddled by a solicitor, even if ostensibly on behalf of a client, is proof enough that solicitors can be as stupid as Conservation Officers.

If this is all to do with the prospective buyer kicking off, then their ignorance precludes their ownership of a Listed building.

I'd better stop, because I'm getting angry and I might get my wrist slapped for upsetting solicitors and Conservation Officers. :angry:

#7 joiner

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 08:56 AM

That EH link is a good one, but it's worth noting that it is limited by only listing the primary features of interest for which the building merited Listing.

There was a time when a building's Listing was cited to justify modifications to a feature that wasn't recorded at the time of the original Listing. There were some interesting arguments. I remember one (featured in a TV building-restoration programme) that involved guttering and drainpipes; the CO insisting that a condition of Listed Building Consent (LBC) be that lead should be used to replace the existing pvc stuff, whereas the owner wanted to use aluminium repro stuff, which was virtually identical in appearance, but lighter and an order of magnitude cheaper. In that instance the house owner won, having gone to appeal where the argument that the "restoration of the building's historic character" wasn't compromised by replacement items that were identical in every way except for the material they were made of.

Even back then (circa 1990's), in law, it is about the Listing applying to the whole building and its curtilage since the date of listing and date-able photographic evidence is proof enough.

#8 joiner

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 08:59 AM

Sorry, "lead should be used to replace the existing pvc stuff," should have read: "lead hoppers and cast-iron guttering and downpipes should be used to replace the existing pvc stuff". :rolleyes:

Up since 05.10... again! :wacko:

Edited by joiner, 02 November 2014 - 09:00 AM.


#9 jsharris

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 10:05 AM

Thanks very much folks, the problem is now solved. It seems that the solicitor didn't check the Listed Building Register (thanks for that link!) and that it is the two houses next door that are listed, her house isn't and is just within the Conservation Area. As the Conservation Officer knows the house, having visited a couple of times when alterations were being approved, the easy way out of this seems to be to just get him to confirm that the bay window isn't new. Quite how the solicitor came to think the house was listed is beyond me, as this has (understandably) raised concerns with the buyer over several issues.

The bay windows in question are these:

Attached File  113 St Pancras.jpg   43.88K   4 downloads

#10 joiner

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 10:21 AM

That house would be a difficult one to date with any accuracy without a good furtle around.

Is that half-timbering in the entrance alley-way?

The 'bays' are more properly called 'oriel' windows, bay windows projecting from the first floor, and I'd guess that these are probably a late addition and could possibly be Edwardian or later (much later? despite the 'featured' glass), if only because most Victorian oriel windows were supported on corbels or brackets which were often a decorative as well as a structural feature.

Seeing the photograph, I can now see why the buyers would have been concerned, had it been Listed.

#11 jsharris

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 10:51 AM

Just a word of caution when using the English Heritage search facility. I just selected the city and zoomed in on the map to show all listed buildings in the area, as red dots. This seemed to confirm that the building wasn't listed, but showed listed buildings close by and opposite. Having been assured that the building is listed (the right move entry is here: http://www.rightmove...y-44177902.html ) I did another search on the English Heritage site. This showed the same map, but when querying against the road name showed a lot more listed buildings than the map displays, even when zoomed right in. Clearly there is a software glitch on their map search, so don't rely on it, as even when I found the property listing it still doesn't show on their detailed map.

The listing is here: http://list.english-...ap=1&showText=1 and describes the "modern 3 sided canted bays", so there doesn't seem to be a problem. The same goes for the metal up and over garage door in the fluted frame, covering what was the stable entrance. That is also, apparently, listed...................

Yes, there is some half-timbering in the house, parts of it are 17th C, so it's a bit of a mish-mash of old and new.

Edited by jsharris, 02 November 2014 - 10:53 AM.


#12 sarahsouthwest

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 11:26 AM

I was wondering if the up and over garage door was listed too. Bonkers.

#13 jsharris

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 11:35 AM

It is actually worse than that, as the garage door covers what was the stable entrance and the room above (now a large living room) was the hay loft for the stable. As a hay loft it didn't have a window at the front, but had a large door at first floor level at the rear. The living room has a piano in it, and the only way to get it in is via the window at the rear (what was the door to the hay loft). To make this easier, this window is a 1960's abomination, that cannot be changed because it's listed. Image 6 on the RightMove photo display shows this large pane of glass at the rear.

#14 joiner

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 12:48 PM

The last CO I had dealings with was more pragmatic. The building I've shown numerous pics of on here, the one where the dreadful 1970s dormers were changed for conservation roof-lights, also had a huge "picture" window on the rear elevation, a vast fixed d/g window. It was agreed that to restore the character into the building that window would come out and a brick pier built to separate it into two, into which d/g vertical sliding sashes would be fitted. Totally transformed the place, both externally and internally.

(The coda to this story is that the decision to allow that was taken before she'd completed her college course in 'conservation studies', the decision having been preserved in detailed correspondence. On completion of her studies she tried to reverse that decision and insist on single-glazing but, having made the windows in preparation of the roofer/brickies move from the roof down to build that pier for that second floor window, I told her department head that I was perfectly happy to re-make the windows if they agreed to reimburse me for the wasted time based on their CO's buggering me and the customer about and that, as their incompetence had already caused delays that had cost me £1,200 in time and the customer £4,500 in lost grants - because the old District Council had been taken over by the new Unitary council with the loss of all historic building grants - I'd be looking for exemplary damages as well as actual loss. They back off and allowed the double-glazing, despite the LBC insisting on single-glazing.)

The whole of that Listed building had windows that had been fitted in the early 1970s and which, moreover, had been fitted into openings made by the guy who had "modernised" the building, during which original openings had been bricked up.

#15 jsharris

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 01:18 PM

Some may recall that I initially had problems with a CO some time ago (now moved elsewhere) who was not only a PITA, but also lacked any sense of judgement (and who was, I think, colour blind, too). One memorable conversation was about the insistence on using Chilmark stone for the exterior of any new builds in the village. Now Chilmark quarry closed years ago, and has to be specially re-opened any time anyone wants stone. The stone is unlike most of the local stone, in that it is a creamy colour (it's the stuff Salisbury cathedral is made from, and the cathedral is the reason for the quarry having been started back in the middle ages). The local stone is a green sandstone.

The conversation (in the middle of the lane) went like this:

Me: "Why do you prefer Chilmark stone?"

CO: "Because it reflects the local vernacular"

Me: "What are these buildings made from? (pointing to the listed mill opposite and an old cottage on the other side of the road)"

CO: "Chilmark stone"

Me: "Do you work out of Salisbury?"

CO: "Yes"

Me: "Do you ever look at Salisbury cathedral?" (for those unfamiliar with it, it's 400ft high and dominates the landscape for miles around, so you cannot miss it)

CO: "Yes, I see it every day"

Me: "What colour is it?"

CO: It's made from Chilmark stone"

Me: "and is that stone the same colour as these buildings? (pointing once more to those in the village)"

CO: "I don't see what that has to do with anything"

Me: "It's important, because none of the older buildings in this village are made from Chilmark stone, they are made from locally quarried Greensand, hence the completely different colour. The only buildings in this village that are made from Chilmark stone are three or four new builds where someone has insisted that they be built using it. They stand out like sore thumbs as you drive through the village, as they are made from the wrong type of stone. Chilmark stone was too scarce and expensive to make ordinary domestic houses from, which is why the cathedral was built from it."

CO: "I don't think it's appropriate to discuss this any further" (gets in car and drives off).

Thankfully a new CO came along who was far more pragmatic and much easier to deal with, but I was on the phone to someone recently who is dealing with the same CO that I was originally dealing with, who was ranting somewhat about the hoops they were having to jump through.

#16 joiner

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 03:48 PM

:D

That lunatic CO I referred to above went on to work for English Heritage!!

#17 tony51

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 11:54 PM

This thread well-shows how naive many COs are. Part of the problem is that historic building conservation has become an academic discipline, taken up by people who believe they can understand old buildings by going on courses or attending classes.

Britain is a small country but with huge variation in vernacular buildings, with regard to materials, building-types, and techniques. It is impossible for a young CO to suddenly become expert in these things. To know these buildings, you really need to work on them and to understand how they were put together, not learn it from books.

Joiner's experience is all-too common - a young academic who learns something new at a lecture and then tries to put it in practice.

Another issue is down to fashion; do you replicate the style and materials of the old building when adding an extension, or do you do it in steel and glass to make it obviously different? A moot point.

Edited by tony51, 02 November 2014 - 11:55 PM.


#18 joiner

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Posted 03 November 2014 - 07:00 AM

I was having a coffee and chat with a 'competitor' and we got around to COs and I happened to mention the one that was currently i/c my patch and he laughed. Obvious question led to his relating her background, which explained all the weird experiences I'd had with her.

She wasn't actually Des's CO at all, but had met him through involvement in a regeneration scheme she had been involved in in another LA capacity that had nothing to do with Heritage, an involvement that got her interested to the extent that she'd subsequently applied for the CO vacancy in my patch, having discussed the prospect (and her concerns that she knew nothing about heritage work) with Des, who had told her not to worry and that if she ever needed advice and help then to ring him. She duly applied for and got the job. Well, actually, she applied for an Assistant CO's job but was asked if she'd be willing to take on the CO's job. To her credit, she did say she knew nothing about conservation work but was apparently told that it was something she could learn on the job.

She was a disaster which, when I told Des this, got the response: "But she was a nice girl." He did laugh. She wasn't his problem.

When I became friends with her successor, establishing an excellent working relationship, that became a personal friendship that lasted a number of years until the window incident related above in the earlier post, I learnt that if she was on site or had an email or phone call asking for a decision on some detail, she apparently used to make some excuse and promise to get back, going to see Des to talk the situation through and then go back to her office and read up on whatever it was she was expected to pronounce on.

To be fair, there are some good COs out there, but it's just that they're often so far up their own and almost without exception from good middle-class stock - but then that more or less seems to sum up a lot of the "craftsmen" - the word used to distinguish themselves from mere "artisans" - who have entered the sector. As you say Tony, "young academics". But a lot of them are good and know how to present a situation for which a premium charge comes as no surprise. I got a lot of work following on from them, it was called 'rectification'.